A Key to Understanding Burnout

I want to share with you one of the key dynamics in understanding the cause and experience of burnout. 

About 16 years ago I went through burnout.  Fortunately, the church I was pastoring gave me a sabbatical time to recover and Refresh.  During that time I started to explore the dynamics of burnout.   The things I learned led me to found a ministry called Refresh for helping people who are going through or in danger of going through burnout.  So for the last 8 years I have listened to a lot of stories from people in ministry who are at various stages of ministry exhaustion.  As I have heard their stories, I have noticed some factors and trends emerge.  I’ve learned one of the keys to understanding the experience, is the loss of hope.

Let me unpack that assertion a bit.  When we think of burnout, most often we look to external causes.  For example we may say “My schedule is too packed, my health practices are not what they should be, the people I work with are really difficult” and so on.  Now I understand that these are factors and sometimes the significant factor but I have found that often the cause goes deeper.  As I have mentioned, that cause is a loss of hope. 

Proverbs 13:12 “hope deferred makes the heart sick” but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016).

(Pr 13:12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

At the heart of burnout is deferred or denied hope.  When hope is missing the heart becomes sick.  A sick heart often affects our bodies as well.   

There are a variety of hopes we have when we enter ministry.  Hope of being used by God, hope of seeing lives changed, hope of helping the hurting or seeing people become believers in Christ.  There are other hopes we have for ourselves personally, and for our families as well.  One hope we have that perhaps most powerfully affects us in regard to burnout is the hope we have to change our world.

I have found again and again as I talk with people who are struggling with burnout is that they have lost hope in how they think God has called them to change the world. 

burnout

We generally enter ministry with a vision and hope of how God is going to work through us to make a difference.  A pastor may believe God has called him to preach sermons that bring life change yet Sunday after Sunday very little change is evident.  A missionary may have a calling to rescue orphans in a needy place in the world yet find that the community they work in isn’t all that excited about their rescue plan.  A youth pastor may believe he is called to reach unchurched youth in the community but finds little progress.   Little by little the realities of ministry fly in the face of what a person believed they were called to do and the impact they were expecting to have.   After a while this begins to erode hope.  The confidence of a positive future ministry degrades into a fatalism of a lack of impact.  A quiet sense of despair can begin to set in.  This can result in a number of physical and mental dynamics.  Loss of physical energy, chronic health problems, a loss of joy in going to work, a pessimistic view of people and of God easily develop in these times.    

One of the interesting things I have found is that this switch from hope to despair can happen in in a moment.  It just may take one discouraging comment or event that moves a person from hope to despair.  It’s as if at that moment the valiant battle of faith the minister has been fighting is given up.  It’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Often when I ask a person if they can pinpoint the moment when it seems their burnout began, they often can identifiy it quite quickly.  In that moment it’s like they switched from hope to despair.   It’s a moment where the hopes of their calling look impossible to ever be fulfilled.

The recovery from burnout is a process.  Usually physical rest is essential, a time of being still and in solitude with God so you can hear the gentle quiet Spirit of God is a must and a willingness for honest reflection at how you got to this point is unavoidable.

If you are at the point of burnout or in recovery, here are some starting questions to consider to help you start on your way.

First, ask yourself….

What is my understanding of my call to impact the world?  See if you can write it out  in a sentence.

A second question is…

What is my hope level of this happening?  Rate on a scale of 1-10.  One meaning little hope, 10 fullness of confidence.

Thirdly ask How has your ministry experience affected your belief in yourself, other people and God?  Has there been a sliding toward negative attitudes in any of these three categories?

A fourth helpful consideration is consider the difference between faithfulness and impact.  Which was your calling to?  Often when we are called to a certain ministry, we add our own assupmtions about how that ministry is going to change the world.  When our assumptions don’t pan out we move easily to despair.

Fiflly, reflect specifically on how your practical belief about God has changed?   I have yet to meet a person in burnout who has denied their professed faith, they will still affirm their doctrinal stand.  However, there is often a change in their practical belief.  So for example, a person may affirm God provides but practically they may believe “he doesn’t provide for me.”   A person may affirm that God is all wise, but practically believe “in my life he doesn’t know what he is doing.”  The pressing and disappointing circumstances of ministry often lead to a shift of what a person really believes about the Lord.  These shifted beliefs are often at the heart of the despair and lost hope.

Lastly, ask God to show you how to move forward in preventing and recovering from this loss of hope.  This will most likely include at least two aspects.  The first aspect is that of repentance.   Though we don’t like to hear or admit it, we often have attitudes, practices we need to change our mind about and seek God’s forgiveness.  A second aspect is that of our practical beliefs.  If we practically believe, for example, that God is wise but not in our life, that idea will have to be informed with the truth of scripture through meditation, prayer and the support of others.  To leave this unattended, will keep us locked in burnout and in the clutches of hopelessness.

