“He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.’ For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”
—Mark 6:31 (HCSB)
Burnout is the feeling of total exhaustion to the extent that one loses all interest in the ministry to which they were called or even a lost of interest in life in general. It isn’t only a physical feeling, but also emotional, social, and spiritual. Like stress, burnout can lead to health problems, social withdrawal and depression. When we keep piling on stress after stress or stay in a long, extended period of stress with out any obvious payoff and no end in sight, then we are in danger of burnout. Another risk of burnout is carrying too many burdens at one time.
Are you wondering if you have reached the point of burnout? Here are some signs of burnout:
- Feeling overwhelmed with things that used to be exiting.
- Thinking work or personal problems will never end.
- Having a pit in your stomach of constant dread
- A sense of hopelessness creeps in
- Feeling alienated from activities
- Reduced performance
- Diminished health, social withdrawal, depression.
You will never find a lazy person with burnout. Those most as risk are people who believe, commit and serve with all their heart. Just because we are called to a ministry or task, does not mean that burnout will not occur. Our calling does not make us immune. It doesn’t give us a “free-pass” or exemption. By following Biblical principles we can help protect ourselves from burnout. Paul taught us 1 Corinthians 14:40 that everything should be done decently and in order. God expects us to consider our calling carefully, count the cost, plan for it, organize it, manage and oversee it wisely, and to stay on task.
Consider our calling: In Romans 11:29, Paul wrote, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” This means there is no “I quit.” There is no retreat. There is no going AWOL. There is no backing out. Until God calls us to another task, place of ministry, or career, we should remain steadfast, immovable in the calling God has given us. Therefore, when we believe that God has called us to a ministry, we need to consider it carefully. The only correct answer to God, once called, is total and complete surrender and obedience. However, it is not a decision to be made lightly. We need to examine the call to be sure it is a call from God and not something that is our own dream or even something Satan has planted in our minds to distract us from the true calling God gave us, sending us on a completely different path and out of the will of God . Even while writing this book, my nephew is at basic training for the United States Air Force. His decision to join was not made in an instant. He first considered the military while in high school. He then gathered information about each branch of service and the different career paths he could take. He sought out wisdom and advice from people he trusted. He talked to his parents. He took the ASVAB tests, completed medical exams, talked to a recruiter, signed the papers, swore in, and finally after several years he boarded a plane to Texas where he joined a group of other airmen to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. With the rigorous training of boot camp and learning a whole new way of life, Blake knew this was not a decision to make lightly. He knew that once he swore the oath, he was duty bound to board the plane and begin a new life. In a sense, we as Christians, swear the oath to join God’s Army when we accept Jesus as our Savior. The moment we are in His Army, God has a plan for us – a ministry of something that He is calling us to do to advance His kingdom. Once we hear His call, we need to begin considering all the aspects of that call, do the research to understand the call, then step up and report for duty and begin our basic training. That might mean going back to college, or seminary. It might mean taking some classes on how to study the Bible. It might mean committing to a deeper study of God’s Word and memorizing scripture. It might be learning about a different country, their culture, and their language. Basic training for God’s Army prepares us for the task to which God has called us. Thinking about the call for your life, what do you need to consider at this time and at this point in your ministry? Is there any basic training you need to move forward?
The more overwhelming the demands and responsibilities, the higher the risk for burnout. Sometimes, we place these demands and responsibilities on ourselves. Sometimes they are placed there by others. If this is you, then Jesus has a word for you. Today, He is saying to you:
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28:30
The answer to protect ourselves from burnout, as well as to find our way back from burnout begins with finding rest in the arms of our Savior. Jesus recognized the physical limitations of the disciples and he invited them to go away to a desolate place to rest for a while. God also understands our physical limitations. Thus, He included the sabbath as a day of rest.
A good place to begin is to follow Jesus’ instructions to His disciples and take a weekend or week away from the daily demands. Plan a personal spiritual retreat where you can spend some time deep in the Word of God and on your knees in prayer. Also, build in some fun activities that you enjoy or spend some time on your favorite hobbies. If your burnout is extreme, see a Biblical counselor who can help you work through it. However, in the paragraphs that follow, you learn about the root of burnout and some Biblical examples of how burnout was avoided so that you can apply the wisdom of the Bible to your own life.
At the heart of burnout, is relying on ourselves rather than seeking and trusting God’s plan and directions. As a ministry professional, we have a tendency to “save everyone.” We want to heal their hurts, solve their problems, lead them to Christ, make a difference. We take trusting God to accomplish His plans His way out of the equation and then every need we see we think God has called us to meet the need. In one way, there are times that we actually rob others of having the opportunity to answer the call God gave to them when we step in and do what God called them to do. When we get out of our lane, things get messy. So to avoid burnout or to recoup from burnout, you need to spend time in prayer asking God where you have drifted out of your own lane and into someone else’s. Returning to the call that God gave to us and sticking to that call will help us avoid burnout and help others step up to fulfill the call God gave to them. It is never our responsibility to do the work of the entire body of Christ. This is what some gifts are given to some people while other gifts are given to others. Then, when we all work together, God’s work is accomplished.
