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Spiritual Burnout

2 Timothy 1:2-6

2 To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;

4 Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy;

5 When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

6 Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.

A lot of spiritual burnout is going on nowadays. That word burnout is becoming more and more common. It describes the state of fatigue that comes on a person who has been pushing too hard in life. Usually it is experienced by a person who is idealistic, or a person who has an attitude of high achievement. These types of people want to accomplish things, but they have a hard time pacing themselves. They have a difficult time saying “no.” They just push and push and strive and strive until one day they completely exhaust themselves and they just burn out.

That happens in business, and when it does, a lot of times the person has to go to the hospital because of physical exhaustion. Sometimes he just says, “Well, it is not worth it,” and he quits the job that he has had for 20 years, moves to a new town in a quieter community, gets another job, and starts life all over again. He is just burned out with the rat race and the pressure that some of you feel.

Preachers experience the same thing. I read a sermon by a fellow pastor some time ago. He was announcing to his congregation that he was resigning his pastorate. He said, “I’m just burned out. I have been burning the candle at both ends. I am exhausted, so I am going to take a leave of absence for a year from the ministry. I’m going down to a hospital as an assistant chaplain, and after a year of rest—away from all of the pressures—I hope to find another church and become a pastor again. But right now, I’m just burned out.”

There are a lot of Christian people through the years who have been burned out. Maybe you grew up in one of those small churches where one person or a small group of people had to do everything, so you were just involved in everything that went on. After a few years of that you said, “I’m tired of this all of the time. I’m just burned out spiritually.” Now, no one around here in this church is burned out spiritually from doing too much. But you brought it from some other place. And you would say something like this to me or to other people: “You know, I used to teach Sunday school. I used to sing in the choir. I used to be as active as a deacon. I used to go visiting. But I don’t want to get involved in all of that any more. I’m just burned out spiritually.” 

I think that spiritual burnout is a very real problem, but it is not the problem that we face in our church. The problem we face is not spiritual burnout. It is spiritual cool-off. We’ve lost a lot of our desire and our enthusiasm and our zeal for the work of God and it is not because we’ve worked too much, it is because many of us have not worked any at all.

It is not a new thing for people to suffer from spiritual cool-off. In fact the apostle Paul speaks to Timothy about that very problem, that very possibility, and that very probability in his life. In 2 Timothy 1:6 he says, “Timothy, I want to remind you of something. I want to call your attention back to the fact that you are to stir up the gift of God that is within you.”

That word gift that he uses in verse six has reference to an ability that is given to Timothy from God to do God’s work. God gives all of his children gifts, abilities, and endowments to serve him. Some can sing. Some can preach. Some can teach. Some can visit. Some can minister. We all have some gifts or abilities from God to do his work. For Timothy, that gift was probably the gift of ministerial leadership, or pastoral care. It may have been the gift of preaching, or the gift of evangelism, but Timothy had received some gift from God. If you belong to God, you’ve received some gift also. But Timothy was not using that gift to his highest potential. He was not making the most out of it. And so Paul said to him, “You stir up the gift of God that is in you.” That word stir means “to rekindle.” It means “to fan again to flames,” and the idea is that there had been a time in Timothy’s life when this gift, ability, or service blazed brightly. But something had happened and the fire had gone out. Timothy had cooled off spiritually. We must keep and use our gift—as we would keep a fire—and not allow it to grow cold.

The Bible often times uses fire as a symbol of God’s work in us. Jeremiah was called to preach, and he didn’t want to. He said, “I said to myself, ‘I will not proclaim the word of God.’ But God’s word was like a fire inside my bones and I had to preach.” God’s word in you can be like a fire. It has to come out. If God’s word is in you, you must tell people about it, and you must pass it on by preaching and teaching and witnessing. God’s word is like a fire in us.

The Holy Spirit is like a fire. Remember when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost? There were three symbols used to describe his coming. He came as a rushing mighty wind, and then he appeared as cloven tongues, and then it says, “They were like unto fire.” Wind, tongues, and fire describe the work and the entrance of the Holy Spirit in us.

