We get exhausted because we try to do God’s work in our own way.”
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done something by myself because I bought into the idea that “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” Or the number of times I was too proud to ask for help because I thought I would seem less capable. And sometimes I refused to let others help because doing so would mean losing total control.
When we try to do too many things or refuse help from others, our lives become imbalanced. And for many Americans, exhaustion has become an epidemic.
Workplace stress costs more than $300 billion each year in health care, missed work, and stress-reduction.1
Americans work more than 1800 hours on the job a year—350 hours more than Germans and slightly more than Japanese.2
More than 30 percent of workers say they are "always" or "often" under stress at work. A quarter of those surveyed in 2002 said they often did not have enough co-workers to get the job done.3
The average European worker gets four to six weeks of vacation per year compared to the average two weeks of vacation for their American counterparts.4
We are certainly an overloaded society. Stress piles up, affecting our physical, emotional, and mental health, distorting our attitudes at work, at home, and even in our ministries. Pushed to the limit, we become exhausted and ultimately ineffective in God’s work.
Moses knew exhaustion all too well. Attempting to fix the ineffective judicial system set up in the wilderness, Moses tried to shoulder the burden alone. But his father-in-law Jethro recognized Moses’ inability to handle all of his people’s cases saying, “What's going on here? Why are you doing all this, and all by yourself, letting everybody line up before you from morning to night?"
After Moses tried to excuse himself, Jethro continued, “This is no way to go about it. You'll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you—you can't do this alone. Now listen to me. Let me tell you how to do this so that God will be in this with you.”
Whoa! Was Jethro really implying that if Moses didn’t begin to delegate, God wouldn’t be in it? The answer is yes.
From a wise third-party perspective, Jethro saw the potential pitfalls of a leader on the edge of burnout. So he warned Moses that people rise and fall on leadership. If Moses became exhausted, those working with him would falter too. Jethro knew exhaustion comes not from the Lord but from man’s stubborn inclination to do it his own way.
Jethro continued, “Be there for the people before God, but let the matters of concern be presented to God. Your job is to teach them the rules and instructions, to show them how to live, what to do. And then you need to keep a sharp eye out for competent men—men who fear God, men of integrity, men who are incorruptible—and appoint them as leaders…” (Exodus 18:14-21 MSG).
Jethro advised Moses to delegate his responsibilities. There will be times you are called to do the same with the tasks placed before you. God puts mentors, helpers, and burden-bearers in our lives to support us in the work He calls us to do. Before you burn out, look around for those helpers God may have sent your way.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. God designed us to be in community with one another, to help when we can, and to accept help when we need it.
So, what can you do to lighten your load?
Know your limits. Never let your schedule get so out of control that you can no longer manage it. Do a personal inventory. Are you getting enough sleep? Spending enough time with your children? Your significant other? Learn to recognize the physical, emotional, and mental warning signals your body emits at the brink of exhaustion.
Know God’s Will. God’s will is for you to “pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15 NKJV). It’s not to scramble around frantically to make sure every task is completed by the end of the day, wearing out both you and those around you. If you’re constantly living with an agitated heart, you are not in the center of God’s will.
Know when to quit. Jesus never spent his time and energy the way we do today. The Bible gives no indication that He worked around the clock. In fact, in many cases Jesus snuck off alone to pray and rest. Being in God’s will, Jesus was able to go to sleep without having healed and saved everybody in Israel.
Know what’s important. Knowing your priorities will help you accomplish more even when you feel as if you’re doing less. Effectiveness is not about quantity and getting a lot done; it’s about the quality of what you are doing and understanding that the Holy Spirit is ultimately responsible for multiplying your efforts.
I don’t know what you’re wrestling with in your life that might be too heavy for you to bear. But I do know that right now, somewhere in your life, some people are just waiting to be asked to help you. Maybe a friend can give you a break from care-giving responsibilities. Or a supervisor who will assure that your work gets done as you go through chemotherapy and radiation. Or a credit counselor who is waiting for you to call so that she can help you begin the journey back to financial health and freedom.
Only you know what’s weighing you down. But Jesus stands ready to help you figure out how to lighten the load and has placed people in your life to assist you. All you have to do is ask.
1. “Stress in the Workplace,” The American Institute of Stress. Available online at www.stress.org/Stress_in_the_workplace.htm.
2. Cited in John Schwartz, “Always on the job, employees pay with health,” New York Times, September 5, 2004.
3. John Schwartz, “Sick of work,” The New York Times, September 5, 2004.
4. Porter Anderson, “Study: U.S. employees put in most hours,” CNN.com, August 31, 2001. Available online at archives.cnn.com/2001/CAREER/trends/08/30/ilo.study