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Burnout, Part 10 – Final Thoughts

January 4th, 2017

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7 NIV)

Burnout is a stage in Christian life and ministry where it is revealed to us, and often to others, very plainly that we have somehow or another gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick in living the Christian life. Most often our motives have been for ourselves, our means have been our own strength and determination, and our methods have excluded the power and life of God moving in us and through us. We have replaced our legacy for God’s glory, our wits for God’s Spirit, and our ways for God’s ways. And we have done this in the name of Christian ministry, often cheered on by others, until we have reached the limit of our power.

The great symptom of burnout is simple apathy, where we no longer care for the work, for the people, for anything.

There are some who burnout because they have given in to others, because they thought the secret of Christian life was pleasing others and making them happy. Co-dependency is the word used in recent years to describe people like this. Anger is the dominant emotion of those who are determined to achieve things through their strength, but fear is the dominant emotion of those who think that life is all about pleasing others. The first says, “I will be successful if I get everyone to do what I want them to do.” The second says, “I will be successful if I can do everything that everyone wants me to do.”

Some burnout because they have gotten it all wrong from the outset. Others have burned out because they have left God out of the difficult situations. They understood the principles of spiritual growth and spiritual life, and followed Christ and served in His power up to a certain point. Then they ran into difficulty, or their schedule got too busy and they neglected prayer, or they began to believe all of the nice things people were saying about them and thought that they were able to do this on their own, without God.

The Way through Burnout

The scriptures tell us that God disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6), and His rebuke to the church at Ephesus above is a message to those who burnout. In this case the entire church of Ephesus was burned out. The church had done many good things for Christ, but yet they had lost their first love, meaning that they had lost their love for Christ Himself. They had become so immersed in the work of the Lord that they had forgotten all about the Lord of the work.

Christ’s remedy to them He also says to every burned out Christian and servant:

  • Remember: “Consider how far you have fallen” – remember the way it used to be. Remember the joy of the Lord that used to flood your soul. Remember the times when you walked in the fullness of the Spirit and you only cared about serving Christ. Remember the thrill in your soul when you first realized that Christ had entrusted to you a ministry in His name. Remember the outpourings of His love into your heart and how you loved Him back. Remember how it was when you would do anything for Christ simply out of love.
  • Repent: Turn back to Christ. Turn away from pride and sin and turn back to Christ. Confess your fault, all of it. Repent of your pride. Repent fully, as James wrote, “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord and He will lift you up” (James 4:9-10). When we repent fully we experience afresh His eternal presence and strength in our lives – “and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27).
  • Repeat: “Do the things you did at first” – start back where you left off living and serving properly, in His power and for His glory, using His methods. We must do some forgetting, some unlearning of wrong patterns and wrong ways, and remember and repeat those healthy patterns and ways of service.

I have known some friends in ministry who resorted to worldly ways to deal with stress. One of my friends said that he and another pastor used to go to the golf course and tee a ball up and name a person in the church that they had trouble with and hit the ball with all their might as though they were hitting the person. We might laugh at a story like that, and even sympathetically nod our heads, but this is the world’s way of dealing with frustrations, not God’s. God says to not be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good (Heb. 12:21).

Finding God in our Brokenness

The scripture teaches us that we need to die to self in order to become who we need to become in Christ. Christ said:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26 NIV)

We must cast off pride, anger, unforgiveness, and anything contrary to the Spirit of Christ and let Him fill us with Himself. This is the only way to serve Christ in His power – like a seed, to die to being a seed that God might be all that He can be in us and through us.

And this principle is true whether we have been very bad and evil or only a little careless. God’s work must be done God’s way in His power and strength.

George W. Truett was one of the greatest pastors in America. He came to pastor the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas in 1898, at thirty years of age. When he came to pastor the church had 700 members and Truett pastored the church forty-seven years until he died in 1944, and left it with 7,000 members. He was a remarkable man, someone with a great heart for God and for people. He was an incredibly gifted preacher. Yet there was a turning point in his ministry shortly after he came to pastor in Dallas.

It happened around a tragic accident, where he and two other men had gone dove hunting near Cleburne, Texas. Truett was using a borrowed shotgun and he was unfamiliar with it. He accidentally fired it and struck one of the men in the leg, and it happened to be J.C. Arnold, the Chief of Police for Dallas. Arnold was treated by a doctor in Cleburne who thought he could make the train ride back to Dallas. They returned by train and got him to his house and under another doctor’s care, but Police Chief Arnold passed away a few days later from heart failure.

The event devastated Truett, to think that he had been so careless as to cause the death of one of his closest friends. Truett did not preach for several weeks, needing the time to pray and to deal with all of this. During that time he said he had a vision from the Lord, where he saw Christ saying, “Be not afraid, George. You are my man from now on.”  When he did return to the pulpit he was a different man. The tragedy had removed from him all of his self-confidence and all he had was faith and love for Christ. He served for more than forty-five years after that, learning to stand in the power of Christ, and for the glory of Christ.

Final Thoughts

There are many smaller bits of advice that we are given when we go through burnout, such as to take up a hobby, to learn to manage our schedule better, to avoid doing certain things that irritate us, to exercise regularly, to eat and rest properly, etc. These are not bad ideas, nor useless. They are good things to do, and we are wise if we follow these bits of advice.

Yet they are not the great truths of the Christian life that we need to learn. They might, in fact, if this is all that we do, simply allow us to continue to do things for our own sake and in our own power and by our own methods.

The real secret to getting past burnout is found consistently in scripture. It was first espoused by Moses when he prayed (1) for God to go with him, (2) for God to teach him His ways, and (3) for God to show him His glory (Exodus 33:12-23). But it was later taught by Christ and stated clearly by Paul when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 NIV).

