As my little Kia puttered to the side of the road, I was . . . frustrated, to say the least. I generally get 25 MPG out of this sweet ride, but now it wouldn’t go another mile. The fuel gauge revealed that, yes, even a Kia can run out of gas.
My car wouldn’t go anywhere without gas, so I made the half-mile trek to the nearest convenience store. I was hoping to sneak in and sneak out of the store without drawing a lot of attention to myself, but I couldn’t find a gas can. I quietly got the attention of the lady behind the counter and asked if they had any gas cans. Rather loudly, she assured me, “Yeah! We’ve got lots of tanks in the back!”
Everyone stared. They knew that I didn’t need it for my lawnmower. I was the joker holding up traffic.
The gas can was twenty-bucks.
Out at the fuel pump, things went from bad to worse. Gasoline went everywhere as I tried to fill up my miniature gas can. By the time I actually got fuel into the thing, I smelled like I had bathed in gasoline, anointed with the perfume of petroleum.
I hiked the half-mile back to the car carrying my mini gas can. People continued to stare. Some honked. Some waved at me with one finger. I felt like a celebrity on my way to rehab.
And wouldn’t you know it, when I got back to my car a police officer pulled up right behind me and turned on his lights. He, of course, was just doing his job making sure that no one smashed into the back of my Kia while I filled it up with gas. I smiled and gave him a big “thumbs up.” He smiled back. The joke was on me.
In that moment, strangely enough, Jesus began to talk to me.
“This is a lot like people’s spiritual life, isn’t it, Seth? People neglect their relationship with Me and experience spiritual burnout.”
“Hey, that’s good. That would make a great illustration for my lesson Wednesday,” I said rather proudly of my new found insight.
“This is a lot like your spiritual life, isn’t it, Seth?”
“Uh . . . I . . . uh,” I stammered.
Jesus revealed that, yes, even a youth pastor can run out of gas.
He continued speaking the truth in love, pointing out the comparisons between this incident and my spiritual life. If you have the time, I’d like to share a few of the comparisons with you.
Take, for instance, the reliable fuel-efficient Kia. I never thought it would run out of gas, but it did. It’s basic, I know, but no matter how reliable the car is, it will run out of gas if it goes long enough without someone filling it up. Is it possible for faithful spiritual leaders to run themselves ragged until they are empty and have no more to give? I think so, or rather, I know so. As a leader, I must remember to set time aside to seek God and to allow Jesus to minister to me.
Filling up with gasoline is also an easy thing to do. It’s so simple it can be easy to neglect – much like prayer. The Holy Spirit is not gasoline, obviously, but if I don’t pray, I’m useless. Oh, I might think I’m effective, but in reality I’m relying on myself and not the leading of the Spirit. If I neglect prayer for too long, I will burnout.
Once I burnout my spiritual life requires more attention than normal in order to feel refreshed. Like the long walk to the convenience store, it will take more time. Like the expensive gas can, it will cost me more. I may need to take a spiritual retreat for a few days to deal with spiritual exhaustion. Worse case, I may even need to stop ministering for a while. Regular upkeep of a spiritual life is simple, but getting back on track after a burnout requires more than a normal routine.
What’s more, spiritual burnout is embarrassing. Leaders do a lot of work, so when we are unable to continue progress we hold up traffic; and everyone stares. The emergency personnel (pastors, mentors, spiritual leaders, moms) always show up to make sure everything is okay. They have to do their job, and we love them for it; we just wish it was someone else they were helping. We don’t want to be seen as weak. Weakness is embarrassing.
But take heart: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. . . . The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:28). “[His] grace is sufficient for [us], for [His] power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore [let’s] boast all the more gladly about [our] weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on [us]” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
Burnout is not the end of the world. It reveals our weakness and utter dependence on Christ. We are all fallible creatures. Just get up, fill up, get back on the road, and keep going. Remember even a Kia can run out of gas if no one takes the time to fill it up with fuel. The issue isn’t with the Kia – it’s taking the time to fill up.