Tag Archives: suffering

Review: Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash

Burnout is a serious problem in Christian ministry. It occurs when you are at the end of your rope—when all of your emotional, physical, and spiritual resources have been used up and you are exhausted. It is a cunning problem too, both because we are often unaware of it until it is too late, and because we usually think we aren’t suspect to it at all. But anyone can experience burnout, especially those serving in ministry. Pastors like myself are keenly aware of this epidemic. We have experienced it in our own lives, and we have painfully witnessed it in the lives of others. Scores of pastors leave their places of ministry every year because of ministry burnout. On the other hand, some pastors get so close to the cliff that they nearly fall, but by God’s grace have been awakened and renewed.

Is there a way to maintain our ministry passion and work fervently without burning out? Or is there a way to recover from a serious burnout? Thankfully, Christopher Ash answers those questions in his book, Zeal Without Burnout. Christopher is himself a pastor who knows exactly the kind of damage that burnout can bring. Through solid theology, raw testimonies, wise counsel, and practical suggestions, Christopher tackles the problem of burnout. He makes us aware of the seriousness of burnout, equips us with tools to prevent it, and may even take some on a drive down the road of recovery.

Summary

The book’s main premise is simple: God is God and we are not. We are merely creatures of the dust and therefore we are fragile, very susceptible to the problem of burnout. And there are certain things that we need, which God does not. Chris says, “We need sleep, but God does not. We need Sabbaths, but God does not. We need friends, but God does not. We need food, but God does not” (p. 41). Preventing burnout starts with a recognition of these things that we need for day-to-day sustenance. Things such as sleep, Sabbaths, friends, and inward renewal are all things which God has given us to serve Him sustainably without fizzing out.

Chris introduces the book by describing his own experiences with burnout, then he makes a distinction between sacrifice and burnout—noting that they are different in nature. In other words, one can make a sustainable sacrifice for the Lord without burning out—burning out is not a sacrifice. Then Chris expounds on the truth of our human nature, that we are made from the dust of the earth, and the next four chapters are implications of that truth. First, Chris talks about how we need sleep and how lack of sleep can contribute to burnout. Second, Chris explains the need for us to take regular days off, or Sabbaths. If we work on Sundays (like pastors do), we need to intentionally plan whole days off for worship, rest, and refreshment. Third, he expounds on the need for us to have friends—friends that will help us share the load and recognize potential burnout in our lives. And finally, he speaks of the need for inward renewal, that we need both time with the Lord and time for leisure activity to refresh ourselves. He is worth quoting at length on this point when he says,

“It is good to develop a healthy self-knowledge about what energizes us—what the Holy Spirit uses to bring us that inward renewal. But these activities will never be enough on their own to bring us true spiritual renewal. Each of us needs our personal devotional times with God: times of Bible reading and prayer, times to be glad to be in Christ, times of thoughtful reflection before the Lord: times to be refreshed. It is not selfish to guard those times, any more than it is selfish for a firefighter to take a break before heading back into the fire. Indeed, if we do not give space for renewal, there will soon be nothing left of us to give” (p. 77).

The final portion of the book concerns a warning to stay away from self-centered motivation, an encouraging note to depend on the Lord for our labors, and an exhortation to delight in God’s grace and not in our performance. The conclusion of the book is perhaps the most practical part of the work—there, Chris suggests four simple and wise practices for preventing or overcoming burnout. There is one more chapter at the end of the book, which serves as sort of a footnote to the book—it’s a concise psycho-spiritual analysis of burnout. It helps with defining exactly what it is and it lists some of the warning signs that burnout may be approaching.

Conclusion

I give the book five stars because it is a biblical, concise, and real treatment of the issue of burnout. Also, you can’t go wrong with the length of this book. You could easily read through the entire book in less than a week – the book is mercifully short. That’s a good thing because the principles in this book need to be learned and implemented immediately. Finally, the book is very relevant. The book is filled with testimonies and real-life experiences. Testimonies impact you in a very unique way, and this book is replete with testimonies of individuals who have experienced and recovered from burnout.

It was like sitting down with a doctor—a doctor who’s had the disease before and is most qualified to treat it in others. I have begun to implement the principles of this book into my personal life and ministry so that I can remain zealous in my service without burning out. And I would highly recommend that all Christians read the book so that they can have a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice without burnout.

You can purchase Zeal Without Burnout on Amazon in these formats: Kindle, hardcover, and audio CD.

