On the verge of burn-out
My bedroom light bulb burned out after 15 years of service. If you have worked that long for the Lord, you too may be in danger of burn-out unless you have maintained yourself spiritually.
Elijah faced the 400 prophets of Baal in I Kings 18. He stood alone, before them, challenged and ridiculed them, and then the servant of God performed a stunning miracle and then the people killed the false prophets. Queen Jezebel, was furious at the destruction of her religion and prophets, was determined to destroy Elijah and put a price on his head. Elijah fled to a barren wilderness, where loneliness and weariness began to get the better of him. He came close to burning out (I Kings 19).
The prophet Jeremiah served God faithfully in different ways all through his long life. But there were moments when Jeremiah’s burden became very heavy. In Jeremiah 20:7-10 he tells God in effect: “You deceived me. You made me do this job. Everyone laughs at me. I do your Work, and all I get is persecution. Even my friends are out to get me. But if I say I am quitting, you will make me do the Work.” God did not strike Jeremiah down as Jeremiah was only human, and his burden was getting heavy.
We too become weary in well-doing from time to time and are tempted to slip quietly back into the world. In the secular world, policemen and nurses who face burn-out might quit their jobs with honorable discharges ,without disgrace and start again. But Christ has not given us that option.
God also has not left us helpless in the face of burn-out for He has given us His Word and His Spirit. Jesus Christ knows what it is be tempted. Today, we have a High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). He, as a man, cried out to His Father for strength to avoid a burnout that would have had tragic consequences both for Himself and all of mankind.
How do we guard against burn-out?
1..Always keep in focus that the Christian calling was not promised to be a bed of roses. We were told to “strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24), “to fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12) and to labor “to enter into that rest” (Heb. 4:11). Striving, fighting and laboring are strenuous activities. If we are to continue to help with the Work, we must take care of ourselves.
2. Remember God’s promise: “there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able: but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” ( I Cor. 10:13). We are told that we have a High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15).
3. The Holy Spirit . The first apostles did not begin their work until the Holy Spirit baptised them on the day of Pentecost. Humanly speaking, we are inadequate until the Holy Spirit empowers us. As God places a greater load on us (which He will do if we are growing), there will be times when we will stagger like weight lifters. However strong a weight lifter may be, there comes a point when he simply can’t lift any more. If he is to carry the extra load, he must get help. The Spirit of God never burns out but can be quenched by neglect. And when the Spirit is quenched, then it is only a matter of time before we burn-out.
Paul knew that God gives His Spirit only to those who worship and obey Him. With the Holy Spirit, the apostles were able to fulfill their great commission. Armed with the same Spirit, we can finish our jobs as well.
4. By preventive maintenance. Anyone who owns a car knows that it is better and cheaper to give it a routine servicing (maintains the right amount of oil in the engine, fluid in the brake system and air in the tires) than to try to repair it after something has gone wrong. We must pray, maintain our faith and trust and obey and be filled with the Spirit of God. Paul told Timothy, a young man heavily committed to the Work, to “stir up the gift of God (the Holy Spirit) which is in thee by putting on of my hands” (II Tim. 1:6). He told another young minister to remind the congregation to maintain good works (Titus. 3:8). God’s Spirit can then flow through us, preventing the wear that leads to burn-out.
5. Share your burdens, feeling of weakness and frustration with others who understand. “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s. But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Those in danger of burning out need to reassess the values of these spiritual relatives. The New Testament instructs the Church to not forsake assembling together, to prefer one another’s company, to exhort each other and bear one another’s burdens. One of the best defenses we have against burning out is the close friendships we can build with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Malachi foresaw a time when some members of the Church, tired of waiting for their reward, would say: “It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea they that work wickedness are set up; yea they that tempt God are even delivered” (Mal. 3:14-15). But Malachi also saw another group “that feared the Lord and spake often one to another” (v. 16) and thus kept the vision.
No member of the Church, can afford to let himself or herself burn out and not be missed. God doesn’t call people He doesn’t want. The Body of Christ needs the effective working together of every part (Eph. 4:16).
Paul said the Church should become knit together in love (Col. 2:2). Notice how no stitch can exist by itself in knitting. Its existence depends on its connections to still more stitches and so on until the whole garment is knit together with thousands of interconnecting stitches, each giving to and gaining support from the other.
Bible prophecies show that some of us will continue to burn out, quietly, unexpectedly, giving up to become as useless and disappointing as a burned out light bulb. And unfortunately, it is happening even as God is using His Church to prepare the way for the return of Christ.
And with the end time closing in, with the world teetering on the brink of the great tribulation and with Jesus Christ even now preparing for His return, there will be many more. We have to watch out for ourselves and our fellow brothers and sisters.
If you are working furiously and your nights are getting shorter and days getting longer, do not count yourself out because you cannot burn both sides of the candle and last.
Is burn-out happening to you in your ministry -pastor, missionary, musician, worship-leader, sunday school teacher, youth leader, children’s ministry coordinator, counsellor? Stay close to the Lord and consider the five steps mentioned above. Take action now!
Take the steps to pre-empt a burnout. If you are in it, stay close with God and find some trustful friend to share your load in prayer and work and support each other for a burden shared is halved.