Possibly the most important question regarding longevity and health in ministry (and really just in life as a Christian) is “where do you hide?"
Life and ministry are sometimes very difficult. The internal and external pressure and stress sometimes leaves us feeling depleted and discouraged. When we feel this way for an extended amount of time, we all feel the God-given need to retreat. We are like an athlete in the NCAA tournament who has played a great game and needs to get his body and mind ready for the next game two days later. We are like a NASCAR driver who needs to come in for fuel to be able to finish the race. God made us all dependent beings and has made us with the need to retreat and hide out. The question we must answer is where are we hiding? Where do we run when we are running on E?
Where we hide will determine our future. Let’s take a quick look at a few places we may be hiding and the result of each of these.
ALCOHOL- For a very long period of time, my hiding place was alcohol and drugs. My source of comfort, confidence, and satisfaction came solely from a chemical. The result was destruction. Over the past few years, I have heard way too many stories of this being a reality for pastors and other believers. We are fooled to believe that because we have served the Lord so hard, we deserve to hide in the bottle for awhile. Alcohol is definitely permissible in Scripture and is a great thing for people to enjoy responsibly, but cannot be the place we hide. If it is, destruction will always follow.
PORN- A study recently showed that 79% of adult American men ages 18-30 view porn at least once per week. The study also stated that 76% of American women ages 18-30 view porn at least once per month. Porn demolishes marital intimacy and kills our intimacy with Jesus, but many pastors find their refuge in this demonic sin. The result of finding our refuge in porn, masterbation, or other sexual sin is very destructive and will most likely lead to a public moral failure, hurting many more people than you would have ever thought. The best advice I could give if you struggle in this area is humble yourself, confide in an older, wiser spiritual mentor, and do whatever it takes to kill this sin. Jesus has paid for this sin, but the only grace that Jesus offers is transformational grace.
EXERCISE- Leaders have the tendency to spend their time where they feel like they are winning. When we don’t feel like we’re winning in our walk with Jesus, our marriage, or our calling/job, we will sometimes look elsewhere. The gym is not somewhere I ever feel like I’m winning (I look like a white string bean), but for many, it is and can become a place of refuge when you don’t feel like you’re winning elsewhere. Exercise, such as CrossFit or golf, is a helpful and necessary aspect of healthy living, but it can easily become an idol. When exercise becomes where we hide the result is almost always a distraction from what’s most important, and potentially vanity, pride, and lust. Enjoy your workout, but don’t hide there.
SOCIAL MEDIA- One of the most seductive hiding places is our phone. The fleeting, but alluring, pleasures of dings, buzzes, likes, followers, and prestige is an easy place to hide that is always right in our pocket. Social media is an incredible tool to connect with people and advance the Gospel, but cannot be our hiding place. When social media, technology, tv, and other media sources become our hiding place mediocrity is the result. This hiding place distracts us from our families, our calling, and most importantly intimacy with God. Running to social media for comfort is like eating lots of bread when we are dying of thirst. You’re doing something, but it’s not helping the situation.
MINISTRY- This may be the most destructive one of all because we will oftentimes be applauded for this one. When we are depleted, many of us just throw ourselves more into the work of ministry. We believe the lie that our souls will be satisfied if we just hit our attendance goal or if the next message is the best one we’ve ever preached. We burn ourselves out trying to find comfort in ministry success, which always seems to evade us. We soon become even more exhausted and will eventually tap out or have a moral failure.
Where are you hiding?
There are many more that we could mention (food, relationships, learning, possessions, etc.), but these are just a few of the main ones I see often. Not all of these are inherently bad or morally wrong things to experience (other than porn), but they cannot be the place we find healing, restoration, and replenishment. The question isn’t if you engage in these activities, but where do you go for comfort when you are depleted. They are all like eating candy and drinking soda between games or putting water in your gas tank. They just don’t work long-term.
Where then should we hide?
“Oh taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” -Psalm 34:8
The Lord designed us to hide in Him and He invites us into His hiding place. When we are depleted and run to God (rather than to the bottle, the gym, our phone, or more ministry) we will be richly restored. When we hide out in God our souls will experience the joy we long for, the comfort we crave, and the spiritual revitalization that we need to thrive in this incredible, but strenuous, calling God has blessed us with. God is the only hiding place that works.
Jesus modeled this for us when He was on earth...
"After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” Matthew 14:23
"After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.” Mark 6:46
"It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12
"In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” Mark 1:35
"But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:16
We see over and over again that Jesus retreated to spend intimate time with the Father. Time with God was His hiding place. We must follow His example. The presence of God can’t just be our power to preach and do ministry, it must also be our hiding place.
As we examine where we hide, we can know where our hearts truly are in this season. Where we hide exposes our greatest love. What we enjoy most is where we will hide when things get rough. Here are two truths we must know in order to make God’s presence our hiding place:
1- God is a Good Father who loves (and likes) us.
We hear this and talk about this all the time, but do we really believe it? You are a son (or daughter) of God and He not only loves you, but He also likes you. He wants to spend time with you. Your sin has already been paid for, and God is not an angry or distant step-father, but an attentive and loving Daddy. He wants you to sit on His lap when you’ve had a hard day. He wants to be your hiding place.
2- God is the only place our souls find rest.
St. Augustine famously stated, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Our souls will continue to be restless if we continue to hide out and look for rest anywhere other than God. When we retreat to be with God our souls will find deep rest and we will be able to find health and longevity.
Jesus is inviting you into this rest right now,
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
- Repent of all other hiding places and call a friend to confess and ask for help if needed.
- Schedule rhythms of retreats with God. I’d recommend a daily joy time, weekly Sabbath, monthly retreat day, and an extended sabbatical every 7 years.
- Make God the first place you run when you are depleted.