I’ll never forget my first year leading Saddleback Church. I constantly worked 18-hour days. In fact, Kay did, too. On the last Sunday of that first year, I stood up to speak and fainted. I was exhausted.
Over the next year, God taught me some things that were critical in helping me continue the next 40 years of ministry at Saddleback. During that year, God gave me these Scriptures:
“I will not do it all in one year, for the land would become a wilderness, and the wild animals would become too many to control. But I will drive them out a little at a time, until your population has increased enough to fill the land” (Exodus 23:29-30 TLB).
Those verses changed my life. They’re the reason I call the principles in this passage “pacing growth.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is the church. We need to learn to relax or we’ll burn out. But relaxing is hard for most of us.
In this article, I’ll share with you five reasons we struggle to relax—and what we can do to change that.
- Misplaced identity: Basing your worth on your work.
Too often we’re tempted to base our value on arbitrary issues like how many people attend worship or what our critics are saying about us. Ecclesiastes 10:15 calls that foolish: “Only someone too stupid to find his way home would wear himself out with work” (GNT).
Antidote: Remember your value to God.
This is the exact opposite of basing your worth on your work. You were created by God for a purpose. The fact that you’re alive proves this.
If this weekend you preached your last sermon, you wouldn’t lose one ounce of your value. If tomorrow you resigned from your ministry position, you would still be extremely valuable to God and the world that he put you in.
- Materialism: Always wanting more.
When we want more things, we need to make more money to pay for them. Proverbs 23:4-5 warns us about the impact of materialism on our lives: “Do not wear yourself out getting rich. Be smart enough to stop. Will you catch only a fleeting glimpse of wealth before it is gone? It makes wings for itself like an eagle flying into the sky” (GW).
Antidote: Enjoy what you already have.
You can learn to relax if you simply learn to be content with what you have. Contentment, however, doesn’t come naturally to us as humans.
But we can learn contentment. Paul tells us this in Philippians 4:12, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (NIV).
Nobody ever asks for things in their dying moments. They ask for people. We need to learn that truth earlier in life. We’d save ourselves a lot of stress.
- Envy: Wanting to keep busy like everyone else.
Pastor, you can’t keep up with the Joneses. It’ll cause you to do things you really don’t want to do. Maybe you’re keeping up with the ministry pace of another leader. Maybe you’re trying to get your kids in the same activities that other families in your church are in. Maybe you’re trying to be on social media just as much as someone else.
Solomon understood why this strategy was bad: “Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT).
Antidote: Limit your work to six days a week.
If you’re not doing this, you’re breaking one of the 10 Commandments. Rest and recreation are so important that God put it in the top 10!
Just because you work on Sundays doesn’t mean you forfeit your Sabbath. For example, my Sabbath is on Monday.
What do you do during a Sabbath?
- Rest your body.
- Recharge your emotions. Do something fun.
- Refocus your spirit. Spend some time in worship.
Again, pastor, this probably isn’t a Sunday for you. But you need a day like this every week.
- Pride: Valuing achievement over relationships.
We all know people who have walked away from marriages because they valued achievements more than relationships. Sadly, we’ve seen pastors do this as well. When your goals are more important than people, you are in trouble.
Again, this is a trend that Solomon saw in his day.
He wrote: “I observed yet another example of something meaningless under the sun. This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or a brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, ‘Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?’ It is all so meaningless and depressing” (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 NLT).
Antidote: Adjust your values.
To reduce the busyness in our lives, we must change what we think is important. Pastor, ask yourself, “What is really important in my life?”
If you left your church tomorrow, the church would find another pastor. But your family and friends can’t get another you. You are absolutely indispensable to them.
Jesus once asked, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36 NLT). It’s a great question for us to consider as we look to adjust our values. What are you forfeiting in order to grow your ministry? Are you forfeiting your health? Are you forfeiting your relationship with your family? It’s not worth it.
- Insecurity: Being afraid you won’t have enough.
I remember having a conversation with a very wealthy man. I asked him, “How much more do you need before you’ll be secure?”
“About 20 to 30 million more,” he told me.
The truth is, if we’re trying to make enough money to find security, we won’t find it. You can never have enough security for that to happen. That’s one reason we keep working so hard and can’t relax. The Bible calls that senseless (Psalm 127:2).
Antidote: Exchange your restlessness for God’s peace.
God takes care of the birds and the wildflowers (Matthew 6:26-30), and he’ll take care of you, too. God loves you, and he wants to provide for your needs. You don’t need to fear tomorrow.
It’s no accident that Psalm 23—one of the most famous chapters in the entire Bible—begins with: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need” (Psalm 23:1 NCV). When you recognize that God is your shepherd and he takes care of your needs, it becomes much easier to “rest in green pastures” (v.2).
But you must give up the roaming. Like sheep, our tendency is to wander off course. We don’t need to do that. God is taking care of our needs. We can rest in him.
Pastor, I challenge you to do more than just read these five antidotes. Apply them to your life and help your congregation do the same.
God wants to use you for the long haul. You can’t do that if you burn out.