Serving from Overflow

Love is the overflow of joy in God! It is not duty for duty’s sake, or right for right’s sake. It is not a resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely to the good of the other person. It is first a deeply satisfying experience of the fullness of God’s grace, and then a doubly satisfying experience of sharing that grace with another person. –John Piper, pastor and author

The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. . . . Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” Exodus 18:13, 17-18 (ESV)

Service to others can sometimes seem like a wilderness in its own right. The days are long, things don’t always go well (to put it mildly), and there are seasons when no one seems to appreciate our efforts. All too often, we find ourselves asking, “What About Me? Is anybody going to care for my needs?”

The answer, which may be surprising, is both “yes” and “no.” Yes, our God will surely care for our needs as we make sacrifices in loving obedience to Him, but those sacrifices must be aligned with God’s design for our lives. God called Moses to lead His people, but Moses needed wisdom to lead in such a way that he didn’t destroy himself. Thankfully, his father-in-law (Jethro) was there to offer some timely advice.

Unfortunately, people like Jethro are far too few. The chances that others will make a deliberate effort to ensure our spiritual and familial well-being are sometimes very slim. It falls upon our own shoulders to pursue a walk with God and to ensure that the needs of our families are met.

Necessary Questions

Necessarily, we must ask ourselves vital questions about walking with God and caring for our families. Are we deliberately pursuing our Lord and Savior above all else? Are we spending time in His word and in prayer? Are we following the example of Jesus to periodically step away from the responsibilities of life to seek our heavenly Father? Are we meeting the needs of our spouses and children in the midst of what appear to be overwhelming needs? Are we serving as a part of a ministry team rather than attempting to carry a multitude of the burdens on our own shoulders?

Only as we focus on doing life and ministry according to God’s design will He answer all of the other “What about me?” needs.

A Guilt Cocktail

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we can effectively serve God apart from God. We have nothing of real value to offer others that we aren’t getting first from the throne of heaven. This means that deliberately carving out personal and family time is one of the most unselfish things we can do. Unfortunately for us, such an approach to life and ministry is not exactly what one might call conscience-friendly. Service motivated by love is redemptive. In contrast, a heart driven by guilt will never fail to bear corrupt fruit.

I saw one of the most striking examples of this struggle during my campus ministry years. We were each responsible for raising our own salaries, feeling as though a sacred trust had been given to us by those giving sacrificially to support our ministry efforts. Accordingly, we all felt the pressure to work 24/7. Time away from ministry—although essential to our well-being—was often plagued by an underlying sense of guilt. Add to the mix the unreasonable expectations of a few unhappy people, and the guilt cocktail was complete.

Spiritual Overflow

It falls to us to overcome internal voices of guilt and external voices of demand in order to set appropriate boundaries in our lives and ministries. We are all called to serve God, but none of us has the infinite capacity of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we want to give sacrificially for the benefit of others, but giving must also be wise.

Doing things for God (and others) is not equivalent to walking with God; truly effective ministry is always a matter of spiritual overflow. Our heavenly Father never calls us to bankrupt our souls to serve others, but to give out of the abundance that flows from a personal relationship with Him.

When the flow of our service originates with heaven’s throne, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish!



This post is drawn from Chapter Twenty-Eight of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers