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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am service, 2007-01-07

Text: Isaiah 40:27-31

As the New Year has begun just 7 days ago, many of us have perhaps already started to make some New Year resolutions. The making of resolutions is a very good practice, because they help to keep us focused on things that we should be doing. For example, this year you may want to make a resolution to grow more in your Christian life, to be more fruitful for our Lord Jesus, or to invest more time and effort in the work of His kingdom. Perhaps you may resolve to get yourself trained and involved in evangelism or to study the Scriptures diligently. 

It is good to make spiritual resolutions such as these and to commit yourself to them while the year is still new and fresh. But please bear this in mind: It is another matter altogether to keep every resolution you make. For The question is, 'Will we really be able to keep them up all the way until the year ends?'

We can liken this to running a race. When you begin a race you are bound to feel very much enthused, motivated and spirited. At the moment you take off from the starting blocks you experience the euphoria of having seemingly boundless energy. You think that nothing can stop you as you sprint with all your might towards the finish line. But as you reach the half-way mark of the race the initial euphoria evaporates away. You begin to feel exhausted and weary. This slows down your pace. The race becomes very difficult to run. Now you feel like dropping out of it. Some call this feeling 'burnout.'

This can happen to you in your spiritual life. You begin well to run the race the Lord has called you to run. But after some time you become weary with running, and you begin to experience spiritual burnout. And although you try your utmost best to keep all your spiritual resolutions and commitments you simply do not have the drive or the strength to carry on. You hope against hope that you can somehow keep yourself going. But you can't keep it up for long because it really strains you, both spiritually and emotionally. 

You slow down, and after some time you feel like dropping out altogether from your spiritual pursuit. This brings you into a state of despair and discouragement. Dearly beloved, this experience of burning out can happen to anyone of us. Even the most exemplary ministers and missionaries in God's service have experienced moments of spiritual burnout. It can happen to you and it can happen to me. Perhaps some of us are already beginning to experience some degree of spiritual burnout. What can we do then to avoid it? To find the answer to this question we shall study a passage of Scripture given in Isaiah 40:27-31. 

The background of this passage is Isaiah's prophecy of the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon. This was part of the message of comfort that God gave to them, after the first 39 chapters of Isaiah had declared a message of God's righteous judgment that would come on the Jews for their sins in the form of exile from their homeland. Look at the first 2 verses of chapter 40 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.'

How comforting it must have been to all the Jewish exiles in Babylon when Isaiah�s comforting prophecy was fulfilled in the year 539 BC when King Cyrus of Persia released them from their captivity and that they could now return home. The book of Ezra records that 49,697 Jews returned to their homeland. 

But making this journey home was not easy at all for them. Imagine how difficult it was for families consisting of both young and old to travel a distance of over 1,400 km in 4 months, transporting themselves and all their belongings in their own wagons pulled by animals. And that was not the end of their trials: What was waiting for them at the end of their long arduous journey was not a nice comfortable bed to rest in, but an even bigger task of building towns and houses to dwell in and having to start from scratch to make a living in their own homeland. Although Israel was their homeland it had not been their home for 70 years. This was perhaps one reason why many Jewish families chose to remain in Babylon after the exile - they dreaded all the trials and difficulties that they would have to face in transplanting themselves back into their homeland. In comparison, families who transplant or migrate overseas today have a much easier time than them. We can travel by air within a matter of hours to the country we want to live in. We can purchase a house in a suitable neighbourhood to live in. 

And we can have our belongings transported over there for us by shipping companies. I think we can appreciate how difficult and trying it must have been for the Jews to return to Israel about 25 centuries ago. It is not surprising then that many of them would become very weary and discouraged along the way, and begin to show signs of both physical and spiritual burnout. If no preventive measures are taken, the initial excitement of seeing how God had answered their prayers and had fulfilled His promise to restore them from their captivity would soon give way to frustration, impatience, complaints and despair.

