Quenching Burnout

From time to time I reflect on my early days of pastoral ministry. Great things were happening, but I was burning out.

I was finishing my post-graduate degree thesis, raising a young family, planting a church, constructing a church building, holding services in my home, and helping start a Christian school. I was so burnt out I smelled like smoke! I seriously contemplated joining the army.

Up to that point I viewed daily devotional time in the same category as daily physical exercise. It is a good thing but who can find time for it? But someone who has suffered a heart attack and a near miss with death knows that physical exercise is not optional but rather a matter of survival. I have learned the same thing about regular devotional time with the Lord.

My perspective changed when I read Gordon MacDonald’s book Ordering your Private World. It resonated with what I felt then and still feel today. He taught me we all will eventually burn out, break down, or blow up without regularly restoring the spiritual strength that is sapped by life’s demands.

My experience isn’t unique. How many of us claim to believe Jesus’ words, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), yet treat daily time with the Lord as a luxury instead of a necessary requirement for survival?

It always impressed me that Jesus arose while it was still dark to spend time with His Father (Mark 1:35). If anyone didn’t need spiritual tweaking, I thought, it was Jesus. Yet there he was spending time with the Father each morning and evening. Why?

I used to think that Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness on the heels of His 40 days of fasting came at a time of weakness. Now I believe that the Spirit’s strategy was to prepare Jesus for the temptation.

As a result of His time of fasting, prayer, and communion with the Father in the silence and solitude of the wilderness the Devil’s assault actually came at a time of spiritual strength. In spite of physical weakness due to lack of food Jesus’ communion with the Father was the key to overcoming the temptations.

Everyone struggles with some sort of weakness, deprivation, affliction, attack, or test from time to time. Jesus exemplifies how even in the face of such severe circumstances we can stand strong.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus told his disciples, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41) Then He went off to pray by Himself. In His humanity Jesus was tempted not to go through with the torture of the cross that lie ahead. So He agonized in prayer. When He came back to the disciples Jesus was dismayed to see they were sleeping, not praying. He did this three times and each time found them sleeping.

Now here’s the punchline. A short time later, when the hour of testing came, Jesus was seized and the disciples failed to stand with Him. Lacking spiritual courage and fortitude, they succumbed to fear and gave into the temptation to run (Matthew 26:56). In stark contrast, having drawn strength from His time with the Father, Jesus endured everything. Victoriously.

Jesus knew that time communing with the Father was a matter of survival and spiritual power. He experienced the benefit of it in the desert when He fought the Devil and continued the practice throughout His ministry. Without it, He could do nothing.

If Jesus needed regular personal times with God to find empowerment to do the Father’s will then so do we. If we think and do otherwise, we are playing with fire and we will get burned…out.