The wonderful news is that there is an escape from the burnout trap.  God is able to restore your hope as our practical belief finds its bearings in the truth of God as revealed in Scripture.  Times of refreshing await those who seek the Lord. 

Click here => to Listen to Lyndon on this topic:

 

The Surprising Instruments of Victory: Judges 15:15

 Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.(#)

This post is the fourth in a series of five on the theme of Surprises of God’s anointed servants.  The fourth surprise is the surprising ways God provides victory.

As I carry out my assignments from God and observe others who are doing the same, I am continually amazed at how he uses surprising instruments to accomplish his purposes.  Not only does it surprise me that God uses imperfect people such as myself, but he also gives us surprising instruments to carry out his purposes.  Samson is a perfect case and point of this encouraging truth.  We are surprised that God chose Samson, with all his imperfections, to be a deliverer of Israel.  We are perhaps even more surprised the instrument Samson used to win a great battle – the jawbone of a donkey.

I learn some awesome things about God in this story.  I learn that with the Holy Spirit, common things are sufficient to achieve the purposes God has for us.   Too often when faced with immense tasks or callings we look for spectacular answers and help.  Yet God is not limited by the lack of great resources. A common thing used in the power of the Spirit can bring the victory.  This happened a lot in scripture, Moses’ shepherd staff was the instrument for parting the Red Sea and bringing water from a rock (Ex. 14,17), Gideon used trumpets, pitchers and torches to win the day (Judges 7), and Jehoshaphat used a worship band to lead the way to victory (2 Chron. 20).   However, common things does not necessarily mean conventional.  The donkey’s jawbone was a common thing but its use as a weapon was unconventional.  If you have to fight a thousand men, a donkey’s jawbone does not sound like a great weapon.   A sharp two edged sword or a fine tipped spear would have been suggested by the conventional thinkers in Samson’s day but God had other plans.   Samson had no time to run home to get his sword, he had to work with what was at hand.  What was at hand was unconventional but more than sufficient. God is able to use what we can pick up around us.

Another lesson I learn is that overwhelming enemies can be defeated when we are on track with God’s calling and purpose.  Samson, though a reluctant deliverer, was called to begin the deliverance of Israel.  In his desperate circumstances he was forced to act against the Philistine oppressors and God is with him.  One against a thousand is bad odds to say the least, yet with the power and weapon God provided, a great victory was won.  There are times in ministry where it seems that we are fighting a thousand enemies.  The demonic hoards come against us with shouts of triumph but with the Lord  enables us to overcome.  If we find we are not standing up against the odds perhaps we should take some time to make sure we are on track with our God-given purpose.   There was another time in Scripture when this was clearly the issue. God spoke to King Asa saying “the Lord is with you when you are with him…” (2 Kings 15).

We do well to pause from time to time to ask the Lord if we are with him, with this assurance we can move forward in victory, even if the odds are 1000 to 1.

Refresh Day 16: Cataract Surgery

 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood.”

Ephesians 6:12

We as humans tend to see our struggles only on an earthly level. We often view conflicts with those who oppose God’s purposes in our lives as irritating human behavior. However the Apostle Paul calls us to take a look beyond what is seen. He calls us to remove the blinding cataracts of an earthly perspective. He calls us to look beyond the human faces and see the unseen forces that oppose God’s purposes in our lives, “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood.”

Paul, the writer of this powerful truth, knew firsthand what people could do to him. To Timothy he wrote, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm” (2 Tim 4:14). He listed other people who attacked or deserted him in his service of God. Yet Paul kept in mind the ultimate source of these attacks and remembered God’s help: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack” (2 Tim 4:18). Paul knew that people were only the front line in a spiritual battle for the truth of God that is revealed to us in Jesus.

ClarityDo you face opposition from people who are standing against God’s purposes in your life? Target your prayers against the real enemy and seek God for the accomplishment of his purposes. Surrender your earthly view for a biblically informed perspective. Then ask God to reveal if you are working for the wrong team in a situation of conflict. Just as others are prone to serve the evil one, we too are susceptible.

Prayer starter: Lord, grant me the grace to see beyond what can be seen with my eyes.

 

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LyndonAbout the Author: Lyndon Wall served as a pastor in Alberta, Canada for fourteen years. He has also served the Jos, Nigeria mission community by providing pastoral care. Lyndon is the founder of Refresh Ministries, which is dedicated to helping people in ministry enjoy “healthy souls.”  Lyndon earned a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

refresh-devotionals-front-coverThis excerpt is from Lyndon’s devotional book Refresh. Lyndon wrote Refresh specifically for pastors, missionaries, and ministry workers whose souls have been parched by the stresses and tests of life. Stress is a reality of life. It can harm and drain us of vital energy. It must be responded to wisely. This devotional book was written to help you encounter Jesus Christ, the great refresher of the soul and give insights that will help you live with a renewed and joyful heart.