“Rust out?” It’s sad to see rusting hulks on ocean beaches. They were ships that once served a great purpose but eventually could not withstand the storms around them and were driven ashore. Now they are sad reminders of a foregone era. No wonder Christians who want to serve God don’t want to “rust out for God” so that they are no longer useful to Him or to others. No one wants to become a beached lifeless hulk.
“Burn out?” Again it is sad to see the burnt out shells of churches or other buildings. They too served a great purpose as buildings but now have nothing to offer. Some folk may say that they would rather “burn out for God” instead of “rusting out.” They want to go flat out for God. And try to do so. However many have succumbed to the pressures of ministry and have become like burnt out shells of their former selves. There may be many reasons for this. Sometimes it appears that some of those folk relied too much on their human abilities and gifts. They did go flat out for God but often it was not what God really required of them. Their priorities became disordered and their “work” became more important than their relationships with their spouses or families or even with the Lord Himself. Instead of being devoted to the Lord, they become devoted to the “job” as they imagined it to be. That becomes another form of idolatry.
“Opt out?” No wonder others want to “opt out” when they see the damage that has taken place in the lives of some of their friends. Jonah was one who wanted to “opt out” of serving the Lord. But he learned that whenever you try to run away from the will of God, you can’t run away from Him. As the song says, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” He watches over us as we place our lives in His hands. He watches us go as we move away from Him and from His will for us. He is there for us when we arrive at the place to which we think we have ‘escaped’ from Him. Watching. Waiting. Wooing. Welcoming, when we turn back to Him and to His will for us.
“Another way?” Is there an alternative to “rusting out”, “burning out” or “opting out”? There is a clue in the RSV translation of Rom 12:11, Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. The Message translation likewise has it as, Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fuelled and aflame. The word for “aglow” is (ζέω) zéō which can mean to bubble or boil and has the meaning to be fervent. The only other occurrence of the word in the New Testament is in Acts 18:25 where Luke describes Apollos as fervent in spirit or in the words of The Message, fiery in his enthusiasm. The Apostolic Bible Polyglot uses the word, “bubbling in the spirit” in both verses. The picture that comes to mind is that in Exodus 3:2, where it describes the burning bush, And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.
Many of us want to be aglow for God, fiery in our enthusiasm, God’s light shining through us brightly. But it has to be His light, not ours. The energy has to come from Him, not us. We can be the bush aglow with the light or glory of God, but we are not meant to be consumed, burnt up. If we are then there must be too much of self in what we are doing. The power has to come from His unlimited resources and not from our own limited ones. St Paul understood this. He wrote about true Christian ministry and living as being motivated and empowered by God Himself, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Phil 2:12-15. He motivates. He empowers. We shine with His light as a result of what HE is doing in and through us.
When St Paul understood this he saw that he needed to come to the end of own resources and rely on Christ’s resources in him. As he put it (and as we long to express it ourselves), I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal 2:20. So too do we need to die to self and live to Him, or in Paul’s words, let Him live His life in and through us!
Blog No.073. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Saturday 5th May 2012