THIS SERIES: HOW TO FIND REST IN THE LORD
This series has been looking at how we enter God’s rest. You can find the previous posts in the sidebar.
Do good Christians always say yes?
Are you exhausted trying to be a good Christian? Do you ever feel weighed down by others’ expectations, or that your commitment to Christ is measured by what you do? Christian burn-out is endemic, and we need to work out why.
Modern culture measures people’s success by the busyness of their diaries. If you want to get on in the world of work you show your commitment by working long (unpaid) hours. Achievement as a parent is gauged by the number of enriching activities you arrange for your offspring. And really successful people have whizzy jobs, fit bodies, engage with a variety of hobbies and/or good causes as well as parenting the successes of tomorrow... And the rest of the world feels guilty.
Unfortunately this culture has also permeated the Christian world. Too many Christians measure their own and that of others by their involvement in a church programme, despairing over those who don’t pass muster: Church meetings, prayer meetings, leadership meetings; evangelistic events, action groups, study groups; children’s work, worship bands, hospitality teams and more… no wonder the way to heaven is littered with exhausted Christians.
The Bible is silent on much of the stuff we accept as required church life; instead, many originally spontaneous and organic aspects of the early church have been institutionalised and laid down as demands. There is nothing wrong with the activities in themselves the problem is the mindset which uses them as an assessment of dedication.
And there is a cost: beautiful ministries become devalued when used as the yardstick of spirituality. Numerous Christians have fallen by the wayside because they couldn’t meet the demand, and many families and relationships (including those of high-profile ministers) have been sacrificed on the altar of the too-busy Christian life. There are also health implications; Christians are not immune from the stress-related illnesses suffered by modern society, despite Jesus’ offer of rest [Matthew 11:28]. But perhaps the biggest cost is to our relationship with Him. So many of us are running on empty, getting our fix from the most recent meeting or event, but never having time to spend with the One who is at the centre of it all.
‘It’s better to burn out than fade out,’ advised one lady with leadership responsibility (Yes, really!) My response is a resounding 'No!' We have been called to the long haul, not the short sprint, and the Lord wants us to finish well. Marathon runners learn how to pace themselves in order to get to the finishing post. It really is ok to say no. It’s good to know your own limitations, to regulate your activities and allow time for rest and recovery.
Are you exhausted trying to be a good Christian? Do you ever feel weighed down by others’ expectations, or that your commitment to Christ is measured by what you do? Christian burn-out is endemic, and we need to work out why…
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THE SOURCE OF OVERLOAD
Why do so many Christians struggle with the over-commitment which leads to burn-out?
Probably the biggest reason is that we want to please the Lord. This is our proper and legitimate desire as Christians. And many of us have been taught that the right expression of our passion for Jesus is in our dedication to our local church and its programme. The stronger your commitment to Christ, the more ‘involved’ you will be.
The difficulty with this perspective is that there is no biblical support for it. We are encouraged by the Jesus to break bread together, and by the writer to the Hebrews, not to stop meeting together, but neither specifies the group specifics, the form or place. We learn a little about some of the practices of the early church from Luke, and Paul speaks of some of the expected codes of conduct, but there are no instructions which correspond to our modern day church programmes—which suggests they are less important to the Lord than we might imagine!
There is nothing wrong with our meetings, events and practices—unless they are used as the yardstick to measure spirituality, or get in the way of our relationship with Jesus—or others.
So how do we please God? The Bible says it's through developing an intimate love-relationship with Him; by offering Him spiritual worship (which isn’t just about singing); by loving relationships with others—both Christian and non-Christian—and by doing the works He wants. This work of God is to believe in Jesus—really believe—and to start to take hold of the life He paid such a price to give us [John 6:28,29].
The second reason we get overloaded is that we yearn for approval from others, and want to be endorsed and accepted by our Christian family. Christians have become so wedded to the idea that involvement equals spirituality, that withdrawal from programmes or meetings often produces censure or rejection. How many people swapping one local church for another have been cut off from their former friends? How many cutting down their programme involvement have been reprimanded for lack of commitment, and are then described as ‘flaky’, or ‘backsliding’? How many have bought into the idea that the only good Christian is the one with a full diary? Unwittingly we have moved into a performance-based culture, and away from the real stuff of church life, which is fundamentally about relationships—first of all with God, and then with others—in and outside of the church.
And then we need to satisfy ourselves: Despite the gospel, many Christians still don’t feel good about themselves, and carry around a feeling of guilt which is assuaged through a busy life of Christian activity. Some are those who successfully tick boxes on the ‘good Christian’ list, but are nevertheless, afraid to be on their own, because in solitude they have to face up to themselves, and their pervading sense of guilt; or afraid to be on their own to meet with God because they don't know how. Without realising, they get lured into an attempt to gain God’s approval, or His presence, through their works, rather than facing up to, and dealing with the cause of their discontent.
Inadequate understanding of what God requires of us, excessive demands by other Christians, and our own need for approval, coupled with a sense of guilt, is at the heart of much of the stress many Christians feel.
However this is not the end of the story: Jesus came to set us free.
We need to revisit who we are in Christ, and what He expects of us; we need to be set free from the need to perform, and from the weight of a guilty conscience; and we need to turn from institutionalised relationships to those which breathe life into us....
GET RID OF THOSE GULITY FEELINGS
A sense of blame hangs over many Christians like a shroud. How do we get rid of guilt…?
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN...
[Photo credits: Brian Gaid (tube station); Rob Sarmiento (overload); Diego PH (lightbulb) @ Unsplash, with thanks]
Da Kraplak (type writer);
Merakist (social media)
@ Unsplash, with thanks]
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