Beating Burnout Before It Beats You
by June Hunt
Are you at the breaking point right now? Do you feel that if you have one more pressure added to your life, you will break? Stress can be a monster, but stress can also be a motivator.
“It matters not how great the pressure is, only where the pressure lies. As long as the pressure does not come between me and my Savior, but presses me to Him, then the greater the pressure, the greater my dependence upon Him.”
A. What Are the Many Sides of Stress?
In the language of physics, stress is a term used by engineers to describe both the external force applied to a material and the internal strength required to resist the pressure. These combined stresses will cause the material to change size and shape. For example, a metal like iron will have a yield point at which outside pressure increases the density of the metal, making it stronger. But when the strain exceeds its load bearing capacity, a failure point is reached and the metal breaks. When a blacksmith heats and hammers a horseshoe, he not only shapes the metal but also increases its strength.
• Stress is external pressure that causes physical, mental or emotional strain.
“A large truck puts a lot of stress on the old wooden bridge.”
• Stress is internal resistance in response to outside pressure.
“The stress in my lower back was brought on by lifting heavy boxes.”
• Stress is negative pressure that results in distress, danger or destruction.
“The stress from many harsh winters destroyed the fruit trees in our backyard.”
• Stress is positive pressure that results in motivation and movement.
“The stress of having to support a family caused the young man to seek a better job.”
B. How Is Scripture Used to Deal with Stress?
You will react to pressure much the same way as does any metal that needs to be made useful. Stress can increase your ability to endure. However, excessive pressure can break you. God, knowing you intimately, does not allow pressure beyond what you can bear. But your response is critical. As you submit to the hands of the Master Craftsman, God will reproduce the life of Christ in you, creating a tool worthy of His use.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
(2 Corinthians 4:8–10)
Distress is a word used more than 100 times in the Bible to describe negative stress. It most often pictures the negative result that pressure and pain can have on the heart.
The Old Testament Hebrew word tsarah is taken from the root word meaning “tightness.” It means distress, anguish or affliction in a spiritual or psychological sense.
Because of the famine in Israel, Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt in an attempt to buy grain. But as they found themselves in a stressful predicament, they reflected on what they had done to Joseph many years before.
“We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.”
C. What Are Spiritual Implications of Stress?
Stress is ultimately a spiritual issue that affects your whole life. Pressure is not the perpetrator. Your reaction to pressure is what reveals your understanding of God’s ways. You can allow pressure to come between you and the Lord, or you can allow pressure to press you closer to the Lord. Evaluate your mental, emotional and physical response to the pressures that produce stress in your life.
Mental stress is a result of how you think about or interpret events. If you dwell on losing your job, you will feel stress. If you dwell on God’s faithfulness to provide, He will replace your stress with His peace.
Do you have a positive or negative outlook? If you dwell on negative thoughts, you can turn almost anything, even good circumstances, into stress. This is why God wants you to meditate on what is pure and good.
“If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.… And the God of peace will be with you.”
Emotional stress is the result of how you process your thoughts. If you think bitter thoughts, you will feel bitter emotions. If you think forgiving thoughts, you will feel forgiveness in your heart.
Although feelings need to be recognized and acknowledged, they are basically a product of your thinking, and they can be controlled. Emotional immaturity makes you a prisoner to your feelings and keeps you chained to undue stress.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Your physical body automatically responds to external pressure. If you dwell on your difficulties, you can develop fatigue. If you trust God for His timing, He provides you peace.
Even medical science has its own special definition of stress, which threads mental and emotional reactions to the central nervous system. As other physiological systems begin to activate in order to meet the external demands in life, if the pressure is not dealt with in a healthy way, you become susceptible to a variety of physical problems. God reveals in Proverbs that by keeping His words in your heart, you can avoid many of the consequences of stress.
“Keep them [God’s words of wisdom] within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.”
D. Spiritual Significance
Jesus lived among the disciples to reveal how life is lived in the strength of an intimate relationship with God. Throughout the most difficult hours of His life, Jesus modeled the perfect response to stress. Now that He lives within you, He wants to be your source of calm in stressful situations.
Crisis of the Cross
“He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’ ”
Q “How did Jesus mentally process the situation He was facing?”
Although Jesus knew He was about to be arrested and would face death, He acknowledged His Father’s sovereignty and put His trust in God’s ultimate control over the situation.
“ ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you.’ ” (Mark 14:36)
Q “How did Jesus outwardly express His emotions?”
Jesus honestly expressed His feelings through prayer. He admitted His great desire to avoid death by asking His Father to remove the cross from His life. Yet, His heart remained submissive to His heavenly Father’s will.
