WATCH OUT FOR BURNOUT
1. I am speaking to our most faithful and tireless workers, so I want to speak of something of which servants like you must be most aware.
2. Though we could as easily use the experience of several other Bible characters as our example, in this study we will consider an episode from the life of Jeremiah.
a. No one ever had a more difficult task than him: he had to convince an independent, prospering, proud people into willing bondage.
b. The effort he expended led to many a disappointment. He is known as “the weeping prophet” for good reason.
c. Our text is a passage that tells how he felt...(read).
3. What Jeremiah went through here is what I mean by “burnout” – he didn’t quit, but he wanted to!
a. I notice a knowing expression in the eyes of my brothers and sisters when I read passages like this in classes or in sermons like this.
b. I am convinced that, as a practical matter, we have to watch out for burnout.
1. Consider first some of the most common causes of burnout in those who work in the interest of the Lord’s cause.
a. Repetition can produce a weariness in the job we have and cause us to consider quitting, not just the task we have been assigned, but even the cause we serve.
i. In Jeremiah’s case, he had to speak of what was going to happen to his people over and over again without it seeming to do much good.
ii. Either frustration or boredom will set in – unless the one doing the work, whatever it is, can be allowed to see the value in what he is doing.
b. Working under a continual crisis can finally so stun a worker that he or she may not see a way to go on with the work.
i. I’ve known people who’ve had to work where there was always a rumor.
ii. Jeremiah felt the pressure of ridicule (v.7), whispering (v.10a), and threats against his safety (v.10b).
iii. The constant pressure of relationships that are strained, or problems over which one has no power, or threats of rejection will take their toll on those who are trying to meet responsibility.
c. Negative attitudes – built in failure attitudes – can burn out, not those who have them, but those who are trying to serve despite their presence.
i. When you have a hill to climb, you don’t need added weight on your shoulders saying, “You can’t make it...it’ll never work...it won’t do any good.”
ii. Every time Jeremiah looked at the people he was trying to help, he saw the glare of disagreement, disapproval and dislike.
iii. After enough of that, he felt like he was wilting.
d. Unrealistic expectations – expectations that do not face the truth about human ability or resources or obligations.
i. Jeremiah was having to deal with people who thought that, no matter what God said about their fate, they could resist the siege or form an alliance or go somewhere else, or do something that would keep them from being taken captive.
ii. He was saying that there was no amount of commitment, no kind of work, no sacrifice or time or effort, which at this point would change what was going to happen.
iii. Their unrealistic expectations were destroying them and ruining him. That’s what happens when we continually think we can get where we want to go just by pressuring people.
e. Failure of others – who should be co-workers – to meet their responsibilities.
i. Kings and prophets should have been the ones who most appreciated Jeremiah’s efforts, and the ones whose tasks enabled the people to take healthy action.
ii. These, however, were the individuals who proved to be most irresponsible, and whose influence was most destructive.
iii. They were either in over their heads, or had vo vision for their people and their future, or felt no need to support one who should have been a fellow worker.
f. Mistreatment in response to good intended – especially in a worker who is already weary – nearly always adds to this problem.
i. I don’t really know which come first, the mistreatment or the perception of it.
ii. In Jeremiah’s case, though, it was real (v.2).
iii. This was also true at the low point in Elijah’s life (1 Kings 19:4,10).
2. Some of these feelings are a natural part of life. They become a serious matter when convictions begin to collapse, when there is a loss of commitment to Christ.
a. You can see it in Jeremiah’s experience here.
i. This wasn’t the first time he had met emotions or questions.
ii. But here he considers the possibility of not speaking in the Lord’s name any more, just never mentioning him again, not dealing with his task any more.
iii. Would he forsake the convictions by which he had lived and worked? Would he give up what he had lived for?
b. Sometimes we can get so caught up in what we’re doing that we can forget or most basic convictions.
i. The answer to collapsing of our convictions – the condition we call burnout – is the ultimate certainty of the truths that are at the foundation of our faith.
ii. God is still in heaven. Jesus is still at his right hand. The Holy Spirit is still ministering his grace and providence upon the earth.
iii. The Lord’s favor and his blessings upon those who love him is certain. If we will be living sacrifices for him, he will open the windows of heaven for us.
3. Now think of some practical solutions that will bring us through those feelings and keep us in the ranks of the upright and faithful.
a. Honest, intimate prayer is, of course, a must.
i. That’s really what Jeremiah is doing in our text. His prayer includes confession of how he is really feeling, request for vindication with regard to his enemies, and expression of trust.
ii. James reminds us it’s also what Elijah, the man of like passions with us, did (James 5:16, 17).
iii. Pray for yourself. Pray for others workers in the kingdom.
b. Trust in the Lord leads to additional strength, help in carrying the load.
i. Though he felt like he could no longer do it, and though he wondered why he had to, Jeremiah did what the Lord gave him to do.
ii. Notice v. 11a, 12b, 13.
c. A real and full knowledge of ourselves, of who we really are and what’s going on in our lives, is an important part of this story.
i. Jeremiah’s ability to recognize his own thoughts helped him.
ii. Each of us has to engage in enough of the “ordering of our private world” to realize what we are thinking, and to examine why.
iii. This is a crucial part of accepting ourselves as rational and responsible beings.
d. The experience Jeremiah was passing through was an exercise in maintaining his balance.
i. Balance is about an appropriate moderation in all things.
ii. A good balance of talents and temperament lessens the possibility of burnout.
iii. Being faithful is about balancing home, work, church, extracurricular activities, etc.
e. Make small changes in activities without forsaking major convictions.
i. A person may need analyze priorities, or delegate something to someone else, or to rotate assignments.
ii. He may need to learn a new skill, or accept help from a fellow worker, or to make some other small change.
iii. This has been called “repotting yourself.”
f. Remember that you’re not in this alone.
i. Jeremiah, Elijah, David, Moses, and many others understand.
ii. That’s why the Lord has given us each other (Heb. 10:24,25).
iii. The assembly proves to be a vital link on the highway to heaven. Look around you at the people you are serving with. They are all facing challenges you are.
1. R. C. Thompson said the formula for Christian service is: ability +opportunity=responsibility.
a. There may be a time when you need a rest, a break to get your strength back.
b. There may be a load you’re not able to carry at this time in your life.
c. The Lord will not require what you can’t do, and neither will your brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. As comforting as this thought is, there’s a challenge to it: before I say I can’t, I’ve got to look at what men like Jeremiah did.