But our wonderful all-knowing God already knew that this would happen long before the Jews returned from captivity. That is why He included this passage of Scripture of Isaiah 40:37-41 in the prophecy about the end of the Babylonian exile, so that when the time came for the Jews to return, they could read it and learn how to make their journey back to rebuild their homeland without experiencing burnout. I believe that this passage must have sustained many among the returning 49,697 Jews until their God-given tasks were accomplished. What is written here in Isaiah 40 can also sustain God's people today as we carry out our own God-given tasks. I would like to derive 3 simple points that we can learn from here. Firstly:

I. Recognise the Cause of Spiritual Burnout

It is caused by having an inadequate perception of God. We will see this as we read v. 27 'Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God?' Because the journey from Babylon to Israel was so long there were probably moments of great difficulty and trouble for the returning Jews. And because they had neglected to wait upon the Lord, some of them developed a wrong perception of Him which led them to complain bitterly against Him: 'The Lord does not see our troubles. God does not care at all for our plight.' By these complaints they were bringing God down to their own level, thinking that He is either forgetful or that He had become tired of looking after them.

Now dear friends, have you sometimes complained about God in a way that is similar to these returning Jews? Perhaps there were times when you had entertained utterly discouraging thoughts - thoughts that you have been neglected or even forgotten by God. 

Perhaps you might even have blamed yourself for this. You thought that because of your sins the Lord does not give you any more care and attention. And you imagine that God has now forsaken you. If you do this, you are bringing Him down to your level, and you have a wrong perception of God. 

Do you know that every spiritual problem in life can ultimately be traced back to a single source: A wrong perception of God? For instance, those who do not rightly perceive God's holiness will tend to be careless about keeping themselves from sin. Those who do not rightly perceive God's power will tend to doubt His promises to deliver them. Those who do not rightly perceive God's faithfulness to His covenant promises will tend to do exactly what the returning Jews were doing - complaining that God had forsaken them.

Knowing this can help us now to recognize the ultimate cause of spiritual burnout - it starts from having an inadequate view of God. It begins when we wrongly imagine Him to be something that He is not! It is bad enough that we sometimes commit this error even with regard to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes a person you know does something quite unintentionally but you choose to interpret his actions in the worst possible way. As a result you end up drawing the wrong conclusions about him and also misrepresenting him to others. It is only after you have talked with him and cleared the air with him that you realize that what you had imagined about him was entirely inaccurate, and of course you apologise to him. 

Now, if you do the very same thing to God, the error is much worse. This is because you are not only misrepresenting Him, but you are also damaging the most important relationship in your life, the relationship from which all your spiritual strength and vitality springs. And if you persist in this wrong perception of God you will inevitably suffer from spiritual burnout! For example the wick of an oil lamp is made of combustible material, but it does not get burned as long as it keeps drawing oil from its supply. But if the supply line is cut off the fire has nothing left to burn except the wick itself, and soon you will see the wick turning black. It gets burned out.

What then should you do? From now on, every time you feel discouraged and distressed and you experience some spiritual setback or decline, please do a thorough check on your perception of God. You will probably find the root cause right there - in an inadequate perception of Him. And the way to know if your perception of God is adequate or not is to compare it with what God has revealed of Himself in the Scriptures. This brings us now to the next point for dealing with spiritual burnout:

II. Relate the Correct Perception of God to Your Difficulties

We shall look now at vv.28-29 'Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.' Here you will observe that Isaiah replies to the complaints of the returning Jews by reminding them of things that they had already known about the Lord. 

The 2 questions, 'Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard?' in v.28 imply that they were actually not ignorant of these truths. All the things about God in v.28 were not new to them. They already knew these things because God had already revealed them in His Word. The problem of the Jews was that they had failed to relate what they knew about God to their own difficulties and problems. Instead of doing this, they had used their own difficulties and problems to arrive at perceptions about God that were entirely unsound.

Dear friends, don't we sometimes do this very thing ourselves? Instead of beginning with what we know to be true of God from the Scriptures, we choose to begin with a wrong premise. Here is an example. If we start by saying, 'All suffering is bad' then when God allows us to suffer, we conclude that God must be bad. That is of course not the right conclusion. But if we start off from God's Word by saying, 'God is good' then when God does allow some difficulty into our life, the correct conclusion we would reach is that the difficulty we suffer must somehow be good (cf. Romans 8:28). 

We must therefore learn to relate all that we know about God from the Scriptures to every situation of life we face. For instance, v.28 tells us that God is everlasting - and this implies that He remains the same and will never change. We must then apply or relate this truth to our lives - His dealings with us never change: In the same way that God has shown His love, grace and mercy to His people before, He will consistently demonstrate that same love, grace and mercy to us who are His people today.

