Nehemiah’s trouble with his workmen was not that they wanted higher wages. As a matter of fact, they didn’t get any wages. His trouble was that they grew weary, and lost both their interest and their vision, as though their labor was being done in vain. Do you ever feel like one of Nehemiah’s workmen? It’s not the wages or the pay – instead, it’s that dread sense of incompleteness. The work is never done.
Perhaps there is no better test of one’s courage than how they act when enthusiasm vanishes. No sea is always at full tide; in every ocean, there is an ebb. I’ve had to remind myself that, how I act in the ebb-tide of life, and when life is bounded by swampy uncertainty, is one of the surest marks of character. We have to adjust to the reality of ministry under pressure and with a tangling web of weariness. It has been accurately said, “The world is run by tired men.”
Whence the Weariness
Dr. David G. Congo surveyed ministers in thirty-two denominations in thirty-eight states to discover the significant factors involved in ministry burnout. His study isolated a number of significant factors involved in burnout. Of the pastors surveyed:
● 70% worked more than sixty hours per week.
● 85% spent two or less evenings per week at home.
● 75% spent less than one evening a month purely for social time with their wives and other couples.
His pastoral burnout survey also showed that 61% of pastors spend less than one hour a week talking with other pastors. A key factor can be noted from Congo’s survey. Beside becoming burned out because they “grow weary in well-doing,” many pastors receive little support from their peers.
In Galatians 6, Paul warns of “sowing to the flesh” saying it only reaps corruption. It is in that setting that we are warned to not be weary in well-doing. Perhaps it is possible for those in a noble work to “sow to the flesh.” In Mastering Personal Growth, part of the Leadership Mastering Ministry series Gordon MacDonald notes that some motives tend to result in weariness. Specifically:
● The need for approval.
● A need for validation by achievement.
● The longing for intimacy.
Such motives seek their satisfaction in the “here and now.” It may be found in a position . . . or the size of a congregation one pastors . . . or the pulpit one is invited to fill. Those motives are ever unsatisfied and become the source of weariness.
Remedies for Weariness
An Adequate God
Historians note that Charles Spurgeon struggled with deep depression. One time as, Spurgeon was riding home after a difficult day at the church, feeling “weary in well doing” a scripture came to his mind: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Spurgeon began imagining he was a little fish in the Thames River, fearful lest by drinking so many pints of water each day he might drink the Thames dry. The Thames said to him, “Drink away, little fish. My stream is sufficient for you.”
Spurgeon’s mind then took him to the granaries of ancient Egypt, where he was a little mouse, afraid lest his nibbles would drain the supplies of the Pharaoh and cause him to starve. Then Joseph came by and said, “Cheer-up, little mouse. My granaries are sufficient for you.”
Finally, Spurgeon imagined himself a mountain climber, ascending to some lofty summit. Once there, he feared his breathing might exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere. The Creator then boomed from the heavens and said, “Breathe away, oh human, and fill your lungs. My atmosphere is sufficient for you.”
It is easy in the hectic pace of ministry to “forget with whom we have to do.” Your God is adequate. Be encouraged as you know His grace is sufficient. His faithfulness is not exhausted. In my weariness, He is not weary! Any spiritual work depends on Him. He is more than capable.
Change Gears for a Bit
If one follows the movement within the gospels Jesus and His disciples are in an almost constantly changing scenario. It was never the “same old, same old.” Repetition is often the foundation of weariness. Winston Churchill wrote an essay titled “Painting As a Pastime” in which he revealed his secret of maintaining a peaceful mindset.
Many remedies are suggested for the avoidance of worry and mental overstrain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale. Some advise exercise, and others, repose . . . some travel, and others retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is change.
Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.
It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated. It is no use saying to the tired mental muscles if one may coin such an expression — “I will give you a good rest.” “I will go for a long walk,” or “I will lie down and think of nothing.” The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into action. . . that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.
Churchill made a valid point. More modern research has indicated that this works. Take a bit of time to read about the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique suggests changing what you are doing every 25 minutes. There are apps to assist in doing this. I’m to go do something else for 5 minutes before returning to the project. After three such cycles, I’m to spend an extended period of time doing something different. The Pomodoro Technique works when I work it.
Do Something Different
Shifting gears and doing something different is clearly seen in the life and ministry of Christ. How often He must have been weary. We must learn that like long distance Airforce bombers, we can’t land every time we are out of gas. You have to learn to refuel in midair. Another of the Leadership books, Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation talks about the need to refuel by:
- Divert daily – do something that’s fun.
- Withdraw weekly – take a day off every week.
- Abandon annually – get away from the church to vacation and don’t call in.
What is being communicated is that rest comes by moving away from the problem at hand . . . dealing with another issue, making a call to a peer or mentor, visiting a church a few cities away, reading a good book . . . or the Wall Street Journal. Just doing something different.
Your different can be horseback riding or a golf course. What you do is not as important as to do something different. Simply put – change! In practical life, there will be times of exhaustion and weariness. There is nothing wrong with feeling weary, but there is everything wrong with abandoning ship in the midst of the fight.
If the world is actually run by tired people, and I think it is, then some tired people are reading this. My reading audience is made up of “impact making” men and women. I’ve looked at one facet of the challenge of staying fresh for the sake of life. I’m interested in learning what has worked for you. Please share in the comment section.