As someone who has been active in more than one church ministry on top of being a full-time university student, I can personally attest to feeling stretched.

I love serving in church and see it as a privilege! But when does the line between burning with zealous fire and burning out get blurred?

When responsibilities start to get overwhelming, and I feel in need of a sabbatical, I know I’ve overcommitted.

Have you encountered spiritual burnout?

This happened recently in December. There was so much to do — I was so busy attending various church events that weekends didn’t even feel like rest days anymore.

Instead of feeling spiritually rejuvenated and recharged, these commitments just left me feeling so drained and tired.

Burnout really took the joy out of serving, and I found myself wishing I could just stay at home instead.

After some personal evaluation, I’ve identified what I think was at the root of my spiritual burnout.

Possible reasons for spiritual burnout

1. Hustle culture

The reality is that I only have 24 hours a day to work with — no matter how much I want to do.

As a student, I couldn’t compromise on my academics. But as an extrovert, I also didn’t want to compromise on time spent with family and friends.

As a result, what I cut back on the most was my own rest time and sleep. That took a toll on my well-being, leaving me fatigued and drained.

2. Messiah mentality

I, too, have sometimes fallen into this trap of spiritual pride. 

While we do need to be faithful stewards of the resources (e.g. our time, our skills) that God has equipped us with to serve Him, we need to remember that we are not God.

As ministers, we must not feel so heavily responsible as though the salvation or growth of others hinges on our own human abilities.

It is not our duty or responsibility to save others — Jesus is the only one who can do that.

While we give our best in all that we do for Him, changing people’s hearts is ultimately God’s job, and we are just His vessels.

3. Not enough input 

Ultimately, the output of our service comes from the overflow of our relationship with God. But I was guilty of pouring from an empty cup.

It really was a case of being too much of a Martha and not enough a Mary – I was so distracted with serving that I forgot to sit quietly at His feet.

I could be busy in church for the entire weekend, but spend very little personal time with God through prayer and reading His Word.

And it was a vicious circle; it was even more tiring to continue serving when I was not constantly being filled by God.

Rest doesn’t just encompass physical rest, but also spiritual rest that comes from communion with God and just being still in His presence.

How to avoid spiritual burnout

So how can we avoid spiritual burnout so that we don’t end up serving out of emptiness?

1. Remember to rest

Having learnt this the hard way, the importance of rest cannot be understated.

God, in His sovereignty and power, rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and the earth (Genesis 2:2). And if God values the importance of rest, so should we.

Other than giving the command of Sabbath to the Israelites, God also established a law that the land should be allowed to lie fallow during the seventh year of farming after every six years of cultivation (Leviticus 25).

If even the soil needs rest, we most definitely do. 

Adequate rest is so important in ensuring that we have enough energy to continue doing what we need to.

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves.”  (Psalm 127:2)

God doesn’t expect His children to be hustling away all the time. Rather, He blesses them with rest.

2. Prioritise with God’s help

It’s interesting how in the Parable of the Talents, God specifically emphasises the servants’ faithfulness rather than how much money they made.

He didn’t make a distinction between who made more; He was merely concerned about how they had stewarded what they were entrusted with.

This story always reminds me that what pleases Him is not how much we do for Him, but our faithfulness in completing the assignments He gives us. 

When we need to prioritise, we should remember to seek God for wisdom as to how much responsibility we should take on. 

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7)

We should not assume that the weight of ministry rests entirely upon our shoulders — God’s yoke is supposed to be easy and light, not a dreadful burden!

Remembering this takes a lot of pressure off us, a pressure we shouldn’t have even been carrying anyway.

3. Going to the source

As we serve, we must constantly receive spiritual refreshment from God’s Word by learning to draw strength from God.

Even if we don’t commit to much, we need to depend on God’s grace to sustain us because we cannot do anything in our own strength.  

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Finally, if we want to burn for God, we first need the fire of His Holy Spirit to burn within us.

Our limited strength will eventually run out, but God’s power is everlasting.

If you are feeling spiritually burnt out today, I encourage you to try these steps and ask God for a new measure of His fire that will empower you to continue doing His kingdom work with joy and zealousness!

  1. Have you experienced spiritual burnout before?
  2. Did you reflect on what might have caused it? 
  3. How can you learn to balance your commitments better? Which of these tips can you try?