Trying Hard in the Spiritual Life: Rx for Burnout?

As Christ-following leaders–of small groups, ministries, churches, families, businesses, ourselves–we know that our relationship with God must come first. If we spend time with him, committed to walking with him, seeking him, and putting his kingdom first, he will take care of everything else and will overflow through us into the lives of those we lead.

We know that, don’t we? But how do we accomplish it?

Psalm 119:9-16 provides an answer, but I think the psalmist missed something. First, read his response:

How can a young person stay pure?
By obeying your word.
I have tried hard to find you—
don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
I praise you, O LORD;
teach me your decrees.
I have recited aloud
all the regulations you have given us.
I have rejoiced in your laws
as much as in riches.
I will study your commandments
and reflect on your ways.
I will delight in your decrees
and not forget your word.

The psalmist shares a number of ways to work at obeying God’s Word, but none of these will bear fruit over the long haul without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Trying harder, by your own human efforts alone, to be a good Christian or a good leader will lead you to burnout and ineffectiveness.
I know this is true for me. I can try hard to find God, meditate on and memorize Scripture, praise him through songs and prayer, recite his Word aloud, study the Bible, and even rejoice and delight in God’s Word, and then, five minutes later, I can sin in the most vile way. Trying hard to do the right things in the flesh won’t work long-term, because we have a powerful enemy who sees our efforts and will take us down. I cannot fight this fight in my flesh, as well-meaning as I am. It’s only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, these things are the right things to do, but my efforts and your efforts to do them are not enough.

Author: Michael Mack

Michael Mack has been involved in small group ministry as a pastor, writer, trainer, and speaker for more than 25 years. He founded in 1995 and started Small Group Leadership in 2012. He became the 12th editor of Christian Standard magazine in 2017 and continues to speak in churches about small groups, discipleship, and leadership. He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (just outside Louisville), with his wife Heidi. They have four young adult children. Michael enjoys mountain and road biking with a group of friends. See the "About Michael Mack" page under About Us for more about him.

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