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Why We Burn Out

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Have you ever felt spiritually exhausted?
I’m not talking about physical exhaustion that can be cured by a good night’s sleep or a long weekend. I’m talking about exhaustion deeper than that – when you feel spiritually spent. You might feel too tired to fight the battle raging inside of you. For some, this might just be clinical depression but for many, it’s the symptom of something else – spiritual burnout.

Seminary students and ministers are warned of the signs of burnout left and right. The constant study of the Bible can turn become so cerebral that you can become calloused towards it. The regular exposure to people’s struggles can cause you to become detached. I’ve seen burned out ministers cheat on their wives just so they would be forced out of their jobs. I’ve seen others self-destruct and take their churches down with them. But it’s not just ministers who are at risk. I believe all growing Christians will go through some form of burnout in their lives.

I’ve always been told that the way to prevent burnout is to remain spiritually disciplined – reading my Bible regularly, protecting my prayer life, and remaining in vibrant Christian community. I’ve also been told that this is the cure. But I believe there is something else that must be prioritized in any Christian’s life. It’s a spiritual discipline often ignored and discredited by those who lack it the most – rest.

Rest is Spiritual

One of my college professors often encouraged us to see rest as a spiritual thing. It can even be more spiritual than spending time in God’s Word at times. Yet, we live in a culture that seems to honor exhaustion. We take pride in our lack of sleep and crazy schedules. We feel especially good about ourselves when we are exhausted from serving others. But often this sacrifice of time and rest isn’t really for Christ or his church. It’s really about us. It’s something to hang our hats on.

The Sabbath was central to Israelite culture in the Old Testament. It was such an important commandment that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had turned it into a legalistic effort. But the Sabbath wasn’t ultimately about doing something especially religious on the seventh day of the week. It was about putting life on hold for 24 hours and recognizing that God is ultimately still in control. It was a chance for them to “Be still, and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10).”

Rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus reminded them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27).” Sabbath rest is the spiritual discipline of ceasing our efforts and resting in God’s ability to care for our needs. Ironically, it’s those who are busiest who need it the most. As Christians, Sabbath rest does three things in particular for us.

What Does It Do For Us?

1. It allows us to recharge.
It’s amazing what a day off can do for a person. In January, I went through a two-week period of averaging 4 hours of sleep or less each night. Caleb was sick and by the time he recovered, he was teething. He would wake up screaming at 2AM and require up to an hour of soothing before he could sleep again. During this period, I also took on 3 business trips in 5 days. Between the 2,500 miles of flying I had logged and the lack of sleep, I was crumbling and even began experiencing panic attacks.

Study after study shows us that rest is essential to physical and emotional health. Constantly running without a break can lead to fatal consequences. Taking a day off to rest and worship is a chance to recharge and refocus.

2. It forces us to recognize that the world still turns without us.
When life gets unusually busy, it’s easy to buy into the self-absorbed belief that we are busy because everyone else needs us. It can make us feel unusually important. Sabbath rest is recognition that we can’t bear the weight of the world on our shoulders and that the world still turns when we remove ourselves from it. When we remember that we have human limitations like everyone else, it forces our focus upwards to the One who doesn’t.

3. It reminds us of God’s sovereignty.
When we finally recharge and recognize our frailty, we remember that God is sovereign. He uses us but he doesn’t need us. With or without you, the sun will still rise, plants will still grow, and people will still be fed and cared for. Even more, your personal problems and issues are still within his grasp. Even when you aren’t working, he still is! It requires a certain amount of faith to stop in the middle of a hectic life and rest for an extended period of time. This is what it means to be still and know that he is God.

So as you go home for the weekend, remember to truly rest. Make time for the things you enjoy and do them with the people you enjoy. Take a nap, sleep in, and spend time worshipping on Sunday morning with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Take time to recognize your finite power and his infinite sovereignty.

Posted in: Worship

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