One of the most common issues that people in ministry complain about is that they are stressed, too busy, tired and running low. Some time ago I was given this helpful tool to work through, and over the years it has proved to be very helpful to very many. It uses the image of a water tank and asks three questions:

Water Tank 01

Here is a water tank with a hole in the bottom to let water out. Life is demanding, and there are constant demands on our energy and resources.  That’s the hole in the tank – stuff that drains us. And here’s the thing: there’s no tap. That’s just life. We keep having to do things that drain us – all the time, there’s no turning off the drain.

First Question: Where Is Your Water Level At?

First Question: Where Is Your Water Level At?

Tank 01

The tank is a picture of how ‘full’ or ‘empty’ you’re feeling today. If you’re feeling ‘low’ or tired or stressed, it means your water level is low and you’re running on nearly empty. This is the first thing to work out, which is why the number 1 is by the side of the tank. How full is your tank right now? Where is your water level at?

If it’s nearly empty and at the level of the hole, you’re burnt out and have little or nothing left to give. If it’s low, you’ll have little head pressure, and your output will be low. If you’re about half-full, you’ll have better head pressure and more productivity; you’ll be able to handle more draining things all day and still feel like you’ve got stuff left in the tank in reserve at the end of the day. Best of all, if you’re operating on a full tank, you’ll be cooking with gas (to mix our metaphors), able to handle lots of stressful things, and still be reasonably full at the end. 

Second Question: What Things Drain You?

Second Question: What Things Drain You?

Tank 02

The arrows gushing out of the bottom of the tank represent the things that drain your tank. These might be things like: aspects of your job, having to deal with someone you find unpleasant, chronic illness, a difficult relationship.

It’s important to identify these as specifically as possible. ‘Work’, is not specific enough. ‘Dealing with incompetent people, which is part of my job description’, is. Particular parts of our jobs and particular relationships are probably draining for all of us. Some

things we can help, others we can’t.

If you’re an introvert, lots of extroverted activities will probably fall into this category of draining things; and vice versa for extroverts. You may not despise doing them, but they do drain you rather than energise you.

What are the top three things that drain you? Do you really have to do them all? What should you do? What does God really want you to be doing? 

Third Question: What Tops You Up?

Third Question: What Tops You Up?


Well here’s the final piece of the picture. There’s no stopping the hole at the bottom that’s letting all the water out. That’s just life, we all have to deal with draining things. So the secret is to keep filling the tank from above. The more you can top yourself up, the higher the water level will be, and the more productive and able to deal with draining things you will be. What tops up your tank?

Be specific about the top three things that renew and re-energise you. I’m an introvert, so I need time alone – at least three times a week for about 2-3 hours per time. I also enjoy gardening, so I try and get my hands dirty in the garden at least once a week, usually on my day off. And then I go for a run. Which relationships and what activities top you up? And how often do you need them?

Many people put ‘getting enough sleep’ high on this list – but ironically, when we’re stressed, sleep is often the first thing to go. This is extremely counter-productive except in the very short term! One study says that to guarantee enough rest, the average person needs 9 hours of sleep per night. Light exercise and eating healthier also helps most people. And for Christians, a regular, quality quiet time of Bible reading and prayer is completely essential. C. H. Spurgeon was once asked how he did the work of two men. He replied, ‘But there are two of us’ – meaning him and the Lord, whose power for us is accessed through a good discipline of Bible reading and prayer. 

How Full Is Your Tank Today?

How Full Is Your Tank Today?

I got this diagram from Steve Abbott of St Matthew’s West Pennant Hills, Sydney who got it from Wayne Codeiro, who pastors a megachurch in Hawaii. Wayne has a super-busy super-responsible super-stress kind of job, but I’m told that he makes time to surf three mornings a week. The principle is this: unless he surfs and tops up his tank regularly, he can’t do all the very demanding and draining thing that his job requires. He keeps his tank full, and stays healthy and productive. He also has a regular quiet time! I don’t think he’s lazy or indulgent; he probably still works a massive week. Remember, even the busy Jesus had to withdraw from the demanding crowds to pray and refocus his vision (Mark 1:35–39). 

Tank 05

Too many of us think the secret to being productive is just to work harder, sleep less and generally enjoy life less—because it’s all hard work but worth it in the end. But this is to be motivated by guilt and not grace, and to risk burnout and spoilt relationships. Grace gives us permission to say ‘No’ to things. This isn’t being lazy, but wise. Guilt just keeps making the hole at the bottom of the tank bigger and bigger, without giving us permission to do things that top us up. Ironically, grace is the secret to truly faithful hard work (1Corinthians 15:10).

Two of the great gifts of God are peace and joy (Galatians 5:22). In fact, the joy of the Lord is supposed to be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). God is gracious, and although there will be many aspects of life and the Christian walk that are necessarily difficult and challenging, Jesus promises us an easy yoke and light burden (Matthew 11:28–30).

The Lord who saves us by grace also sets aside good work for us to do—also by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). Paul says to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4). James regards trials as pure joy (James 1:2). Christians are able to think, do and feel this when we live and work in the wisdom that Jesus Christ supplies—by grace, not guilt. So, work hard and endure all things by the grace that the Lord supplies—keep your tank topped up.     

ps. I’ve learnt the hard way over the years that as long as it has taken your tank to get that low (if you are at a low point), it will probably take as long to get it back up to full. This tank exercise isn’t a quick fix, but a series of transforming-your-life habits, for which we each need more grace from God who richly supplies all we need in Christ.