Temptation and Burn-out
Is it possible that some ministry leaders have burned-out because they judged themselves so harshly for not measuring up, and then eventually came around to blaming the church or God for their feelings and state of affairs? We believe this is very possible. Many a pastor, youth leader, worship leader has launched out into their ministry with such zeal that absolute perfect was the only acceptable result. Not understanding that perfect can be a form of idolatry, they become harshly critical of themselves and others around them.
One of these areas of consideration is temptation. For some reason there are many who do not understand that temptation is not a sin. They expect God to give them so much strength they won’t have or experience any feelings of temptation. Please remember Jesus was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). Yet, many a leader puts a pressure on themselves when any temptation comes their way, and they can feel guilty and angry at themselves. Again, what is needed is a proper understanding of the topic, and the realization that we, in our vanity and human pride, can put totally unrealistic expectations on ourselves–expectations that will never be reached in this lifetime and expectations that move us inevitably toward burnout!
Temptation is the appeal to the human nature – that pull from the world of darkness. It is the draw to our physical appetites, and appeal to the normal reactions of our emotions and reasoning. We left that all behind when we became a new creation, yet it is there reaching out it’s deceptive hands toward us.
Why does God allow temptation to fill this earth, permeating every corner of the planet His own children dwell in? Is there purpose? Could it be part of his great plan to bring glory to His Son, and establish our faith?
James gives us a step by step explanation how temptation turns into sin. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15, NIV).
Evil desire refers to the fallen sinful nature we wish to leave behind forever. The word enticed has to do with bait or lure. The pull of darkness on our human nature. To experience temptation is not a sin according to James. To have the thought or the pull of temptation is a natural part of this life. We have to be “dragged away and enticed”, and then when the desire conceives – we go from reaction to decision – we enter sin.
To be upset when a church member laughs in your face during a counseling is normal and not a sin. To get up and verbally abuse the person in revenge is a sin. To be frustrated with the board and their politics is very normal. To hate their intestines is sin. When members or other pastors gossip about you and hurt your reputation it is fine to be hurt and angry. It is part of the human experience. When you are cut off in traffic it is natural, and not a sin to be angry. It becomes sin when we decide to ram them off the road or we start uttering unspeakable language.
Many a ministry leader has driven themselves half crazy trying to avoid the natural reaction, and be above reality. Why do so many Christians find it impossible to accept themselves? Sure we want to be “Christlike.” Absolutely, yet that very work is a work of the Holy Spirit. We must yield, but when we try to do this transforming work ourselves, it often leads to perfectionism, then judge-mentalism, criticism, condemnation, then disillusionment with God and church, then burnout!
Some ministry leaders, when they come to the conclusion they will have these human reactions to temptation, put on a mask and pretend they don’t react to this worldly stimuli. Mask wearing is a proven short-cut to disillusionment and burnout.
The classic Biblical example is Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. The human Jesus became so tempted by the thoughts of pain and agony he cried out to Father to change the plan. Remember, Jesus was without sin. He did not sin in being tempted so greatly.
How many ministry leaders who are frustrating themselves to burnout, if they really understood, could just relax and enjoy the new covenant? Tens of thousands for sure.
Consider this. When we are tempted, the temptation is calling us to be what we are not. We are a new creation, born again. Yet temptation calls us to do that which our heart knows is not the life of Christ in us. Also temptation is calling us to forget who we really are, and inviting us to become legalistic, motivating us to overcome the temptation as if it were separating us from Jesus. Temptation alone does not separate us from Jesus!
Once we have fallen for the lie that we can combat temptation with our will power, we begin to slowly wear out and head for burn-out. Please do not resist temptation with your own will power. The best approach to resisting temptation is by turning to Christ, our real life within. When temptation excites the dark emotions in us, Jesus becomes the answer – the only answer. When we are incredibly impatient, Jesus becomes our patience. When we feel deep bitterness and anger toward others, Jesus becomes our love and forgiveness.
In this way, temptation becomes a tool that (1) reminds us of who we really are as a born again new creation, (2) brings glory to our Lord Jesus because we never say “no” to temptation, but rather, “yes” to Jesus. It is our Lord dwelling in us that overcomes the temptation and in so doing the Father is glorified.
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”(1 Cor. 10:13, NIV)
So God is not against temptation, but rather uses it to point us back to Jesus over and over throughout the day. Burn-out becomes a real possibility when we try to overcome on our own strength. Burn-out becomes a high risk factor in legalistic churches where perfectionism is the subtly underlying spirit. If you feel burn-out is becoming a part of your Christian walk, please do send us email, or a phone call and Kathy and I will be happy to listen, love, and pray for you. You can be free of guilt and self-induced stress over temptation.
Remember, it was for freedom that Christ has set us free! There is something about freedom that is so very precious that Jesus was willing to die so we could have freedom again. Burn-out is the fruit of the church adding two thousand years of rules, traditions, bylaws, methodologies, patterns, and expectations to the simplicity of Christ. If you have burned-out and stepped away from your role as a ministry leader, look at this time as a time to shed all those two thousand years of baggage and the wonderful and enjoyable chance to fall in love with Jesus all over again. I think Paul would call this, “recapturing your first love.”