There is a story of Moses guiding the Israelites through the wilderness, when water was scarce. The people were thirsty and looked to their leader to find them water. In fact, they were ready to kill Moses if he didn’t find them water. In Exodus 17:4, Moses cries out to Yahweh, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!” So Yahweh commands Moses to take the same staff he had used to part the Nile, and to go. “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock , and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink” (17:7). Here is an example of Moses rooted in his calling, overwhelmed by the ministry and crying out to God for salvation, for wisdom and for strategy. The result is God provides in a mighty way for God’s people. When the people asked their leader, “Is Yahweh among us or not?” the answer was most definitely: God is among us! Moses’ faithful grounding in God allowed him to fulfill his calling so that the people’s faith was placed fully in God and not in Moses.
John Wesley said of this passage in his Explanatory Notes:
Let this direct us to live in a dependance, 1. Upon God’s providence even in the greatest straits and difficulties; 2. And upon Christ’s grace; that rock was Christ, 1 Corinthians 10:4. The graces and comforts of the Spirit are compared to rivers of living waters, John 7:38,39; 4:14. These flow from Christ. And nothing will supply the needs and satisfy the desires of a soul but water out of this rock.
Later in Moses’ ministry, he was yet again overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done, with the grumbling of the people, with the constant burden of leadership. And he struck the rock with his staff to produce water, not as a sign of God’s grace and provision, but to use his own power to quench the thirst of the people and shut up their complaints. And this small action cost him the ability to enter the Promised Land.
For me, burn out happens when I put relentless energy into my calling…when I can’t imagine my job succeeding without me giving my best all the time…when my self-worth gets caught up in the success or failure of what I do. If God called me to this, shouldn’t it be successful? If God called me to this, shouldn’t I give it my best all the time? If God called me to this, I can’t imagine my life without this work, right? You don’t have to be in pastoral ministry to feel this way about what you do. I can’t help but think this way of working is more like Moses striking the rock on his own… I can’t help but think this way of working brings more glory to me than it does to God, more trust in my reputation and power to accomplish than in God’s infinite grace and mercy. I can’t help but think that an addiction to my calling is actually keeping me from experiencing the joy of the Promised Land.
That’s not real self-denial. As you look in on yourself this Lent, how can you practice self-denial in your calling, in your work-life patterns, that ultimately gives you life? How can you find your identity in your baptism instead of your work? How can you discover that the way you work brings glory to God when it is completely rooted in your relationship and confidence in Christ?