We get loads of situational questions from people who are struggling. And Pastor John and I are honored that so many of you entrust us with some really gut-wrenching emails. I only wish we could address them all. We can address a few of them, like this question from a burned-out dad. He writes in anonymously. “Pastor John, I love your work and I love how seriously you take the Bible. Thank you. I just turned 40. I’ve been married for 11 years and we have three special-needs kids under 10. Only our oldest is out of diapers. All have autism or developmental issues.
“I’ve been a follower of Jesus for thirteen years. I am easily ‘sorrowful’ and find it impossible to be ‘always rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10). I get so worn down, discouraged, and sometimes outright bitter and angry because, as much as I love my kids, taking care of them is hard for me and for my wife. I’ve even confessed in the past to hating my job as a father. How do I love my family as God wants me to? And how do I find peace and joy in all of this despite how taxing it is? It just feels like no matter how hard I try or how much I do, I’m barely getting it all done. I hate that I sometimes resent my kids and wife and this life. Now the middle-age years have arrived and I fear burnout, even of running away. Can you help me?”
Yes, I think I can if God gives me grace to speak the truth, and if he gives you the inclination to believe whatever is true that I say. Because I do believe God is working in you and for you. So, let me picture his work, this work that I’m saying is for you, with two images. One is that God has given you a walled fortress. The walls keep you in and keep destruction out. That’s the first picture. I’ll come back to it.
“If God is for you, no one and nothing can succeed against you.”
The other picture is that inside this fortress that God has mercifully given to you, where you live with your wife and your children, God has been, is now, and will continue to be at work, omnipotently, on your behalf. So, those are my two pictures. God has walled you in, and God is working inside those walls to be for you everything you need. So here’s a brief explanation of those two pictures.
Well Within the Walls
When I say he’s walled you in, I mean he has made clear the boundaries of your legitimate options in life as husband and father. You do not have to lose sleep or spend any agonizing time trying to decide what those life boundaries are. These are protective walls. And one of them is: You may not leave your wife. Period. She is your wife by covenant. God was witness to this covenant. He has joined you together (Malachi 2:14). And what God has joined, man may not put asunder (Matthew 19:6). It is a precious, protective wall keeping you in and keeping destruction out.
Second, you may not abandon your children. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). That’s a wall — a precious, protective wall. You stay in; destruction stays out. Those are gifts. In fact, though in one sense they constrain, they are ultimately freeing, just like a tightly fitted parachute constrains the upper body, and then as you jump, gives you life.
But here’s the main thing. Inside these protective, life-giving walls, where you live and struggle and feel beaten down with weariness and discouragement, that’s where God Almighty has worked, is working, and promises to work for his trusting children. He is mightily at work. And it helps when you feel overwhelmed to have someone come alongside — that’s me right now — and rehearse the magnificence of God’s help inside the fortresses he has built for you. So, here’s a reminder, a glimpse, of how God is at work in your walled-in fortress.
Eight Truths for Burned-Out Saints
1. Before the creation of the world, God chose you for his own — his own possession and child, and yes, even treasure (Ephesians 1:4). You had absolutely nothing to do with this. You did not cause this. You may have thought that you met some condition somehow. You didn’t meet any conditions. He consulted no one but himself when he chose you (Ephesians 1:11). “The counsel of his will” was the arbiter, and he chose from all eternity to set his favor, in eternal love, on you.
“God Almighty has worked, is working, and promises to work for his trusting children.”
2. He predestined you, his chosen treasure, to be his child, conformed finally to his Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). That is your destiny, your glory: a glorious soul, a glorious body, a glorious world, a glorious position at his right hand with pleasures forevermore (Romans 8:22–25; Psalm 16:11). This means that his election cannot be rescinded without him becoming a liar (Titus 1:2). That’s why predestination on top of election is so precious. He destined, that is, he promised before the creation of the world, that you would have this glorious destiny conformed to his Son. Unless God is a liar, your election will not be rescinded.
3. At a point in your life — you may or may not remember it — God called you out of spiritual darkness into life, just like he did Lazarus at the grave (John 11:43–44). I don’t know how it happened to you — maybe a sermon, maybe a Bible text in the quietness of your room, maybe a friend, maybe a blog. God opened your eyes to see the truth and the greatness and the glory of Christ. He made you alive. You could see.
4. The Spirit of God was given to you (Ephesians 1:13). And he gave you saving faith. He gave you faith. At the moment when your faith came into being, you were not the decisive influence; God was. It was a gift (Ephesians 2:8–9).
5. You are acquitted of all your sins, past, present, future. In the divine tribunal of heaven, your sentence for all eternity has been passed: not guilty (Romans 8:33–34). Leap for joy. Go dancing out of the courtroom this afternoon, not because you are sinless, but because the sinless One bore the punishment for your sins (1 Peter 2:24). Think of it: You are accepted forever by God, and he is one hundred percent — not ninety-nine percent, one hundred percent — for you. And if God is for you, no one and nothing can succeed against you (Romans 8:31).
6. God poured into you his Holy Spirit in an overflowing way (Titus 3:4–7). He is present in you. He’s the seal of your inheritance (Ephesians 1:13–14). He’s the power of your heart to know and love God and people. You are not left to yourself in this fortress of obedience. God is mightily present and at work by his Spirit.
7. You have “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). All your circumstances may, for a season, seem utterly inglorious. I get it. I hear what you said about these kids. This feels inglorious. That’s the way it was for Jesus. That’s the way it will be for all the saints. First, the suffering — first, all the inglorious, all the ignominious dimensions of life — then, glory. And I want to remind you: “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to [you]” (Romans 8:18). And if you look at the context of Romans 8:17–25, you will know that those sufferings are not just the sufferings of persecution. They are the sufferings of everyday life by which Christians groan with all the kinds of burdens you just described.
“God has given you promises in his word, unspeakably great promises. You are among the greatest beneficiaries in the world.”
8. God has given you promises in his word, unspeakably great promises. You are among the greatest beneficiaries in the world. They are among the greatest mercies in the world. They are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22–23). He has promised to strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you (Isaiah 41:10). He has promised to make every hardship turn for good (Romans 8:28). He has promised to work in you what is pleasing in his sight and to move you to walk in his statutes (Philippians 2:12–13; Ezekiel 36:27). He has promised to withhold no good thing from you (Psalm 84:11). Yes, yes, even your overwhelmed situation all comes by his good hand.
Grace Will Abound Again
And I close with this. It touches so close and so precious on your exhausted season in life: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
In other words, God will not require anything of you in this fortress that he will not give you the grace to endure and perform — even with joy.