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Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Mourn (Matt. 5:4)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 27th day of July, 2014:

Introduction

People cry. Babies cry because they might be hungry, sleepy, teething, or they might have a gift for you in their diapers. Children sometimes cry because they didn’t get that Barbie toy they wanted, or possibly because they hate doing homework. Teens cry (trust me, I know) because of the stress of becoming an adult, the pressures of high school, and worst of all: acne. From childhood to adulthood, people cry for different reasons, it could be tears of sorrow or tears of joy. Sometimes experiencing sorrow is referred to as mourning. That’s where the second Beatitude comes in.

The Text

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).

The Meaning of Mourning

Certain kinds of sorrow are common to all mankind, experienced by believer and unbeliever alike: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Some sorrows are appropriate and legitimate and God knows our need. Others are illegitimate and brought about because of sinful passions and objectives. We need to discover what the Bible says about proper mourning so that we can find out what Jesus means by saying “Blessed are those who mourn.” The word mourn has different definitions attached to it. In order to determine what proper mourning is, it is helpful to define what proper mourning is not. 

Improper Mourning

The kind of mourning that is illegitimate is the sorrow of those who are frustrated in fulfilling evil plans and lusts, or those who have misguided loyalties, desires, and affections.

David’s son Amnon is a good example of improper mourning: “And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her” (2 Sam. 13:2). Amnon thought that his sister was “beautiful” (2 Sam. 13:1) and wanted to have incestuous sex with her. It frustrated him to the point where he made himself ill the text says. He had grief because he couldn’t fulfill his lusts.

None of us will probably ever try to commit sin like Amnon here, but we are sometimes like him when we try to pursue sin. He wanted to commit sin, but he knew that as the son of David it would be a dishonor (and that the Bible commanded against it), and sex with his sister was therefore something he was restricted from doing. Sometimes we think that God has put restriction on certain sins to kill our joy and make us obedient soldiers with no choice. But the commands and exhortations in Scripture are for our own good! The psalmist writes, “I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!” (Psalm 119:19). We are all travelers in this earth and we absolutely need the Word of God to point out places where we shouldn’t go and to show us where the path to true righteousness is.

For the moment of temptation, the sin may look very attractive. To Eve, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (which God commanded against) was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). It was very attractive to her. But with sin, the grass is never greener on the other side. Sin is very deceptive (in fact, one of sin’s delusions is that it keeps us unaware of sin!), and we must always rely on the wisdom and power of God to fight against it.

If you are experiencing that kind of sorrow, if truths like “Being a believer is not a license to sin” turns you off, then you are having improper mourning. 

Proper Mourning

The mourning about which Jesus is talking in the second Beatitude, is very much unlike mourning because you are “restricted” from sinning. And while God cares about all legitimate mourning, Jesus is speaking here about godly sorrow, godly mourning, mourning that only those who sincerely desire to belong to Him or who already belong to Him can experience.

Paul speaks of this sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you” (vv. 10-11). Paul says here that godly sorrow actually leads to repentance. If you are sorry for your sin, then you will repent and turn away from it. But repentance is not just a turning away from sin; it is a turning to as well. . . a turning to God. That’s why Paul says that it “leads to salvation without regret” (v. 10). But sorrow because you “couldn’t” sin is the “worldly grief [that leads to] produces death.”

Now the first Beatitude, makes it clear that entrance into the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3) begins with being “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), that is, you recognize your total spiritual bankruptcy and come to Christ empty-handed, pleading for God’s grace and mercy. Without that recognition of spiritual poverty, you cannot be saved. So if we are “poor in spirit,” then it follows that we would also become “those who mourn.”

It’s important to note, however, that blessedness or happiness does not come in the mourning itself (“Blessed are those who mourn. . .”). But that blessedness comes with what God does in response to it, with the forgiveness that He brings. When you finally recognize your sin and mourn over it and get it confessed to God, you can identify with David in Psalm 32, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (vv. 1-2). But why does David say that those people are blessed? How did they become blessed? He answers that question in vv. 3-5, “For when I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long [he experienced sorrow]. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” God forgives those who confess their sins to Him (1 John 1:9) and brings eternal comfort to them, and that’s where the blessedness of godly mourning comes from.

The troubles and sins of the world are just too heavy to continue carrying. “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.” But Jesus isn’t telling us to do that. He’s not telling us to fake it. He says, “Confess your sins, and mourn, mourn, mourn.” Because until sin is confessed, forgiven and removed, you cannot experience true happiness.

