Leading on Empty


What do you do when you’re a leader and you have nothing left to give?

What happens when you are the pastor, the parent, or the friend who has hit a season where you are frustrated, burnt out, and ready to give up? Because of the reality of the Christian life, as we serve others we break ourselves open and pour ourselves out day after day, week after week, and month after month.  And while we might certainly understand that in order to pour ourselves out to others we need to be poured into… some days it seems like everything gets drained out a lot quicker than it gets poured back in.

When we lead within our homes, we pour ourselves out for our spouses and our kids and when that happens day in and day out, we often find ourselves empty.  When we lead in our congregation, at times we will inevitably find ourselves empty. Life has a way of emptying us rather quickly.

A sudden death of a child.

A close friend gets served with divorce papers.

A coworker betrays you.

The job you love becomes more work than passion.

What happens then? The reality of serving, whether it be as someone who is paid or a volunteer, is that it is hard. Because relationships take work. Working on a team is difficult. Serving others is difficult. Belonging to a family is difficult. So when you’ve hit empty, exhausted by your inability to have anything to offer to the people around, what do you do?

In Matthew 14:13-21, there’s an incredible account of Jesus using the disciples:

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

What did the disciples have that equipped them for their mission of feeding over 5,000? What qualified the disciples to be the ones to help Jesus in this miracle? It wasn’t their devotion to Jesus, the qualifications, or the amount of bread they filled their baskets with.

The disciples had nothing.  And that’s exactly what Jesus needed.  One bible-teacher suggests, “Nothing is God’s favorite material to work with.”  The disciples are qualified to serve the people around them because they have nothing to offer to them. Some kid has bread and fish, not the disciples.  It’s only when the disciples have nothing to offer that Jesus can use them to do his work.

The disciples have nothing. They have empty baskets and Jesus starts handing out the goods and they simply take what Jesus gives to them and passes it around. They get a bite for themselves and share the goods.

In the moments when you have nothing left to give, God is ready to get to work. The God who created the world from nothing and created life from nothing, creates a missionary and a servant when you have nothing left to give.  When you find yourself exhausted by the work of ministry, Jesus puts the bread in your basket. The very thing that qualifies you to give and serve your neighbor is not the amount of time you’ve spent on yourself, it’s magnitude of the grace that’s been given to you when you had nothing to give.

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