Protecting against burn out.

October 29, 2014.

If you know anything about me, you know that at times I can be somewhat of a “yes man” when it comes to helping people with projects or getting things done, especially when they involved a specific skill that I might have that they don’t. I tend to take on a lot of things and stay consistently busy for the most part, and honestly that’s what I like (I get bored pretty easily). I don’t say any of this to complain or to brag, but to bring up the point that when you take a lot of projects and work, this can lead easily to the phenomena of burn out. You get to the place where you have so much to do that you just don’t do anything, or that you’ve done so much you sort of just stop doing things. I think this is partially a defense mechanism of the body when it doesn’t get enough rest. There is really only so much you can take on before your load becomes too much to bear, contrary to what is often my belief.

This phenomena is not unique to any one aspect of our lives. Whatever we though our time and effort into we can easily get burnt out on, especially if it is one of our passions (which is somewhat ironic). Can this apply spiritually as well? I believe that if we are asking that question, it might mean that we aren’t investing enough time in our spiritual lives, though this mat not necessarily be the case. But when we do put our time and effort into the spiritual side of life as we ought to, we too can risk spiritual burn out. There is a story in Exodus that I believe portrays this concept.

After the children of Israel had been lead out of the bondage of Egypt, their fame, or rather the name of the Almighty and the great works He had done for the children of Israel, went throughout all the surrounding lands. When word came to Moses’ father-in-law Jethro who was still dwelling in Midian with Moses’ wife and children, he brought Moses’ family down to where the children of Israel were to be with Moses. He came saw that the rumors were true and he praised the Lord for what He had done for His people. After staying the night, Jethro gives Moses some advice after seeing some inefficiency in the way the people were settling disputes.

The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.””
(Exodus 18:13-23)

Jethro saw that Moses had taken on more than he was able to handle, trying to judge all the cases that the children of Israel brought before him by himself. He saw that Moses was on the path to burn out and says, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you.” The burden was too heavy. So he advised Moses to set up a hierarchy of sorts for the people to handle the more trivial matters themselves with only the most involved cases being brought before Moses. This is not unlike our court system we have today. Problems were handled on the appropriate level of judgment so that the people, and specifically Moses, would not get burnt out.

I think that we too need to be careful to take precaution to protect against burn out. This is not to say that we should stop doing good, but that we should do good on a level that we can handle. Twice in the New Testament does Paul give the admonishment “Do not grow weary in doing good.” (cf. Gal. 6:9 and II Thes. 3:13) How do we go about this? How can we protect ourselves from burn out? I’m sure there are many ways, but I have come up with four things to start us off on good standing.

1. Take a break every once in a while.

I feel that I need to preface this point with what I don’t mean by it. When I say take a break, I don’t mean take a break from being a Christian and stop following Christ for a while. However, it is often the case that we take on so much in our Christian walk that we forget that we should take a break every once in a while. Actually, we probably feel guilty when we do because we are not preforming at the level that we usually do. Should we feel guilty for taking a break? I don’t think so. In fact, as you read through Old Testament law, you will find that God mandated a weekly “break,” so to speak, for His people.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lordmade heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
(Exodus 20:8-11)

We know this as the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments, but I don’t think we often consider the point of the commandment. Indeed, it would seem that the Pharisees missed the whole point, as they condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath and His disciples for gleaning corn to eat on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day of rest for the people. It is true that they were not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath, but this wasn’t a punishment, it was a gift. The Sabbath was a Holy day to the Lord, where the men and women of Israel could rest from their labors and focus on all things spiritual.

Taking a break is not wrong. That’s not to say that we should take extended breaks and become lazy, but it is good, and perhaps even necessary, to take a break from our labors from time to time to refresh our soul. I would encourage you not to neglect this refreshment.