When God works in us, it is like a fire. When God’s Spirit is in us, it is like a fire. Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “Quench not the Spirit.” That word quench means “to put out.” Some of you worked in the yard yesterday like I did. You were watering the yard and wanted to move the water hose from one flowerbed to another. You didn’t want to go back to the house and cut the water off at the faucet, so you just quenched the flow of that water by bending the hose.

The Holy Spirit in you can be quenched the same way. Paul wrote to say, “Quench not the Spirit.” The Spirit is like a fire, and that fire can be put out. The fire can be doused. We can cool off spiritually. And now he comes to say, “Not only is the word of God in you like a fire, and the Spirit of God in you like a fire, but Timothy, the gift of God is in you. That endowment—that ability to teach or preach, witness, sing, or whatever it may be—is like a fire. And Timothy, the fire can go out.” Obviously, Timothy was timid, shy. He probably had an inferiority complex. He didn’t assert himself. He wasn’t using his gift to the full potential. He let other people run roughshod over him. He would sit back and do nothing. It led him to laziness.

Paul was saying, “Timothy, you need to fan that flame in your life. The fire was put there by God. It is already there. You don’t manufacture the fire. God put it there, but you’ve got to keep it alive. You’ve got to keep it blazing.”

I believe that the biggest problem we face in a church like this is not that spiritual burnout I talked about at first, but spiritual cool-off I’m talking about right now. The fire in the life of some of you has gone out. I mean there was a time when you were actively involved in God’s service. There was a time when you did sing in the choir, and you did teach a Sunday school class, and you did go visiting, and you were concerned about people. You prayed and you did all that you could to see that God’s work went forward. But something happened through the years and you’ve cooled off. You need to hear again these words: “Stir up, rekindle, and fan to flames the gift of God that is in you.” 

This is the greatest danger any pastor can face in a church. Therefore our first duty is to keep the fires burning. Nothing else matters if this is neglected. Whatever else we preachers do, whatever else happens to us, we must not let the fire go out. Introducing more activity into our churches is of no avail. What’s the use of putting more irons in the fire if the fire is going out? Everyone needs to be alert to the potential of cooling off spiritually. You would never expect this to be said of Timothy, the close friend of Paul. But if Timothy needed to be reminded, so must we. Nobody is safe. It is a danger to all.

Timothy had a very personal close relationship with the apostle Paul. Back in verse two Paul says that Timothy is his dearly beloved son. It must be a very close personal relationship between the man Paul and his man Timothy. Then he says in the very next verse, “I am always remembering you and I pray for you night and day.” He is always praying for Timothy.

What happened to give Paul and Timothy such a close relationship? When Paul was on his first missionary journey, he had gone to the city of Lystra and preached, and this young man had been converted. When Paul came back on the second missionary journey, this young man had grown so much in the Lord. Paul was so impressed with him and by the Spirit of God that he asked Timothy to accompany him on his missionary journey. Timothy became Paul’s right-hand man, and as you read this book of 2 Timothy, you will discover that Paul was an old man about to die. He was ready to turn the reins of leadership over to this young Timothy. That’s how close they were.

Timothy had experienced a marvelous conversion experience under the preaching of the apostle Paul. He had walked in close fellowship with this man. He had had some marvelous experiences with God, and you wouldn’t expect a man with that kind of experience to ever cool off. 

Some of you had marvelous conversion experiences. Some of you have been close friends with great men of God in days gone by. Some of you have seen the working of God in marvelous ways, but the experiences of the past are no guarantee of fire in the present. The fire has to be poked up. It is a continual thing. Though you may have walked with God, known God’s servants, and experienced God in the past, if you don’t keep wood on the fire, it will go out.

Not only had Timothy had the association with the apostle Paul, he had a marvelous heritage in his home life. Paul tells us in verse five, “When I think about you, Timothy, and your faith, your pure and genuine faith, I’m reminded that that faith existed first in your grandmother Lois and in your mother, Eunice.”

