Roads That Lead to Christian Burnout, Part 2

Wrong Road #2—Relationship Deficiency

Read Part 1.

by Debi Pryde

A second road takes workers to a place called “burnout.” This path looks inviting because it isn’t crowded. There are no family cars on this road—nothing but single-passenger vehicles. Everyone’s in a hurry to get where he is going, so there’s no lingering, no time for making friends, no time to ask anyone for directions, and no time to listen to others talk. People pryde_roads.jpgwho travel this route don’t take time to get close to anyone, including their own family members. Consequently, relationships tend to be superficial; there’s no time to cultivate genuine, mutual intimacy. Acquaintances and admirers may be many but companions few. Sadly, this solo style of traveling tends to have its greatest impact on family relationships—even worse on one’s relationship with the Lord.

God created human beings so they function best interdependently on one another. He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet [suitable] for him” (Gen. 2:18). Marriage was primarily instituted for exclusive companionship, not procreation. Likewise, God designed the family unit for man’s benefit and wellbeing. Psalm 68:6 says, “God setteth the solitary [those who are alone] in families.” God encourages and blesses friendship among Christians. He knit the hearts of Jonathan and David together in friendship and comforted Paul by sending Titus (2 Cor. 7:6). God doesn’t merely encourage believers to love one another—He teaches and commands them to love one another and to cultivate a spirit of unity (John 13:34). Christ sent His disciples out to work two by two or as a group, not one by one. Paul told believers, “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9). Peter taught Christians to “love the brotherhood,” to “be … of one mind,” to “love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22; 2:17; 3:8).

Fellowship and friendship between believers are so vital that we are warned not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). We are to coordinate our efforts together for the cause of Christ, operating as a team, working together, learning together, resolving problems together, and even taking responsibility to admonish and to restore one another when we are “overtaken in a fault” (Gal. 6:1). We are told to bear one another’s burdens, to please our Christian brother or sister for his good, to edify one another, to exhort one another, to comfort one another, to weep and rejoice with one another. This care for each other isn’t just to be some act we engage in to fulfill a duty. It is behavior that is to naturally spring from a heart of love as we deliberately cultivate loving relationships and partnerships with one another.

Many busy Christian workers become so focused on the work that they forget the importance of interacting on a meaningful level with individual people. They bear the greatest overall burden of responsibility but have little energy left to simply encourage, to be encouraged, and to interact with like-minded individuals. When relationships become superficial and lack closeness or depth, others aren’t aware of inward struggles, personal trials, or discouragements. This isolation leaves the solo Christian to bear burdens alone. Such a believer forgets that Christ tells us that we cannot “fulfil the law of Christ” apart from bearing “one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) The Christian worker needs to remember that this bearing is to be a mutual activity. It is not something leaders are to do while others become sole recipients. Rather, every believer is commanded to engage in both giving and receiving the comfort, admonishment, and fellowship of others.

Contrary to a popular notion some Christian workers follow, it is not spiritually or emotionally healthy to avoid cultivating close friends. Rather, it can be downright dangerous not to. The idea that a pastor, pastor’s wife, or Christian leader of any kind should refrain from having intimate friends of the same gender is not taught anywhere in the Bible! In fact, the Bible pronounces woe on those who are alone when they fall (Eccles. 4:10). Jonathan, Abiathar, Nahash, Hiram, Hushai, Ittai Joram, and Ahaziah are among men the Bible mentions as friends of David. David had friends who strengthened him in the Lord, friends he prayed with, friends who were close enough to give him advice, and friends who had the courage to say, “Thou art the man” when he was living in sin. David knew the sorrow of being betrayed by a friend because he had cultivated friends. No one enjoys the heart-wrenching sorrow of a friend’s betrayal, but we are not to avoid cultivating friendship in an effort to spare ourselves such disappointment. Christ, our example, made many close friends during his ministry—some who were a tremendous sorrow and disappointment.

Close friends are a blessing from God and should be purposefully, albeit carefully, cultivated. What gets leaders and followers into trouble is the way they conduct their friendships or the importance they give to friendships. Close friends who are wrapped up in each other when believers assemble do not minister unselfishly to others but rather alienate others and cause resentment. We find Jesus interacting with His disciples when He was alone with them and ministering to others when He was in a group. We see Jesus engaged in relationships that were very close, such as the relationship He enjoyed with Peter, James, and John. At the same time, He engaged in relationships that were less intimate to varying degrees.

No believer should center friendship on sinful behavior or conversation. Friends who share information that belongs between a husband and a wife or information that is in some way sinful harm each other and the cause of Christ. Complaining and tearing people down don’t honor God, knit hearts together in Christian love, or further the interests of Christ. However, when two friends work together for a common eternal cause, grow in grace together, admonish one another in love, laugh and cry together, and share common interests and goals—both are strengthened, and God is glorified and pleased. Healthy and godly relationships keep us from falling, offset discouragement, and spark creativity and enthusiasm. Friendships are a tremendous antidote to what many describe as burnout.

Christian workers put themselves at great risk when they fail to recognize the importance of being taught and not just teaching, of being admonished and not just admonishing, of sharing burdens and not just bearing them. Solomon tells us that it is “better … [to be] a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” (Eccles. 4:13). This is one reason Peter exhorts all believers to submit themselves to one another in a spirit of humility, even while casting all our cares upon Christ. Is it any surprise that Peter follows this admonition with a warning that the “devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking someone he can devour” (1 Pet. 5:8)?