2. Do not overload yourself.

This is probably one of my biggest problems. I simply want to do everything (and I sure do try to do everything). But we are not designed to do so. In the story above, Moses had taken on the whole task of settling every dispute that arose amongst the children of Israel. To put a number to this, the Israelites numbered over 600,000 when they left Egypt. 600,000! Imagine what Moses had taken on when he decided to be the sole judge for the people! Fortunately for him, Jethro came on the scene and saw how bad of an idea this was and suggested an alternative method of judging the people, a method that seemed to work well.

We need to remember that we are not superman- we cannot do everything. Nor should we feel like we have to do everything. The gospel isn’t typically spread through grand gestures, but through small encounters. It is not our job as individuals to save the world. It is our job to share the good news with those around us. We sing a song from time to time titled “one soul for thee,” and there is really so much truth in this song.

1. One soul for Thee, Oh Lord I pray,
Help me to be, God’s hand today;
Give me one soul, that he may be,
One in thy fold, for eternity.

2. One soul today, redeemed from sin,
Help me to say, Thy word to men;
One soul for Thee, to praise Thy name,
What joy ’twill be, what heavenly gain.

One soul for Thee, one hope to be,
One joy to share, this is my prayer;
One soul today, one soul to save,
Oh, precious Lord, what a great reward.

One soul is precious in the sight of the Lord. We do not need to be a world renowned preacher who has “baptized thousands” to be profitable in the Kingdom. One soul is a victory.

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
(Matthew 10:40-42)

3. Seek help.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:2)

This is perhaps one of the biggest points in the story above. We are not alone, so we should stop acting like we are. I have written many times about the community aspect of the church and how we should be in fellowship with one another consistently. Christianity is not an individualistic religion. The system that God set up with the children of Israel was not an individualistic system. We are a unit, a family, all working together to glorify the Lord. That’s the way the church should operate. What was Jethro’s advice when he saw that Moses was trying to solve all the people’s problems alone? Get help! He suggested a hierarchy of worthy people to help Moses work through the problems that constantly arose as you would expect with over 600,000 sojourners. He needed help.

It is often the case when we have too much to do that we don’t want to ask for help. I know that I tend to hate asking for help at times. I don’t know if it is because I don’t trust people enough or if it because I feel like asking for help implies that I am not competent on my own, but regardless, this pride gets in the way of getting things done. There is nothing wrong with getting help from other people. In fact, that is the way the church should work. Paul tells the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens that they may fulfill the law of Christ. We are not alone and we should not try to live the Christian life alone. One of the quickest ways to burn out is trying to do everything yourself. Go out and ask for help.

4. Quality over quantity.

Finally, this last point may stem straight out of our culture. We live in a society of high production. More things produce is often equated with better efficiency and overall success. However, there is a trade off that we pay lip service to but ignore in practice. When you focus on quantity, you often loose quality. Another quick way to burn out is focusing on the numbers. “Well, we had 50 more people at church today, let’s see if we can make that 100 by three weeks from now!” The Lord’s church isn’t about numbers. God does the adding to the church (cf. Acts 2:47). He is the one who causes the growth (cf. I Cor. 3:7). It is not our job to worry about the quantity of Christians produced, but the quality of the teaching we are doing.

If you hold one big meeting, full of shallow emotion and show, and “covert” 300 people, how many of those people do you think you are going to retain? How many of those people do you think truly became disciples of Christ? However, if you took the time to dedicate to two specific people, pouring into them consistently and making them disciples of Christ, the retention rate will improve dramatically. Unfortunately, many would look at the 300 converts and see much more success, when in reality the two disciples is likely the actually success story. We get burnt out because we don’t see that quality is far better than quantity, thus when we strive after quantity and don’t retain, our hopes are drained. Remember what the Lord is interested in.

I hope these four points help you in your fight against spiritual burn out. As I said, protection against this burn out is not limited to these four points to remember, but I think this is a good start. Let us not grow weary in doing good. Seek ever to glorify Him.

Suggested Daily Reading: Exodus 18, 20, Matthew 10, Galatians 6.

The Lord bless you and keep you.


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