I started my summer reading list this past week with a new book called "Reset - Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture" by counselor/speaker/professor/pastor David Murray. (With all those titles, I'm assuming he knows a thing or two about burnout!)
Anyway, the first part of the book is all about diagnostics: how do you determine if you are on a path toward burnout? Or at least operating at a deficit emotionally, physically, and spiritually? Being mindful of things like: perfectionism. Diet. Sleep. Comparison. Pride. People-pleasing. One of these on it's own is manageable. Two might not be totally unhealthy, but is likely unsustainable. Three or four...you might be in trouble.
At any rate, the one that jumped out at me was what the author called "backsliding." He defines that as:
"...the gradual loss of contact with God through regularly rushed or missed daily devotions, or of the life lived independently of God, resulting in a growing distance between us and God, and a growing proximity to temptation and sin."
- David Murray
The thing I like about that definition is the simple diagnostics of it. There's no judgement, no shame...just the practical assessment of our condition. The thing I also like: it assumes that the baseline for every Christian is a regular contact with and connection to God.
I wonder, in our "burnout culture", where we stand with that definition. Are we...am I...are you...living with a baseline of regular connection to and contact with Jesus? Or is "backsliding" more of our baseline?
I think the primary tool of the enemy in our day is to keep us distracted and disconnected from God. If we believe there is an enemy to our souls, wouldn't it make sense for Him to keep the distance between us and the source of our strength/power/faith growing? If he can do that, he knows we're definitely headed toward a faith burnout.
Jesus described the situation like this to His disciples:
"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing."
My hope for us as a church is that we cultivate that connection. Because the consequences are tragic if we don't. And the lie of the enemy (and our pride) is that we can sustain a life, and a faith, without it.
Perhaps the place to start is a simple diagnostic in your own (and my own) life. Do I have a sense of contact and connection with God that's regular? Or is distance more descriptive? Do I carve out regular time to hear and gain strength from "the Vine," or am I separated from it?
The simplest model I've seen over the years for maintaining this connection is simply called S.O.A.P.:
It starts by grabbing a cup of coffee (or wine, or beer...whatever!), and sitting down. Stop rushing. Just sit.
And then: read a short section of Scripture. 4-8 verses is plenty. Maybe more if you're in an OT story. Maybe less in other parts of the Bible. But just read it. Twice.
And then: Ask yourself, "what stands out here? What words seem interesting? What phrases catch my mind/heart? Why?"
And then: Ask God, "why does this stand out? What are you saying to me? How does this apply in my life?" (You might even write some of this down. In a journal. Or in your Bible. Or on your hand...whatever.)
And then: Pray. Like: "Jesus, make this true/real in my life." And then pray for your wife, your kids, your friends, your finances, your dog...whatever is pressing in at that moment.
That's pretty much it. Over time, it's amazing what God says, what kind of wisdom and revelation comes, what strength is gained, and how faith grows.
I pray we would all be connected to the vine. I pray we would avoid the pitfalls of our burnout culture. And I pray we would walk in power, and the fruit would be abundant.
Walking with you,