Life tends to hit us out of nowhere doesn’t it? You think you’re doing great, going about your daily life, tending to your responsibilities, serving in your ministry, giving it your all. Then out of nowhere, you feel totally drained. Every ounce of energy is gone and you feel nothing. You want to close your door and your heart and retreat into yourself.
You want to know what happened? You were so busy taking care of everything and everyone else, that you failed to take care of yourself. You didn’t rest.
This can happen even if our intentions are good. We’re trying to be there for everyone, be a good hostess, reach out to the needy, and counsel the broken. But somewhere along the way we lose our drive. We get tired. If we’re not careful, that tiredness can lead places we never wanted to be.
Three things happen when we don’t take care of ourselves and rest.
1.) We make poor decisions.
A great example of this is Esau in the Old Testament.
Genesis 25:29-34 ESV: Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!”… Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob…
Esau was a hard worker and a good son. But amidst exhaustion and extreme hunger (other translations use the words famished, starving, or faint), he made a terrible life altering decision. This may seem like an extreme example, but how many of us have made poor decisions when we’re tired? How many of us had said or done things we regret under the influence of fatigue? When our bodies and minds are tired, we cannot think clearly and we are unable to make informed decisions. We were not made to function without regular rest.
2.) We get sick.
Philippians 2:25-30 ESV I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow… for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
We don’t know for sure what illness Epaphroditus was suffering from. But the Bible says “for he nearly died for the work of Christ”. My belief is that he worked himself into exhaustion and his immune system failed. Sometimes we get so busy running around and we use God as our excuse for being exhausted! “Oh I’m so tired because I do so much for Jesus.” Stop trying to sound so spiritual. You’re not doing God any favors by wearing yourself down. You’re only opening up your body to harmful bacteria and viruses that you won’t be able to fight off because you depleted the charge on your immune system. He created you to need rest. He created the Sabbath for YOU. A whole day set apart just to rest! And it wasn’t a suggestion. He devoted an entire commandment to tell us to keep the Sabbath. We have to rest to keep our bodies and minds healthy.
3.) We experience burnout
Exodus 18: 14-23 ESV “When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”
Moses was sitting there handing all the people’s problems, all the time, all alone. If he hadn’t have listened to his father-in-law at this point, he would certainly have experienced burnout. We see burnout a lot in ministry. Pastors try to carry the load of the church all on their own. Whether out of obligation, a sense of duty, or a need for control. They try to counsel all the people, visit all the sick, teach all the classes, preach all the sermons, make all the decisions, and they simply were not made to do it all. We were not created to do everything all the time. We were not created to do everything. We were not created to “do” all the time. If you’ve been running and serving to the point where you feel drained, it’s time to step back before it turns to burnout. Burnout is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. Burnout can be destructive in the ministry, in a marriage, in a caregiving role, or really in any area of life. It’s ok to start saying no to things and people to preserve your emotional and physical state.
So what do we do to avoid exhaustion or burnout? The Scriptures have a lot to say about resting. Resting physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Sometimes we need to put up the Do Not Enter sign and rest. Look with me at 4 steps we can take to avoid exhaustion and burnout.
1) Return to the practice of resting:
Psalm 116:7 “Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”
Psalm 62:5 “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.”
You have permission to step back, take a break, and rest. Get into the habit of practicing the Sabbath weekly. Every month, take a weekend for renewal. And at least once a year, take a full week. Turn off your cell phone and have a staycation. Or get out of town and away from your daily routine. Use this time to lay on the beach, hike up a mountain, read by a lake, or picnic in the countryside. Rest.
2) Enter into the Father’s peace:
Psalms 4:8 “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Once we realize that we do not control this world, that we are in the hands of a great and powerful God who loves us, we can rest in peace knowing it’s not all up to us. God tells us to cast our cares and anxiety on Him. We were never meant to carry the loads we try to hold tight to. One of my favorite songs right now says “I will rest in the Father’s hands. Leave the rest in the Father’s hands”.
I will rest in the Father’s hands. Leave the rest in the Father’s hands…
I throw all my cares before You. My doubts and fears don’t scare You. You’re bigger than I thought You were. You’re bigger than I thought.
3) Sabbath as we are commanded:
Exodus 20:8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Ezekiel 20:20 “Sanctify My Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.”
Yearly vacations are optional, monthly weekend getaways are a luxury to most, but we have been commanded by our Creator to rest on the Sabbath. For most of us, that’s Sunday. However if your particular job has you working on a Sunday, you should be choosing another day each week to rest, mediate of the scriptures, and renew you body and mind.
4) Trade stress for satisfaction:
Proverbs 19:23 “The fear of the LORD leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.“
Psalm 107:8-9 “Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness…For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.”
Psalms 100:4 “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”
We get so busy with life, running around trying to accomplish so many things. We have all of these activities we juggle, people we’re trying to please, and events we’ve committed to. As humans, we’re hard to satisfy. We crave more and therefore add so much to our plate that half the time we don’t know if we’re coming or going. If you find yourself become weary time and time again, it may be time to give up some things. Re-evaluate what is important and adjust your priorities. Some activities or commitments may need to be cut. That’s ok. Another thing we tend to do is work ourselves ragged to accumulate more stuff. If we could only learn to be satisfied with what we have, we may find rest and peace soon follows.
There’s one more thing that I feel led to share. I recently went through a rough episode of insomnia. As spiritual as I wanted to be about it, no amount of reading my Bible or praying put me to sleep. Growing up I heard a lot of preachers say that if you’re not able to sleep you must have a guilty conscience. That is NOT TRUE. Period. Sometimes there are unexplained medical conditions that can hinder our rest. Let me tell you friend, if you need help, get it. Do not let anyone make you feel guilty about getting help when you need it. You may need medication, therapy, or professional counseling. There may be a severe underlying condition that you desperately need treatment for. Don’t try to do it alone. You will not be able to function without sleep and it will only add to your stress levels and quicken the onset of burnout.
Friends, we desperately need to learn to rest in this modern busy world. Rest was given to us by our Savior to use as a shield against Satan. If we’re always busy and stressed out, we cannot tend to our relationship with Christ and we’ll soon find ourselves defeated. That’s what Satan wants. He wants us tired and stressed so we give up. So we’re not able to be a light in this dark world. Don’t let him win friends. Rest in peace and rest in God. Then stand and fight.