As I stepped into my junior year of college, I knew there was going to be a lot of changes. I started a new school, a new job, and moved into a new apartment. At the beginning of 2017, I felt God whisper that it was going to be a year of stretching into new territory. Little did I know, it was going to be some painful stretching. As 2017 came to a close and 2018 began, I felt like God declared the word brave over my year. God was calling me to be courageous in the chaos, and I had to learn to humble out daily and trust God. Every comfortable area of my life was completely transformed, and I had to rely on God in deeper ways. God taught me many lessons through this process of transformation, and I have finally found the words to articulate what God has been doing in my heart. Because let’s be real, radical life change is painful and messy. But, God is faithful and the creator of all things good!
1) Redefining My Identity
“He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30)
I have always excelled in school. I love learning, and I love the feeling of accomplishing challenging things; however, this past year of school has made me feel anything but smart and accomplished. For the first time in my life, I began to struggle academically. As my A’s turned to B’s (and sometimes C’s), I found myself questioning my identity. How could I consider myself “smart” if I was struggling so much in school? I didn’t realize how much I allowed my grades to define my value until I was placed in the fire. And instead of pressing into who God says I am, I started working harder and harder to prove my value. It was exhausting. Fortunately, God never stopped whispering my worth over my sleepless nights studying and striving. He never left me. He never stopped declaring His promises over my life.
It wasn’t until I surrendered my worry in worship, that I found security and assurance. I had to stop allowing things of this world to measure my value, and embrace my identity as a child of God. I had to stop worrying about whether or not my grades would be competitive enough to get accepted in Physician Assistant school, and trust that if God called me to it, he would grace my path for it! This season of struggle was really a season of strengthening. I had to strengthen my faith to truly trust in the hope of Christ. I had to take ownership of the promises of God in my life, and surrender control at a painful level. It was painful and at times embarrassing, but without a heart of humility we will never experience the fullness of God’s greatness. I don’t know about you, but I would rather live a life that highlights how faithful and good God has been than a life that illustrates how “great” I am. It is only God’s work in and through me that will have an eternal impact.
2) Doing Church vs. Being the Church
Another huge transition in my life, was being forced to step back from serving in the church as frequently. I went from serving on 3 to 4 teams and serving every Sunday, to serving on 2 teams and having weeks where I wasn’t technically rostered to serve. After starting a new job, I had to step back from serving as often and honestly it was hard. I felt misplaced guilt from the enemy about not being as good of a “christian”, and I felt like I was letting people down; however, I knew that God was calling me into this new season. As I began to dive into these feelings of shame and guilt that I knew were from the enemy, I felt God reveal to me some areas in my heart that needed correction. I realized, I had gotten really good at doing church. I loved busying myself with tasks like setting up and tearing down pipe and drape at our mobile campus, making coffee, and bringing donuts to city group because it was in my comfort zone. I felt good about myself and was happy to contribute to a greater cause; however, recently I felt God challenge my perspective on serving. While there was nothing wrong with serving on these teams, and they were important in making church happen every Sunday, they were also largely in my comfort zone. It’s easier to bring donuts to our college connect group every week than it is to bring a new person. But, we all know that donuts are already getting into heaven. I had gotten really good at doing church within the context of church, but I was failing to be the church within my everyday environments.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).
Everyday as I drive to school and to run errands, I always see homeless people on street corners asking for help. Most days, I drive past them thinking, “I wish I had something to give, but I don’t have anything with me…maybe next time”. But the things is, I know I am going to pass by them again, and each time I fail to equip my car with water and snacks to pass out. Honestly, this is inexcusable. We are the hands and feet of Christ, and we need to take ownership of our role in helping those in need. I refuse to ignore the need that God has placed before me. I refuse to live a life of doing church on Sunday, and then living a normal, unintentional life on Monday. I am the church. I have a bigger part to play, and God has intentionally placed me at my school and my workplace to be a carrier of his culture. God never called me to serve at church, he called me to be the church.
3) Dealing with Church Burnout
Okay, so this next part is gonna get a little raw and honest. It has taken months of humbling out and seeking God to find heart transformation. But, I think church burnout is something that Christians don’t talk about enough. We all have times where we will question leadership decisions, feel overlooked, or feel critical of certain decisions made in the church. This is in part because the enemy loves to manipulate our thoughts and feelings by planting lies about the authority in our life.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6).
In the garden of Eden, Eve was deceived into sin because the enemy planted seeds of doubt and questioning. If Eve would have just gone to God with these questions, so much pain and suffering could have been avoided. The same thing still happens today. Our doubts and concerns can be scary and hard to talk about because we don’t want to appear faithless. Also, doubts and concerns are often met with defensive language that creates a larger gap and prevents healthy conversation. How do we confront these feelings in an open and honest dialogue without feeling judged or creating gossip?
For me, I learned to always talk up. I expressed my frustrations with people above me so that I could hear truth and not just what I wanted to hear (even though sometimes it feels so good to have our feelings validated). I also had to learn to let go of my pride, and trust God. Naturally, we have a very selfish perspective because everything is filtered through our personal experiences. Therefore, it’s easy to feel justified or feel like we could do better. But, it’s not about me. (some days I have to make this my mantra). I refuse to have a faith limited to pursuing and obeying only the things that I agree with or that feel right to me in that moment. Our feelings can be very wrong sometimes, and as long as I only pursue things that are fruitful and in line with God’s word, I cannot go wrong. God has been reminding me to think bigger. I have had to step out of my selfish box of thinking, and grasp onto an eternal perspective.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
There is nothing more exciting than seeing individuals say yes to Jesus for the first time. I want to be someone that continually seeks the joy of salvation. No matter the path I am on, salvation for others is the goal. Church burnout happens when I place my joy in the wrong things. Church burnout happens when I begin serving people and not God. Church burnout happens when my pride gets in the way of God’s promise. I refuse to allow myself to limit what God can do because I am unwilling to fully commit to the leadership above me. I refuse to be anything but all in for God’s kingdom.