Didn’t See It Coming – Burnout

This message is a part of our Didn’t See It Coming Series.
Find the rest of the messages in this series here.

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(The debrief is a series of podcast episodes on the Faith Church podcast where Pastor Daniel and Pastor Eric discuss the message from Sunday, answer questions, and share stories or interviews that also relate to the message)

Sermon Notes

My parents visited last weekend and we went out for breakfast on Saturday morning. We passed a truck that had been in an accident and the tailgate was hanging off of the truck only held on by one corner… it looked like it could fall off into the road at any moment.

My dad said, I still can’t believe you guys don’t have inspections in Indiana. I was like, Oh yeah, that’s right. I had forgotten about inspections. In VA you have to get your car inspected every year. The inspection makes sure that your car is safe to drive. In Indiana there are no inspections and honestly it shows.

Now, inspections don’t catch everything, but they prevent cars with major safety and mechanical hazards from staying on the road. Life has no inspections either, so a situation that hazardous for our emotional well being can go unnoticed or hidden or just ignored for years…

Some of you, if you had to undergo an inspection of your mental and emotional well being, you would not pass. You’re on the verge of a hazardous situation, either you’re unaware of it, you’re hiding it, or you’re ignoring it…

There are issues that regular checks and maintenance can prevent, and then there are issues that just come out of nowhere.

In 2016, Lincoln and I were returning from Nashville. I had attended leadership meetings for our denomination planning out the annual convention for July. Lincoln had stayed with my sister and her girls for a few days. It had been a good trip and we were almost home. We were pulling off of Interstate 24 onto the Pennyrile Parkway in Madisonville when the car suddenly started to lose power, then I realize that even though I was trying to accelerate, the vehicle was slowing down. I was able to coast off into a driveway near the highway…

Lincoln had been asleep and when he woke up he thought we were home. When he realized the car was broken down and that we were waiting for a tow truck, he was not too happy.

The car had been running fine and there were indications of a problem, a inspection in VA wouldn’t have been able to predict that the timing chain was about to snap…
When it did, it cause irrevocable damage to the engine.
When the car was being towed, I didn’t know it yet but the engine was shot and would have to be replaced. It had blown up.

In life, a burnout or a blowup or a breakdown can happen just like it does to a car, it can be a slow hidden slide, or a sudden unexpected breakdown.

Burnout can come on slow or fast, but either way you’re broke down once it hits.

When I read Carey Nieuwhoff’s book last year, the topic of Cynicism was the one that hit closest to home, but the topic of burnout was the one that scared me the most.

After reading the book, I recognized that there had a been a few times that I was probably dancing on the edge of the cliff of burnout. I also recognized that there had to be some checks and balances in my life, some guardrails to keep me from plunging over the edge.

I recognized in myself several of the factors that led to Nieuwhoff’s burnout- not only were there a lot of similarities in the ministry he was attempting to do and lead, there were similarities in personality.

Though you may not live in a vocational ministry context like I do, there is something that all of us struggle with, no matter our job, income, or relationship status- we want things to be better tomorrow than they were today. We want to get better, make things better, everyone of us wants to make a difference.

Most of us have more ambition than we have capacity. 

This is why we overextend our selves, we say yes more than we should, we spend more than we should, we do more than we should, we take on more than we should.

We often speak of watching your R.P.M.S.
Relational Health
Personal Health
Missional Health
Spiritual Health

Nieuwhoff says in the book that when he experienced burnout it felt like falling off of a cliff. He felt like he suddenly no longer had control of his energy, his passion, his emotions, or his thinking. He couldn’t sleep enough to feel rested, he couldn’t stay engaged in the mission as he once did, and while he didn’t feel the highs or the lows, he would snap over the little things… He said he could see why people made such horrible decisions, when he was in the midst of his burnout he said he simply couldn’t think straight.

After seeing a counsellor and getting some of this sorted out, he realized that he needed to focus on the 3 things until he came out on the other side- don’t fail morally, don’t quit, don’t buy a sportscar…Some of you have been here, you’ve been in a place where you experience something like this, maybe you thought of it as depression or a nervous breakdown or a bout of clinical exhaustion… Some of you have felt something like this and you didn’t know what to call it… Maybe some of you are there now…

If you feel like maybe that’s where you are at, I would love to talk to you, but I also want you to speak with your doctor and a licensed counsellor. Facebook might be a good place to get recommendations on where to eat, but it’s not a good place to get advice on your mental health. Your brother-in-law might be the person to ask about what kind of tires to get on your car, but he’s probably not the person to talk to about your emotional well being.

Whatever your experience, I want you to realize that when we overreach, we are in danger of going so far we never come back.

When we overreach, we are in danger of going so far we never come back.

