Avoiding Burnout in the Christian Life

Brothers and sisters, I want you to be all-in when it comes to the mission of God. I don’t want there to be a drop of energy lost that could be used in the service of loving the church and extending the Great Commission. And yet, at the same time, I don’t want you to burn out prematurely. I don’t want you to forget that a toe is not the whole body and that human beings are finite creatures, not gods. I want you to have the courage to admit your limitations, and I want you to be aware that pride is forever as much of a hindrance to the mission of the church as is slothfulness.

Keeping all of this in view, we need to be asking some questions right now – especially as we head into a full week of mission. They are these: How can we have zeal without burnout? How can we be living sacrifices that actually stay alive on the altar without our inner resources being quenched by overextending ourselves? Burnout is a real problem that needs to be addressed candidly in the church – especially among evangelical Christians. Therefore, my pastoral plea to you is that you take time to reflect on the following five questions over the next two weeks. 

1 – Who am I willing to disappoint?

None of us likes to disappoint anyone. Yet, the truth is, it’s impossible to gain and maintain the approval of everyone. We ought to learn from Paul who did not court the thumbs up of anyone other than Jesus. He says to the Corinthians, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court” (4:3). Paul lived with one audience; we need to do the same.

2 – Where am I willing to fail?

There are a lot of areas of life where we can fail without any sin being involved. In fact, each of our great Christian heroes failed in significant areas of life. Wesley had a rotten marriage; Tozer was not gifted in pastoral care; Spurgeon neglected his physical health; Adoniram Judson neglected his mental health; C.S. Lewis make poor choices financially; Dawson Trotman lacked emotional intelligence, and the listed could be added to indefinitely. The key lesson is this: we are not God, and we cannot do everything perfectly. Each of us needs to ask the question, what am I willing to bomb in life so that I can fulfil what Jesus calls ‘the one thing needful’?

3 – What can be left undone without noticeable loss?

The “free” world we inhabit expects 100 things of us. To be a competent individual who is socially adept requires that we not just work and sleep, but keep up with the news (local, national, and international), with pop culture, with fitness (of mind and body), with politics, and with countless other things. And then, on top of such secular duties, there are the spiritual ones. To read through the New Testament is to discover a long list of spiritual responsibilities that – while not being the standard by which we are justified – nonetheless are the wisdom by which we live.

How can we cope with such insufferable responsibilities? We need to ask this: “What can be left undone without loss?” For example, try exchanging reading the news for reading large chunks of the Bible for two weeks and see what happens. You might just find that nothing changes in the world and everything changes in your soul.

4 – Do I value non-productive, restorative activity?

A lot of us have been schooled in the religion of GTD (getting things done). We don’t believe that an activity has value unless it is a quantifiable task that moves a project forward or ticks a box as complete. Such addictive productivity is a liability to our physical health as well as our spiritual wellbeing. Sleep, friendship, leisure, and worship – all of these are non-productive activities, and yet they are essential to spiritual health. Man was not made simply to work; he was made, yes, to work, but also to rest, to praise, to befriend, and to delight himself in the joy of restorative leisure.

5 – Am I allowing myself to be loved by others? 

According to Paul, the law of Christ is that we bear one another’s burdens. This is basic to discipleship. To neglect this law is to constrict love and act on pride. The “I-can-do-it-myself” attitude has no place in the kingdom of God. Most importantly, Christ himself came into our world in order to carry the weight of our heaviest problems. Yet, we need to be careful not to think that allowing Christ to help us is a solitary exchange that happens between the individual soul and Jesus. The church is set up so that the love of Christ is funnelled through a community of helping hands and loving hearts. This means that one of the chief ways that Jesus strengthens us in the midst of affliction is by placing us among brothers and sisters who can uphold us in the midst of our struggles.

Are you allowing yourself to be loved by other Christians? This is a vital question that each of us must wrestle with. The ward of burnout is filled with people who lived by the ungodly attitude of “I-can-do-it-myself”. Let’s not be proud; let’s be humble. Let’s not refuse people the opportunity to love us; let’s be dependent upon Christ by being dependent upon his people. 

For further advice on how to avoid burnout listen to the Equip session from last Sunday. The link is here.