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.