Believers who proudly “go it alone” are much easier prey for the evil one than believers who stick together. And which of Satan’s weapons slays more Christian workers more than the weapon of discouragement? Many times discouragement could have been avoided had the Christian worker sought wise counsel from others or spent the time and effort to work together more closely with others. Friends, family, marriage partners, and colleagues are all vital relationships that require much time and care if they are to function as God intends them to for our benefit and protection as well as theirs. Human relationships, however, should never be substitutes for our relationship with Christ.

Is it possible to engage in Christian work without depending on Christ? In fact, it is quite natural for human beings to rely on their own reasoning and their own strength when engaged in any activity, including activity that supposedly furthers the cause of Christ. The world views self-sufficiency as a virtue. God, however, views it as a grievous sin that has certain devastating consequences. The Bible warns, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26), Solomon warns. “Without me,” Jesus tells us, “ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The sin of self-sufficiency is an extremely serious matter. Just look at the picture Jeremiah painted of a person who relied on human strength, found in Jeremiah 17:6. He is like a dead tumbleweed aimlessly blowing across a hot, barren desert. The ground is filled with salt, so nothing grows. It is a lonely place, uninhabited, unproductive, and relentlessly monotonous. Perhaps no single error is more devastating than self-sufficiency or more apt to subtly deplete Christian workers of strength or courage in the face of difficulties naturally encountered in Christian service.

The more capable, talented, ingenious, and proficient a Christian worker is, the easier it is for him to deceive himself and others into believing he is depending on Christ rather than on himself. Apparent success, as the world defines “success,” often comes easily to such a person. People naturally want to follow a strong and confident leader and to be on a winning team, so he lacks no support from others. Many thriving ministries are built by talented people who claim to be filled with God’s Spirit and blessed by His power but aren’t. And many struggling ministries are built by godly people who are filled with God’s Spirit. God gives us a method to discern who is truly filled with the Spirit of God and who isn’t. Those depending on the Bible and Christ recognize it, follow it, and emulate it. What they say and do is consistent with the Scriptures. A Spirit-filled person looks like Christ, acts like Christ, and lives to please Christ. It’s not an act that requires effort—it’s a Spirit-filled person’s character.

The fruit of the Spirit is a natural byproduct and includes, among other qualities, a loving nature, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness [humility], and temperance [self-control] (Gal. 5:22). James describes such a leader as someone who does not have bitterness and envy in his heart, who is not quick to fight and quick to become angry. A Spirit-filled Christian is wise, “peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). He is a peacemaker, not one who is energized by a good fight (v. 18). He sees God in everything and is therefore able to give thanks in everything. Sound pretty impossible? It is—apart from daily dependence upon Christ and a genuine relationship with Him.

It is possible to have a huge following that sees you as a successful Christian worker, yet be a spiritual failure by this standard. It is also possible to have a small following and few who consider you a Christian success story, yet be extremely successful spiritually in terms of Christian character. The fruit of the Spirit and of the flesh are revealed clearly in times of failure and hardship. Some would say, however, that great prosperity reveals true character best of all. Few remain humble and dependent on God under such circumstances.

Blessed [or, as we would say, “How happy”] is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous (Ps. 1:1-5).

The promise of strength to the weary is given to those who wait upon the Lord for it. “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength… . But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:29-31). Like those Paul addressed in Hebrews 10:36, we “have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.”

Paul warned Timothy to strive to please Christ and to please Him alone—not people. The moment we make pleasing people our criteria for success, we are not pleasing God. Paul asked, “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). Paul prayed that Timothy, a dear fellow laborer, would “be filled with the knowledge of his [God’s] will in all wisdom, and spiritual understanding,” that he would live to please Christ and thus be spiritually fruitful and be strengthened with patience, longsuffering and joy (Col. 1:9-11). He told him to follow God’s commands, not that which may seem most logical or desirable to him (Col. 2:8-10). Finally, Paul told Timothy, “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:5).

The ends do not justify the means in God’s kingdom. Building a thriving ministry by our own means and methods may impress other believers and win praise and adulation here on earth, but it wins no praise from God and no rewards in heaven. Success, as humans define it, is never to be our goal. Making success our reason for living is a sure way to wind up defeated by sin—and burned out. Paul listed numerous faithful Christians who had served Christ and seen incredible victories, but he listed just as many who had been driven into caves, horribly persecuted, abandoned, and rejected. He himself suffered rejection and hardships as a result of people to whom he had given himself to minister. Paul enjoyed times of prosperity, but just as often he endured times of suffering and need. His goal in whatever situation he found himself was always the same, however. His consuming passion was simply to know and to please Christ.

Paul told us, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others” (1 Thess. 2:4-6). How many servants of God become disillusioned, bitter, or envious when they suffer hardship? How many others resort to sinful methods such as flattery, bribery, self-exaltation, and deceitfulness in order to manipulate people and to win a following? Not surprisingly, these Christian workers eventually become exhausted and find themselves caught in webs of their own making. Sometimes we see their loss and error in this life. Sometimes those follow them into eternity and are made manifest at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

debi.jpgDebi Pryde has taught ladies’ Bible classes and spoken at retreats and seminars for the past 30 years. A certified biblical counselor, she is particularly burdened for women and for the problems they face in today’s world. She has published a variety of Bible studies and books, including Secrets of a Happy Heart, Happily Married, and Precept Upon Precept. She and her husband, Tom, are active members at Lighthouse Baptist Church (La Verne, CA). You can read more about Debi, about her ministry, and about her rose garden by visiting her website.
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