Burn Out

by Al Baker from the Banner of Truth Trust UK

The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:18)

Are you presently living with a sense of hopelessness, a sort of low grade depression where you tend to speak in negative absolutes? For example, do you say, ‘My marriage will never get better. God never answers my prayers. My husband never listens to me. We will never get out of debt. Our ministry is going no where.’ Are you ready to throw in the towel, to check out, to cash in your chips, to say, ‘I have had enough! I am leaving my husband. I am getting out of the ministry.’ Have you entertained the thought of ending your life, of saying, ‘What’s the use? I cannot go on any longer.’ Are you angry, given to outbursts of anger with your spouse or children at the slightest provocation? Are you mired in self-pity, saying things like, ‘My husband does not understand me. My children ignore me. I have nothing to offer anyone.’

If so, then you are probably suffering from what many call burn out or depression. What is this malady? From where does it come? And what is the remedy for it. James is putting forth the characteristics of a good teacher, one who influences others for the sake of righteousness, saying that this heavenly wisdom cascades down from the Triune God like the Tuolome River in Yosemite Park cascades down with great power from ten thousand feet, along the Tuolome River canyon for some twenty miles, bringing refreshing water to the valley. This wisdom flows from a fountainhead that thirsts for holiness. In James 1:4 we are told to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing; and that if anyone lacks wisdom he is to ask God for it. The wisdom of holiness is higher than the wisdom of Solomon who wanted the ‘wisdom of skill’ to govern his people. That was a good start but he did not go far enough, eventually succumbing to the big three obstacles all men face — women, horses (power), and gold and silver (mammon). See Deuteronomy 17:14-17. The wisdom we need is not earthly (inanimate like a rock or tree), natural (literally the Greek word means sensual), or demonic (inspired by the devil and hell), but is heavenly — pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy. The seedbed of this heavenly wisdom yields a fruitful garden of righteousness and holiness, the exact opposite of the breeding ground of earthly wisdom which yields bitter jealousy and selfish ambition where nothing can grow, where everything dies.

What is burn out? It is a mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. This is evident in the lives of both Elijah and Jonah. In 1 Kings 19:4ff, after Elijah’s remarkable confrontation with the prophets of Baal, when he prayed down fire from heaven to burn up the water-soaked sacrifice at which the priests of Baal were woefully unsuccessful, he heard of Jezebel’s desire to kill him. He was overwhelmed with this mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion, asking God to take his life. He could not go further. He wanted to quit. He wanted to die. If there were so few who followed God, then life was not worth living. And we see the same thing in Jonah after this racial and religious bigot was angry with God for converting thousands of the pagan people at Nineveh. He sat down in anger, telling God that he too wanted to die. Both evidenced a sense of hopelessness, suicidal tendencies, anger, and self-pity. How about you? Do these characterize your life at this present time?

And second, from where does burn out come? Often it occurs after major accomplishments in one’s life — the birth of a child, a daughter’s wedding, the successful completion of a major project. See both Elijah and Jonah. Often it happens after some major upheaval, good or bad, in one’s life — the death of a spouse or parent, a transfer to another city far from home, taking a new and demanding job.

Tissot-Moses strikes the rock

But burn out always comes when one lives by earthly, natural, or demonic wisdom, that which is a breeding ground for destruction, a seedbed of devastation. Earthly wisdom often seems logical, the right thing to do. God earlier told Moses to strike the rock and water would flow to quench the thirst of the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod. 17:6). So when God later told Moses (Num. 20:8ff) to speak to the rock and the same would happen, he decided to do his own thing and strike it. God judged him, telling Moses that he would not enter the Promised Land because of his rebellion. And when David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem on an ox cart, after its absence for many years, in the midst of great rejoicing, the oxen nearly upset the Ark which was falling off the cart. When Uzzah tried to steady the Ark God struck him dead (2 Sam. 6:1ff). Our ways are not God’s ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8). He chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). Earthly wisdom says, ‘Lay up treasures on earth . . . walk by sight . . . live under the sun.’ It makes sense, doesn’t it, to hoard your wealth for a rainy day, an unexpected setback? But when doing so one can jeopardize the ministry of his church or the immediate need of a missionary. It makes sense to live by what you see, to not trust the unseen God, to work ridiculous hours or to skip church to finish a project, ‘to make things happen.’ It makes sense to live under the sun, as though this is all there is, to hold onto the temporal you can touch, and to neglect the eternal which you cannot hold in your hand. In other words, burn out comes from unrealized and unnecessary earthly expectations. A pastor expects a thriving, larger ministry; a married couple expects a house full of children; a young businessman expects to be on top by the age of forty. This is living by earthly, natural, and demonic wisdom which will bring you down into the valley of despair. It is a seedbed of death that will yield a garden of death and despondency.

Finally, what is the remedy for burn out? Two things are vital. First, you must desire heavenly wisdom. Instead of laying up treasures on earth, lay them up in heaven. Don’t hoard things, use them. Invest them in the eternal kingdom of God. Instead of walking by sight, walk by faith. Believe the promises of God. Take them at face value like a child. God says he will meet your every need in Christ Jesus. He says that he will never leave you nor forsake you. He says that no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly. Believe what he says and act on that belief. And instead of living under the sun like Solomon in parts of Ecclesiastes, live under heaven, living with heaven in full view, getting to the place where the glory of heaven is as real to you as is sitting in a chair in your living room. Solomon’s depressing language is directly related to living under the sun.

We see the benefits of this heavenly wisdom played out in the Apostle Paul who says that he considers the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the glory that awaits us (Rom. 8:17), who says that this momentary light affliction is working in us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17).

And second, you must fear God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Prov. 9:10). Fearing God means that you love what he loves and hate what he hates. It means desiring his smile and dreading his frown more than anything. It means seeing God in every circumstance of your life and rejoicing. It means running daily to the river of grace filled with the blood of Jesus and the living water of the Spirit.

I have been ‘in the nineteenth century’ quite a bit lately, reading of the great saints and great movements God at the time. John Milne of Perth, Scotland is one of those men mightily used of God in the Scottish revival of the late 1830’s, early 1840’s.1 In 1847 at the age of forty Milne finally slowed down enough to marry. Within a year a daughter was born to John and his wife, Robina, but she died at eight months. But then God gave them a son, but shortly after his birth, Robina died. And finally a few months later his two year old son died. As Bonar says, ‘During this time Milne was hardly ever out of the furnace.’ As he told to a friend, ‘I am all alone.’ In his grief Milne went on with his life, became a missionary in Calcutta for a few years, remarried, and eventually came back to Perth and remained a faithful pastor until his death at the age of sixty-one.

How do you overcome burn out? It will not come by earthly wisdom. That will only exacerbate your problems. You must seek heavenly wisdom like fine gold or silver. You must fear God.



Notes:

1. One of the better biographies I have read recently is The Life of John Milne of Perth, written by his friend Horatius Bonar and published by the Banner of Truth. I highly recommend it.

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

www.christcpc.org

Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.

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