Sermon: Don’t burn out.

This morning, I am going to talk to ministers. And no, that doesn’t mean that most of you can go home because that means all of us! Last Sunday we began a new series entitled “My life… …a praise song.” We looked at Romans12 1-2 and saw that Paul encourages his readers to offer themselves as an act of worship, and then we looked at verse 10 and saw that part of being an act of worship to God consists in the call to love from the centre of who we are.
This morning we are going to move on a bit and look at verses 11-12. Lets read them together from the NIV

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Let’s read those same two verses again, this time from The Message.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

I want to do two things this morning. First I want us to take some time together just to notice what these verses have to say about living a praise song life. When we have done that I want to share with you some thoughts based on my own experiences about how we go about obeying these verses.

So first of all then, I have a question for us all to think about. I am going to put the verse back up on the screen in the Message version and I want you to take a moment to ask yourself this question. According to the verse, who is responsible for my spiritual passion? Just look at the verse for a moment and see if you can work that out.

Did you notice anything? The verse says “keep yourselves fuelled and aflame” So who is responsible? I am! I am responsible for my spiritual passion. Can we say that together this morning “I am responsible for my spiritual passion.” Now I want to make something clear here. The spiritual life correctly understood is a relationship with God, and there are two partners in a relationship. I did not get you to say that I am solely responsible for my relationship with God, but the verse does make it clear that some of the responsibility rest with me.
Lets take a few moments just to go through the verses and notice six aspects of the spiritual life that need to be maintained.

  1. Keep busy. I think it can be quite helpful when you are trying to understand a verse to look at a couple of different versions. I find that this can help me get the idea into my head. For this bit of the verse, The NIV has “never be lacking in Zeal,” The Message “Don’t burn out” The NASB has not lagging behind in diligence. The Good News has Work hard and do not be lazy. There is a sense here of the need to keep busy in the pursuit of the spiritual life.I think one of the things that can stop my life being a beautiful praise song and turn it into an off key dirge is what I would call spiritual apathy.
  2. Keep burning. Keep your spiritual fervour, says one translation. Keep yourselves fuelled and aflame in another. Now there are flames and there are flames! How is your spiritual passion right now? Are you a damp squib or a forest fire, or somewhere in between. Now I am going to come back to this idea later because it seems to me there are a number of reasons for the flame of spiritual passion burning a little low, and we want to think about how we obey and keep ourselves fuelled and aflame.
  3. Keep serving. We are told to keep your spiritual fervour serving the Lord. I said that I was going to talk to ministers this morning. It’s really important this morning that we recognise that our service for the Lord can become a real obstacle to our passion for the Lord. The Good news says “serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion.” There is a sense here that is not about how hard you work for God, but the heart that works for God. It’s really important for us to think about how we can serve God and keep our hearts passionate and right before him. If you have an unhealthy lifestyle you will run the risk of heart disease. If you have an unhealthy spiritual lifestyle, you will run the risk of spiritual heart disease.
  4. Keep joyful. We are told Be joyful in hope, or cheerfully expectant as the Message has it. What a tragedy when the life that should be a song of praise becomes a sad song in a minor key. Joy is commanded of us as God’s people, it’s an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. These Christians that Paul was writing to, frankly I don’t thin they were having too great a time when Paul wrote, but he says to them be joyful. Now how do you do that? It was vital for these Christians and it is vital for us that they recognise the right basis of joy. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. If you set your heart on any other happiness you will have settled for second best. The next bit is related:
  5. Keep going. Do you ever wonder how Christian faith keeps going in the face of the most awful tragedy? “Patient in affliction” has the NIV, “Don’t quit in hard times has the Message,” but it probably needs to be a little stronger, “persevering in tribulation” has the NASB. This is not putting up with difficulty this is about keeping going. Steadfastness and endurance. This year we called the Men’s weekend “Man enough to follow Jesus” There is a sense here of real guts and determination in keeping going after God.
  6. Keep praying. The NIV has “faithful in prayer”, the Message “pray all the harder” The NASB has “devoted to prayer” Here is a challenge that confronts me from time to time. The idea that good prayer can be hard work, tiring work, good work, satisfying work, but work that you might want to give up from shear weariness. The idea is keep up the hard work of prayer.

So there you have it six more notes that make up the praise song life. Keep busy, Keep burning Keep serving, Keep joyful, keep going and keep praying. Now let me share some reflections about what I have discovered so far.

  1. I once heard of a pastor of a group of believers who would disappear for hours on end to walk in the hills. When the congregation faced a major Crisis, he went on holiday and he would cause immense frustration to his team by disappear just as it looked like revival might be breaking out, and his name was Jesus. So there is the first point Regularly ask yourself HDJL rather than just WWJD. Don’t reckon on being able to do what Jesus did if you don’t put in place some of the answers to the question “how did Jesus live?”
  2. Don’t overestimate the value of passionless service. I think really I just wanted to say it matters when we are not burning as hotly as we could. This is not simple because frankly I think life has seasons, and different seasons of life feel different, and there could be anyone of a number of reasons why our passion has burned low.
  3. Find your best rhythm and pace. This is just a basic life principle. You don’t run a Marathon like a sprint.
  4. Find helpful spiritual disciplines that feed your spiritual life. For example; prayer and Bible reading and meditation. Recently I changed my Bible reading for a time because I felt that I just needed to soak in some particular words of scripture. I’m not as good at it as I should be but I think that scripture memorisation can be of great value here as well. Also consider fasting.
  5. Recognise that you are a whole person and live a disciplined life. I am a physical, emotional and spiritual being and issues in one area can have a knock on effect in the other.
  6. Regularly seek out people and places that stir up your spiritual fervour. We need regular opportunities to feed our souls. We need to be regular in worship. There is value in retreat, in books, and in sermons.
  7. Make sure that you maintain unproductive spiritual space. We have a production orientated culture. Time doesn’t count unless it is spent productively. I think if you spend all your time doing something productive that can contribute to a hurried feeling that is like a fire extinguisher on spiritual passion.
  8. Remember that spiritual self sufficiency neither glorifies God, edifies the church or sustains ministry. I’d hate for you to get the idea that you have within you what you need for a healthy spiritual life.
  9. Remember that a passion for God and his glory is more fulfilling and enduring than a passion for anything else.
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