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Burnout, Part 6 - Keeping Our Eyes on Christ

December 31st, 2016

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:29-30 NIV)

I believe that another way of understanding what happens in burnout is that we have simply taken our eyes off of Jesus and put them on the overwhelming issues around us, just as Peter did when he was walking on the water.

I am writing this on the last day of 2016. It is early morning in my son’s house in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago - still dark out. In a few more hours the last day of this year will play out - the 365th segment of 2016. All that has happened in this year, all that has been accomplished in our individual lives, and all the tasks that we have fulfilled, were not done in a single day. If we had at any time during this year stopped to consider all of these matters and tried to do it all in one day, we would have been overwhelmed.

Some have described the difference between depression and anxiety by saying that depression is the past super-imposed over the present, and anxiety is the future super-imposed over the present. If that is the case, then burnout, I believe, does both. It takes the past stresses of our life and drags them into our present, and then piles on top of us the stress of the future that we have not yet experienced, and piles them both on top of today. Plus, it does so out of a misunderstanding of who we are and what our purpose in life should be.

We need to break life down to manageable sections. God has given us one day at a time to live, and even that day is broken down into morning, midday, afternoon, evening, and nighttime. If we would simply quit trying to be God ourselves, take one simple task at a time, and, above all, keep our eyes on Jesus, we will be amazed at how many pressures and burdens are lifted off of our shoulders.

Looking back at 2016, by my accounting, I accomplished the following:

  • Prepared and preached more than 100 sermons
  • Prayed each day for numerous needs
  • Read the Bible and held private devotions each day
  • Exercised at least 250 hours during the year
  • Wrote more than 3,000 emails
  • Posted 250 devotionals
  • Completed two devotional books
  • Counseled or encouraged people more than 1,000 times
  • Led 45 church staff meetings
  • Attended numerous other meetings in the church
  • Personally gave several thousand Euros to the work of the Lord
  • Helped organize other fund-raising events and witnessed more than 1 million Euros given for the Lord’s work

First, I did not do all of these things entirely alone. I had the help of many people. I did not list the number of people I saw trust in Christ, the frustrating situations that I had also dealt with, nor the meals I ate, the encouragements I received, the times I failed to do my best, nor the many challenges I had faced. I also did not list the number of useless activities I engaged in when I thought I was doing something good, but it was something that Christ had not given me to do. As John the Baptist said, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven” (John 3:27 NIV). John said that to those of his followers who had expressed some jealousy of Jesus’ ministry.

But if at anytime I had considered trying to do all of these matters in a single day, I would have been absolutely overwhelmed. AND, if I had tried to do them in my own strength, rather than the strength of Christ, or tried to do them for my own glory, rather than the glory of Christ, then I would have felt the frustration and emptiness and impatience of my old sinful nature. I would have taken a rod and, unlike Moses, rather than strike rocks I would have hit some of the heads of people around me.

Read the whole passage about Peter on the water, Mathew 14:22-33, and you will discover that Peter was simply obeying the command of Christ to get out of the boat and to walk to Him. What Peter needed to do, when he was on the water, was to remember (1) that he was there by Christ’s command, (2) that he was there in Christ’s power, so the waves and the wind did not matter, (3) that he was there for Christ’s glory, so the applause or attention of the crowd did not matter, and (4) that he was here with a specific task given to him, to walk to Christ. So all he had to do was to take one step at a time and keep his eyes on Jesus.

He did not need to run, or leap, or slide, or do anything other than take one step, and then another, and then another, until he reached Jesus. And this is a picture of what we are to do also.

We are here by Christ’s command: All we need to do is what Christ has given us to do. We may dream big and let the Spirit lead us into new ventures, but at the end of the day we must also know our limitations. Only Jesus is Lord and we need to let Him lead us in the direction he chooses for us.

We are here in Christ’s power: If we stand in Him and if we live in His power, then we do not need to get upset or worry, or feel overwhelmed by the need. We just need to do what He has called us to do, to meet the needs and to fill the roles He has entrusted to us, and to do so in the power and means that He has given to us.

