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Posts tagged ‘exhaustion’

How can I keep going when overwhelmed by the pressures of daily life?

SOURCE:  Marlene Bagnull/Discipleship Journal

Strength for the Battle

“I DON’T KNOW what’s wrong with me,” I admitted to a close friend. “I’m exhausted all the time, and I’m so irritable with the children. I flip out over the smallest things, then I feel guilty. Instead of praising God for all the good things He’s done for me, I’m almost always depressed. I feel like a failure as a Christian.”

My friend listened. She didn’t judge me as I was judging myself or break in with pat answers. Through the gift of her willingness to listen I discovered the root of the problem.

“I think I’m experiencing burnout,” I said. “I just have too many things to do, too much stress. I know my life is out of balance, but I don’t know what to do about it. I feel trapped. I try to pray. I try to read the Bible, but it only makes me feel worse. I feel as if God is angry with me for not applying the things I know and even teach to others.”

“Condemnation never comes from God,” my friend said. “You’re listening to the wrong voice.”

The tears I’d managed to hold back began to flow after I hung up the phone. “Oh, God,” I sobbed, “please help me to understand what’s happening to me. Please help me to find Your answers.”

My friend’s comment led me to turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans and read, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 8:1). The burden of feeling God was angry and disappointed with me began to lift as I remembered the context in which the Apostle Paul had written those words. He, too, didn’t understand why he did some of the things he did, and why he failed to do the good he wanted to do (Ro. 7:15). But Paul wasn’t chained to feelings of guilt and self-accusation. He experienced the “law of the Spirit of life” setting him free from “the law of sin and death” (Ro. 8:2).

Freeing him from exhaustion and discouragement, too? I wondered as I thought of all that Paul had to endure. Beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger—Paul certainly endured many hardships that could have caused him to quit. Wherever he went he encountered hostility. He was thrown out of cities and told never to come back. Even his brothers in Christ did not always support him.

“God,” I prayed, “please show me what held Paul steady, what prevented him from giving up.”

The answers did not come immediately, but in the days that followed I began to see some principles I had never before applied to my problem.

Recognize that you’re being tested.

“We want to prove ourselves genuine ministers of God whatever we have to go through” (2 Cor. 6.4, Phillips ). Paul recognized the fact that he was being tested, and he determined, by an act of his will, to meet that test head-on. Rather than succumbing to self-pity or giving up when circumstances could easily have led to defeat, Paul chose to view trials as opportunities to prove to everyone watching that he was striving to live by the principles he taught.

Paul had encouraged the Galatians to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). In a lengthy letter to the Corinthians he encouraged them to “stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). In his first letter to the Thessalonians he told them to “be joyful always” (1 Thess. 5:16).

We do get tested on the things we profess to believe, but through the testings we have the opportunity to strengthen our own faith and the faith of others. How? Paul went on to say, “We have proved ourselves to be what we claim by our wholesome lives and by our understanding of the Gospel and by our patience. We have been kind and truly loving and filled with the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 6:6, Living Bible ).

But I was too tired to know whether or not I still understood the gospel or was filled with the Holy Spirit. My capacity to be patient and kind was exhausted. I knew it would take more than an act of my will to be any of these things.

Rely on God’s power.

The next verse provided a solution: “We have been truthful, with God’s power helping us in all we do” (2 Cor. 6:7, Living Bible ). I again saw how God wasn’t expecting me to do or be any of these things in my own strength. It was essential to honestly face my inadequacies. It is only as I admit my weaknesses that I come, as Paul did, to rely upon God’s power at work within me.

“Is my tendency to become overwhelmed by my ‘thorn in the flesh’?” I asked the Lord, thinking of Paul’s battle and all the times I had prayed for a stronger personality. I felt God speak to me the same words He had spoken to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Those words freed me, dispelling the fears that had been haunting me. I knew I no longer needed to be afraid of reaching the end of my resources because God’s power takes over when my strength is exhausted.

Go Into the battle equipped.

Finally the Lord reminded me that I am in a battle. To go into it without the “full armor of God” (Eph. 6:11) is as foolish as walking onto the front lines dressed for a game of tennis. I need to pick up and use the defensive weapons God provides for my protection. So every morning, for the past ten months, I’ve been “praying the armor on.” It’s become as much a part of my morning routine as getting dressed and brushing my teeth.

The belt of truth. “Lord,” I pray, “help me to gird myself with Your belt of truth” (Eph. 6:14). “Give me discernment that I might immediately recognize the enemy’s lies and half-truths. Help me to refuse to receive or believe them.”

The breastplate of righteousness. Next I mentally pick up the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14). It protects my most vulnerable area—my heart, the home of my feelings and emotions. It is so easy for me to be wounded by others, to allow myself to be influenced by fear of what they might say or think. “Lord,” I pray, “help me today to consistently choose to do what is right in Your eyes. Thank You for protecting me from the judgment and criticism I may receive.”

