Filling the bucket

Preachers and elders, missionaries and Bible teachers all get burned out, sooner or later. Their bucket is empty.

What causes us to feel we have emptied the bucket?

  • Sin: Note the example of David. In Psalm 51, even though he had admitted fault and repented, it seems clear he had flat lined spiritually, and needed to recover.
  • Criticism: Critics can be correct or not, fair or not, loving or not, but it can still knock the spiritual wind out of us.
  • Be worn down: You are the resource, everyone looks to you for strength. Often a Christian college, older preachers or a good library are not available, and you feel you have gone dry.
  • Poor health: Often this is out of your control, but you are lacking the energy and strength to carry out the tasks.
  • Satan: This is, after all, a spiritual warfare. We “do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over the present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
  • Depression: (You say, “Do those in ministry sometimes suffer depression?”) Two responses: First, in recent times we have become more aware of the effects of depression. Second, why not? Depression attacks people in the armed forces, teachers, senators and business owners. Why not those in ministry? I don’t want any lovely, talented, spiritually-minded person to be lost to the cause of Christ because he or she suffers from this ailment from time to time. Folks, serving God in spite of your weakness can be an inspiration to others!

Psalm 51 is David’s expression of remorse following his sin with Bathsheba. I think we can say with confidence that David’s sorrow for sin is sincere. He begs God to recreate him from deep within: “Create in me a clean heart O God,” he pleads, “renew a right spirit within me,” “uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:9-12). “Heart,” “within me,” and “willing spirit” are all phrases that suggest David’s problem was not cosmetic.

There are indications that David had flat-lined spiritually. If change was to occur, it would have to be from the inside.

So how does one recover? How do we fill the bucket up?

  • I am always impressed with David’s use of the verb “create” in Psalm 51. God, and God alone is in charge of creating things. When the bucket is empty, turn to the Lord for (pun intended) re-creation.
  • “Come away to a desolate place and rest” (Mark 6:1). After my disappointing times I have retreated to a place of solitude and sought to recoup. This is the perfect solution for an introvert like me.
  • Fill the bucket up. Some people are always giving – nurses and school teachers for instance. In our case, we will have to deliberately set aside time to read the Bible and spend time with God. It may take a little time, you should understand, because it took some time to empty the bucket.
  • Help others: Be conscious of the need to pull others up out of their discouragement. Thoughtful friends and brethren will help. Be that person!

Some person entering service for God will say, “Why didn’t anybody tell me this might happen?”

Well, I’m telling you now. Because I care about what happens to you, and because it will happen to you at some point, and because I want you to survive it and continue to make a difference for the Lord’s cause.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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