“He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ ” (Luke 22:41–42)
Q “Did Jesus have a physical reaction to the trauma He experienced?”
Suffering physical torment as a result of His agony, Jesus perspired profusely!
“Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
The choice of Jesus to submit His will to that of His Father brings a significantly deeper meaning to His “Crisis of the Cross.” His willingness to die to His own desire reveals the true nature of God’s love. Every crisis will carry a challenging choice. You can choose to persevere and be changed (because of love for God and for others), or you can choose to seek a way of escape.
Q “How can I know what love truly is?”
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
II. CHARACTERISTICS OF STRESS
A. The Four Stages of Stress
No motivation to move responsibly.
Motivation to move responsibly.
Motivational warning signs to slow down movement.
Movement is stopped and repair is necessary.
B. How Stress Affects Life
• Stage 1: No Light
When there is insufficient stress to move responsibly, you will find that the person …
— avoids responsibility
— has poor relationships
— is not productive
— has no energy
— experiences depression
— has no purpose
— lacks perspective on life
• Stage 2: Green Light
When there is positive stress, you will see that the person …
— faces responsibility
— has responsible relationships
— is productive
— is energetic
— is enthusiastic
— has fulfillment of purpose
— has a positive perspective
• Stage 3: Yellow Light
The warning signs of stress are like the amber lights on a traffic signal: They caution you to be on the alert, to slow down and to be prepared for upcoming change. The physical warning signs of stress can be …
— tension headaches
— muscle aches
— heavy sighing
— high blood pressure
— loss of sleep/excessive sleep
— lack of concentration
• Stage 4: Red Light
Burnout is certainly not God’s will for us. It may actually mean that we have not processed the stresses of life in a godly way. Instead of living at Stage 2, we become …
— overwhelmed by responsibility
— withdrawn from relationships
— minimally productive
— depressed (lack of enthusiasm)
— without perspective
— easily fatigued
— lacking the ability to concentrate
C. Under the Hood
If your car begins to clank and smoke billows from the hood, you would search for the nearest station and a competent mechanic. The first phrase you hear is, “Let’s take a look under the hood.” Unfortunately, many of us may be more concerned about the distressing condition of our car than the condition of our physical bodies. Are you sensitive to the warnings of your emotional engine? Your physical symptoms could register that you’re on the brink of burnout.
“A man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones.”
Checklist for Burnout
□ I have difficulty relaxing.
□ I have lower back pain.
□ I feel tired and lifeless most of the time.
□ I have frequent severe headaches.
□ I get indigestion often.
□ I often have diarrhea or constipation.
□ I could be getting an ulcer.
□ I have trouble sleeping at night.
□ I grind my teeth at night.
□ I am susceptible to every cold and virus.
□ I have allergies or asthma.
□ I eat and snack excessively.
□ I have lost a lot of weight.
□ I often have cold hands and sweating palms.
□ I have shortness of breath.
□ I have a rapid pulse.
□ I generally feel nervous and unsettled.
No one will experience all these symptoms, but if you checked four or more, you may need to evaluate how you are responding to the pressures in your life. Are you releasing your heavy load to the Lord and allowing His peace to permeate your heart?
“A heart at peace gives life to the body.”
III. CAUSES OF STRESS
A. Surface Causes of Stress
Looking under the hood isn’t enough. You need to inspect the parts that have received excessive wear and tear. Are you worn and torn by stress? Have you analyzed your own condition? By taking a closer look at Paul’s many experiences, you can check out what circumstances are most likely to cause stress. If the pressures in your life are not being used to press you closer to the Lord, you may be on the way to a blowout!
“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.”
(2 Corinthians 11:22–31)
Paul was met with extreme opposition from others. vv. 23–24
Examples: Opposing values of family and friends
Unresolved anger in relationships
Unrealistic expectations of another person
Lack of open communication in relationships
Paul was shipwrecked and often in extreme danger. vv. 25–26
Examples: Death of a friend or family member
Separation or divorce
Severe illness or handicaps
Unexpected trauma of any kind
Paul was constantly on the move, often going without sleep. vv. 26–27
Examples: Change of environment
Change in financial state
Change in employment
Change in sleeping and health habits
Paul was rejected and betrayed by the Gentiles and by his own people. v. 26
Examples: Rejection by significant people in your life
Lack of support from your coworkers
Unfaithfulness of a friend
False accusations about your character
Paul carried the daily pressure of concern for the churches. v. 28
Examples: Concern for loved ones
Anxiety about the future
Fear of failure
Perfectionism and excessive concern with detail
Paul chose to boast only in his weaknesses. v. 30
Examples: Base your acceptance on who you are in Christ.
