“You are so much more than necessary…. you.are.loved.” I heard M. Craig Barnes say this at a Young Life Staff conference many, many years ago, sometime around 1998, the first time I had burned myself out in ministry. There is something about being in a service industry that makes high capacity people move toward any gap of need presented by their organization internally as well as the need toward which it is aimed. Many of you have heard me say something about “burnout” before, but for the uninitiated, burnout is a condition presenting symptoms that has been declared “a phenomenon” by the World Health Organization because so many have presented the symptoms. Burnout is the overuse of a finite human’s capacity. Competency and capability are what an individual CAN do. Capacity is how long one can do those things FOR. The trouble is that some of us operate under the terrible theology that we are necessary. However, we are far more than necessary, we.are.loved.
Do you see the difference? If we were merely necessary to God, if He were using us like pawns to accomplish His purpose, and if we were simply to be used up and discarded, He would would be no different than many human employers. Instead, because He loves us so much, He even tells us to take days off for rest and for soul restoration. When I heard what Craig Barnes said to Young Life Staff all those years ago, an important truth started taking root in me, that more than being merely necessary to God, I am so loved from beyond the end of the Universe, from beyond time and space in history, that all there is in this life is to respond proportionally to God’s love which is so total: the giving and hospitality of Creation, our own time and space in history, the lavishing of the blood of His only Son, the keys to the Kingdom, eternal life and our names written in the palm of His hand and in the Book of Life, the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit, and perhaps most importantly, the gift of the Spirit Himself, breathing that new eternal life into us when the Kingdom of God is born into us by the seed of the Word of God’s revelation of His loving character.
God understands our finitude intimately, as He became wrapped in the swaddling clothes of His own Creation’s time and space in history, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to Himself by stretching His arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, to pursue us all the way to the door of our hearts wherein His relentless love knocks like a tidal pulse of unending, amazing love. We were not worthy of this attention from our Divine Creator, but apparently, we were worth it. Worth it to Him in particular. You and me in particular were worth it to Him in particular. And because we are not merely necessary to God, we are loved, it means that we can rest in grateful response. We are allowed to get off of the hamster cage wheel of slavery in Egypt and rest in the knowledge of His love…the intimate knowledge of His infinite love, knowing His love in the biblical Hebrew sense of the word: He has poured His love into us in a baptism of cleansing water and purifying fire. Now it is ours to respond proportionally since He gave us all of Himself, He held nothing back. The only proportional response is total: all of who we are–and all that we have–offered back to Him in sacrifice, just as He sacrificed Himself for us, not as slaves, but as adopted children of the King, heirs through hope of His eternal Kingdom.
A much better theology than being necessary to God is that we are loved. It is much better news. It means we can take a nap, take a sabbath, take a sabbatical, we can find rest in Him, and from that place of rest and peace in Him we can offer something so much better to the world than our mere finite human capacity: from the overflow of His love poured into us, we can offer His love to others. From a place of peace and rest in Him, we can offer others His peace and rest, the gentle, unforced rhythms of the Kingdom of God. He neither retreats from the door of our hearts, nor does He kick the door in, but in an astonishing display of Divine humility, He stands at the door of each and every heart and knocks. He would still be worthy if He just left when we did not open. He would still be God if He kicked the door in; I mean, what could we, His creatures, do about it if He did? He’s God, and all powerful. Yet, we apparently have a God who waits and knocks, meets us in the clearing of our empty hearts with a flood of love if we just open the door a crack to see if He is really there, if He really loves us. I tell you the truth, if you just open the door of your heart to the inestimable love of God in Jesus Christ, He will flood you with His Spirit of love and you will know and you will be known by the God of the Universe, after which you can pray for God’s love to break your heart with His love for others, even as He saves us from the destructive power of self-infatuation or self-loathing.
He needs us not. All there is to do is respond to His love in kind, to believe in Him and His love and to allow His lovingkindness and relentless tenderness to transform the little fiefdom of our hearts into a franchise of His everlasting Kingdom. Know that you are loved. Respond to His love with commensurate gratitude. Our efforts at doing so are pathetic, but it is the “refrigerator art,” as my friend Allen Levi puts it, of our heavenly Father, who finds each effort to transform our world with His love so wonderful and adorable that He would stick it up like a picture on His heavenly fridge if He had one. Let’s not be too impressed with ourselves. Let’s not be so impressed with ourselves that we take ourselves too seriously, so seriously that we think we’re merely necessary. Conversely, let’s not be so unimpressed with ourselves if the God of the Universe, our Creator, loves us so. We are so loved.
It is a choice to live in that love daily, and it is a choice to hold it at bay. Choose love this day, and the next, and you’ll never be sorry. Walk in love in the “gentle, unforced rhythms of the Kingdom of God,” as Eugene Peterson translates it in the Message. He even gives us His love to love others with. Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be yours today as you walk in love, as dearly loved children.