Healing Line

Healing Line

Fired up, or Burned Out?

by Linda Strickland
Jan/Feb 2009

Life in ministry is exciting and life giving, but without an appropriate balance it can become difficult and exhausting.

Sure, the benefits are often supernatural…..but do the blessings really outweigh the continuous battle?  Am I even fighting the right battles?  Why do I sometimes feel like I am fighting people instead of the enemy? Why is all of my energy going into putting out fires instead of building them?

Does any of this sound familiar?

My husband and I have been asking ourselves many of these questions lately.  We are both in full-time ministry….and to be honest with you, we are just plain tired.  Often when I pray with people, the Lord gives me a word that the person is “bone weary tired.”  Well - lately it hasn’t taken much discernment to see that we are suffering from this as well.  The really frightening thing is realizing that we have fallen into one of the enemy’s favorite traps - we’re working ourselves to death…and all in the name of Jesus.

Recently, while I was talking to God about this, I was convicted to ask Him a critical question; one I have neglected to ask while I have been so busy: “Lord, are you pleased with me?”

Here was His response:

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!” Revelation 2:2-4 (NLT)

The fact that my Lord has a complaint against me is difficult to swallow.  Especially when I thought He was so pleased with me.  But to be completely honest, lately I have been caught up in the details, working in my own strength and for my own reasons…instead of paying close attention to my relationship with Him and others. No wonder I’m feeling burned out.

Last year, Judith spoke at a conference where many church leaders were in attendance.  At the close of one of her sessions, a young pastor came to us and asked for prayer.  As we began to minister to him, he broke down and began to weep…and weep…and weep.  Now, I’m not talking about gentle tears flowing down his face, but gut-wrenching sobs.  This went on for hours, and all we could do was hold him, as he desperately held on to us.  When he was finally able to speak, he told us that he had been a pastor for 12 years, and was now considering leaving the ministry.  It was just too hard.  He was suffering - his family was suffering.  The bottom line: he felt exhausted, beaten up and burned out.

This young pastor reminded me of Moses. “Fed up and stressed out by too much to do and by too many people with problems, Moses finally came to the end of his rope.  His burnout was classic, the result of thinking that everything depended on him.  He thought that he must carry all of the burdens of ministry on his shoulders because there were no other shoulders.  Here was a man who was taking too much on himself, doing far more than God ever intended him to do.  No one ever sank under the burden of God’s will. But like Moses, it’s when we run ahead of Him and add our own will to His that we get beyond our strength. Most of us are too busy to wait for God.  We have things to do, “and promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep” (Robert Frost). We overdose on everything; we get caught up in the system, commit ourselves to projects and plans that God never intended for us, and then we wonder how we can ever get them done.”  (Taken in part from the book ‘A Burden Shared’ by David Roper)

I recently sat down with Francis to discuss this article and the issue of burnout.  I was hoping that he would give me a neat little list of ways to solve this common problem, but instead he first wanted to address my personal condition.  He lovingly counseled me and helped me to realize that I have been putting too much blame on myself and carrying unnecessary guilt.

He shared with me a very personal story from his past.  It was 1978 and Francis, along with a team of seven, went to India to put on a conference for a group of 400 priests. It was a busy and wonderful week, which also included a healing prayer service for 20,000 people.  As you can imagine, the team would be exhausted at the end of each day, so to relax and unwind after the meetings they would spend time together, celebrating and fellowshipping by sharing a meal, telling stories, and laughing.

At the end of the conference one of the team members, a co-leader of the conference, took Francis aside and told him that he should be ashamed of himself for the way he led the team in ending each day. He said they should have been in prayer together in the chapel instead of socializing. He asked Francis if he thought Mother Teresa would have acted this way.  This hurt Francis deeply, and made him feel guilty. He talked with the rest of the team, and they all agreed that the social time actually helped counter-balance all of the exhaustion; but was it wrong?

I don’t think so….and neither does Francis.  Fun and laughter is a great antidote for tiredness.  For example, Francis enjoys spending time with friends and laughing, watching sports, renting silly movies, and playing games.  All of these activities help him to unwind and relax, and bring balance to a busy life in ministry.  In addition, he said that these activities will sometimes change from time to time - what works today may not work tomorrow.

He also told me that Judith has been an extraordinary gift to him, in that she brings a light heartedness to his life.  Francis often tends to be serious, and Judith keeps him balanced.  They are an ideal match.

My husband and I are both very driven and work oriented-people.  After talking with Francis, I realized that our greatest strengths can become our greatest weaknesses, so my husband and I have agreed to make more time for fun, finding that counter-balance that we both need.  We also decided that if we want to stay in ministry, (which we do), we need to monitor our pace.

Francis has always said that life in ministry is a marathon and not a sprint, and we have to pace ourselves accordingly.  A marathon is defined as being a long distance race of great or greater than normal length, requiring exceptional strength and duration.  On the other hand, a sprint is a short race at full speed.

I am so grateful to Francis and for his guidance and encouragement.  So I pass on these powerful words of wisdom and direction to you, from a man who is enduring (with grace) the long distance race.

(To read more on what Francis has to say on this topic, I would encourage you to read Chapter 9, “Having to Say No”, in his book “Power to Heal.”)

As we enter another year in ministry together, I encourage you to continue to run the race, asking God to determine the pace.

Happy, Joyful, New Year!

 


Linda Strickland Linda Strickland is the Associate Director of Ministry and Assistant to Judith MacNutt. Jan/Feb 2009 Issue