There’s one area of temptation that’s especially common but nearly unknown, says Harold L. Senkbeil. It’s acedia, and its sad results litter the wreckage of many a ministry.
Editor’s note: This month at GCD you will be seeing articles from our team of Staff Writers and other contributors on a handful of topics that Jonathan Edwards introduced in his own Resolutions. The aim of this series is to help you see how a gospel-formed resolution can help you flourish in your love for Christ and for others next year. Click here to see all articles in this series.
I could feel my eyes glazing over as she talked about how sick her dog was.
She was devastated, and I was really tired. I could feel my mind pulsing with each and every heartbeat. I was empty and dry, and at this point, any expectations of conversation would be like wringing out a dry towel. I knew my weariness was getting in the way of my attention at this benefit dinner.
I was still standing in this fancy dress and uncomfortable shoes only because I knew it was expected of me. On the inside, I was calculating every single moment in a process until I could leave and be in the comfort of my own home. I had nothing left.
When my car finally pulled into the driveway, I escaped to the haven of my room and turned on my floor fan, letting the cool air kiss my face. I turned on music to fill the empty space in my head. The air and lyrics filled my dry lungs with breath. Over the past few months, my eyes had become tired, drifting from the secure place of Jesus, and refocusing on my responsibilities. I was not dried out by momentary exhaustion, but exhaustion of the heart.
Can you identify with this kind of exhaustion? It’s when your own health and well-being becomes secondary to everything else. It’s the feeling that we have to sprint to even keep up, and breathing itself becomes a task.
The words “spirit” and “breath” are known to be interchangeable in Scripture. That’s fitting, because when we’re spending ourselves beyond our limit, typically we are not depending on the work of the Spirit. We’re short of breath and feel the need to anxiously count each one we take. We are limited when we’re not relying on the endless supply of the Spirit.
GIVE ME OIL
Throughout Exodus, God intricately instructs his people on how the tabernacle should be built. Every word has meaning, and every meaning has great purpose in pointing to Jesus.
One piece of furniture you’re probably familiar with is the golden lampstand (Ex. 25:31). I have heard about the lampstand, read about it, and seen photos of it. However, I was completely unaware of how much spiritual significance went into it.
When God talks about the creation of this beautiful source of light, he makes it clear that candles aren’t sufficient. Candles are wax, and wax burns itself. At the end of the day, a candle will burn its wax down until there is nothing left. The flame will go out.
In instructions found later in the Old Testament, God says “do not let the fire go out” countless times (Lev. 6:9-13). The symbolic flame found in this intimate meeting place was never to lose its light. It had to burn continuously.
Therefore, God asks for an oil-burning lampstand. An oil-burning flame doesn’t burn itself, but burns from an external source. An endless supply of anointed oil.
Similar to our source found in the Holy Spirit, God’s Word through this lamp echoes his everlasting sustenance given by the Spirit. His supply is our supply, and it is sustained only by intimate connection to his original source.
FUEL FOR YOUR STORY
God’s work in you is extraordinarily important. He created you with intention and detail. The working together of your history, your gifting, and his purpose becomes a beautiful thing called your story. It’s one of the most powerful tools used for salvation (Rev. 12:11) because it draws people in to listen to the sound of God’s marvelous grace.
However, we have to know how to steward these things. Our history typically holds some degree of brokenness and requires our willingness to stop, search, and be restored from past hurt or anger. Our gifting requires discipleship as we walk into situations and relationships where we’re asked to use these gifts to help someone else. Last, God’s fulfilled purpose requires both our patience and our trust. We have to walk willingly on a journey that is uncomfortable and unpredictable.
If you don’t lean into the strength and power of God for each of these things, you will burn out. Without the filling of the Holy Spirit, you are susceptible to resent your past, neglect your gifting, and ultimately miss God’s true purpose for you. You’ll lean into your own self-sufficient energy and burn yourself down. You’ll lose the brightness of your light, perhaps causing you and those around you to stumble.
3 WAYS TO CONNECT TO THE SOURCE
We don’t have to run ourselves into the ground, though. We can remember the source of our light through prayer, through biblical accountability, and the psalms.
We have to press into prayer, constantly checking our hearts. Is the gospel informing the way you live? Are you worried about things beyond your control? Does your life have margin for rest? Praying these questions and listening for God’s guidance can lead us towards deeper dependence on God, and less dependence on ourselves.
