Do Christians get burned out?
Posted on 27 Jun 2020 by Winnie Lai
Burnout has been prevalent in this busy world. And you may wonder why that’s the case. At least twice in my life, I was almost at the edge of burnout, perhaps I was already in it. I never understood burnout until it happened to me. I wasn’t sure how to think of it and what to do. Most importantly, I wanted to know if it’s ok for Christians to be burned out. If it’s not, then I want to know what will help prevent Christians from burning out.
Burnout has to do with the state of the mind. It’s mental exhaustion that eventually caused a person to be physically and emotionally drained out. It’s not just the physical exhaustion from overwork, but it’s about our mind calling us to completely disengage from the world, that even if we were physically working, we cause our minds to switch on an automatic work mode, which eventually leads to the loss of meaning in our work and makes the usual work more taxing as days go by.
Is it OK for Christians to be burned out?
Sometimes it’s inevitable for Christians to overwork because we are called to be laborers in a harvest that’s plentiful. Just like the nature of the apostolic ministries, there’s so much to do for God’s kingdom, but there’s only so much that we, individuals can bear.
A Christian race is like a marathon and not a sprint. We are never expected to work short-term, but to work permanently at an optimal level without needing to give up halfway. We want to pace ourselves rightly according to our gifts and context so that the output of our work will benefit God’s ministries long term.
Work varies according to individuals, so we shouldn’t expect others to provide the same level of input/output of work as us – they are able to either do less or more. But all Christians are to be zealous for God’s work, their zeal will drive them to make the necessary sacrifices and deprioritize other less important work so that they seek the kingdom of God first in their respective contexts.
As the body of Christ, every part of the body is required to fulfill its functions so that the whole body can properly operate. This means it’s important for us, as members of the body, to take into account ourselves in the system, knowing that we have a role to play in that body regardless of how prominent that role is. Every role matters to Jesus. Therefore, we are to care for ourselves in a way that builds the body of Christ as a whole. If we are burned out, the whole church will suffer.
I used to be a lone ranger. I had a very individualistic mindset in my service to God, I never saw myself as part of the body, and work was never corporate. Because of this individualistic and to some extent, self-centered way of thinking, I thought it was ok to give up when I don’t feel like doing something and resume the task when I felt motivated again. I thought I had the right to make that call for myself because all I could see was that I was only one of the many stars in the galaxy. So even if one star decides not to shine, other stars continue to exist and shine bright – it makes no difference to the galaxy.
The following verse woke me up and taught me that we are never meant to do it all alone. Jesus has always meant corporate work for his members in his body.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – 1 Corinthians 12:26
So for the sake of the upbuilding of His church and other members, it’s not ok for Christians to be individually burned.
If burnout only means overwork for a person, it’s reasonable for this person to take a break and recuperate from his/her exhaustion.
However, if burnout means that the person does not want to engage with the world, then it could be an issue because that’s equivalent to an escape from reality. Jesus has never wanted us to escape from the world. In Christ, we no longer belong to the sinfulness of the fallen world yet Jesus still sends us into the world on mission for gospel proclamation just as the Father sends Jesus into the world (John 17:14-19). This requires lots of engagement with the real world (perhaps even more than our old lives) without getting ourselves lost in it. An escape mentality will disable a disciple from fulfilling this gospel mission completely.
Ways to prevent from burning out
We are workers of God, but not meant to be workaholics. Overwork largely contributes to burnout. Assuming you’re someone who constantly overworks yourself or could potentially be a workaholic, here are some ways to prevent yourself from burning out:
1. Have a long term plan, and set milestones to track your progress. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
2. Re-evaluate your priorities and plan your life. Be wise and avoid overcommitting to things especially the unnecessary or less-important work.
3. Don’t do anything out of pressure, learn to take responsibility, and work hard.
4. Keep in mind the deadlines and stop procrastinating if you’re given a reasonable time to complete the task.
5. Everyone has his/her own timeline and expectations. Learn to manage people’s expectations in a team/department to refrain from last-minute work and poor work quality.
6. Do not idolize work or use it as a safeguard from facing your insecurities in life.
7. Multitasking is a killer, it gets your mind really busy but it gets almost no job done. Focus on attending to one task at a time, without dragging and taking your own sweet time.
8. Allow yourself to feel tired and take a break. Please go get some sleep and commit to a regular sleeping pattern.
As Christians, we want to be a steward in the way we sleep. We sleep so that we can be re-energized to serve the Lord. Hence, the key to achieve this is quality sleep. Humans need to sleep between 7-8 hours a day. Quality sleep will result in quality work for Jesus.
Also, don’t ever use the sleepless pattern to justify your hard work. I used to boast in my sleepless nights to prove how hard I’ve worked. Less sleep = I worked harder than the rest. I only cared about how great I looked to others. The moment I shifted the fear of men to God, I realized I was being a hypocrite in boasting in my works. My service was a lie for being pretentious. Ever since then, I started taking my sleep responsibly. Christians can sleep responsibly because God is in control. No matter how much things can go out of hand, we can still sleep in hope and wake up with much confidence in the all-knowing God.
The following prayer displays a wonderful expression of man’s dependence on God even in sleep.
A Puritan’s Prayer on Sleep
Thou hast promised my beloved sleep;
Give me restoring rest needful for tomorrow’s toil;
If dreams be mine, let them not be tinged with evil.
Let thy Spirit make my time of repose a blessed temple of his holy presence.
May my frequent lying down make me familiar with death, the bed I approach reminds me of the grave, the eyes I now close picture to me their final closing.
Keep my always ready, waiting for admittance to thy presence.
Weaken my attachment to earthly things. May I hold life loosely in my hand, knowing that I receive it on condition of its surrender;
As pain and suffering betoken transitory health, may I not shrink from a death that introduces me to the freshness of eternal youth.
I retire this night in full assurance of one day awaking with thee.
All glory is for this precious hope, for the gospel of grace, for thine unspeakable gift of Jesus, for the fellowship of the Trinity.
Withhold not thy mercies in the night season; thy hand never wearies, thy power needs no response, thine eye never sleeps.
Help me when I helpless lie, when my conscience accuses me of sin, when my mind is harassed by foreboding thoughts, when my eyes are held awake by personal anxieties.
Show thyself to me as the God of all grace, love and power; thou hast a balm for every wound, a solace for all anguish, a remedy for every pain, a peace for all disquietude.
Permit me to commit myself to thee awake or asleep.
In light of this, we shouldn’t then use sleep to disengage from the world. We shouldn’t also find a way of escape in sleep in the midst of struggles and suffering. Sleep is an act of surrender to the Lord and a resting tool for better work the next day.
Christian Rest is the goal
In Genesis 2, God rested on the 7th day of creation. Rest here doesn’t mean inactivity. God made that day holy and that involves work. We also know that the Father is still working up to this day (John 5:1 – 6:71). He is now sustaining the world that he created in Genesis. So, rest is integrated with work. Resting is to be working as God designed it, as God desires it. Rest is ultimately about this uninterrupted worship, the undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:1-40). Christ exercised this rest in all his works on earth, even in the most difficult & devastating work- that’s to face death on the cross. Because of him, our burdens now can be light, nothing in this world can hold us back once we follow Jesus. We are no longer tossed by worldly troubles, we can finally let go of all our worldly pursuits. Whether on our busiest days or holiday breaks, we are still restful in Christ. There’s no need for an escape from life and disengagement from reality. Christians can finally work consistently and continuously without burning out. In Christ, we can finally dwell in restful work by facing up to the world with our work and sleep.