Avoiding Burnout

The Christian journey is a lifetime one. The journey is long and has its ups and downs. It requires perseverance, patience, and discipline. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self- control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we do it to get a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

Paul likens the Christian walk to an athletic event, a marathon if you will, and acknowledges that it requires endurance, discipline, and perseverance. How, though, can we complete such a mammoth endeavor? How can we avoid discouragement or burnout? Let’s discuss a few ways:

  1. We must be sure of our calling. A believer must nourish her or his soul and mind with regular infusions of Scriptural study, prayer, meditation, and fellowship. Each is essential in order to build a fortress that will stand through difficult or challenging times. Oswald Chambers had this to say: “Perseverance is more than endurance. It is endurance combined with absolute assurance and certainty that what we are looking for is going to happen.” That certainty is constructed by a regular application of the spiritual disciplines.
  2. We must learn to enjoy the journey. While we all hope and trust in our ultimate eternal reward, it can sometimes seem to be so very far away. There is joy to be found in our daily lives, and we just have to remember to look for it. Whether it’s an interaction with a loved one, a walk which reminds us of the beauty of creation, just reminding ourselves of the many blessings we enjoy each day, or the satisfaction of completing a difficult task, it is vital that we remember to enjoy the journey. As Greg Anderson reminds us: “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
  3. We should realize that burnout is a real thing, especially in the modern age in which we live. We are expected to charge through life at breakneck speed. There is always more to do in our career, in our home life, in our parenting, and on social media. We are made to feel guilty if we have any unstructured time. Life becomes a sprint, and those who don’t sprint are made to feel left behind. Sprinters, however, cannot maintain that pace for very long. A cheetah can sprint; it is the fastest land mammal. However, if it does not catch its prey quickly, it tires and misses its meal. Human sprints are over very quickly. The winner of a 100-meter race, in fact, is the one who decelerates the least during the last half of the race. We must build rest and restoration time into our lives. All elite athletes have come to learn that their periods of rest are just as important as their training time. Pacing is vital for us as well. Jesus accomplished so very much during His ministry, yet He never hurried, and He took regular time away to rest and refresh. We need to do the same.
  4. We must build balance into our lives. Burnout can occur when we become obsessed and overly focus on any one area of our lives. We can experience burnout by over-exercising, driving too hard in our careers and, yes, even by over-committing in ministry. One way to sense that burnout is approaching is to realize that the joy is gone in one of our life areas. If we realize that, it is time to stop, evaluate, and re-calibrate. Burnout, if experienced in one of our life areas, can spread to all. We all want to achieve great things, but that desire must be tempered with a life that is in balance.
  5. Finally, let’s learn from the many Biblical examples of those who exemplified faithful lives. Hebrews chapters 11 and 12 are filled with such examples, and we can take comfort from realizing that burnout is not inevitable, but that we can complete our faith journeys as they did.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us….”

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