Have you ever been discouraged? Frustrated? Felt as though your work was all in vain? Have you ever walked away from a season of life, project or commitment and wondered what was even accomplished? Have you ever been burned out?
They say burnout is pretty normal, especially for driven, goal oriented people who invest greatly in whatever it is they are doing. We hear of pastors, missionaries and even lay people in the Church getting burned out at times. Sometimes it comes in the wake of great tragedy and turmoil, and sometimes it comes after a season of revival and bountiful blessings from God. It can be the culmination of trials, or the vacuum left when the hubbub of an active season is completed.
It has been said that Spiritual burnout is the result of working in our own strength and not God’s. But Scripture never says that “if you abide in me you will never get tired, frustrated or discouraged”. Isaiah does say,
“He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”
– Is 40.29-31
We often jump to the end of this promise, claiming that if we are in God, we will run and not get tired! And this is a beautiful part of the promise. But notice the entire premise: God gives strength to the weary and He increases power to those who lack might. If we wait on the Lord, we will gain new strength. God is not promising that we will have continual, perfect strength. He is saying when we do get tired, and we slow down and wait on Him, He will give us new strength which will enable us to run the section of the race before us. He will give us strength for the day, each day. We cannot go to Him once and get a life-time fill up that will last us forever. We must continually return to Him and wait on Him, and He will give us new strength for the new task or new day.
Consider Paul. The most dynamic missionary of all time: personally converted by Jesus, personally discipled by Jesus in the desert for three years, and personally sent out to the non-Jews by Jesus (Acts 9, Gal 1.12-19, Acts 22.21). God converted thousands through him, started countless churches through him, and wrote half of the New Testament through him. He was, of course, not without sin, but even in the strength of his conviction and calling he became so discouraged that he wanted to die.
– 2 Cor 1.8
Paul was persecuted regularly in his missionary efforts, and while we see him respond in love and compassion often, this personal testimony reveals that he was so over it that he longed to die. He, and his team, despaired of life.
Consider also Jesus. Jesus was God, and Jesus was without sin. He lived a perfect life and then spent three years in ministry, preaching repentance and coming of the Kingdom of God. The culmination of His Earthly ministry was His death, burial and resurrection. Jesus reveals to us early in His ministry that it was God’s plan for the hearers to not understand what Jesus was teaching (Matt 13.13). And even though Jesus knew that He would preach and people would not understand, He still became discouraged with them. He still was broken over the people and cried out in frustration:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”
– Matt 23.37
And after proclaiming the difficult truths of the Kingdom, the masses who were following Him left. Jesus responded in sorrow:
And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”
– John 6.65-67
And consider his final moments before the cross. Jesus knew the plan of God, He knew that through His death salvation would be made available. He loved us, and He trusted God’s plan, but yet He wept bitterly in the garden and cried out three times asking God to make another way:
And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
– Matt 26.39
The prophets throughout the Old Testament wrestled with depression, anxiety and discouragement. Elijah, just moments after watching God consume his offering on top of Mount Carmel, mocking the 450 other prophets while they beseeched Baal to do the same, and then killing them all ran in fear of the queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18).
OK. So we see that we are in good company when we become discouraged, frustrated or burned out. What then? We must wait on the Lord. It is by remaining in Him, by waiting on Him that our strength is renewed. He casts a vision, He gives us perspective, He reminds us that the battle is in His hands, and He sanctifies us through the trials.
Paul, in despairing of life, was able to recognize God’s hand through the despair itself:
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.
– 2 Cor 1.8-11
God walked Paul through this season of despair to teach him to rely on God and not himself. Jesus surrendered His personal desires to the will of God. The prophets were all encouraged in their time to see God’s greater plan – at least in part (and at times through chastisement).
We must wait on the Lord and we must persevere. We cannot abandon our faith, we cannot abandon the work of the Gospel. We must believe, because it is those who persevere until the end that will be saved (Matt 10.22, Rev 2.10, 26).
“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
– Matt 24.13
So when we find ourselves discouraged, frustrated, burned out or exhausted, let us return to the Lord and wait on Him. Let us rest in Him. Let us pray, let us surrender, let us confess, let us wait. And He will renew our strength, He will cast a vision, He will sanctify us by growing our faith and maturity. This is all a beautiful part of the Spiritual journey.
– Matt 11.28