Grace-Paced Living in a Burnout Culture

Article by

Professor, Puritan Reformed Seminary

“I’m tired and I’m broken and I just need some rest.” These were pastor Pete Wilson’s words when he announced his surprise resignation from Cross Point, a megachurch in Nashville. He went on:

Leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well, and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. And so I believe the best thing I can do is to step aside from Cross Point. . . . More than ever I need your prayers, I need your support. We’ve said that this is the church where it’s okay not to be okay, and I’m not okay.

Although situations and statements like this make the headlines, similar stories are being replicated and multiplied all over the country. It’s not just megachurch pastors, it’s not just pastors, and it’s not just men. It’s men and women, young and old, leaders and followers, Christians and non-Christians, in all walks and at all levels of life, who are all arriving at the same wrecking yard — overwhelmed, burned out, empty, and broken.

Although no two burnouts are the same, as I’ve counseled increasing numbers of Christians through burnout, I’ve noticed that most of them have one thing in common: there’s a deficit of grace. It’s not that they don’t believe in grace. Many of them are well-grounded in “the doctrines of grace.” Many of them are pastors and preach grace powerfully every week. The “five solas” and the “five points” are their theological meat and drink. Yet grace is missing in five vital areas. There are five disconnects between theological grace and their daily lives.

Grace Motivates

The motivating power of grace is missing. Take a look at five people printing Bibles on the same assembly line. Mr. Dollar is asking, “How can I make more money?” Mrs. Ambitious is asking, “How can I get that promotion?” Mr. Pleaser is asking, “How can I make my boss happy?” Mr. Selfish is asking, “How can I get personal satisfaction in my job?” They all look and feel miserable. Then we bump into Mrs. Grace, who’s asking, “In view of God’s amazing grace to me in Christ, how can I serve God and others here?”

“Where grace is not fueling from the inside out, a person will be burning from the inside out.”

From the outside, it looks like all five are doing the same work, but their internal motivations all differ. The first four are striving, stressed, anxious, fearful, and exhausted. But Mrs. Grace is so energized by her gratitude for grace that her job satisfies and stimulates her rather than draining and dredging her (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Timothy 2:1). Where grace is not fueling from the inside out, a person will be burning from the inside out.

Grace Moderates

Also absent is the moderating power of grace. Alongside Mrs. Grace, Miss Perfectionist takes pride in flawless performance. If she ever makes a mistake in her work, she berates and flagellates herself. She carries this legalistic perfectionism into her relationships with God and others, resulting in constant disappointment in herself, in others, and even in God.

Mrs. Grace’s work is just as high quality as Mrs. Perfection, but grace has moderated her expectations. At the foot of the cross, she’s learned that she’s not perfect and never will be in this life. She accepts that both her work and her relationships are flawed.

But instead of tormenting herself with these imperfections, she calmly takes them to a perfect God knowing that his grace forgives them all and lovingly accepts her as perfect in Christ (Hebrews 10:22; 13:18). She doesn’t need to serve, sacrifice, or suffer her way to human or divine approval because Christ has already served, sacrificed, and suffered for her (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Grace Multiplies

The multiplying power of grace is rare in burned-out lives. Back on the assembly line, some of the Christian workers are driven by production targets. If they fall short of their daily quota of Bibles, they go home totally depressed because, “For every Bible we fail to print and package, that’s a soul unreached.” As everything depends on their sweat and muscle, they work tons of overtime and hardly have any time for personal prayer.

Mrs. Grace, however, works normal hours and yet has time and peace to pray for God’s blessing on each Bible that passes through her hands. She works hard, but she depends on God’s grace to multiply her work. She realizes that while one plants, and another waters, it’s God that gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). She goes home happy each evening, knowing she has done what she could, and, as she leaves the factory, she prays that God would multiply her work far more than her muscles or hours could (Ephesians 3:20).

Grace Releases

The releasing power of grace has often been lacking when a person burns out. Mr. Controller, for example, thinks everything depends on him. He gets involved in every step of the production process, constantly annoying fellow workers with his micromanagement. He’s infuriated by any breakdown in production, yelling at people and even the machines when they mess up. He says he believes in “sovereign grace,” but he’s the sovereign, and grace is limited to personal salvation.

“God is sovereign even in the nuts and bolts of life.”

In contrast, Mrs. Grace realizes God is sovereign even in the nuts and bolts of life and releases control of everything into his hands. She works carefully, but humbly submits to setbacks and problems, accepting them as tests of her trust in God’s control (Matthew 18:21–35; 2 Corinthians 1:9).

Grace Receives

Another void in many breakdowns is the receiving power of grace. Unlike Mrs. Grace, most of her bosses and fellow workers refuse to accept many of God’s best gifts. They won’t receive the grace of a weekly Sabbath (Exodus 20:8–11; Mark 2:27), the grace of sufficient sleep (Psalm 127:2), the grace of physical exercise (1 Corinthians 6:13), the grace of family and friends (Proverbs 17:17; 27:6), or the grace of Christian fellowship (Romans 1:12; 2 Corinthians 1:4). These are all gifts that our heavenly Father has provided to refresh and renew his creatures (Matthew 11:30).

Yet, instead of humbly receiving them, most refuse and reject them, thinking that such graces are for the weak. Yes, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). But if we don’t do any receiving, our giving will soon dry up.

As long as these five grace-disconnects dominate the lives of Christians, the wrecking yard is going to keep filling with broken and burned out believers. But by connecting God’s grace more and more to our daily lives — by growing in grace — we can learn how to live a grace-paced life in a burnout culture.