Here was a young man who had a marvelous Christian mother and more than that—a marvelous Christian grandmother. Those two women of faith had transmitted their faith down the years to Timothy. He was the recipient of all that they were and all that they had done. Timothy’s father was not a Christian. Paul tells us in Acts chapter 16 that he was a pagan. Timothy was part of a divided home, but the influence of his mother and his grandmother was so profound in his life that Paul says in a later verse in this book that from a child, Timothy had known the holy scriptures that are able to make him wise unto salvation.

You would think that a person with that kind of background would never burn out or cool off. But some of you were raised in the church. You were there every time the doors were opened. You’ve heard your mother pray for you a lot of times. She taught you the scriptures, and you felt so close to God. But God has no spiritual grandchildren, and the fact that your mother or grandmother walked with God and served God is no guarantee that you are going to. You can’t live off of their experience. If the fire in your life is to burn brightly, you’ve got to keep it fanned.

In addition to his association with Paul and his marvelous Christian heritage, Timothy had a call from God. There was a time when the Lord said to him, “Timothy, I want you in my service.” In a very special and unique way he heard and answered that call. Paul mentions Timothy’s ordination here in verse six. He said, “You received that gift of God by the laying on of hands.”

That was a public service in which the apostles laid their hands on those who had been called of God to his service in a very special way. Here was a young man who at one time heard the call of God and answered that call, and he was lifted to the heights of spiritual commitment. But the fire was still about to go out. Do some of you remember that time when the church asked you to be a deacon because you walked so close to God, and because they saw in you the kind of person they wanted to lead their church? Some of you heard the call to preach.

You said “no” then, but you’ve lived in misery ever since. I never cease to be amazed by how many people come to me and say, “I heard God call me to preach years ago, and I never answered, and I haven’t been able to escape that.” I’m convinced the fields are ripe unto harvest and the laborers are few. The problem is not that God hasn’t called laborers down through the years. The problem is that the laborers haven’t answered the call.

Regardless of your past experience, and regardless of being ordained or set aside for any kind of service, that doesn’t guarantee that the fire is burning in your heart right now. Paul said to this young man who had been saved in a revival meeting, had walked in the footsteps of a missionary, had a godly mother and grandmother, had heard the call to preach, and had hands laid on him openly and publicly, “Listen, Timothy, the fire is going out in your life.”

I’m here to tell you that that is the great danger we face, and it’s always with us. There are a lot of Christians who go up like a rocket and down like a rock. In their spiritual lives they start with a fever and they end up with a chill. Something happens and the fire goes out of their lives. They become cold and indifferent in their relationship to God.

Have you heard about the country preacher who went to a conference in the city one time? He heard all the preachers talking about lethargy and procrastination. He didn’t really understand what the words lethargy or procrastination meant, but they sounded good.

He went back to his own church the next Sunday and he preached about lethargy and procrastination. When he finished, one of his dear members came up to him and said, “Preacher, I heard you using words I haven’t heard before: lethargy and procrastination. What in the world do those words mean?” He didn’t know himself and he said, “Why, my dear, don’t you know what those words mean? Those are two of our main Baptist doctrines.” 

To some of you they really are main doctrines! I heard about the lady who heard the preacher preach on total depravity one day and she said, “Thank God that is the only doctrine I’ve lived up to.” When we lose our fire, when we become cold and indifferent in our spiritual lives, we spread that kind of spirit everywhere. We want to cool off anybody else who has spiritual fire.

I was talking with a preacher one day, and he mentioned the bucket committee. I said, “The bucket committee? I’ve been in Baptist churches for 25 years. I think we’ve got every committee you could possibly have. We’ve got 28 standing committees, three sitting committees, two lying committees, and one dead committee. Surely there are not anymore committees.” And he said, “Yes sir, you’ve got it. It is a self-appointed committee. It is their job to go around and throw cold water on anybody who has fire.” I said, “We not only have that committee, I know who the chairman is.”

