Burning Bright Without Burning Out
Simon [Peter] and his companions searched [everywhere, looking anxiously] for Him, and they found Him and said, “Everybody is looking for You!” He replied, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so I may preach there also; that is why I came [from the Father].”
Jesus never let popularity go to His head, and He didn’t let opposition get Him off track. Throughout His ministry, He kept His eyes fixed on the purpose the Father had given Him. Early in His ministry, He was immensely popular(Mark 1:32,33). Crowds flocked to Him to listen and be healed of sicknesses. We can imagine the disciple’s enthusiasm. “Man , they love this guy!” “He’s got them right where He wants them!” “This is going better than we ever dreamed!”
In a stunning decision, Jesus told them, “Pack your bags, guys. We’re outta here.” Nothing, not even the greatest successes and popularity, could keep Jesus from doing what He came to do: tell everyone everywhere the Good News.
Both failure and success can drive us to exhaustion. Failure fills us with fear and shame, and we dedicate ourselves to avoid failure at all costs. But success can be intoxicating. The adrenaline rush propels us to do more, be more, and please people more, but before long, our emotional tank runs dry. The only way we can burn bright without burning out is to rivet our hearts on God’s purpose and stay true to it through the ups of success and popularity and dawns of failure and despair. That’s a decision we should make before these ups and downs occur, but more realistically, it’s a course correction we make when we’ve gotten off course a time or two. Either way; focus on God’s purpose, and say no to anything that gets in the way.
In my mind there’s no doubt that those who use their talents to serve the Lird will truly enter into the joy of the Lord now.
We hear a lot about burnout in today’s environment. Burnout is defined as: exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration and it is more common than one might suspect. We acknowledge that it occurs in the work environment but we must also be aware that it can affect us in our faith journey. But let’s talk about some of the causes that Christians experience for spiritual burnout. We read that numbers of pastors, church leaders, and church workers reach that place in increasingly, frequent occurrences. Can we find a remedy to possibly prevent or at least minimize the numbers of burnouts. Let’s be real. The challenges of life seem to be intensifying and things like the pandemic, civil unrest, and inflation are adding to that intensity. We dare not ignore the fact of burnout or try to pretend that it doesn’t exist or make it a spiritual failure. What we must do is to seek to discover if we can find a preventative or healing.
As we read the life of Christ, we discover that all the elements that lead to burnout were present. The needs of those He was ministering to was great and seemingly never ending. There were moments of great success and great disappointments. There were times of acceptance and times of rejection. There were times of great joy and times of great sorrow. There were times of great blessing and times of great suffering. On some occasions multitudes followed Him and at others multitudes left Him. I think that describes our world today. I know as a pastor that it seems there is always another need, crisis, issue to address even before the last ones are semi-resolved. The burden to care for, to lift up and encourage so many who are hurting and in despair, or to advise them how to cope with or to make changes often becomes a heavy load. But Christ taught us how to keep burning without burning out. Let’s read a few scriptures that may give us help:
“So Jesus answered them by saying, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself [of His own accord], unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever things the Father does, the Son [in His turn] also does in the same way. For the Father dearly loves the Son and shows Him everything that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will be filled with wonder.”
Secret number one: I can do nothing by myself. Burnout usually comes when we take the responsibility for things that are beyond our power to control, implement, or make happen. Though Jesus was the Son of God, He recognized that while He was on earth in human form, He was limited. Rather than trusting in His own power or abilities, He submitted Himself to obedience to the Father. Jesus knew that whatever the Father asked Him to do that He would also empower Him to do it. You and I have that very same promise. I know that I can listen to those in need, I can pray for them, and sometimes on rare occasions I may give them a word of advice that helps, but to fix their problem or to actually lift their spirits and encourage their hearts is way above my pay grade. God hasn’t called us to solve all the world’s problems. He only calls us to do what He shows us to do and leave the rest up to Him. I can tell you that many times it’s a battle when I see a church that I pastor struggling or faltering or divided and I want to either wade in and fix it or to throw up my hands in despair until I call to remembrance what Christ has said: “Upon this Rock, I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” So I say to myself, “Do your best, give your all, but leave the outcome to Christ the Master-builder. That’s what Christ taught us- the secret of learning that it’s not up to us to make it happen by ourselves. When Christ was preparing His exit, He sat the disciples down and gave them this promise:
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), to be with you forever— the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive [and take to its heart] because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He (the Holy Spirit) remains with you continually and will be in you. But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you. Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.]”
