Avoiding Christian Burnout And Stress

"Ministers of the gospel are working too hard"

Burning Out In The Ministry? Please Avoid Ministry Burnout!

It's not just about you - it's about your calling... and all those who are with you! "Take heed to yourself (first)... for in so doing you will save both yourself and those who hear you." 1 Timothy 4:16

What are you first: a worker or a lover? Discover a lifestyle of christian ministry that avoids the pitfalls of burnout and stress.


"I have been in ministry for 20 years... Currently I am on a 3 month leave "sabbatical" or "furlough" and getting rest, refreshment, healing, and direction for my next ministry assignment. I also have a trend in ministry of getting exhausted... Ministers of the gospel are working too hard... The enemy tricks many into thinking there is so much to do and busyness pulls us away from intimacy with God. I myself have seen patterns in my own life of losing joy, exhaustion, busyness, burn out...which leads to bitterness and fears of stepping back into ministry." Read full testimony
- Lisa Oldenburg
Missionary to China and Africa

What Are You First: A Worker Or A Lover?

By Mike Bickle

Avoiding Burnout

Many Christians who reach out to others burn out quickly because they launch out into ministry before they establish in themselves the foundation of being lovers of God. Discouragement, despair, boredom and frustration will inevitably occur if we do not recognize that we are first called to be lovers.

Yes, it is true that God has called us to be workers. Yes, we are called to be servants. We are called to bear the inconveniences of being caregivers to other people. But we must remember that such works of service are a part of the second commandment; they are an overflow of the first commandment. (See Matthew 22:37)

What happens when we want to first be workers or fighters for the truths of our particular religious system? What happens if we first want to be students or to disciple others? What happens when our first priority is to fulfill the Great Commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature? (See Mark 6:15.)

Devastating things can happen when we place ministry to others and the Great Commission first in our lives. The first thing to go wrong is burnout.

When we are lovers first, when the first commandment is first, our sacrifice and labor are rewarded. This reward is twofold: (1) The Holy Spirit communicates to us that God loves us. (2) We become a vessel through which the Father's love for Jesus flows back to Him. This twofold reward keeps us invigorated, and therefore we avoid much of the burnout so common today.

God fashioned us to receive love and to be vessels through which His affection flows back to Him. It just feels right when we experience His love in our moments of weakness and distress. At such times we can have the Father's affection and enjoyment for Jesus pulsating through our hearts back to God.

The reward of our labors is that we get to enjoy being a lover as the primary preoccupation of our lives. It's a pleasure beyond compare. But we suffer greatly when we are workers first. When workers are mistreated, when the anointing of God does not show up as we want or when circumstances disappoint us, we have nothing to fall back on - except waiting for heaven. The result of such pressure is usually burnout.

But the outcome is far different for lovers. As a lover first, now when I experience attacks from other people, when I am undermined, when things don't work out, or when disappointment comes while I am laboring for the gospel, I can always run back to the secret place. I still have a secret place of pleasure where I am immersed in the knowledge that God loves me. This is where God imparts back to me a little bit of the Father's love for His Son. This is true spiritual pleasure!

Pleasures in God Reduce Burnout

God has ordained many pleasures for believers. There are physical, emotional, and intellectual pleasures, all of which are ordained by God. But no pleasure is more intense than the pleasure that comes when God communicates Himself to the human spirit. In the little moments when God communicates His passion for me, I experience what life is all about. It is life at its very best.

Such tender moments with God cause life and spiritual vitality to be replenished deep within. Of course, we do not experience an unbroken sense of God's love in this life. Such dramatic touches of God's presence tend to wane. Only in heaven will we enjoy the continual ecstasy of his presence. But during my tender moments with God in this life, I say to myself and to God, "Oh yes, I like life. Life is good!"

As God pours His love into me, that same love flows through me back to Him. As I am loving Him back, greater revelation of His affection and beauty comes to me, and the cycle just gets richer and richer. Just like anyone else, I am a regular person, saved and kept by grace. I experience seasons of spiritual pleasure, and then I go through times of dryness and dullness, wherein I get mad, glad, sad, and feel all of the other human emotions.