We have a lot of folks trying to put the fire out when they need to stir it up instead. I’m telling you that we need people who have that holy fire of enthusiasm, compassion, conviction, and dedication. We are in the greatest business on earth and God has something for us to do. We are not here just to occupy time and space and to give our money. We are to be his workers. I’m not worried about anybody becoming a fanatic. It is easier to cool off a fanatic than it is to resurrect the dead! We need some people with that holy fire inside of them. There is nothing more dynamic and more powerful than a human soul on fire. If you are concerned, dedicated, and committed, people will sense it and will want to be a part of it. You need that in your life, and I need that in my life.

Education is of no avail if the fire goes out. Vance Havner was once talking about the bent toward education, and the coldness that sometimes goes with it when there is a lack of spiritual fire in the church. He said that there never has been a time when the church had so many degrees and so little temperature. We need to be sure that with all of our degrees that the fire doesn’t go out in our hearts.

Why does the fire go out? A lot of reasons. Sometimes we are timid, bashful, or have feelings of inferiority like Timothy. Sometimes it’s because we are caught up in the cares of life like making a living, raising a family, starting a career, improving our golf game, learning how to serve in tennis, or something else. Sometimes it is because of the affluence of our age. We get caught up in things and they smother spiritual concern. 

Jesus rebuked the church in Revelation because they were neither hot nor cold. They were just lukewarm. Jesus said, “I wish you were one or the other. Because you aren’t, I’m going to spit thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest we are rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing.” 

It’s not money that puts the fire out. It’s that spirit of indifference, that spirit of independence, and that spirit of self-sufficiency that money can produce in you. That’s what puts the fire out. You don’t feel you need God. You are rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing, and the fire goes out.

It may be true of Green Acres that we are rich and increased with goods, but it is not true that we have need of nothing. We need him. Without his power, and without his work in us, we are nothing. We must give ourselves in a new and fresh dedication. God has given you a gift. He has given us an opportunity, and we can’t do it half-heartedly. We can do it nonchalantly. Let’s put our whole heart into it. 

Last week I read A Short History of the Baptists by H. C. Vedder. In the book he told of a pioneer Baptist preacher who came into the wilderness of East Texas down around Nacogdoches before this land was ever settled country. Here is what that pioneer said about his life: “Every day I travel, I have to swim through creeks or swamps, and I am wet from head to feet. Some days from morning till night, I am dripping wet. I have rheumatism in all of my joints, and I’ve suffered in body and mind in a way that my pen is not able to communicate to you. But this I say, that while my body is wet with water and chilled with cold, my soul is filled with heavenly fire.”

We may never be wet, weary, or weak in the service of God, but may it be said that our souls are filled with heavenly fire. That’s the only way we are going to win our world and do what we are placed here to do. Stir up the gift of God that is in you.

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Today's Devotional

Applied Christianity

I once talked with a man who was convinced that Christianity was a failure. His conclusion was based on the fact that while our cities are full of churches and preachers, our world is getting worse and worse.

If you think about this criticism, you must agree that there is much religion in America that has little effect on the daily lives of people. While the number of church members may grow each year, so does lawlessness and immorality. But does this mean that Christianity is a failure? No. At the close of World War I a soap manufacturer, walking down the street with his pastor, was bemoaning the “failure” of Christianity. He said to his pastor, “After 19 centuries of preaching and teaching Christ, there is still so much evil in the world. I don’t see how you can go on preaching the Gospel.” 

“I don’t see how you can go on manufacturing soap,” retorted the pastor. “Look at the little urchin playing in the gutter. Neck and ears filthy. There’s still so much dirt in the world. Soap is such a failure.”

“But,” countered the soap manufacturer, “If people will just apply the soap, they’ll be clean.”

“Yes,” concluded the pastor, “and if men will but apply Christ to their daily living, they will also be clean.” 

The evil of today’s world is not due to Christianity’s failure, but to our failure to apply our Christianity. As writer G.K. Chesterton said, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried."

Attend church Sunday, listen to God’s word, then apply it to your daily life and you and the world will both be better because of it.

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