Question: Some of my minister friends say that they plan to ignore medical science and simply study the Bible and use prayer to prevent and recover from burnout. Which is right?
Answer: Several issues seem apparent in the above statement.
First, those who ignore medical science may be looking at the wrong issue. The question isn’t whether or not God will answer my prayers to protect me from burnout. Sometimes He answers prayers in a way that I expect, and sometimes not. That is His decision, not mine. God is not some cosmic butler who jumps to the whim of my every prayer. I pray continually, but I never control Him.
The important question is whether we should use medical science at all. Throughout life and ministry, I choose to use medical science in addition to prayer. Medical science has never invalidated my faith. God gives me everything, including medical science. The application of medical science merely represents rational self-care of the body with which He blesses me.
The bigger issue is whether or not I am willing to test God. While being tested in the wilderness, even Jesus refused to test God. Possibly we test God when we demand Him to heal us of a malady that we can easily correct with medical science. I sure do not want to risk testing God. Regardless my faith in God, I choose to avoid testing Him or risking the ministry to which He calls me.
Second, a huge number of factors affect susceptibility to burnout, and genetic factors are significant. So, two individuals exposed to the same stressors often react differently. You may be one of the fortunate few with a genetic resistance to burnout. However, are you willing to risk your ministry on that expectation? Is this something that is OK to risk?
Burnout results from the physical depletion of several chemicals in the brain. Medical research has revealed specific lifestyles that stimulate the brain to replenish those chemicals. Coincidentally, many of the burnout resistant lifestyles supported by medical science seem to promote the same lifestyles adopted in the Old Testament . So in this case, the Biblical examples and recent medical research seem to support each other. This isn’t a case of either or, but both are almost identical.
Third, I want to accomplish as much ministry work as possible. I can allow myself to grow susceptible to burnout by violating medical science, or I can make myself increasingly resistant to burnout so I can work even more and accomplish more. Personally, I love ministry and plan to do everything I can to enhance my ability to accomplish even more. Because I want to increase my effectiveness as much as possible, I choose to use the internet and a computer, restrict my diet to healthy food, build a strong social support network, build resistance to burnout, and pursue every avenue of technology and science possible that can increase my ministry effectiveness and longevity. And, I choose to pray continuously. How about you?
Rational self-care simply means that I choose to honor the science and knowledge with which He blesses me, and I choose to avoid testing Him. Anyone who says that I don’t trust Him does not really know me. I know (and God knows) that I still believe in Him and trust Him to keep me physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.
A close friend of mine died of a heart attack this year. A few years ago, his doctor prescribed medicine to control his cholesterol, but he refused to take it. Some would state that his days were numbered and “up.” Regardless, God let him choose to accept or reject medical knowledge. My friend’s choice possibly cut his ministry shorter than necessary. I miss him greatly.
I feel so honored to engage in ministry that I cannot imagine choosing to risk it. And as I write this article, I can’t help but reflect about and repent of the ways that I sometimes risk my calling. What are some ways that you risk your calling?
The book “Rebound from Burnout: Resilience Skills for Ministers” provides a fairly detailed discussion about the lifestyles supported by medical science and the Old Testament. This well-researched book is available at www.createspace.com/3854604 and on Amazon.com. And because I want to help my younger brothers who use technology even more than me, it is also available on Kindle. (:
Please read our webpages on Burnout to learn more.