Prayer and Burnout
Written in July 2002
In recent times I have been reflecting much on the idea that prayer is one of the surest means of preventing burnout. I have thought a lot about this as many have told me recently that the schedule I keep makes me a prime candidate for burnout. I suppose the jury is not in on this yet. Perhaps in 15 years from now I will be able to speak with more confidence on this issue. But I do believe that time spent daily lingering in the presence of God is a great antidote to burnout and other ill effects of stress and hard work. Here are some reasons for that belief.
- If spending a good time with God each day is a non-negotiable factor in our daily calendar, then this time could really help slow us down and heal that unhealthy restlessness and rushed attitude that often causes burnout. There are few things that help heal our restlessness as time spent lingering in the presence of God. If a fixed time has been set apart each day for prayer, then there is no point rushing through the exercise as we are going to spend that amount of time whether we rush or not. That time has been blocked out for prayer in our schedules. So we are forced to change gears from stressful rush to restful lingering in the presence of God.
- An hour or more spent each day in the presence of the almighty and sovereign Lord of the universe does wonders to our sense of security (Psa. 46:1-11), the lack of which is another common cause of burnout. With security comes “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) which is surely a wonderful treasure to live life with. When we do not have security in our tie with God, we will be restlessly running from activity to activity subconsciously hoping that our activity would fill the void in our lives. We are, in fact, afraid to stop and be silent before God. I once heard the Singaporean Dr. Robert Solomon say, “We are uncomfortable with silence because silence forces us to face God.” So we go on with our busy activity till we drive ourselves to the ground!
- The peace we just described is the result of presenting our requests to God (Phil. 4:6). When we spend time with God we are able to “cast all [our] anxiety on him because he cares for [us]” (1 Pet. 5:7). It was during a time of deep crisis in our ministry that I discovered the great release that comes from consciously handing over our burdens to God. I had difficulty going to sleep because I was overwhelmed by worry over the situation. I learned to confess my inability to bear these burdens alone and to place them upon God by a conscious act of release. And release was what I felt as a result of this.
- When we pray we open up our hearts to God. And if someone has hurt us, then we are going to grapple with God over that. This grappling gives God an opportunity to break through into our lives with his comfort. And that comfort enables us to overcome bitterness over people’s actions. What a heavy burden bitterness is for a person to bear! It will drag us down in our spiritual lives and make us prime candidates for burnout.
- If, during our time with God, a lot of time is spent in intercession, we have become conduits of love. When we pray for others love is flowing out of our lives. But this is not a love that drains us of our emotional strength. We are praying, which means that we are in touch with him who is the inexhaustible source of love. As love goes out through prayer, God’s love comes in, and the regular flow of love in and out of our lives makes us glow with the joy that love alone can produce.
So our time spent with God each day becomes the most refreshing thing that we do. Such freshness attacks those triggers of burnout that often accompany our stresses and strains.