I remember hearing my dad huff and puff when he got back from a trip to the bank after realising that a cheque that he was given, had bounced. He expected that money to be in his account a few days after he banked it, but low and behold the money wasn't there when he needed it.
The only thing that could make him huff and puff more was if one of his own cheques bounced. He thought that he would have enough in his account to pay for whatever he had written the cheque, but instead he finds that not only is there not enough money in the account, but also a fine from the bank.
And how embarrassing is it when you go to the checkout to pay for something like the latest iPad only for your credit card to be rejected because it has "maxed" out? I wouldn't know, that's never happened to me. But I've heard it's pretty awful.
With a credit card we can keep spending and giving out more than we actually have. Unfortunately, we pay for that convenience with interest, and then we have an even bigger amount to pay back.
It's kind of the same with the way that we live isn't it? We can keep making withdrawals from our inner bank of energy, joy, and peace so that we can serve other people. But what happens when we max out that credit card? What happens when that cheque bounces?
At the beginning of 2013, I was in Greece on a mission trip. I was really enjoying the late hours hanging out with people, preparing for youth groups, travelling around, and serving with other missionaries, but by the third week of being there I was exhausted. I was in debt.
I'd been giving out and serving more than I had in the bank to give. And it wasn't pretty. I would try to pump myself up with music and movies when I had a spare moment, but nothing was working. And I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I was serving God and I was serving others on mission trip…what could go wrong there?
We know that serving others is biblical. We see it time and time again in the New Testament to 'Love God with all that we are, and to love others as we love ourselves' (Luke 10 verse 27).
Both Paul and James repeat this commandment in Galatians 5 verse 14 and James 2 verse 8. But the commandment assumes that we are loving ourselves and taking care of ourselves to begin with. Clearly this wasn't too much of an issue in Jesus' day, but here I am today getting exhausted over a mission trip that I'm really enjoying. So what is different today?
Well, we got busy. And we tied our sense of achievement and worth to how much we were able to accomplish. As Christians especially, we find it so easy to measure our own 'success' based on how much we are serving God and serving others. But what does that mentality lead to? It leads to us getting exhausted, and not only getting exhausted, but also feeling terrible about ourselves. In our exhaustion we're not able to serve God and others as much as we would want. It's like a terrible cycle.
Picture this for a moment:
We're all in a plane, and all of a sudden we hit some really bad turbulence. The pressure in the cabin is lost and you notice on the other side of the plane that the grandma you high fived on your way into the terminal is freaking out. You think she's about to have a heart attack. And then on the other side, there's a little kid who is really starting to shake around in their seat.
But luckily for them, you are a completely capable human being, so you're going to save them both from passing out. The plane's shaking, there's so much noise, the flight attendants are trying not to freak out, and those oxygen masks pop down from the ceiling. You unbuckle your seat and start heading towards the granny and the little kid.
You've got Captain America's theme music going through your head, and you're feeling like such a hero. But you've forgotten something. You've forgotten that part of the safety briefing the air-hostess gave you when she said, "Remember to secure your own mask before assisting others." With every breath you take, you're losing oxygen because the pressure in the cabin is gone and it has taken all the oxygen with it.
The Captain America music stops, and as you start to get dizzy and fall to your knees, you feel terrible for not being able to help, because now you need even more help than the granny and the little kid. Then, you pass out.
I have to fit that oxygen mask around my own head first if I am going to be any help to others. It's the same with my life. I have to attend to myself first in order to be spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically available to help others.
Now, don't get the wrong idea about serving myself first. This is not a selfish, lazy, "pleasing-myself-always" type thing. Serving yourself first is about preparation. We know that we are called to serve God on this earth. We know we are called to serve others. But before we can do that, we have to be able to serve ourselves in preparation for giving out to others. We have to have money in the bank if we are wanting to spend it on others, correct?
So what does serving yourself look like? It's going to look like different things for different people, but there is one thing that all believers should be doing to serve themselves - and that is spending time in God's Temple. We should all be spending time enriching both our knowledge and experience of God if we hope to serve Him and others to the best of our ability.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul talks about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit because of what Christ did on the cross. So the good news for us today, is that we can dwell in the temple of God no matter where we are. We can serve ourselves by cooperating with God in prayer, placing Christ at the centre of everything that we do, and dwelling on His Word and on his actions in this world. Even when Jesus was becoming madly popular and crowds were flocking to be with him, Jesus often withdrew to 'a lonely place' to spend time soaking in his Father's presence (Luke 5 verses 15-16).
We must prioritise time to dwell in the Temple of God and learn from Him. That might mean reading the Bible or a devotional; journaling your thoughts; dancing around your room praising God; praying for more understanding; or even something as simple as finding three new things every morning for which you can thank God. It's surprising how much each of these things can serve us. God is more than capable of filling us up with his presence so fast that the bank account inside us is overflowing with joy and peace, to the point that all we want to do is give it out and share it around.
Serving ourselves is critical, so that we can be prepared to be God's hands and feet on this earth.
Blaine Packer is a graduate of Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies who is passionate about media and mission. Currently residing in Launceston, Tasmania, Blaine is involved in both media and local ministry work at Door of Hope Christian Church.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html