How to Rest While Doing Ministry
Working in ministry can be emotionally exhausting. Some days are exciting and fast-paced. Some are mundane or discouraging and allow our fears and fatigue to catch up with us. One moment, we may meet with a zealous new Christian hungry to know more of God’s word. The next, we may meet with someone experiencing the deepest suffering they’ve ever faced. These rapid shifts between highs and lows are the regular rhythm of a pastor’s life.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what it must have been like for Jesus’ disciples to live in the space between miraculous moments. Just like us, these twelve followers of Jesus experienced the highs and lows of ministry. But the story of Jesus feeding the multitude shows us that Jesus consistently provides rest for his followers.
The Dynamic Short-Term Mission Trip
In Luke 9, Jesus gives his twelve disciples power and authority to drive out demons, cure diseases, and proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus instructs them to take nothing with them—no money, no extra shirt, no bread, no staff. Instead, they’re to depend on the hospitality of the towns they visit to survive. Jesus tells them that wherever they are welcomed to perform signs and wonders in God’s name. Where they are rejected, they are to shake the dust off their feet and travel to the next town.
In verse 10, Luke tells us, “When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done.” I imagine they had stories to tell! People healed, demons cast out, hundreds—perhaps thousands—repenting and believing the kingdom of God had come. They likely had days they went hungry and nights they slept outside a town that didn’t welcome them.
Much like the way we share stories with friends in ministry, I can picture the disciples telling Jesus about their new friends who were generous and hospitable. Maybe it went something like this:
“Jesus, you’ll never believe it, this one man had a dream weeks before we arrived…”
“This woman recently became a widow and lost everything she had, but she welcomed us and…”
“These children who asked us to stay with them were abandoned and hungry, praying for a miracle…”
Whatever happened on that short-term mission trip, Scripture tells us it was fruitful enough that even Herod the Tetrarch, the ruler of Galilee and Perea, heard about it and wanted to meet Jesus (Luke 9:9). Imagine how you might feel if the most powerful political leader in your city wanted to meet Jesus as a result of such a dynamic ministry. You might return home full of anticipation and excitement, believing your efforts weren’t in vain.
But much like our own experiences, the disciples likely returned tired after such intense activity. Jesus, being the good shepherd, welcomed his disciples as they returned home and took them with him so that they might withdraw from the many crowds. Describing the same account, Mark 6:30 says,
The apostles gathered round Jesus to report to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
There was so much activity, they hadn’t even had time to eat. There were crowds of people coming and going, they had poured themselves out, and they were tired.
Mark goes on to tell us that they got into a boat with Jesus and drifted off to a solitary place. I wonder if some fell asleep, while others quietly reflected on all that had just happened. Maybe Jesus or another disciple hummed a tune while another watched the waves pass by. Maybe one or two minds were racing with strategy and ideas. As people who experience exhaustion, it's not too hard to imagine what we would’ve done if we were sitting in that boat.
Plans for Rest Interrupted
This break quickly ended when they arrived at their destination—only to discover that the crowds had beat them to it. Whatever quiet meal the disciples were hoping to enjoy with one another was now on the back burner as crowds waited to meet Jesus. We all know what it feels like to be ready for rest, only to have those plans derailed. I imagine more than one disciple was frustrated.
But Jesus? He looks at the crowds and has compassion on them. After all, they’re like sheep without a shepherd. So he begins to teach them.
The day drags on. The disciples still haven’t eaten. Now they begin to question when they would send the crowds home so that the people might get food. Jesus tells them:
“You give them something to eat.”
Bewildered, the disciples ask how it’s even possible. Who’s going to pay for it? How many villages would they have to visit to find that much bread? It’s interesting that the scene opens with them returning from seeing God’s power cast out demons, heal the sick, and lead people to repentance, and yet later in the day, they don’t have the slightest idea how to serve lunch. How many times have we seen God work in miraculous ways only to get discouraged when we don’t know how to meet some other need?
They find five loaves of bread and a few fish. Jesus gives thanks for the food, breaks the bread, and gives the disciples the very things they need to feed the multitude. In this simple act, the disciples are reminded that they are completely dependent on him, just as he is completely dependent on his Father, for all that they do. Even when they’re tired and empty, Jesus gives them one more way to serve by abundantly providing the very food they are to distribute.
The scene ends with the food multiplying and everyone fed. The tired and hungry disciples sit with one another, enjoying this miraculous feast. Even in laboring with Jesus, he brings them to a place of rest and satisfaction.
Jesus Supplies All Our Needs
As you minister to church members with great physical needs, walk alongside the suffering, and plant seeds of the gospel in rocky soil, you will certainly experience joy, battle discouragement, and hit walls of exhaustion. Let’s remember in both moments of fruitfulness and helplessness, when our energy is high and when it’s depleted, that we should deeply depend on our Father. This dependency is cultivated as we become constant in prayer and look to Christ alone to meet all our needs.
As ministers, we only have the capacity to give what has first been given to us. Jesus will abundantly supply the gifts, resources, teaching points, counseling questions, friendships, creativity, innovation, courage, and mercy necessary for us to feed the sheep he deeply loves. We must simply be attentive to the voice of Jesus, rest in the boat as we journey from one activity to the next, and enjoy resting with Jesus once we’ve finished serving alongside him.
The beauty of the work we are called to do with Jesus is that we, too, are one of those people Christ has looked at, been moved with compassion for, and offered himself so that we might find rest and satisfaction in God alone.