Ministry, especially if we intend to remain in it for the long haul, demands the pace of a long-distance marathon rather than a sprint. Running for long distances in a healthy way requires taking in nutrients and oxygen as it is also expended. Similarly, in ministry, our health depends on our taking in rest and the food of the Word as we give out to others. We cannot breathe out grace unless we breathe it in ourselves.
I find, too, that my long-distance pace must include healthy boundaries. Sometimes I say yes, and sometimes I say no. Sometimes I take on responsibility, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I spend time with people, and sometimes I don't. I breathe in, I breathe out.
At least I'm learning to. The longer I run this marathon, the more I realize how fluid boundaries are. Boundaries cannot be placed on a checklist, as much as I would like to sometimes. They are not often as simple as a yes or a no. Boundaries require our utter dependence on the Lord's direction. In various seasons of life, He has us doing and relating in vastly different ways.
For this moment, in this mile, wherever we are, we breathe in His direction and breathe out obedience.
The problem, obviously, comes when others have different ideas about our pace. In His ministry, Jesus encountered this same issue, as recorded in John 6:15: "Therefore
when Jesus perceived that they (the crowds) were about to come and take Him by
force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone."
The race spectators, many God-seeking people, wanted Jesus to take a kingly authority, to change His pace. They wanted Him to take the authority, power, and glory He deserved. Not a bad thing. But it wasn't what God intended for Him, and Jesus knew it. So He fled the crowds, perhaps fleeing the temptation to avoid the cross or perhaps to erect a boundary, to make a gentle statement: This is not what God has asked me to do. I want to be obedient to Him alone.
In that moment, in that mile, He breathed in His Father's direction and breathed out graceful obedience.
I doubt the crowds understood. I doubt they liked it. They might have grumbled against Him.
But if He had listened, giving in to their ideas and allowing them to influence His pace, we would not have His ministry to us on the cross.
We do well to follow Jesus's example, to let God set our pace instead of the crowds. The crowds have their own ideas, sometimes very good ones, but with limited perspective. If we follow God's lead, no matter if others misunderstand, He will lead us in a way that enables our fruitful race all the way to the finish line.
Today, in this moment, in this mile of the race, simply breathe in His direction and breathe out obedience.
This is how we pace ourselves.