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Burnout, Part 9 – Strategies for Recovery

January 3rd, 2017

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
And to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
And young men shall fall exhausted;
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles;
They shall run and not be weary;
They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV)

Waiting upon the Lord is another key strategy to combat burnout.

What does this phrase mean in a practical application to our lives? The word in the original Hebrew is qavah and it comes from the idea to “twist” or “stretch” meaning to adapt to a new reality. Just as stretching pushes us to new limits, and twisting reshapes us into new forms, so waiting upon the Lord means that we see a new potential for life – the Lord Himself.

In burnout we are most likely to take matters into our own hands, out of patience with the circumstances, out of patience with God, out of patience with others. The man who is burned out especially needs to learn to wait upon the Lord, to stretch and twist himself in a new direction – the direction of surrender. A man who is kneeling is an example of an erect man who has twisted himself into a new form, and it serves as an illustration to us of what it means to wait on the Lord.

Another example from David’s life, at what must have been his lowest ebb, after years of hiding from Saul. He had had to make some peace with the Philistines and lived among them for some period. But it was an uneasy peace and the leaders of the Philistines never truly trusted David. He and his men had traveled to see if they could join in a battle with them against Saul. All that was in the mind of David we are not told, and we will have to leave those questions with God, but they were forbidden to fight with the Philistines, so they returned to Ziglag where they were living. But while they were gone the Amalekites had raided their camp, burned it, and taken all of their wives and children hostage, presumably to sell into slavery.

These tired warriors were exhausted and angry, and the men spoke of stoning David. They all wept until they could weep no more, and David’s actions could have gone in any direction. He was weak and vulnerable, physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and after being so faithful to God not to touch Saul, the anointed king, David had lost his wives and family, and almost his entire army. But the scripture says, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6).

In the midst of exhaustion and seeming defeat, he called upon the Lord. He asked for the priest for the ephod of God, seeking the mind of God. This probably means that he told the priest to wear the ephod, or ceremonial priestly robe, and cast the stones as was the way God gave to them (Exod. 28:4; 28:30) God said to him to pursue the enemy and he took four hundred of his men with him, riding hard for two days they caught up with the raiders and completely defeated them and regained their wives, children, and goods. The trip was so hard that he had started with six hundred men but two hundred of them were too exhausted to continue. So here was an exhausted man leading other exhausted men, but David had learned the art of waiting upon the Lord.

Breaking down David’s reaction we see that:

  • David maintained his devotional life with God. God was his normal resource for leadership and strength, so in the midst of a crisis, he turned to God just as he had in other times.
  • David admitted his pain in that he wept over the crime against him and his men and their families. Someone who pretends that he is beyond being hurt or touched by evil, that he is above the normal problems and heartaches of life, is dealing with pride.
  • David sought the mind of God. He believed that God had not abandoned him in his moment of need but that God could and would help him in this crisis. He waited upon the Lord in that he was ready to do whatever God told him to do, and to even do nothing if God had commanded it.
  • When it was clear what God wanted him to do he took brave, bold and decisive action and led the party of his men to ride to what must have been the limits of their physical strength.

Here is an example of one man’s commitment to wait upon the Lord influencing others. Contrast this with Saul in 1 Samuel 28, who in fear of the Philistines sought the mind of God. But Saul was not a man of devout faith, and his devotional life was virtually non-existent. Saul had gotten by when he was younger on the faith of others, and David’s playing and singing used to calm his spirit (1 Sam. 16:23). But being personally weak in his own faith he did not know how to call upon the Lord himself. So when the Lord was silent to his cries, he resorted to a pagan medium, the Witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:7). Saul’s weakness of character led to a further neglect of spiritual resources, and to moral compromise for the witches and other pagan mediums had been cast out of the land by Samuel. So in his moments of crisis Saul failed the test and his life was lost in the following battle.

How to Know the Will of God

Th first and primary way we know the will of God is through His written word, the Holy Bible. Here we learn of the truth of God and the gospel of Christ. We find the scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation and to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:15-17). In the scriptures we learn principles for living the Christian life, what is right and what is wrong, and the spiritual reality of God’s work in our lives.The first question we should ask in seeking to know God’s will is: What does the Bible teach? We should ask, “What is God’s will?” before we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?”

When making decisions in this the Church Age, we are also guided by the Spirit. In the Old Testament God gave to the Israelites the priestly order and the casting of the urim and thummin, or special stones, to understand what God’s will was. This was used in the early church until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The disciples used the “casting of lots” to determine who would be the replacement of Judas (Acts 1:26). However, after the coming of the Holy Spirit we do not see the early church casting lots, rather they were led by the Spirit Himself (Acts 15:28: 16:7; Rom. 8:14).

We are also guided by the body of Christ as the church seeks to follow Christ. Referring again to Acts 15, we see that the Lord spoke through the leadership of the church but also through the general body of believers. This does not mean that everything a church decides is the will of God – unfortunately sometimes churches make very bad decisions. Rather this means that there is the potential for the body of Christ to sense the leadership of the Spirit.

Sometimes God speaks through circumstances as well, but circumstances alone are unpredictable. So we must always depend primarily on the Word of God, the leadership of the Spirit, and the godly insights of godly people.

Waiting on the Lord in Burnout

When you are exhausted and burned out, before you make a decision or say something unwise, stop and ask what is God’s will in this circumstance. Ask yourself:

  • Is there a Scriptural teaching that is clear on this subject?
  • Is there something that the Holy Spirit is saying to my heart that I need to listen to and obey?
  • Is there a sin in my life that I need to confess and forsake?
  • Is there a Christian friend whom I can pray with about this matter, seeking the will of God?
  • What decision would bring more glory to Christ in this circumstance?

Take the time to find the will of God.

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