Boundaries Or Barriers?
Chan Gin Kai
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. (Luke 9:10-11)
We are called to serve God and His people. But it can be tough and tiring too. How do we serve sacrificially without getting burnt out?
Boundaries To Protect
Jesus had sent the Twelve to preach the good news and heal people everywhere (Luke 9:1-6); they had gone out to meet the needs of others. They returned victorious, and Jesus “took them with him and they withdrew by themselves” to Bethsaida. It was a time for a break, for Jesus to take care of them after they have done his work. God desires to reward those who serve Him.
Serving God and His people can be tough. There’ll be some who’ll ignore us, some who won’t appreciate what we do and even some who’ll persecute us. We can be victorious and still feel tired, or sometimes totally exhaust ourselves and yet yield no results.
It is even more dangerous when the ‘saviour complex’ sets in and we start over-estimating our own importance. This is a struggle I am prone to whenever I’m not careful. I can start serving with the purest intention, and Satan craftily corrupts it into a self-validation exercise. The ‘saviour complex’ puffs us up, and then burns us out.
While we must be passionate and devoted in serving others, we cannot forget our own needs. Jesus is the Saviour and we are not. He has the power we need. We can and should regularly withdraw by ourselves with Jesus. We need our personal time with him, to get refreshed and energised again. Burning ourselves out is not only doing ourselves a silly disservice, it makes us less effective in serving God on the long run too.
We need boundaries to protect our relationship with God, our health and the people we love. We must be sold out and sacrificial, but our time alone with God must be sacred and more important than everything else. Our body is the temple of God. Do we over-stress our physical, mental and emotional health? And do we neglect the people we love while we’re serving others? That is not only wrong in the eyes of God, but create consequences that will come back to haunt us too.
God wants us to serve him, and God desires to reward us too. Set up healthy boundaries.
Barriers That Repel
When the crowd learnt where Jesus had gone to, they followed him. But instead of shooing them away, “he welcomed them”, taught them and “healed those how needed healing.” Jesus didn’t tell them “Hey, this is my special time with my disciples, go away and come back another time.”
We need to learn the delicate balance. While we must not burn ourselves out, we cannot be selfish either. While we must draw some boundaries, the walls we build to protect ourselves must not become barriers that repel others. Our boundaries cannot become our excuses.
So how do we strike the balance? The people who followed Jesus to Bethsaida sought him, and they “needed healing”. People who genuinely seek Jesus and need healing are not people we can turn down. This is where we may sometimes need to work out of our comfort zone. This is when we’ll need to imitate Jesus’ sacrifice.
There are however the trouble-seekers and self-seekers too. It is easy with the trouble-seekers who come to church or to us with the intention of causing harm. We don’t even need to entertain them.
The self-seekers, however, are a little trickier. They may come to us or to church not because they want to seek God, but because they’ve got an endless list of needs they want us to meet. We help them when we can, for Jesus helps without discriminating too. Besides they may just learn about God’s love through our actions.
But when the self-seekers constantly complain even after they’re help, and only pile on a longer list of needs that they demand we meet, we’ll need to draw our boundaries. Are those needs genuine or just plain selfishness? Are there more important needs elsewhere that need our attention? Are they burning us out?
Sadly, there are more than a few self-seekers in church. They are so used to getting their needs met in church that they’ve become spoilt. They forget that our primary reason for coming to church is to worship God and not get our needs met. They forget that God has already met our greatest need – salvation. And they forget that the lost have even greater needs. We need to remind them of the cross, and why they became disciples.
But trouble-seekers and self-seekers aside, there are many more in church and in the world that genuinely need our help. There are the weak, the lost and the poor. There are those who need spiritual food and those who need physical nourishment. Do we put up barriers and turn them away?
We need boundaries to protect ourselves. But we cannot have barriers that repel others. As we serve God’s Kingdom, we will tire, but we can lean on Him for strength.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".