This trap that we can fall into where we come to love the things of God more than we love God Himself is an especially dangerous pit for ministers of the Lord to fall into. And when I say "ministers," I am not just talking about professional pastors; I'm talking about anyone who serves in the church.
When you're responsible for preparing content every week or when you're responsible for managing components of a service every week, it's really hard to engage with things for yourself. If you're preaching the Word, then it's tempting to make every bit of the Word that you read part of your sermon instead of part of your personal devotion. If you're leading worship, every song you sing is a rehearsal for a performance, not an act of worship to God. If you're organizing the greeting team, it's easy to be talking to someone and also thinking, "How can I ask them to join the team for next Sunday?"
All of a sudden, that close relationship that you once felt with God, that inspired you to serve Him in the first place, starts to slip away and it is replaced by the things that you're doing "for" Him...but it doesn't take long from there before you forget He's part of it at all, except when you're justifying how much energy you're investing into the thing or how much you care about it.
This is a pattern that I confess that I fall into from time to time. I do so much writing and talking and ministering that I find myself writing things down from my Bible that I think will be powerful when I share them again later, or things that I want to say to that friend who is going through that thing right now. You know, the next time I talk to them. It gets to the point sometimes when there are things that start to tickle my own heart, and I can't figure out how I would ever possibly share them, so I skip too quickly over them and never let them get in.
I go through dry seasons. I go through parched seasons. And it is precisely because it is so hard for those of us who have a public declaration of ministry and faith to maintain a personal faith consistently. It is precisely because it's so easy for us to get into places where God pours right through us instead of filling us up first, where we become funnels instead of wells.
If you have a pastor, I promise you he or she knows this. He probably doesn't talk about it, but it doesn't make it less true.
One of the ways to combat this is to make sure you're not serving every Sunday. To make sure that you're not in a position to pour out more than you're taking in. Pastors need to hear sermons, too. They need to sit and let the Word wash over them and hear someone else expound on the goodness of God. Worship leaders need to be just one voice among many sometimes. They need to hear others sing. Ushers need to sit down in the pews and not worry about organizing things. Greeters need to have time to fellowship. Every single person in the church needs time to just be part of the church and to not have to be in charge of the church.
I know persons in churches in many places, including my own, who only show up because they are serving. If they aren't on the service list, they aren't in the building. I know pastors for whom this is true, as well. "I didn't feel like going to church today, but, well, I had to preach the sermon." It's because they've poured themselves empty and needed rest and restoration, but their responsibilities to the church kept them going.
And every single time this happens - whether you're the preacher, the worship leader, the children's church teacher, or the security person - you bring a lesser gift to God. You bring something less than the best. Because you just don't have it in you.
That's why we who serve, in particular, must be so careful about our personal devotion. About not taking too much responsibility onto our shoulders. About setting up these systems of rest and replacement so that if, this Sunday, I need to just sit in the pews, I can do that. So that if your preacher needs to just hear the Word, he's got someone else who can bring it. So that if your worship minister's fingers are fumbling, she can step down and let the voices of the congregation wash over her.
It's too easy for us to become doers of God instead of lovers of Him because we've been trained to share every good thing. But here's the truth: we need to just soak in some of those good things for us. Some of those are just for our benefit. We have to remember to let God pour into us and not just through us. If we don't, terrible things happen - not just to our congregations, but to our own hearts. (And it's that second one that is most devastating.) This is how the faithful fall away.