The shoes of the gospel. Just as I would not walk out of the house in the dead of winter barefooted, I take the time to have my “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).

John MacArthur, in his study notes for The Believer’s Armor, describes a common military practice of the Roman soldiers: “planting sticks in the ground which had been sharpened to a razor-point, and concealing them so that they were almost invisible. This was a very effective tactic because, if the soldier’s foot was pierced, he wouldn’t be able to walk—and if he couldn’t walk, he was totally debilitated.”1

To protect their feet, Roman soldiers wore boots with heavy soles. Pieces of metal protruded from the bottom of the boots, acting like today’s football cleats, to give the soldiers firm footing.

The shoes God provides for me give me a solid foundation upon which to stand. He readies me for His work by instructing and teaching me in the way I should go (Ps. 32:8). When I choose to follow His plan instead of asking Him to bless my plans, I find my feet do not become bruised and weary from going places He never intended for me to go. I also find that when I say “yes” to what He wants me to do rather than to what others tell me I should do, I am filled with peace instead of tension.

The shield of faith. Next I prayerfully pick up the shield of faith to stop the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). I ask God to make me mighty in spirit—to help me to walk by faith, not by sight. I also ask Him to help me not to lower my shield by nurturing doubts. A soldier can be fatally wounded if he lowers his shield for only a moment.

The helmet of salvation. This piece of the armor (Eph. 6:17) protects my mind. As I ask God to fit it snugly over my head, I am protected from indulgence in the negative thinking that tears me down. Each morning I thank God that I do not have to be bound by old habits and thinking patterns. I ask Him to continue His work of transforming me by renewing my mind (Ro. 12:2).

The sword of the Spirit. Finally, remembering that God has not provided any armor to protect my back, I ask Him to help me stand and face the enemy in His strength. I know that God does not intend for me to turn and run. Rather, He wants me to take the offensive by picking up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).

Just as Jesus defeated Satan by quoting Scripture, I can speak God’s promises and see the enemy flee. When I’m exhausted and the pressure is on, I can claim Phil. 4:19—God will meet all my needs. Or 1 Cor. 1:7–8—I do not lack any spiritual gift; He will keep me strong to the end. There is a promise for every lie Satan would use to try to intimidate me. I may still feel overwhelmed, but when I go into battle praising and thanking God, I am victorious.

There are still days when I feel completely drained—when I fear I have nothing to give. If I fail to recognize I’m being tested, if I do not rely on God’s power, and if I go into the battle unequipped, I suffer and my family suffers. But praise God, it doesn’t have to be that way. I can know the joy Paul wrote about. I can “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Feelings of exhaustion and defeat will flee as I choose to draw closer to the Source of my strength.


1. John MacArthur, The Believer’s Armor (Panorama City, CA: Word of Grace Communications, 1982), p. 41.

BURNOUT: What is it? What do I do about it?



  • Jane hung up the phone. The nursing home had called again, her mother was refusing to eat, and could Jane please come immediately. When Jane got into the car, she was surprised by the waves of anger that she felt. It seemed like it was all up to her to take care of everything. Lately she moved in a blur from caring from her children and her husband to her students to her mother. It seemed like everyone always needed something and lately she was beginning not to care.
  • Tom was barely ever home. The new job, while lucrative, had him on the road much of the week. Travel was exhausting, so even when he was home, he barely had the energy to keep up with his two year old.
  • Sandy is a good student—maybe too good. She’s involved in a score of activities and taking advanced classes. She’s starting to have difficulty sleeping, she can’t relax, and at times, she can’t even focus. She’s starting to think that nothing she does is good enough, and so she may not even apply to college.

Definitions and Key Thoughts

  • Western culture continues to push the limits, has become increasingly obsessed with the “pursuit of excellence,” and burnout has reached epidemic proportions, even within the church.
  • Burnout is a stressful state characterized by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, chronic fatigue, and lethargy.
  • Someone experiencing burnout may:

-feel cynical toward life

-have a strong desire to “escape”

-experience a false sense of failure

-display emotional distancing, numbing, or apathy

-become hypercritical

-experience negative feelings toward others

-show inappropriate anger or sadness

-succumb to depression

-endure a resulting physical illness

-abuse alcohol or drugs

  • Burnout is often experienced by those in the helping professions such as clergy, doctors, teachers, police officers, social workers, and others who work extensively with people. It is thought to result from the excessive demands that others place on their energy, time, and resources.
  • Burnout can also be felt by caregivers of the chronically ill or by overburdened parents. These people often feel trapped by the demands of others, isolated, and unable to find sufficient time for rest and relief.

Assessment of Burnout

Q1 How are you feeling physically? (If you are experiencing burnout, chances are you haven’t been caring for yourself physically. If you haven’t had a recent physical, it might be time to schedule one.)

Q2 How are you feeling emotionally?

Q3 When did these feelings start?