There is an interesting passage of Scripture about this reality. It’s found in James 4, and it is strange because the same passage that talks about forsaking sins and crying for them is the same passage that talks about being joyful and exalted. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10). James says here that there is a great need in the church to cry instead of laugh. He doesn’t mean that Christians are to be sobbing depressive Eeyores (off Winnie the Pooh). But apparently these believers were treating sin very casually when the proper reaction to sin is “mourning. . . weep[ing]. . and gloom” (v. 9).

The Result of Mourning

So if indeed we are experiencing true godly sorrow, then what is the result? Jesus tells us: “they shall be comforted.” Again, it is not the mourning that blesses or makes one happy, but the comfort that God gives to those who mourn in a godly way. Jesus says that they shall be comforted. This does not refer only to the end of our lives or when we spend eternity with God. Like all other blessings, it will be ultimately fulfilled when we see our Lord face-to-face, and when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). But the comfort Jesus refers to in Matthew 5:4 is also very present. This comfort comes after the mourning. As we continually mourn over our sin, we shall be continually comforted by God Himself, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thess. 2:16).

How to Mourn (Godly)

If we are to mourn godly, and those who mourn godly “shall be comforted,” then what does true mourning over sin involve? How can we become godly mourners?

1. Eliminate Hindrances. The first step in becoming a godly mourner is removing the hindrances that may keep us from mourning over sin. What are some of these hindrances that need trashing?

Love of sin. This is without question, the primary hindrance to mourning over sin. If you love sin, you certainly will not be sorry because of it. Holding onto sin is like standing in the Arctic cold snow. Standing in the below zero winds, being beat in the face by ice pellets, all the while standing still and doing nothing. Just taking it. The longer you do nothing about it, you will freeze and die. The same applies to sin. The longer you let sin have it’s way, the greater the consequences; eventually the more you do something, the more you get used to it. Don’t let that happen with sin in your life. Let it go and confess it to God and ask Him to help you love Him more and love the things of God more.

Despair. This also hinders mourning because despair is giving up on God. You think that because you have sinned so much that God will not forgive you. You think that you are too far from grace. Stop letting Satan whisper in your ear. God will not turn anyone away who comes to Him in repentance and faith. God wants to forgive you and cleanse you. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Conceit. This hinders mourning over sin, because it keeps it hidden. You choose to believe that there is nothing over which to mourn. You try to hide your sin from God, but He sees (Psalm 10:11). But that is like treating a cold the same way you would cancer. Don’t hide your sin from God or even yourself.

Presumption. This hinders mourning over sin because it is really a form of pride. You think that there is a need for grace, but not much grace. You think that sins are bad, they need to be repented of, but that they aren’t really that serious. You presume that you can continue sinning because God will forgive you. Be careful with that type of thinking, because God says “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

Procrastination. This also hinders godly mourning simply by putting it off. You say, “One of these days, when things are just right, I’ll take a hard look at my sins, confess them, and ask God’s forgiveness and cleansing.” But that thinking is dangerous. Why would we ever consider putting off God’s forgiveness and mercy when we can experience it right now? The sooner your sin is dealt with, the sooner you “shall be comforted.”

2. Study God’s Word. I believe this too, is an important step in becoming a godly mourner. How will you know what is detestable to God, and what a damning thing sin is? By opening the Word of God. Paul writes that because of the commandment in the Word of God, sin was shown to be what it really was: “in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Rom. 7:13). God’s Word sheds light on our sin and through the Bible, the Holy Spirit makes us more and more aware of our sin.

3. Pray. A very simple step to mourning godly is by spending time in prayer. Sometimes we just need to shut everything off, open our Bibles, and spend some time pouring our hearts out to God. We have so many distractions today and we need to get away from those things and pray, really pray. If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.

How to Know if We Are Mourning as Christ Commands

Knowing whether or not we have godly mourning is not difficult to determine. First, we need to ask ourselves if we are sensitive to sin. If you take sin lightly, if when you are tempted, you think more of the consequences if you did sin, than God’s provided way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), then you need to be more sensitive to sin. Second, you will have true sorrow over your sins. You have a realization that “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Third, we will grieve for the sins of fellow believers and for the sins of the world. We will not judge them and think that we are better than they are, but experience a genuine sorrow for their sin like the psalmist, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136). Finally, we will check our sense of God’s forgiveness. Have we experienced the release and freedom and joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven? Do we have divine comfort that God promises to those who have been forgiven, cleansed and purified?

God brings eternal comfort to the one who mourns over sin and repents.