We’ve all experienced burnout. Maybe your burnout story involves being overworked, cutting a vacation short due to an emergency, or navigating a family crisis. Maybe it’s a result of Covid-19. Ministry burnout often comes over time as a result of multiple events.
Take David for example. In 1 Samuel 18-21, we read about David’s marriage to the king’s daughter, the king’s attempt to take David’s life, his fleeing for his life and pretending to be insane. These events led David to retreat to a dark cave. His time alone was soon interrupted. Everyone who was in distress gathered in the cave. David quickly found himself leading more than 400 men.
Yet while in the cave, burned out from his life changes, running and hiding, David prayed. David records his plea to God in Psalm 142. In this prayer, we discover five powerful strategies.
1. Acknowledge the reality of burnout.
David admitted the reality of his situation. He confessed he had no energy when he said, “My spirit is weak within me.” He even acknowledged “no one stands up for me” and “no one cares about me.” Aware of his weakness, David didn’t allow the reality of his weakness to keep him from coming to God in prayer.
Burnout is real, but the experience doesn’t make us insignificant. God calls us to lives of service that have many joyful and exciting moments. Yet, there are also difficult and wearisome seasons. Ministry burnout shows no partiality.
Once we recognize burnout, we should acknowledge it to God in prayer. God is fully aware of the burnout we experience, and he invites us into his presence.
2. Go back to basics.
David did not have energy for a lengthy address to God like the author of Psalm 119. He simply cried out, “You are my shelter, my portion in the land of the living.” For David, returning to the basics meant returning to the attributes of God.
The attributes of God are a wondrous place. Genesis 1 declares God is our Creator. Exodus 15 praises God as our Warrior. Psalm 23 gently reminds us God is our Shepherd. Isaiah 40 boldly reveals God as our great Comfort. While burnout often leads to thoughts of hopelessness, revisiting the greatness of God produces hope.
3. Be honest with God.
David didn’t hold anything back from God: “Listen to my cry, for I am very weak.” Facing a low point in his life, David was honest with God and asked for deliverance.
We have permission to be honest in our prayers. God is omniscient and is aware of our burnout. God is omnipresent and is with us as we go through the motions of ministry. God is omnipotent and is at work in his church despite our burnout. So be honest with him.
4. Show transparency in our requests.
While hiding in a cave, David became the leader of 400 men. Burnout often leads to hiding, even while leading others. While encouraging others in their pain, we may mask our own dark loneliness so others can’t see the pain. David attempted to hide from others, but he could not hide from God. So, David was transparent in his weakness: “Rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Free me from prison…”
We may be able to hide our burnout from others, but we can’t hide from the God of Light.
5. Remember we’re not alone.
David ends his prayer with hope. “Free me from prison, so that I can praise your name. The righteous will gather around me, because you deal generously with me.” David hoped he would not remain in the shadow of the cave. God was with him and would not leave him to face uncertainty alone.
Burnout may leave us feeling uncertain, however, we are not alone. Psalm 142 gives a good example of David, but there’s an even greater picture of the One who is with us always. Jesus experienced the utmost loneliness on the cross, and now he’s the victorious advocate who prays for us. As Octavius Winslow said, “When I cannot think of Jesus…Jesus is thinking of me.”
This column is excerpted from Lifeway.com. Caudill blogs at drakecaudill.com.
Drake Caudill is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Carmi.