Help for Battling Burnout
Care to guess which chapel-message video posted on the DTS website always generates the most traffic? It’s not about conflict in the Middle East. It’s not one of our counseling professors talking about sex and marriage. And it’s not one of our theology professors discussing whether America will have an army in the Battle of Armageddon. It’s about preventing burnout.
Many of us have experienced “the crash,” and almost all of us have seen it in others—the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, along with the doubts about our competence and contributions. Maybe we’re critical, depressed, and lethargic. And the problem is at least as old as Moses, a man who was at risk for a big fall until he listened to wise counsel.
In Exodus 18, we read about how Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, a priest of Midian, returned the prophet’s wife and sons to him in what was probably an unexpected visit. After hearing all God had done for Moses and his people, Jethro sacrificed to Moses’s Lord. He acknowledged that his son-in-law’s deity was greater than all gods (v. 11).
The next day, however, Jethro’s mood changed. Why? He observed that Moses was sole judge over six hundred thousand men (12:37), or approximately two million people. Imagine a city with Houston’s population having one judge for all city, county, state, and federal cases.
Rather than openly objecting to the way his daughter’s husband conducted business, the diplomatic Jethro asked two questions: “What is this you are doing for the people?” and “Why do you alone sit as judge?” (18:14). He apparently asked so gently that Moses detected no criticism. Notice the justification in his answer: “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will . . . . I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws” (vv. 15–16).
Moses seemed to think he alone could give correct answers. And Jethro said that was “not good” (v. 17). He went on to give three warnings: you’ll wear out, the people will wear out, and you can’t do it alone (v. 18).
Fortunately for Moses, Jethro was not the kind of person to lodge a criticism without offering a solution. So he added this advice: “Teach them . . . . But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” Jethro argued that if Moses followed this counsel, he would “be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” Perhaps even more amazingly, Moses was humble enough to do “everything he said” (vv. 20–24).
Jethro had been a believer in the true God for less than one day when he offered his advice to Moses. Yet Moses was wise enough to receive it, acknowledge that Jethro was right, and start divesting himself of the workload.
Sometimes, for everyone to benefit, we have to let good things go. We must acknowledge we need help, learn to say “no,” and discern that it’s time to stop before we crash and burn.