The Maxim of the Mask

Kris BarnettKristopher Barnett, Ministry Tools

The award for longest running and most unwatched mime act must belong to the stewards and stewardesses who pantomime safety directions before each airplane lifts off the tarmac.  Few pay attention to the rehearsed routine as these airline attendants display the proper procedure for buckling a safety harness, opening an exit, and inflating the life vest located under the seat.  (Am I the only one who questions the need for life vests on flights over Arizona?)

I was once caught on a flight with no reading material and listened closely to the entire routine.  One particular item caught my attention because it seemed counterintuitive – the Maxim of the Mask.  As the stewardess demonstrated placing a mask over her mouth and nose, the taped voice-over instructed passengers to don their own masks before assisting any nearby children.  What happened to women and children first? Did chivalry fly out the window when man abandoned the ocean liner for the jet plane?

Although the Maxim of the Mask might not seem chivalrous, it will save more lives in the long run. Without oxygen, you cannot help the children around you. You will likely pass out while trying to help them with their mask. Your dead weight will be of no use to them.  However, donning your own mask will provide much needed oxygen and will allow you to assist others. Minister, you can better assist others if you adhere to the Maxim of the Mask as well. This Maxim seems particularly troublesome for ministers.  Like the chivalrous airline passenger, the instinct of ministers is to help others. They readily rush to the hospital, meet over breakfast, and cancel their own vacations to avert a crisis in a congregant’s family. While generally this instinct is good, ministers must never forget the Maxim of the Mask: “If you don’t take care of your own oxygen supply, you will not be any good to anybody!”

Minister, your oxygen comes from your time in the presence of God. Ministry and church work will clamor for your time and the needs of humanity will constantly bombard your schedule. Your meetings, appointments, and paperwork will tempt you to rush into the world without donning the mask.  But remember the Maxim of the Mask. You will be better equipped and better prepared to minister when you have inhaled the pure oxygen of God’s presence.

Job’s friend Elihu, (the wise friend, not the three loudmouths!) stated it this way, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)  Minister, are you taking the time to inhale the breath of the Almighty?  Are you receiving the life that He offers?  The story is told of an aspiring saint who sought wisdom from an aging minister.  The eager youngster wanted to grow spiritually.  He sought the secret of a godly life. Was there a book he could read, a seminar he could attend, a sermon he could hear?  The elderly minister asked the aspiring saint to accompany him on a walk to a nearby pond. When they arrived, the minister instructed the youngster to get down on his knees and look into the pond. The young man could see little benefit to this action but he obliged out of respect. When his face was only a few inches from the pond, the minister plunged the young man’s face into the pond. After the young man thrashed about for almost thirty-seconds the minister released his grip. The young man spit and sputtered and incredulously inquired, “Why did you do that?” In reply, the seasoned saint said, “You will grow when you long for God the way you long for air!”

Do you long for God’s presence the way that you long for air? Do you look forward to time with God, like you anticipate an upcoming ministry conference?  Do you hunger for time with God, like you long for the latest book by your favorite author? Do you thirst for God like you crave the up-to-the-minute podcast from your favorite pastor? While conferences, books, and podcasts can benefit our ministry, nothing replaces the life giving oxygen of God’s presence.

I imagine that you’ve heard this warning before. I would anticipate that the call to spend time with God has crossed your path in the past. Like the busy passenger ignoring the preflight pantomime, I imagine that you have probably grown adept at ignoring the warning. You’ve heard it before so you block it out. You keep racing forward, denying your time with God and ignoring your need for spiritual oxygen. You fool yourself into thinking that your hectic pace negates your need for air, but the Maxim of the Mask doesn’t lie: “If you don’t take care of your own oxygen supply, you will not be any good to anybody!” It doesn’t matter how fast you travel, you still need time to breathe!  Please quit pretending and place the mask on your nostrils.

Psalm 105:4 – “Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Question: How are you putting your own oxygen mask on first in your own ministry?