See your weaknesses as God’s opportunities.
Give up the need to be in control.
Rejoice in the success of others.
Paul was secure in his integrity before the Lord. v. 31
Examples: Put God first in all your activities.
Allow God to meet your needs.
Respond to the needs of others.
Repent of sin in your life.
B. Root Cause
What do you need to know and believe that will enable you to have success over stress?
“My life is out of control. I feel helpless to cope with all this stress in my life.”
God has allowed this stress in my life to bless my life and reveal my weaknesses. I am grateful for the pressures that have pressed me closer to Him and caused me to allow Christ to be my strength.
“ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
IV. STEPS TO SOLUTION
Are you mentally, emotionally or physically on the road to a breakdown? Are you driving with all eight cylinders, but running out of gas? God often allows your tank to be empty so that you will seek Him. Come to the King of Kings and learn His ways. The Holy Spirit is drawing you—seeking a personal relationship with you that will lighten your load!
A. Key Verses to Memorize
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
Even his name Elijah (God is Salvation) announces that he is a messenger approved and sent by God. Elijah had significant spiritual strength, yet he wound up with an empty tank under a broom tree, begging God to deliver him from his great distress.
Elijah on Empty
1 Kings chapter 19
• Scripture reveals the cause of Elijah’s burnout.
— Elijah lost confidence in the sovereign power of God. v. 3
— Elijah had reached the end of his own resources. v. 4
— Elijah was tired and exhausted. v. 5
• Scripture also tells us the steps Elijah took to be restored.
— Elijah left his servant and got alone with God. vv. 3–4
— Elijah received the rest and food provided by God. vv. 5–8
— Elijah sought to communicate with God. v. 8
— God was not silent but asked Elijah to explain his need. v. 9
— Elijah was honest with God about his feelings. v. 10
— God showed Elijah that He was still in control. vv. 11–12
— God spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper. vv. 12–13
— Elijah’s response revealed that he did not understand how God was working. v. 14
— God revealed the next steps for Elijah to take. vv. 15–16
— God revealed part of His future plans to Elijah. vv. 17–18
— Elijah obeyed God and went back to the job God had given him. v. 19
— God gave Elijah the gift of a genuine friend and companion. vv. 20–21
God sometimes allows difficult situations in your life in order to nurture a stronger relationship with Him. The events in which Elijah found himself were beyond his control and demanded a complete dependence on God. If your prayer life is to penetrate to the deeper layers of your faith, you may find yourself under the broom tree of a broken spirit.
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
Principles from Elijah’s Experience with Stress
Filling Your Emptiness—
• Spend time alone with God.
• Receive God’s rest and physical nourishment.
• Seek communication with God.
• Wait on God’s response.
• Respond honestly to God.
• Place your trust in God.
• Rely on instructions from God.
• Be ready for God’s blessing.
C. Tune-Up in Truth
The world would say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” or “Prevention is the best medicine.” These familiar adages are simply saying, “Stop it before it starts!” Since stress begins in your mind, much of your misery is the result of incorrect thinking. Fortunately, what you choose to think is in your control. Are the lies of legalism keeping you in a “stress mess”? God may be drawing you to learn His Word, to get a mental tune-up in truth.
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“The more I do for God, the more He will love me.”
God already loves you completely. Nothing you can do will increase His love for you.
“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3)
“I will lose God’s love if I fail.”
God’s love is always with you regardless of what you do.
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.’ ” (Jeremiah 31:3)
“When I’m not pleasing God, I feel His condemnation.”
God’s heart for you is not condemnation. He desires freedom for you and condemns only the sin that has you in bondage.
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1–2)
“I’m afraid if I fail, God will punish me.”
God does not punish us. He disciplines us for our good that we may share in His holiness.
“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)
“Because God is always available when anyone needs Him, I should be too.”
Jesus was not always available. He consistently left the crowds and His disciples to be alone and pray.
“After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.” (Mark 6:46)
“To burn out for a cause is admirable.”
God never applauds burnout, only balance … a balance of work, rest, play and prayer.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
“I am not serving God if I’m not seeing tangible results.”
You are to serve God in the way He chooses, but you are not responsible for God’s timing or harvest.
“Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:7)
“If I don’t do everything that I’m asked to do at church, I’m letting God down.”
God is far more interested in having an intimate love relationship with you, than in what you do.