Taking care of ourselves is also important in avoiding burnout. Not only are our bodies the temple of God, but God cares so much for us that He allowed His only Son to be our Redeemer. If God values us that much, then certainly we need to take time to care for ourselves. As long as God leaves us on this earth, there is still work for us to do. There is still a calling. Burning out doesn’t get the job done. Sacrificing sleep, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, not enough time for play, and lack of time alone with God are sure ways to head down the road to burnout.
Another aspect of understanding burnout is to understand God’s expectation for our lives. God did not create us to sit around and do nothing. We all have a purpose, a mission, in life. Look at the following Bible verses that show that God expects us to include work as part of our daily lives:
- Genesis 1:28: God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
- Genesis 2:15: The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.
- Proverbs 19:15: Laziness induces deep sleep, and a lazy person will go hungry.
- Colossians 3:23: Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men
- 2 Thessalonians 3:10: In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.”
Every aspect of life provides a sense of meaning and purpose, including work. But work does not define who we are. We find our meaning and purpose through our relationship with Christ. As we are presented with opportunities to serve Him, we should be in constant communication with the Holy Spirit who can help us discern if this need that is presented is one that we should say commit to doing.
God’s prophet Elijah is a Biblical example of one of God’s servant who experienced burnout. In 1 Kings 19:4 we find that Elijah “went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” From the list of burnout symptoms above, which ones on the list can you identify in Elijah? We find that Elijah’s faith crumbled due to physical and emotional exhaustion and as a result, Elijah is in deep depression. He demonstrates apathy and emotional distancing. We see a cynical attitude and desire to escape. We also see that Elijah has a false sense of failure. But God miraculously provides and after Elijah rests and is nourished, he returns to the place where the covenant had been given, the place where his personal faith was also nourished.
If it was not for his father-in-law, Moses would have experienced burnout. Moses was responsible for hearing the cases of the people and deciding judgement for every case. As Jethro, his father-in-law, observed, he knew that Moses would not hold up to weight of the task. No one person would be able to. The physical and emotional weight of such a job would lead Moses to burnout. Moses had to learn that while God had called him to lead the Israelites, not every single task was his to accomplish. His calling was leadership and ever good leader knows that some tasks need to be delegated. This is exactly was Jethro advised Moses to do – delegate this overwhelming task to men of integrity who could be trusted to judge according to God’s laws without partiality. As a result, the needs of the people were met and Moses was able to continue as leader of the Children of Israel, fulfilling the calling God gave him.
After Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples and the spread of the Gospel was brining about more converts to Christianity than the disciples could keep up with. They too needed to delegate some tasks. The answer was found in appointing deacons that would help bear the burden of ministry so that the disciples could continue preaching and spreading the Gospel.
Ministry is hard work. Not just because the task is hard, but because we often invest ourselves emotionally into the lives of others. If we are going to avoid burnout, we need to be able to find rest in Christ, set boundaries to protect our schedules and families, and work within a community of believers so that we are able to carry out the work He has called us to do. Remembering that none of us a lone rangers and that God’s design is for all believers to function together with each person responsible for the task God has given them. When we do, we help other carry their own burdens because they are not weighted down carrying ours when we get burned out. Ephesians 4:16 tells us, “From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” If we are to run the race set before us with perseverance, we must fix our eyes on Jesus so that we will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3). To do that we have to stay connected to Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:5) We need to remember that there is no room for self-reliance in ministry. Without Christ, we can do nothing. Protecting and nurturing our relationship with Him is must be a top priority for us to avoid burnout. The more connected to the Vine we are, the more likely we are to recognize what tasks He has for us and which one should belong to someone else. We need to be sure that there is a continual filling of the Holy Spirit so that we don’t find ourselves running on empty.
If you have struggled with setting boundaries, it might be difficult to get started because there are some very real consequences that come with setting boundaries. When people are always used to you stepping up to fill the gap they cause, they don’t tend to respond well when you step back and say “not this time.” Ministry partners, family members, friends may not understand why things are different now. It might even mean that you lose some relationships. However, when we truly believe that God has specific and beautiful plans for each one us – plans that are for our welfare and not our disaster, plans that will give us a hope and future (Jeremiah 29:11), then we can trust God to either work out those relationships or to bring new relationships into our lives. Our God is a gracious, wise, and loving Father. He is always more interested in our relationship with Him. Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire loyalty and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Lastly, to help you understand the difference between stress and burnout, look at the following:
God, Love and Marshmallow Wars: This book contains 365 daily challenges for couples to strengthen their relationships to each other and with God. Couples will complete activities such as Scripture memory, conversation starters, relationship builders, learning about Biblical marriage, romance builders, personal reflections, and date ideas. Click here to purchase your copy. (This link will open a new widow and take you to Westbow Press’ bookstore.) Also available on Amazon and Barnes & Nobel. It is also available at Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, and Barnes & Nobel
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