If there was ever a time to talk about burnout, stress, and throwing up the white flag, that would be now. What a crazy, unpredictable time we’re living through now. Pastors, if you’re running out of material to use for end times illustrations and sermon topics, you might be in the wrong business! My daughter and I were joking about how one of the most relevant and sadly funny commercials has been from Match.com. Have you seen it? It’s Satan meeting his date. “Are you Two Zero Two Zero?” “Please…call me 2020.” Ain’t that the truth!
It’s a difficult time for many now as they face uncertainties, spiritual questions about their current situation, and just the wear and tear of trying to help people and lead them to holiness with Jesus. I recently heard a John MacArthur sermon where he said (in summary), “There will be less burnout in pastors if we have less expectation of what people should do to you. The lower your expectation, the less likely you are to be disappointed. Paul called himself a garbage bucket. With that type of expectation, you’re very unlikely to be disappointed if things don’t go well.” What a profound thing to say and many need to hear that. Let me state that this is not just applicable for pastors, but anyone in ministry, or anyone who is trying to live for God and steer people to Him with biblical obedience. None of you are immune from burnout and fatigue. So, again, what does MacArthur say?
We need to adjust our scale of expectation.
If you are in constant worry of what people think about you, or pleasing certain people, or everyone, then you are going to come to a very painful crashing halt. You can’t please everyone. And you’re not called to! Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” I continually remind myself of two things: one is that Jesus was clear that when we truly follow Him, there will be opposition. Count on it. He never hid that fact, but put it out there openly to prepare us. And secondly, the goal is pleasing God, not anyone else. With this in mind, I always remember what pleasing Him entails: obeying Him and loving Him above anyone. So with that very simple concept of putting Him central to what we are about, it removes the temptation to allow anyone else in that powerful position in your life.
Don’t get me wrong. This should never breed a lack of concern for other individuals. This does not mean that we remove love and care for other people. It’s not a holy license to be a jerk. But it actually helps us form a healthy, Godly love that God calls for. When we take the greatest commandment (Love God with everything), then we will be in the right position and place to properly love others (the second greatest commandment).
John MacArthur’s comment was spot on. If our expectation is that everyone will like us, be best friends with us, and never be offended by anything we say (if we’re preaching the gospel), then burnout and frustration is in your future. What’s your goal? What is driving how you live, speak, and act?
I say this often to our people at church: I have never been happier in life than I am now. Now let me dispel any misconceptions that everything is perfect, or that I frolic through a field of flowers with a smile on my face all the time. No! I go through things just like anyone else. And as I tell people, I’m sure there will be plenty more come my way. The peace and comfort comes, though, when your perspective on life changes to being centered on God. What He thinks matters. What He wants matters. What He says matters. Live by what He has called you to do and I guarantee that peace that may have eluded you for far too long, will be found. That burnout, fatigue, and frustration can be massively shrunk if our expectations of what people think about us are adjusted. Here’s some Captain Obvious wisdom that I think took me far too long to figure out. The more you follow God’s word and will, the better everything is. Not easier, but better. When you do that, you are clear on what is right to do. When you follow His will, you know you’re not compromising or bending to try and appease someone else for the sake of avoiding an argument, or from offending anyone. You simply obey God and share His truth. And do it with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15).