Biblical accountability is simply living along with people who can lovingly speak the truth when we need to hear it. If we’re walking in sin, it’s usually seen and felt by the people closest to us. Sin is easy enough to notice, whether it is rebellion, codependency, or self-sufficiency. But we need people around us who are willing to tell us they see it.
The Psalms have a way of speaking gentle conviction to our hearts, often saying the very things only our hearts know. The poetic crying out for rescue reminds us of our own need. I recognize what’s happening inside of me most when I read the Psalms.
We are called to have a light that burns in the darkest place, and that flame should continuously burn. If we are the fuel to the light we give off, we will burn down like candles and our light will go out. This makes us helpless to others and all ministry opportunities.
However, our flames will not lose their light if we are burning the inner fuel of the Spirit of God. This oil doesn’t run dry, and it radiates the most magnificent light.
Chelsea Vaughn (@chelsea725) is currently living in Nashville but has spent time in Texas, Thailand, and Australia. Obviously, travel is a passion, along with hours in the kitchen or across the table from good friends. She does freelance writing, editing, and speaking for various organizations and non-profits. She hopes to spend her life using her gift for communication to reach culture and communities with the love of Jesus.
MS. FRANTIC OR MS. REFLECTIVE?
Perhaps you’ve met Ms. Frantic. She arrives at the gym at 8:00 a.m. Hours later, she’s still pounding the treadmill, pumping iron, and powering away on the rowing machine, barely stopping to catch snatched sips from her water bottle. She looks exhausted, miserable, and ready to faint, but still she goes on. You ask her why she is doing this, and she replies, “Because I must.” When you press her, asking, “But, why must you?” she looks at you strangely, and impatiently exclaims, “I don’t know, I just must! There’s always more to do.”
Ms. Reflective also starts bright and early at 8:00 a.m., but she’s different. She uses the same machines and works equally hard at points, but not all the time. Every now and then, she enjoys a drink of refreshing cold water. Sometimes she pauses to look out the windows and simply watch the world go by. She laughs at the children splashing in the nearby swimming pool. She even spots a friend exercising and has time to wave, give a big encouraging smile, and sometimes chat.
Now ask yourself, “Which of these two images reflects how I live my life before God?” Am I Ms. Frantic or Ms. Reflective? Am I overworking and over-stressed, or am I taking time to think and to enjoy God’s world?
A MARTHA WORLD
“Women Are Working Themselves to Death,” warned a recent headline. It was based on a joint study by Ohio State University and The Mayo Clinic that compared almost eight thousand men and women over a thirty-two-year period and found that working over forty hours a week did serious damage to women’s health, causing increased risk of heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes. Working sixty or more hours a week tripled the risk of these conditions. Not surprisingly, the report’s lead author, professor Allard Dembe, warned: “People don’t think that much about how their early work experiences affect them down the road. . . . Women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are setting themselves up for problems later in life.” Unexpectedly, the risks are elevated only for women, not for men. Further analysis led the researchers to conclude that the greater risk to women is not necessarily because women are weaker but because they are doing so much more than men:
"In addition to working at a job, women often come home to a 'second shift' of work where they are responsible for childcare, chores, housework, and more, according to sociologists. All of this labor at home and at work, plus all the stress that comes along with it, is severely affecting women. Research indicates women generally assume greater family responsibilities and thus may be more likely to experience overload compared to men."
Professor Dembe also pointed to less job satisfaction among women because they have to juggle so many obligations at home as well. But this is not a problem just in the greater culture; it’s a problem in the Christian population too. A survey of over a thousand Christian women, sponsored by Christian Woman magazine, found that 60 percent of Christian women work full-time outside the home. Reflecting on this, Joanna Weaver, author of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, commented, “Add housework and errands to a forty-hour-a-week career, and you have a recipe for weariness.” But she also warned homemakers: “Women who choose to stay at home find their lives just as full. Chasing toddlers, carpooling to soccer, volunteering at school, babysitting the neighbor’s kids— life seems hectic at every level.” Maybe you’re now seeing Ms. Frantic in the mirror or hearing her in your heart and mind.
OUR INNER ORCHESTRA
Every Christian wants to know God more; few Christians fight for the silence required to know him. Instead, we spend our days smashing stillness-shattering, knowledge-destroying cymbals on our ears and in our souls. And with so many gongs and clashes in our lives, it can sometimes be difficult to isolate and identify them. So let me help you do this and then provide some mufflers.
First, there’s the din of guilt, the shame and embarrassment of our dark moral secrets: “I should have . . . I shouldn’t have . . . I should have . . . I shouldn’t have . . . ” clangs noisily in our deep recesses, shattering our peace and disturbing our tranquility.