You might think that’s hyperbole, but the truth is that there are many people who find this experience so painful, so difficult, that they decide that going through it is so awful that they’d rather not go through it, even if that means doing something drastic. They can’t see another alternative, they can’t see another way through, so they decide to end it- end their marriage, end their career, end their feelings, or end their life… You say, that’s crazy… Well yeah, but when you’re in pain you can’t think straight. I’m sure if I asked you what’s 2+2? You could answer that no problem, but if you dropped a brick on your toe you wouldn’t be able to answer what’s 3+3?

When you’re in pain, you don’t think straight.

I want to show you a character from scripture who went through this, and in the midst of his pain and heartache he made some pretty ridiculous choices and then I want you to see how God cared for him.

1 Kings 19
1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.
2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.
3 And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.

I want you to notice that Elijah does what most people do when they’re in great distress- he isolates himself, neglects himself, and wearies himself… Then he’s ready to just end it all. I’m not better than my ancestors that are already dead, so just make me like one of them… Also, there’s a hint of what brought this on for Elijah… He wanted to be the one that made the difference, that in his lifetime what his ancestors had not be able to accomplish would be accomplished… Israel would come back to God…

5 And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.
6 And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.
7 And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.

The Angel tells Elijah he needs to eat because the journey ahead is great… Elijah doesn’t want to live anymore, but God is saying let’s get you fed because the journey ahead is great… When we are just over it and we want to quit, God can see what we need for the journey he still has in store for us… God leads Elijah to a mountain cave and Elijah hides out there and God comes to Elijah and says, what are you doing Elijah? What are you doing now, where are you going from here?

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

God shows Elijah once again he is powerful. Elijah had seen that, Elijah had seen fire fall from heaven, God is showing him again that he’s powerful, but then God speaks directly to Elijah in a still small voice… Our God is powerful, majestic, eternal, infinite… But he speaks to you about what’s going on in your life… Can I just tell you, that’s what Bible is all about… God showing that he’s powerful, mighty, majestic, and infinite, but speaking to you in a still, small, personal way. That’s what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were all about… Opening the door so that God could speak to us…

Hopefully right now, while I’m preaching to you, God is speaking to you in a still small voice. He’s speaking directly to what you’re facing and what you’re going through… God has another conversation with Elijah and Elijah says, I’ve done all of this for you God and no one else is with me, I’m all alone.  No one else cares about this, God…

God quickly pokes a hole in this lie, but it was a lie that Eliah had been broken by, a lie that he had allowed to break him down. Can I tell you that it’s a lie evil tells us often? “No one else cares…” But I want you to see what God says to Elijah first…

15 And the Lord said unto him, Go

God tells Elijah of the work that is ahead. He took care of Elijah, encouraged him, and he would tell him that he wasn’t alone, but God kept pointing Elijah back to his mission and his calling. God doesn’t tell Eljiah that they are going to work out a more balanced schedule, he doesn’t tell him he’s going to give Elijah more regular days off…

Forget balance, embrace passion, and then focus your passion on your calling. 

Your priorities should be determined by your calling, not the culture. God’s design in me is far different from the expectations of others on me.  The most important thing I do every week is prepare the message, but no one emails me to make sure that I’m working on my sermon.   No one frantically calls asking me to put the time in reading scripture. No one even calls me to see if I’m praying… None of your coworkers are going to text you at 6PM on a Thursday to make sure you’re having dinner with your family, but they’ll call you up and ask you to get that document or login to the system, or some other priority of theirs…. 

Your priorities should be determined by your calling,  not your insecurities or fear… Insecurity and fear are a major driver in our lives, they really motivate us- fear really motivated Elijah here… Disappointment really motivated Elijah here… When our priorities are set by, What will people think of me, am I in over my head, can I really do this, I’m not up to it, I could never be effective in this,  When the culture or our insecurity sets our priorities, We often use our gift in the remainder and in the margin because we can, because we are gifted we can make it happen. 

When our gift and calling are not the priority so we don’t use them, we get used up.

The very next verses tell us about Elijah finding Elisha… In the midst of this breakdown, God was not only leading Elijah into a place where he could recuperate, he was leading him to a place where he would find the person who would follow in his footsteps and take the ministry and the nation to the next level.

19 So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat….and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.

When my car blew up in Madisonville that day it was because the timing chain snapped. The purpose of the timing chain is that it keeps all of the valves and cylinders working together in the right order… An internal combustion engine is really just a means of harnessing the power of thousands of little explosions, if the explosions happen out of sync, the engine blows up… When Elijah blew up, God got him back in sync with himself and others. That’s what God is all about, getting you back in sync with Himself and others… When we burnout, breakdown, or blow up God doesn’t throw us in the junkyard. He puts us back together and gets us back in sync with Him…