Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:1-2).

Beloveds, burnout is real. Burnout in ministry is real. Even though Paul cautions us, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right” (Galatians 6:9), full-time ministry can be demanding and self-care may prove elusive. In some communities, sacrificial ministry is celebrated and encouraged while self-care is minimized or ignored. Maybe you’re like me and you get burned out on the news, grappling to find the appropriate balance between being a well-informed citizen and being a person overwhelmed by reality and negativity.

Sometimes it can feel like we’re struggling in our personal relationships. Some of us are caring for aging parents and children. We’re running out of time off from work, but life’s daily demands don’t decrease. Others may be facing a financial crisis and are lost in a wilderness of confusion and anguish. Maybe it’s our actual relationships that become a source of hardship. Communication breaks down and we can see the rift growing between us and our partners, yet we’re not certain what to do next. Some of us are trying to start a family but to no avail. It’s complicated. We are growing sorrowful and losing hope. Others attempt to give life to their dreams only to watch them evaporate. Our hearts are troubled and our spirits are distressed.

On occasion small things wear on us little by little, such as being the only family member who cleans the tub or toilet. In my house, it seems I’m the only one who knows the recipe for making ice or how to replace a roll of toilet paper. It’s possible for several facets of our lives to collide, and we find ourselves burned out on struggling.

Yes, indeed, burnout is real—so are God’s promises.

There’s more good news. In order to burn out we must first have a fire from within. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the fire even in times of burnout. God spoke to Moses from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-17). Jeremiah said God’s word is like a fire shut up in the bones (Jeremiah 20:9). John the Baptist tells us that the one who is coming will baptize with the Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). And the writer of Acts describes Pentecost as tongues of fire resting on God’s people (Acts 2:3).

Perhaps it’s time to embrace the fire.

Remember the three Hebrew boys thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar? Their Hebrew names are Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, but the king forced them to change their names to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego because they had to assimilate. When King Nebuchadnezzar observed the furnace he was shocked to see four people walking among the flames. He recognized one to have the appearance of God (Daniel 3:24-26). Praise God! Our God shows up amid the fire.

Embrace the fire.

We serve the God who speaks from the midst of the fire. And it’s this fire that burns in our hearts and in our souls that empowers us to refuse to let this world corrupt us. This fire strengthens us when we grow weary in ministry. Not only does this fire act as a cleansing agent to help purify us, God speaks from the fire and gives us clarity of thought—a spirit of discernment. This fire can embolden us to speak truth to power and work for justice. This fire can make us be doers of God’s word and not hearers only. This fire can equip us to take risks and move beyond comfort zones.

This fire can enable us to live into God’s promise: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Beloveds, fear not burnout. Burnout is real, but so are God’s promises. “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2).

Embrace the fire.

Let the church say, Amen!

Angela T. !Khabeb
Angela T. !Khabeb is an ELCA pastor living in Minneapolis. She enjoys an active home life with her husband and three children. 

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