Burn Out Brighter


Have you ever played with a sparkler? The kind you put on birthday cakes? As a kid they both terrified and fascinated me. I loved it when a friend had them at their party.

The thing with sparklers though is that they were kind of anti-climactic when they ended. I mean, they were pretty and all, but as they burned down towards the end of the stick they just kind of fizzled out.

I always wanted more from my sparklers. I wanted them to burn out brighter. I wanted them to be more like the big fireworks display at the Fall Fair that ended with this giant crescendo of concussive explosions and color. It was intense, powerful, and beautiful.

I want to be the fireworks display, not the sparkler.

While I was taking my ministry degree, one of the things that we were warned of was burn out. We were taught that we needed to have clear boundaries, and to guard our hearts. We were warned that if we did not take care of our souls, we would pay the price.

This is incredibly true. We absolutely need to take care of our souls. But I found that what we discussed in the dorm after class was more fear-based and self-protective.

We would share stories of pastors we knew that hit the wall of burn out, and whose lives fell apart. There were stories of whole Churches collapsing because a pastor worked too hard, too long, and others paid the price. 

A lot of those stories are true, and they rightfully invoked fear and caution as I entered ministry. But the side-effect of that fear of burn out was that I ended up self-limiting what God could do in and through me. 

My boundaries are important, and I still make sure that I maintain them, but I have to admit that boundaries often masked excuses for not doing more. 

I had my lines and excuses that would sound very spiritual, but at the end of the day, they were excuses. Here's a few common lines I'd say to myself and others.

1. "I just need some more "me" time." 
This is code for "I want to watch the new episode of Community."

2. "I just don't think I have anything more in me."
But I do have enough in the tank to hammer out a game of Civilization.

3. "That's just a little beyond my role/scope."
I just don't want to do it.

4. "I just have a lot on my plate right now."
And by plate, I mean my literal plate. It's perogies. Perogies are on my plate.

5. "I'll spend some time thinking and praying about it."
AKA, probably not gonna happen unless you force me to.

I'd give one of these lines, and then I would spend more time than I care to admit doing absolutely nothing.

I have wasted so much of my time already. I don't want to waste any more. I want to burn out brighter. 

I don't mean that I want to work myself to the point of not having anything left for my family. I don't mean that I will say yes to absolutely everything in my life. But I want to do more for Jesus, and I want to do more for the Kingdom. 

Hear me when I say that I know burn out is a very real thing. I have seen it too often and know the realities of not tending your soul. And there have been times where I have said the lines above in complete honesty, because it was the truth. But too often I used those lines as an excuse to be selfish. I used those lines for myself and my own benefit, not for the Kingdom.

I want to live passionately, rather than passively. For me, that means committing to turning off my phone when I'm at home and being completely present with my family. That means finding ways to work faster so I can do more during the day. That means pouring more into those around me so the impact of my work will be amplified. 

And as I get older I want to do more. More for my family, more for Jesus, more for the Church. I want my capacity to grow.

And since I first started in ministry my capacity has grown. I have developed more skills, and am more efficient than I was, so I can do more. But I want my capacity to grow more. I want to live like Paul describes in Colossians, where I work strenuously with all the energy Christ gives me.

That's the difference. I can't do more out of my own strength. I can't. But Jesus can.

I've seen it time and time again. Right when I think I can't handle any more, right when I think I'm going to collapse inside myself from the stress, He swoops in and rescues me.

I need to keep my soul close to Jesus, so that my capacity can grow, so that the impact of my life will change the next. I need to protect my soul so that I can spend it all for Him. 

And that means having clear boundaries, and taking care of my soul well so that I have more to give. If I try to lead from an empty tank I will quickly find destructive burn out, or I'll fizzle to an end like a sparkler. I don't want to burn out that way.

I don't want to finish the race hobbling or meandering across the finish line. I want to run hard, until I no longer have breath. 

I want to finish strong, burning brighter, in a beautiful and powerful display of God's glory in my life until my last breath.

I want to burn out brighter.