“Jesus replied: ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” ’ ” (Matthew 22:37–39)
“Life is such a burden, I cannot possibly be happy.”
Life is a gift that God wants you to accept with a joyful spirit.
“When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
“I must appear to have it together and not show my mistakes.”
A spirit of humility is more impressive than having a prideful attitude.
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
“Keeping God’s laws is the heart of the Christian message.”
Reflecting God’s grace is the heart of the Christian message.
“I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
“When I’m at death’s door, I’ll be sorry I didn’t accomplish more.”
When you’re at death’s door, your primary regret may be that you didn’t show your love more.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)
D. Getting Off the Road of Overload
Road signs give you notice of impending change or danger. Do you fret when you have to stop for others? Do you resent having to yield the right-of-way? Do you get impatient when road repairs call for a reduction in speed and a detour from the familiar? God’s warning signs often relay the same messages as those obstacles you encounter on the highways. What may seem an unpleasant hindrance to your movement through life may be God’s loving notice that you are going dangerously fast or that you are driving down the wrong road.
• Slow down and make the necessary changes for good physical health.
— Do I eat a balanced and healthy diet?
— Do I exercise at least three times a week?
— Do I take at least one day of rest each week?
— Do I get adequate restful sleep most nights?
“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2)
• Slow down and evaluate your priorities.
— Make a list of everything you do.
— Consider other priorities that should be on the list.
— Number in order of importance.
— Choose your commitments carefully.
— Eliminate unnecessary stressful obligations.
— Don’t accept impossible deadlines.
— Don’t give in to the pressure of urgency.
— Tackle only one problem at a time.
“Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:6)
• Slow down and nourish your spiritual life.
— Remind yourself daily to …
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
— Open lines of honest communication with God about your concerns, needs and fears.
— Set aside time daily for personal prayer and Scripture meditation.
— Memorize Scripture that builds assurance of God’s love (Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 36:7; John 14:21; Romans 8:39).
“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)
• Stop and look at the real reason you are experiencing stress.
— Do I try to meet my own needs instead of waiting on the Lord?
— Do I think God cannot get along without me?
— Do I seek self-worth through proving my adequacy and effectiveness?
— Am I Spirit-led or people-pressured?
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
• Stop, confess and turn away from any known sin in your life.
— Do I manipulate or control others?
— Do I feel envious or jealous of others?
— Do I express my feelings inappropriately?
— Do I overreact to criticism?
— Do I have impure motives?
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
• Yield to God’s sovereign control over your circumstances.
— What is God doing in my circumstances?
— In what way does God want me to change?
— How does God want me to respond?
— Do I have impure motives?
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1)
• Yield to God your rights and expectations.
— I yield my right to control my circumstances.
— I yield my right to be accepted by others.
— I yield my right to be successful.
— I yield my right to be heard and understood.
— I yield my right to be right.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
• Resume speed, living in the presence of God.
— I choose to let Christ live His life through me.
— I choose to live in the present, not worrying about tomorrow.
— I will refocus my thoughts away from my pressures to Your purposes for allowing this pressure.
— I choose to have a thankful heart regardless of the pressure I feel.
— I will call on You, Lord, for wisdom and peace.
— I will commit to talking less and listening more.
“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.” (Psalm 89:15)
“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.”
|On your journey through life, don’t miss the SIGNS God has for you.
When stress singles you out for repair …
SLOW down and seek God’s direction.
STOP and turn from danger.
YIELD to Christ in the driver’s seat.
RESUME SPEED, trusting in the Lord.
Life in the
|Stress is taking its toll on many of us who are living life in the fast lane. On this perilous highway of overcommitted schedules is a modern traffic jam of emotional and physical wrecks, but take heart. God is waiting for you with tools for your repair.
Tools for Repair
Acknowledge that the fast lane is not God’s way. Then change your thinking to confront a brainwashed world that worships action, activity and accomplishments. The more you become aware of your identity in Christ, the more you will begin to see the spiritual value of a simple, unpressured lifestyle.
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life … so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:11–12)
Go to God with every detail of your life. Express your feelings and frustrations honestly. Then acknowledge His faithfulness with an attitude of expectant hope for His provision and thankfulness for His promise to meet all your needs.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Guard your time wisely. Only the enemy speaks to your heart with condemnation and pressure to perform. God’s people follow His own example by protecting time in order to rest in Him from overwork and activity.
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”
Appropriate the power of Christ to reflect His peace in the way you respond to the pressures and trying circumstances of daily life. This can be a reality if you practice the awareness of His presence, rest completely in Him and trust totally in His ability to guard your heart from anxiety.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
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