Q4 What prompted you to seek information?

Q5 What are the stressors in your life?

Q6 How large a part does each stressor play in your stress level?

Q7 What kind of support do you get—both with your responsibilities and for yourself personally?

Q8 How do you perceive yourself? (For example, someone who feels that he must meet all the needs of an aging parent to be a “good” child is setting himself up for failure.)

Q9 What do you do for fun?

Q10 Are you able to relax?

Q11 What do you do when you relax?

Q12 What are the activities you’re currently involved in?

Q13 How would you prioritize these activities?

Q14 What can be taken out of your schedule?

Q15 What can be put into your schedule to help you have down time and family time?

Q16 What would keep you from doing that?

Q17 What is the worst thing that will happen if you say no or pull out of certain responsibilities?

Q18 What will happen if you do nothing?

Wise Counsel

Any physical concerns and issues should be addressed medically.

Try to take immediate action to gain some short-term relief from your responsibilities.

Try to mobilize family members and friends to begin sharing more of the load. Ironically, someone who is overburdened needs this help the most and is often least able to ask others to provide it.

There is both a short-term crisis component to resolving burnedout and a longer-term component of beginning to live life in such a way that burnout doesn’t reoccur. If you are burned out and overstressed, immediate relief is essential — begin to get adequate sleep, relaxation, and exercise. Then as you begin to recover, looking at some lifestyle issues that may have caused burnout will be important to preventing burnout from reoccurring.

Action Steps

1. Take Control

  • Don’t relinquish control of your schedule to the whim of everyone else.
  • Put a concrete plan in place to relieve yourself of some of your responsibilities. Enlist the aide of family members and friends. Name this as a crisis and validate your own need for others’ help and care.
  • If you are a student, find the balance between what is essential and what is “extra.”
  • Schedule days more sanely, humanely, and relationally.

2. Say No

  • This is a very helpful word—and often the overworked don’t know how to say it.
  • While some things can’t be dropped (if you’re a student you have to do homework, if you’re a businessman you have to travel, etc.), there may be creative ways to schedule to allow for less stress and more rest.

3. Understand God’s Will

  • God never guides you into an intolerable scramble of overwork—after all, Jesus didn’t live that way.
  • Before you say yes to any new activity, pray about it. Even if it’s a good activity, now may not be the time. Realize that there will be other phases in your life when the time will be better.

4. Slow Down

  • Consciously slow the pace of life.
  • Take the time you need to replenish your own resources.

5. Set Priorities

  • When you set priorities, you may get less done, but you’ll be doing the right things.
  • When you think about what really matters, much of your frenzied activity will be seen for what it is — frenzied.

Biblical Insights

Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. —Genesis 2:3

  • From the very beginning, rest has had a special significance for God.
  • God rested, and He made the seventh day a day of rest for us as well (Exodus 20:8-11).

So the Lord said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.” —Numbers 11:16-17

  • Pushing hard with many hours and demands can become counterproductive. We need to set boundaries around our time and energy to protect ourselves
  • God is aware of our limitations and encourages us to lighten the load by delegating responsibility to others who can help us be more productive and effective.
  • We should consider our responsibilities and how we can delegate to others in order to get the job done.

But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. —Isaiah 40:31

  • Isaiah reminded God’s people of the value of waiting upon the Lord. “Waiting” does not mean inactivity; rather, it is patient service that is not overcommitted and overextended.
  • Many desire to “mount up with wings like eagles,” but they assume that the harder they run the more likely they will fly. The harder people run the more likely they will fall. Instead, “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.” Such “waiting” is the antidote for spiritual burnout.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
—Matthew 11:28-30

  • Jesus says that He will take from our shoulders the heavy burdens that are burning us out, and replace them with an easy yoke, a light burden.
  • Jesus is in touch with the burdens of life that we carry and how much they hurt and exhaust us. When we give our troubled hearts to Him, He gives us rest for our souls. That kind of rest will cure our burnout and renew our enthusiasm for Him.

And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” or there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. —Mark 6:31-32

  • Even our Savior, being God, was aware of His human limitations. He never seemed to be in a hurry; He didn’t work 24-hour days. Even as more and more people crowded to Him to hear His words and be healed, He would often withdraw into the wilderness and pray (Luke 5:15-17).
  • After an exhausting time of ministry, Jesus invited His disciples to take a break in order to refresh themselves.
  • A hectic schedule takes a physical, emotional, and spiritual toll on us. God knows that we need to come aside and rest a while so that we don’t burn out. He will refresh us so that we can continue to serve Him. Rest and refreshment is not wasted time.

Recommended Resources

Before Burnout: Balanced Living for Busy People, by Frank B. Minirth & Paul D. Meier

How to Beat Burnout I–II: Broadcast Cassette/CD, by Focus on the Family

Refresh, Renew, Revive: How to Encourage your Spirit, Strengthen Your Family, and Energizen Your Ministry, by H. B. London

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