How to prevent a burnout in ministry

For this study we will use 1 Kings 19 as our main text with references to other passages in the Scripture. The story goes that Elijah had confronted the prophets of Baal and sealed the victory for the Lord. When the evil queen Jezebel heard that, she vowed to have Elijah killed. Elijah, after a tiring showdown with the prophets of Baal, succumbed to the threat and suffered from a burnout. He fled for his life to the wilderness. There the Lord met with him and restored him.

Burnout is very real to people who are active in ministry. We all have human limitations. Even Jesus, while He was on earth, had human limitations and took steps to prevent a burnout.

Ministry is a marathon and not a 100m sprint. We need to finish the race well, like the Apostle Paul. Finishing well means not burning out half way.

This study will show that we all have five passion tanks. When these tanks get depleted, you burn out. What are these passion tanks and how do we prevent them from being depleted?

Physical

(1 Ki 19:5-8 NIV)  Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." {6} He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. {7} The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." {8} So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

Elijah was so tired that he fell asleep twice. God also had to feed him twice to strengthen his body. So Elijah’s physical tank was depleted and became one of the causes for his burnout.

The Bible prescribes the remedy for avoiding a depletion of our physical tank – physical rest.

(Exo 20:8-11 NIV) "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. {9} Six days you shall labor and do all your work, {10} but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. {11} For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Why is rest so important? Because the God who created us knows that we can only function effectively if we have enough rest. If we don’t rest, we may do well for a short time but will definitely burn out after a while.

Jesus accomplished much within a short span of 3 ½ years because He knew the importance of rest.

(Mark 6:31-32 NIV)  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." {32} So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

(Psa 23:1-3 NIV)  A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. {2} He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, {3} he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Do you take enough time to rest and eat well?

Emotional

Elijah’s emotional tank was empty. He engaged in self-pity.

(1 Ki 19:3-4 NIV)  Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, {4} while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."

He was also deeply disappointed.

(1 Ki 19:10 NIV)  He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

God had to fill his emotional tank by encouraging him that he was not all alone. In fact there were as many as seven thousand in Israel who did not bow down to Baal.

(1 Ki 19:18 NIV)  Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."

Emotional support can also be shown by helping someone in a practical way. Elijah did not have to cook his own meal.

Emotional support can be shown in gentle support. We don’t need to talk very much when we support someone emotionally. God used a gentle whisper.

In your ministry, do you get emotional support? Do you hear of testimonies of success so that your heart will not be discouraged? Do you have people who can listen to you and give you advice and encouragement? Do you have people helping you out in tangible ways?

Mental

Mental fatigue will result in bad decisions.

(1 Ki 19:1-4 NIV)  Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. {2} So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them." {3} Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, {4} while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."

Elijah was mentally exhausted causing him to make three bad decisions.

He fled when he had the protection of God.
He asked his servant to stay behind while he went ahead all alone.
He prayed the wrong kind of prayer, asking God to take his life.

We not only need good rest, we need recreation. Is your life so busy that you do not have time to pursue your interests and hobbies?


Spiritual

Elijah have just had a showdown with 450 prophets of Baal. He was spiritual exhausted. Striving with evil can drain our spiritual tank.

A holy life definitely needs striving for; it does not come naturally.

2 Peter 3:14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

"Submit" and "resist" are all verbs. We have to do something.

Preventing ourselves from falling into sin takes effort. We are told to resist the devil. Temptation is not going away easily.

When Elijah was spiritually depleted, he did not do the right thing – that is to go into the Lord’s presence.

(1 Ki 19:9-13 NIV)  There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" {10} He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." {11} The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. {12} After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. {13} When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

Instead of spending more time in God’s presence, Elijah retreated to a cave. God had to ask him what he was doing there and called him out into His presence. After God had spoken to Elijah, he retreated again to the cave and God had to ask him again what he was doing there.

Are you spiritually depleted in your struggle against evil? It could be a struggle against evil persecution. It could be a struggle against sin. The remedy is to spend more time in God’s presence. When we do that, God will tell us what to do.

When Elijah shunned away from God’s presence, he had no idea what he was to do. He ran off. He hid himself. When God went to be with him, He immediately gave him fresh directions.

(1 Ki 19:15 NIV)  The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.

Relational

Elijah’s relational tank was also depleted. He felt he was all alone.

(1 Ki 19:10 NIV)  He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

Furthermore, he even isolated the one person who was with him, his servant.

(1 Ki 19:3-4 NIV)  Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, {4} while he himself went a day's journey into the desert.

We will have our relational tank depleted if we are all alone. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. We need the fellowship of other Christians.

When you are not connected to other believers, you do not receive any encouragement from them. You have no one to pour out your sorrows to.

Read more about the importance of  Fellowship with other Christians