When Christians Burn Out

I have beaten my share of dead horses.

Most of the time, I hate quitting. Whether it’s a job, a friendship, a project, or a ministry, my commitment continues even past the point where it is profitable. I figure every horse has its ticks, so quitting isn’t an option just because things get a bit difficult.

It’s not just stubbornness though, that keeps me going when something is difficult. I desperately don’t want to quit something if God’s intention is to have me weather a storm. When that storm hits then, and whatever horse I’m riding at the time begins to wobble, I try to stay on it until I have the clear and unmistakable go-ahead from God to let the horse die.

God takes His time in letting us know it’s time to move on though, doesn’t He?

There’s a wrestling that needs to happen – with our attitudes, assumptions, even with God himself. It can take months or even years before He reveals the next step. The hardest part is not knowing, in the waiting, whether we’re hanging on for the sake of loyalty or stubbornness, or because we’re truly waiting on God’s direction.

While we simultaneously wait on God and continue weathering the storm, we can get tired. Exhausted. Burned out.

It is possible to burn out even doing what God gives us to do.
​(And we don’t need to feel badly about it when it does.)

I should clarify. When I say we can burn out doing what God gives us to do, I do not mean to justify fleeing from pain. Burnout is also not the fatigue one gets from holding too tightly to what God asks us to let go. I also do not intend burnout to mean tiring from relying on ourselves instead of Jesus' provision.

Think of Elijah hiding in a cave, or David becoming weak and sorrowful. Both men were doing their best to follow the Lord, but at some points felt like they couldn't take it anymore.

Part of the wrestling we must do is to sift our motives with Jesus.

In my own state of burnout, I had become weak and sorrowful. Exhausted, irritable, and easily overwhelmed, I revisited the passage that had once inspired me into ministry in the first place. The true worship outlined in Isaiah 58 had once compelled me to serve the poor and homeless. The Lord faithfully led me to a perfect opportunity where my children could also join in. But five years later, feeling drained and used up, I read the passage again and discovered something I hadn’t seen the first time around.

​“The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength.”

It is simply assumed we will, at some point, become dry and weak. For the Lord to give us water when we are dry we would need to first become dry. A strong person does not need their strength restored. No, this promise is for someone who, while serving the Lord and doing what He has asked, has become weak and dry and in desperate need of refreshing.

This promise is for the obedient, burned out servant.

In the Isaiah 58 motivational call to service, there is a built in caveat for weakness and dry seasons. We will become weak and dry, and not because we’ve failed, but because we’re human. And it’s okay. God’s got our back and will refresh us. He will restore our strength and we will “be like well-watered gardens, like an ever flowing spring.”

If you are in a dry spell or feel weak and empty and all used up, let this encourage you. 

You are not failing

You do not need to feel guilty or believe your efforts were wasted. You also don’t need to feel guilty or lazy for needing and taking rest.

Receive the gift of rest, using the time to refocus your thoughts on Jesus. Trust him to grow the seeds He gave you to sow. He’ll bring the results. The more we trust Him with our stress and junk and weakness, the more room we have for thankfulness. The more we practice thankfulness, the more joy and peace we will experience, even in our weakest moments.  

Do not worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, thank Him for what he has done, and the peace of God will fill your hearts as you live in Christ Jesus.” ​Philippians 4:6

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