Here’s the secret: We don’t have to rely on ourselves solely. We have been given the Helper who will give us everything we need to accomplish what God has given us to do. For this reason Paul says: “ I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”
Secret number two. Jesus recognized that He couldn’t continuously give out unless He also took in. Much of ministry burnout occurs because we are constantly giving out without simultaneously taking in. Not only pastors but church leaders, Sunday School teachers, children and youth workers find themselves burned out because they are constantly giving out without taking time to drink in refreshing waters of the Spirit. As busy as He was, and as needy as the people were, Jesus knew the value of separating Himself from the ministry. You will note that He didn’t just get away but His separation had the purpose of Him receiving refreshment from the Father. In our world today, it is advocated that we take time away, go on vacation or take a sabbath or a break from ministry. While that may give us rest for our bodies and maybe to some degree for our minds, it does little for our souls. When Jesus separated Himself from ministry, He connected Himself with the Father.
Six times Jesus sought solitude with the Father says Ward Cushman.
First, to prepare for a major task, Luke 4:1,2.
Second, to recharge after hard work Mark 6:30-32
Third, to work through grief Matthew 14:1-13
Fourth, before making an important decision Luke 6:12-13
Fifth, in a time of distress Luke 22:39-44
Sixth, to focus on prayer (a careful reading of the gospels says that Jesus went from place of prayer to place of prayer and did ministry in between)
We must learn that we cannot let the busyness of life or work or even ministry rob us of our time spent with the Father.
But what about when we’ve come to the point of burnout? Is there any hope of recovery and restoration? The answer is absolutely yes. It usually won’t be instantaneous and it will require a lifestyle change but through Christ we can be fully restored, renewed and reenergized. We first must admit that we’re mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Even after we’ve burned out we can still carry on the ritual or activity but our hearts aren’t in it. We can still come to church out of habit but without ever feeling the presence of God. We can go through the motions but we know it’s a hollow shell. So if this describes you just confess to God that you’re burned out. Restoration begins by turning to and seeking the source of life. Jesus gave a powerful promise to those who were weary and burdened:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.”
If your work for God has become a heavy burden, one of two things have happened: you’ve either tried to pull the load by yourself or you are trying to carry a burden that’s not yours to carry. Jesus invites us to bring our burdens to Him for relief and then to yoke up with Him for what we are to carry. He says that what He asks us to do is an “easy yoke and a light burden.” That’s not to say that it’s not at times heavy but never overwhelming.
Jesus also invites us to receive the “Spring of Living Water” that provides a constant refreshing and renewal for our spirits.
“Now on the last and most important day of the feast, Jesus stood and called out [in a loud voice], “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! 38 He who believes in Me [who adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Me], as the Scripture has said, ‘From his innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water.’” But He was speaking of the [Holy] Spirit, whom those who believed in Him [as Savior] were to receive afterward. The Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (raised to honor).”
I’ve personally discovered that the application of these truths keeps us burning bright without burning out. Over the years as I’ve given myself to ministry, I’ve learned that when you’re doing what God has called you to do, when you make sure you’re constantly seeking His presence and when you set aside time to drink from the “Fountain of Life” you are renewed every morning.
We don’t have to save up our oil so we don’t burn out for the one who filled our lamps has an unlimited supply of oil. We don’t have to rust out because we’re saving our little oil for another rainy day. Like the widow woman in Elijah’s day every time we go back to the source, we discover there’s more oil. So turn up the wick and burn bright but stay connected to the supply at the same time.
Dr. John Thompson