Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. Psalm 73:25
After John Wesley’s ‘heart was strangely warmed’ at Aldersgate in 1738, he preached and laboured for the gospel, unabated, until his death in 1791. In that fifty-three year period he wrote over two hundred books, compiled dictionaries in four different languages, travelled 250,000 miles on horseback throughout England, averaging twenty miles per day. He preached over 40,000 sermons, sometimes as many as seven or eight in one day. He made from his book sales, the equivalent in 2012 U.S. dollars, $2.2 million annually, but lived on only $50,000, choosing to give the rest to the poor and needy of England. How did he do it? What kept him going? Why did he not burn out?
Be sure of this – serving the Lord Jesus and people can deplete one’s spiritual, emotional, and physical resources. Even the Lord Jesus himself knew something of this. When on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:25ff), when walking through the huge crowd, the woman with the haemorrhage for twelve years touched the hem of his garment and he felt power go from himself. Jesus did not begin his earthly ministry until the Holy Spirit came upon him at his baptism (Matt. 3:16-17). And though the apostles were well prepared for their ministries, after having been with Jesus for three years, seeing him perform mighty miracles and preach powerful sermons, though they themselves had done many of these things themselves (Luke 10:1ff), nonetheless they were told by Jesus to remain in the city until they had been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:44-49). Paul was able to say, in the midst of great suffering and disappointment, ‘Though we are afflicted, we are not crushed. Though we are perplexed, we are not in despair. Though we are persecuted, we are not forsaken. Though we are thrown down, we are not destroyed’ (2 Cor. 4:7-12). There is no indication that Jesus, or Paul for that matter, suffered what we typically call burn out. Why not, and why are we prone to suffer from it? More importantly, what shall we do to prevent it?
Though no doubt physically and emotionally depleted at times, Jesus remained in close, intimate fellowship with his Father. He knew fully the Father’s great love for him. Paul was able to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of people’s faith and to rejoice in the privilege (Phil. 2:17) because he knew and experienced the power of a sanctified life (Rom. 12:1-2). So why do we suffer burnout, depletion of our physical, emotional, and spiritual resources? Could it be our age-old problem – pride? At the root of all sin is pride. Satan wanted to be equal with God. Adam was tempted to be equal with God. We suffer the same delusion. When a pastor secretly thinks he can be the next John Piper or Tim Keller he is setting himself up for a major disappointment which can destroy him. We all tend to think too highly of ourselves and when we do not reach our expectations then dismay, disillusionment, and disgust can overwhelm us. A Christian in the work-place can do the same thing. He sets his goal on a certain level of business for the year, believing God will give that to him so that he can give more money away to the Lord’s work, and it does not happen. When this disappointment takes hold of someone, it is not long before the man or woman looks to the creation rather than the Creator for help. Instead of seeking first the kingdom of God, of pursuing a growing, vital relationship with the Lord Jesus by the Spirit, he begins to focus more and more of his affections on lesser things. These are not always bad things. Perhaps it is a hobby, his work, his exercise regimen, his children; but these can short circuit his vital connection with his power source.
Understand this – the mere act of living in the world can deplete your spiritual, emotional, and physical resources. So can secret sin. So can pride. So can a spirit of bitterness. Paul tells us to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom we are sealed to the day of redemption (Eph.s 4:30). He follows that by saying, ‘Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you (Eph. 4:30-32). We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We are not to quench him (1 Thess. 5:19). We are not to resist him (Acts 7:51). When the root sin of pride comes into our lives, when this begins to manifest itself in an unforgiving spirit, when we hold others hostage to perform for us, when we go after lesser things; then we continue to mitigate the spiritual power in our lives.
What, then, must we do? My friends, we must seek the Holy Spirit’s presence and power! It seems to me that we see so little happen in our preaching, teaching, evangelizing, and serving because we lack Holy Ghost power. The Psalmist was brought to the end of himself when he could not comprehend the prosperity of the wicked, being disgusted by his response to this mystery, and he said, ‘Whom have I in heaven, but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on the earth’ (Psa. 73:25). Overcoming burnout comes down to this – seeing the root cause of sin, especially pride; but then running to the Lord Jesus in faith. Seek daily the power and presence of the Spirit. Cling to Jesus by faith. Be sensitive to grieving the Spirit in any way. Humble yourself in the presence of God. Ask him to show you your sin, and then repent. Expect God to fill you, to empower you, to use you in his service.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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