But burnout occurs when we do not experience the pleasure of the Christian life found in a love relationship with God. I try to be careful not to exaggerate the intensity of such encounters with the Holy Spirit, for I don't want to encourage you to reach for a particular experience instead of seeking after God Himself and letting Him reveal Himself to you as an individual. This is important because getting focused on unrealistic spiritual expectations can actually lead to feeling condemned and discouraged, and leave you doubting whether God loves you or not.

However, feeling loved - a little bit - and feeling love for God - a little bit - has a dramatically powerful impact upon the human spirit. I don't cry out this message because I want to be a noble soldier for God. I'm committed to sharing this message, to crying out the necessity of putting the first commandment first, because I've experienced a reality that the body of Christ has within its reach. But we must refocus our souls; we must put first things first to realize the awesome spiritual pleasures of walking in a love relationship with Christ.

Living by Love

His embraces have staying power in our lives. Even the remembrance of His past embraces holds me steady when I go for weeks or months at a time without a fresh encounter of His love. In dry times, when the heavens feel like brass, I remember the seasons when I have felt his embrace. The memory of the splendor and pleasure of past intimacy with Jesus keeps me going. Admittedly, I do not like dry seasons, and I resist them. But after awhile, I realize that my dry seasons can help me grow. I recognize that dryness is used by God to strengthen me for the future. In His love and tender mercy, God has shown me that along with needing His embrace, I also need times of dryness. I need both of these to mature properly.

Living by love and finding strength in God's embrace will revolutionize your Christian life, for people who are in love quit a lot less then people who are not in love. When a person is in love, he simply does not give up nearly as easily. Being in love will prop us up and strengthen us when we're tempted to let go. Are you a lover first, or a worker? The way in which you order your life relative to these two commandments makes all the difference in the world.

Being a Lover Reduces Temptation

Being a lover of God not only reduces burnout, it also reduces temptation. This is because satisfied people sin less. Much of the sin in the body of Christ is a wrong response to pain, fear, and the need for comfort. Sin is a false comfort that people use as a prop to get then through seasons of pain. Many people get into sin because they feel beaten up and abandoned by God and men. Even though they are not truly abandoned, they feel as if they are. So they reach out for immediate comfort in status, financial gain, or wrong expressions of sexuality. Although they are not sinless, spiritually satisfied people do sin less.

Being a Lover Reduces Strife

Happy people also fight less. I get beaten up by rejection and criticism just as everybody else does. I even get beaten up by believers who say false and evil things about me. These attacks come from people close to me and also from people whom I have never even met.

I do not always respond positively to such attacks, even when I am in a season in which I am sensing the communion of the Holy Spirit. But when I have that little bit of happiness that comes from feeling the embrace of God I fight people a whole lot less! It reminds me of how I felt when I first met my wife. I was so lovesick with infatuation that if some guy had stolen my car, I would have said, "You can have my car. And here, do you want my wallet, too?" Satisfied people just fight less.

The body of Christ simply will not function properly until the first commandment is where it is supposed to be, in first place. This is absolutely imperative to the health of the body of Christ. I appreciate people whose number one drive is the Great Commission and relationships. But I also know that until being a lover of God becomes their first priority, they will burn out, be tempted, and become entangled in strife.

Driven by Love

The apostle Paul said, "The love of Christ constraineth us" (2 Cor. 5:14). The word constrain means "to grip tightly." Paul was motivated by Christ's love working in him and through him. God's love became a driving force in all he did. It is the very power of living in godliness. I encourage people to focus on enjoying God more, not trying harder to overcome sin.

Many people are driven by fear instead of by affection for God. In fact, I often recognize fear in many of my friends. I even see it in my own heart at times. When fear comes, we must respond by throwing ourselves into the first commandment. I become far more stable in the second commandment and the Great Commission when the first commandment is first in my life. The wonder, freedom, power, and pleasure of this is within the reach of every Christian, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the human spirit.

The Holy Spirit pours out God's very affection into the human heart regardless of our personality type or history of bondage, regardless of where we've been wounded or how we've been broken. It's a supernatural activity that transcends the human condition.

As Paul says, "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:5). As we position our souls to make the first commandment first, we will be lovers before we are workers. We will be worshipers before we are warriors. Through Christ's loving embrace, He will show us that we are to be a bride before we are an army.

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