We are here for Christ’s glory: It does not matter, really, what people think of us. It is nice to have compliments and encouragements along the way. We need them and we need to give them to others as well. But truly, we are not here to be complimented or to even draw attention to ourselves at all. We are here to bring glory to Christ.

We are here in a certain role for a limited time: God has entrusted to us one life to live, and He alone is the One who is able to judge how we have lived that life. All we need to do is to live this day, this segment of this day, to take the step God has given us to take in this instance, and to do so until He calls us home.

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Burnout, Part 5 - The Underlying Problem

December 30th, 2016

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16 ESV)

I have never known burnout to exist in my life or anyone else’s life where we are unable to trace the problem back to ambition, lust, and pride in some way or another. James wrote:

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16 SV)

As it was with Moses, that he turned the mission that God called him to - a mission that he originally did not want to be a part of - into a mission of his personal glory, so can it be with us. Compare these two statements from Moses’ own lips:

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses… (Exodus 4:10-14)

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:10-12)

What had changed in Moses?

Nothing had changed in God, or in the nature of Moses’ mission for God. It was still God’s idea and Moses was simply God’s tool to use to achieve God’s purpose - the deliverance of His people Israel. From the beginning it was to be done for the glory of God and done in the power of God. Moses did not bring into the position any essential qualifications within himself except for the selection of God, that God had chosen him. Otherwise, it was all about the purpose and power of God.

What had changed was that Moses had taken that which was to be done for God and made it about Moses. Somewhere God’s glory had been replaced in his heart with his own legacy. And, like Moses, we can either live for God’s glory and let all of our purposes and actions be for Him, or we can make it about us.

Over the last few weeks as I am writing, I have learned of two good friends in ministry that have been pressured out of their positions. I do not know all of the details in either case, but I am generally familiar enough with both of them to know that both situations are awash with pride problems - from pastors and from the lay leadership.

In Moses’ circumstance, here was a case where Moses needed to fall on his face before the Lord and confess that he had made God’s signal act of deliverance of His people all about Moses’ legacy. Having failed to do so, even failing to understand what was going on in his own heart, he set himself up for failure.

The Example of David

I have heard some people be critical of the freedom with which David prayed to God, as though David felt too free to complain. But it appears from the scriptural record that this was actually a strength of David’s method of prayer, and is given to us as an example. Certainly we can go too far in self-pity, and that David did not do, rather he poured out his heart to God and listed his fears and suspicions among his topics, but then he also prayed for God’s deliverance and for God’s glory.

For example, in Psalm 40 David thanked God for His deliverance, but then he admitted that he was encompassed about by enemies. He wrote, “For evils have encompassed me
beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me” (Psa. 40:12 ESV). Notice that he took responsibility for some of his problems. His “iniquities” had overtaken him, and not just his enemies. Then he prayed, “
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life” (vs. 14), yet he did not make his mission all about himself or his own legacy only. He finished the psalm with a clear statement of the grace and glory of God, affirming that all, even his enemies, who turned to God and sought him could be glad: “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’” (vs. 16). His prayer against those who sought his life was not just for their destruction but also for their conviction and repentance and eventually for their salvation.

And he ended his psalm with one of the most beautiful expressions of his need and of God’s love: “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!” (vs 17)

In Our Own Moments of Fatigue

When we face pressure and feel overwhelmed, we would do well to stop and ask ourselves if we have made the mission of God about us and not about God. When we as parents are dealing with a rebellious child, for example, we need to make sure that we do not think that we in and of ourselves alone should be respected, but rather because it is the command of God that children should obey their parents. We should cry out to God for patience and for the development of character in our children.

When we are leading for Christ in any capacity, we need to make sure that we do not think that the people should respect us just because of who we are alone, but out of their love and respect for God. God said, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17).

And the consistent scriptural record is that all leaders should humbly ask for prayer (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:2; Heb. 13:18, to mention a few places in scripture) and to regularly seek the power of God in their lives. Leadership is His idea and not ours and in whatever circumstance God has entrusted to our hands, we should remember that it is about Him, and not about us. Pride and lust will lead to burnout. Surrender and praise will lead to the continual renewal of our strength by Christ.

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