The Way to Avoid Burnout Is to Burn Out
You often hear people say we need to live in moderation or that what’s most important is to have a balanced lifestyle. They’ll tell you the goal is to get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat good, organic food.
If you’re in ministry, you are always told to have boundaries so you won’t get burned out.
I am not against sleep, exercise and good, organic food, and boundaries aren’t necessarily bad. If it were up to me, I would get lots of sleep. I love to exercise with my wife, Jodi, and if it were possible (and I could afford it), I would only eat fresh sushi and drink green smoothies.
But it does seem that even with all these safeguards, more and more people are burning out. In Germany, even pets can get burned out, and they go on pet spa retreats to avoid becoming too stressed. In the United States, they have pet therapists. (Off topic I know, but that’s crazy!)
Nowhere in Jesus’ teaching does He remotely suggest balance or boundaries. Even Jesus said He often didn’t even have a place to sleep. Paul talked at length about his hardships and trials.
When Jesus tells us how to pray, He gives the illustration of someone demanding bread at a neighbor's house at midnight. That we should cry out to God with an attitude of shameless persistence. Not exactly balanced (Luke 11:5-8).
In Acts 4:29, when the early Church was receiving death threats, they prayed under the power of the Holy Spirit: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” Again this was not even close to the safe option, let alone the balanced one.
Then Jesus makes the most extreme statement any religious figure has ever made in Matthew 16: 24 -25: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their Cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
Jesus tells me that I gain life when I lose it for the sake of the Gospel. That I experience my purpose when I take up the Cross. That I find the extraordinary life I was created for when I deny myself and kill my dreams and ask God for His.
People think working too hard, or not sleeping enough causes burn out, when in reality it's caused by living without challenge, meaning, or purpose. We fail when we try to operate apart from God’s power and live in our own strength. Going the distance and thriving comes from depending on God for strength, guidance, and wisdom, and realizing that we can’t do it alone.
Once we understand this, following Jesus is anything but balanced. It will test your limits, stretch your faith, and require courage, but following Jesus in this way is where I find true purpose, real joy, and the mission I was put on this earth to live.
When you are an authentic Christian, you will not always get enough sleep, have a forty hour work week, and all public holidays off. Sometimes you will have to eat the food that’s put in front of you and be grateful that you have food to eat at all. Maybe your life will be short and you won’t die an old man on the golf course.
But you will have a rich life of significance and you will be someone God can use to change the world. Your life will not be a life of regret. Like Neil Young said, “It’s better to burn out than it is to rust.”