Overflow Ministry

I had the amazing privilege of being at the Right Now conference last week. It was a bit like drinking water from a fire hose, but it was very good. I’m definitely still processing most of it, but one of the things that stuck with me came from one of the Q&A sessions. I honestly don’t remember the question, or even the answer, but the disclaimer of sorts that Amy Teel gave before she answered the question hit me hard. She said something to the effect of “I answer not in the Spirit, but in my giftedness.”

Basically, she hadn’t really sought God or prayed over the question specifically, but she gave the answer that came naturally to the way she’s been gifted. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it happens quite frequently and is usually a good thing. We also have to be careful here because it’s so easy to use the grace God has given us in a particular area to serve others, speak truth, and pour out our lives for the sake of the gospel without even going back to the God of the gospel for strength and wisdom and rest.

It’s easy for people who write easily, speak well, and have a decent understanding of the Bible to post a blog or prepare a sermon without really even seeking God and sitting in His presence just to be with Him. We get distracted by life and instead of taking the time to stop and meditate on the Scriptures through prayer, study, and worship we just take life as it comes to us and put out the fires in the way we believe is best. To be sure, the ability to do this with any manner of Biblical wisdom and insight is God’s grace, and we should be grateful for it, but if we keep pouring out only using our giftedness and don’t take the time to press back into Scripture and seek the Spirit then eventually we pour ourselves out and become disoriented in life and unsure of the right answers to give and best route to take to solve problems and point people toward Jesus.

I like the way that Todd Wagner illustrated this same concept during one of the main sessions at the conference. He reminded us of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus blessed the fish and the bread and told the disciples to feed the people. Then Todd brought up how all this worked logistically. It would have been maddening to have five thousand men, plus women and children, form a line to come get the food. So, as we see in Scripture, Jesus has the disciples hand out the food (Matt. 14:19). So we have anywhere between 15,000-20,000 men, women, and children and the disciples need to pass out food. Todd asked us to think about how much food the disciples could carry at one time. Enough for 50 people? 100 people? 200? 500? Then he reminded us that no matter how much any one disciple could carry, they would run out of bread and fish and had to go back to Jesus to get more.

It’s the same way with us. Sure, our goal should absolutely be to minister out of the overflow. Our desire should be to spend so much time with God that we don’t even have to pour out because His grace and truth just overflows in our lives. Yet there are times when we can’t or just don’t. Some of us may be able to last a bit longer before we run dry, but eventually we all come to that place of emptiness where we just have to go back to God in order to get more.

The problem, I think, is that we’re often too self-reliant, too busy in this fast paced world. So instead of treating the “run to God when you’re empty” model as an extreme for really busy and hard times, we treat it as the norm. Instead of making having a vibrant relationship with God paramount, we make ministry the priority and try to do our best in our giftedness and come back to God when we see it’s just not working anymore. And we’re foolish creatures, because we’ll do the exact same thing a few months later.

How much better would our lives be if we really saw communing with Christ as the priority, and everything else as secondary? How vibrant would our churches be if we preached sermons from the overflow of our time with God? How compelling would our blogs be if the words flowed from our hearts after we spent time in prayer to and worship of our great God? Would we not be better able to see through the masks we all wear if we were more reliant on hearing from the Spirit than relying on our giftedness?

I want to be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the way that Amy answered the question she was asked, or with her disclaimer. Her words triggered a warning in my heart because for some time I’ve come to realize that when I don’t consistently spend time in Scripture and prayer I wind up doing an injustice to this space, and to my readers as well. If anything, I’m writing this post for me, if not for anyone else.

Grace and peace.

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