Avoiding Burnout


For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:29)

Burnout is a constant topic for books, conferences, and happy hour conversations. Perhaps the most difficult thing about burnout is that it doesn't happen gradually. It's instantaneous. Sometimes we can see the symptoms, but it's never a soft slope. One morning we may simply wake up and be completely out of fuel.

For most this leads to seemingly unending dialog about "balance", whatever that means. Discussions of balance always leave me feeling more overwhelmed and self-critical than before I started. That could be because I am in terrible need of it, it could be because in order to get people to buy a book on balance you need to make them feel terribly imbalanced first. A common metaphor people use is a candle, burning at both ends, alluding to burning up the wax and using it up too quickly. There's more than one problem with that metaphor, but the biggest is that a candle burns out no matter how you burn it. If you're telling me it's inevitable, then I might as well go down in a blaze of dripping glory as I burn up the wax of my life.

We need to think differently. If life is a candle, we can only burn out. If we are reliant on ourselves for fuel, this is our inevitable end.

Stop being a candle. Start acting like an oil lamp.

Oil lamps don't burn up the wick like candles do because the wick is merely a channel for a much greater fuel source. The oil is what burns through the wick. As long as there is oil in the reserve, the lamp will not burn out.

This is what freed the Apostle Paul to live in complete imbalance and reckless abandon for the sake of the gospel. He wasn't struggling and toiling out of his own reserves and fuel, he was tapped into the inexhaustible power source of Christ Himself, who worked powerfully through Paul by the Spirit.

Stop burning up your life as a candle, whether on one end, or two, or sixteen. In Christ we have access to the fullness of His power and His might for all steadfastness and endurance (Col. 1:11). Tap into that power source and live in complete imbalance. Jesus' power can never be drained dry. He alone can sustain us and fuel us to have joy in whatever life throws our way, even in the midst of suffering.