My mom is a lady of the classics, and I grew up on the oldies. There was a radio station that used to play only oldies songs, Cool 92.9. I remember being 8 in our tiny little apartment and listening to it while I cleaned the bathroom or did another chore. A lot of the songs I had no idea what they were called, but that didn’t matter. Because when they were on, I would love to sing along with them.
There’s one that comes to mind a lot. It’s by Jackson Browne, and it’s called Running On Empty. You may be familiar with it.
I include it here because, as a youth pastor leader, I am sorry to say that I feel this a lot—running on empty.
We give a lot, stress a lot, worry a lot, and do a lot. It’s the nature of the job. But that doesn’t mean it’s the way that it’s supposed to be. I’d argue that it’s the opposite.
And I think it happens because we try to lead more out of our ability than out of the divinely gifted ability of God. We try to make things happen; we try to do things our way. Are we more focused on trying to plan and do, praying over the plan, and asking God’s will to be done in the plan, or are we truly seeking God’s will by allowing Him to speak into the project and to fill us with His ability?
I’m not saying that we don’t plan, that we don’t collaborate, that we don’t research and strategize better courses of action. But if we are trying to do that in our ability, we are diminishing all that God has planned for us. What does that look like? I think that depends on your situation, your context, your leadership style. But what I do know is that it requires a dependence on God and His Spirit, not our abilities to push through, go the extra mile, hustle harder, work longer.
Our lives, leadership meetings, strategy sessions, luncheons, and planners should be full of the Spirit. They should be so focused on inviting Jesus and the Holy Spirit that when we sing songs like Holy Spirit, we have to ask ourselves how we become more aware of His presence because we are already pretty freaking aware!
The chorus goes like this:
Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I’m running behind
As leaders of young people, this is even more important. We can’t ask them to do these things if we are not already doing them. We can’t lead them to a deeper connection and reliance on the Holy Spirit if we are not actively seeking the Spirit in everything that we do. We can’t expect what we don’t do.
Maybe this letter is more for me than for you. But I think we have all had moments where those lyrics hit just a little too close to home. And if you’re in a season where that may be true, know that we can push forward and own it from here on. Remember Paul’s words;
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Forget the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. We’re not perfect, we’re not going to be perfect, but Jesus can reign in us and through us and bring us closer and closer to being like Him. And when we chase after that, we’re not running empty, we’re not running blind, but we have purpose and renewed energy to do what He has called us to do.
Cody is the youth pastor at Alive Church in Tucson, AZ.