Biblical Counsel for Pastoral Burnout, Part 2

Pastoral  burnout is a significant problem in the church today. In the last article, I suggested that C.S. Lewis’s article, “First and Second Things” might be helpful in diagnosing the problem.  Lewis said that when first things are eclipsed by second things both things are lost. In that first post, I suggested that a way forward could be found in Romans 1:8-15. I also made the claim that understanding ourselves before God could go a long way in coping with or even avoiding burnout. Today, having identity issues in place, I want to press forward and think about God and his resources for our ministry.

If we understand the gospel, that we were bought with a price and as a result we are servants of the Lord, people who offer their whole selves to the work, then we realize something crucial. We realize that God is the source of our resources. This can be very comforting. I say “can be” because every minister knows what I’m going to say next. We must realize that God may supply resources to do things in us and with us that we might never expect and never have wanted for ourselves.

Notice, for example, that Paul has longed to see the Roman Christians. He seems to have been close to visiting Rome in the past but it just didn’t work out. Maybe there were more pressing matters within churches near to hand that he needed to attend. But listen to what he says. Paul writes in Romans 1:10, “[always] in my prayers asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”

Now, as of his historical moment, he had not been able to visit the Romans. But he wanted to visit them. He longed to do so. And so, he prayed “that somehow by God’s will” he might succeed. Now, brothers, do you remember that in Acts 21 Paul was arrested in Jerusalem? And after a plot against his life and after speaking before Felix and Festus he finally said, “I appeal to Caesar!” And then, look at Acts 28:11-16.

11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.

“Somehow by God’s will.” Paul wanted to go to Rome. I wonder if he ever thought that he would go to Rome as a prisoner. God eventually used his means and resources to get Paul to Rome. But going to Rome as a prisoner may have been unexpected and it was almost certainly unwanted.  But Paul prayed that “somehow by God’s will” he would get to these people. But here is the point, when you know to whom you belong, when you are not willing to hold anything back then you can pray for the “somehow” of the ministry without fear.

Now, to my brothers in the ministry, are you ready to pray for the “somehow” of God’s providence in the ministry? Are you ready to trust God with the plan and the resources? Too often, we aren’t. Too often our prayers have an Augustine like quality, “Lord, Save me but not yet.” We pray, “Lord, take most of my life and leave the rest be.”

But the Lord will have none of that foolishness. He wants us and he wants all of us.  And why not, after all, he bought us. And when he has all of us he will use us for his glory and he will supply all the resources that we need. But in order to pray like that we need to desire what the Master desires. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, that is for the next post.

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R Publishing) and Managing Editor for Place for Truth.