Few things are as exhausting as doing something you are not suited for by gift (Christ-endowment), temperament, and calling. Regrettably, that is the norm for many believers based out of well-meaning but misguided understanding of faithfulness, love, and service to and for “the church.” We live like we are pack mules for ministry instead of sons and daughters of the Most High. We function out of religious obligation and moralistic duty, rather than from Spirit-empowerment. We either do not know how, or are not given permission to say: “No.”
A passive, indifferent, or ignorant attitude toward the gifts of the Spirit is not humility and submission to the providence of God. It’s the willful neglect of someone in need. When we fail to acknowledge who we are in Him, and what we have in Him, and don’t pass around our spiritual gifts, we are defrauding other members of the Body. The deposit of Christ in me has been given with the sole intent of spreading it around! It’s designed to meet the needs of others in the church and world. The gifts of the Spirit are not designed to provide weekly thrills for you and me in a church service.[i] However, if I have no sense of personhood and place (context, belonging), I can’t pass around what I am unaware of. Attempting to “be a Christian” by doing acts of love and service that are inconsistent with my identity (the unique image of God in me) will inevitably result in something called burnout.
Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burn out is the ultimate in giving too little. Burnout is indeed a state of emptiness, but it doesn’t result from giving all I have. It results from giving out of the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.[ii] When the gift I give to another is integral to my identity in Christ, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself—and me—even as I give it away. Only when I give something away that doesn’t flow within me do I deplete myself, and harm the other as well, for only harm can come from a gift that is forced, inorganic, or unreal.[iii] When I give something I don’t possess, I give a false and dangerous gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless. It’s a gift given more from my need to prove myself and to be validated in other’s opinions of me, than from someone’s need to be cared for.[iv]
To honor our new creation nature means to acknowledge our limits as well as our potentials. Caring for ourselves is not inherently selfish in a carnal way. Caring for ourselves fulfills 1Peter 4:10 by acting as a good steward of the only gift I have. I can’t offer to others what I have destroyed or neglected in myself. Limitations and liabilities are the flip side of our gifts. We are designed to live in a creative tension between our limits and our potentials.[v]
Limitations are transformed into serviceable instruments for kingdom advance the moment we get serious about them. We must honor our limitations in ways that do not distort our nature, and we must trust and use our gifts in ways that fulfill the potentials that God gave us.[vi] Our talents and limitations make up the total package of who we are. There is really no chance of integrated human personality or fruitful kingdom expression, until we come to a place of self-acceptance. I am not endorsing egocentric self-love, or being soft on sin. I’m talking about agreeing with what God has determined about me: my strengths and weaknesses. Mental and physiological health begins here. The powerful verse in Philemon 6 says that effective Christian living and transference of that life begins by acknowledging (experientially entering into) every good thing that is in me, in Christ Jesus.
This means it is “ok” to say “no” to demands and requests for which I am not suited. Saying no actually honors God. In small church environments where leaders are looking for any warm body to fill a need, there can be tremendous pressure to say “yes” to every request from leadership. Insecure leaders that don’t correctly understand their own identities and callings, can interpret “no” from a subordinate as being uncommitted to the vision, unsubmissive, or unwilling to serve. In reality, the person saying “no” just might be completely committed to the identity God has given him or her and has learned to honor Christ by saying no to things he or she is not suited for.
It has been my experience that the Lord will honor the “any-warm-body-will do” methodology for a season. However, ultimately His grace follows His endowment. If from a flawed definition of loyalty and service we expect people to do things they’re not endowed to do, we must not act surprised when we get the logical results of failing the grace of God. Painful problems are imminent if systems and expectations don’t adapt and develop into a transformational-grace endowment and Christ awareness ethos instead of an any-warm-body, loyalty, and service ethos.
Satisfying fruitfulness is the birthright of every child of God. Burnout is a ripoff and if we find ourselves there, we need to get help, as something in the foundation of our faith, and our understanding of the Christian life is very askew.
Copyright 2012 This blog is an excerpt from our book: HEALING: HOPE OR HYPE? by Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, Eloquent Books, New York. www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact email@example.com.
[i] I recently saw a billboard advertisement of a church that promoted itself as: “The Church of Excitement.” If that doesn’t say it all about how broken our value systems are, I don’t know what will. Since when is the essence of Christianity excitement? Only in an over-stimulated and cathartically addicted culture like ours.
[ii] Parker Palmer. Let Your Life Speak. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2000. 49.
[iii] Ibid., 49-50.
[iv] Ibid., 48
[v] Ibid., 52.
[vi] Ibid., 55.