Then greed starts banging away in our hearts with its relentless drumstick: “I want it. I need it. I must have it. I will have it. I got it. I want it. I need it.” And so on.
And what’s that angry metal beat? It’s hate stirring up malice, ill will, resentment, and revenge: “How could she . . . I’ll get him! She’ll pay for this!” Of course, anger often clatters into the cymbal of controversy, sparking disagreements, debates, disputes, and divisions.
Vanity also adds its proud and haughty thud, drowning out all who compete with our beauty, our talents, and our status. “Me up . . . him down, me up . . . her down, me up . . . all down.”
Anxiety tinkles distractingly in the background too, rapidly surveying the past, the present, and the future for things to worry about: “What if . . . What if . . . What if . . . ” And is that the little, silver triangle of self-pity I hear? “Why me? Why me? Why me?”
The repetitive and unstoppable jangle of expectation comes from all directions—family, friends, employer, church, and especially from ourselves. Oh, for even a few seconds of respite from the tyranny of other people’s demands and especially from our demanding, oversensitive conscience.
And smashing into our lives wherever we turn, we collide with the giant cymbals of the media and technology: local and international, paper and pixels, sound and image, audio and video, beep and tweet, notifications and reminders, and on and on it goes.
Is it any wonder that we sometimes feel as if we’re going mad? Clanking and clanging, jingling and jangling, smashing and crashing, grating and grinding. A large, jarring orchestra of peace-disturbing, soul-dismantling cymbals. Then.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
SILENCING THE CYMBALS
We can silence the cymbal of guilt by taking faith to the blood of Christ and saying, “Believe!” Believe that all your sins are paid for and pardoned. There’s absolutely no reason to have even one whisper of guilt. Look at that blood until you grasp how precious and effective it is. It can make you whiter than snow and make your conscience quieter than the morning dew.
Greed is not easily silenced. Maybe muffled is about the best we can expect. Practice doing with less than usual, practice not buying even when you can afford it, practice buying nothing but necessities for a time, and practice spending time in the shadow of Calvary. How much less you’ll find you need when you see how much he gave! Draw up your budget at the cross (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Our unholy anger can be dialed down by God’s holy anger. When we feel God’s hot rage against all sin and all injustice, we begin to chill and calm. Vengeance is God’s; he will repay.
The doctrine of total depravity is the ultimate dampener of personal vanity. When I see myself as God sees me, my heart, my mind, and even my posture change. I stop competing for the top spot and start accepting the lowest place. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Hey! I’m beginning to hear some quiet now. But there’s still that rankling anxiety tinkling away. Oh, to be free of that!
Yes, the fatherhood of God can turn the volume of anxiety to zero. He knows, he cares, and he will provide for your needs. Mute your “what-ifs” at the bird feeder (Matthew 6:25– 34). As mother-of-two Sarah told me, “Sometimes the things that can start to burn you out or cause you weariness are often things you can’t leave. Just because you’re feeling burned out by the responsibilities surrounding your husband and kids doesn’t mean you can just up and leave—sometimes not even just for an afternoon! Sometimes you just have to put your head down and persist—but at the same time it is important to take to our Father in heaven our emotions and weakness and weariness.”
Oh, and call in total depravity again when self-pity starts up. “Why me?” cannot stand long before “Why not me?”
“She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). Don’t you just love Christ’s words to Mary when she anointed his head? What an expectation killer! Every time the despotic Devil, other people, or your tyrannical conscience demands more than you can give, remind them of Jesus’s calming words, “She has done what she could.”
Content taken from Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
Shona Murray is a mother of five children and has homeschooled for fifteen years. She is a medical doctor and worked as a family practitioner in Scotland until she moved to the United States with her husband, David.
David Murray (DMin, Reformation International Theological Seminary) is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. He is also a counselor, a regular speaker at conferences, and the author of Jesus on Every Page.
 Jessica Mattern, “Women Are Working Themselves to Death, Study Shows,” Woman’s Day, July 5, 2016, http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/news/a55529 /working-women-health-risks/.
 MistiCrane,“Women’s Long Work Hours Linked to Alarming Increases in Cancer, Heart Disease,” Ohio State University, June 16, 2016, https://news.osu.edu/news/2016 /06/16/overtime-women/.
 Mattern, “Women Are Working Themselves to Death, Study Shows.”
 Joanna Weaver, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2000), 7.
 Part of this section was previously published in Tabletalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. Used by permission.