V.28 also mentions that He is the Creator of the ends of the earth, and that includes everything in between as well. He is therefore the rightful Owner and Ruler of all the world�s dominions. If you happen to be working in a place dominated by a terrible superior who does whatever he likes to you and no one seems to be able to stop him, you should relate this truth about God to your situation. No matter what oppression any human tyrant may inflict upon you, God who is the Creator of the ends of the earth is still in control above him. Thus he cannot do more to you than what God allows. Knowing this can remove all fear from your heart.

The next thing that we learn about God in v.28 is that He never faints or becomes weary. He continually upholds the whole of Creation by the word of His power. If God were to become weary for even one split second the whole fabric of nature would immediately disintegrate, universal chaos would set in, and all moral order would cease! How can you relate this truth about God to your life? By knowing that God is constantly watching over you and holding you. He never grows tired of keeping you. Not even the tiniest little detail about you escapes His attention. As the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 10:30, even 'the very hairs of your head are all numbered.' 

The next thing we see in v.28 is that there is no searching of His understanding. None can ever measure the depths of God's infinite wisdom! And this is one precious truth that you must relate to every circumstance of life you are in. With your own limited wisdom you may sometimes wonder why God has allowed an unexpected setback to happen to you. You cannot see at all how it can ever work out to your deliverance or for His glory. But knowing that God's ways are unsearchable, you can simply trust that He knows what He is doing, and that one day when you look back you will stand amazed to see what great wisdom there was in His mysterious ways!

The last thing mentioned about God is what He is able to give. V.29 tells us that He gives power to the faint and that He increases the strength of those who have no might. The strength mentioned here is not to be understood as physical strength. God does not transform us into superhuman Samsons that can singlehandedly defeat whole armies of Philistines! The strength that God gives is the willpower to keep doing His will even under the most trying circumstances of life. 

This truth is a constant source of joy and comfort that should help all of us to avoid spiritual burnout. Consider how Paul the apostle testified of this very thing in 2 Corinthians 12:9,10 when he prayed that God would remove his thorn in the flesh. But instead of granting Paul's request, the Lord answered, 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.' 

Is there anyone here this morning who is weak in the eyes of men because of your infirmities, because of reproaches, persecutions and distresses for Christ's sake? If this is true of you now thank God for it, for it gives you the unique opportunity to discover how sufficient His grace can be for you! You now have the unique opportunity to experience a strength that is not your own, so that Christ may demonstrate what His power can do in and through your life. If the life of the apostle Paul could become such a demonstration, so can yours. But there is something that you must do constantly in order to possess this strength from God. This brings us to the third and final point of our message. To avoid spiritual burnout you must:

III. Receive Constantly from God's Supply of Strength

This is the message of v.31 'But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.' The phrase 'to wait upon the Lord' must be understood correctly. To wait upon something is to attend to it. Psalm 145:15 tells us 'The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season.' The end of 2 Chronicles 13:10 says, 'and the Levites wait upon their business.' In both of these verses the idea is not just that of attending, but of regular, constant attending. 

Waiting upon the Lord therefore means spending time regularly in God's presence. In practical terms, we wait upon the Lord when we commune with Him through His Word and prayer. We should live our lives at all times in God's presence through His Word and prayer. King David who communed with God testified in Psalm 16:11, 'in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.' As you maintain such blessed communion with God everyday you will have an ever-flowing supply of the spiritual strength - The strength that you need to persevere and press onward no matter what difficulties and trials you face. 

This, dear friends, is the secret of living your Christian life successfully. And this is also the goal that we want to achieve this year for our Church - that every Lifer will commune with God personally, regularly, constantly and daily. Through doing this, we will then be able to live lives that are fully consecrated to our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why our church theme for this year is 'Toward Prayerful and Consecrated Living for Christ.' I trust that you have read about this theme in the weekly bulletin that you received last week, and that you will make this your goal as well.

I would now like to ask everyone here to make a firm commitment to wait upon the Lord. Please do not say that you don't have the time to do this. You must plan it into your daily schedule, because it is the source of your spiritual strength. If you do not make it a priority, you will not be able to last long in doing whatever God wants you to do for Him. If you are young please do not think that your youthful energy and can carry you through. As v.30 says, 'Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall.' If you do not wait upon the Lord you will eventually become very tired and frustrated. You may even burn yourself out and drop out of the race entirely!

But if you make the commitment to wait upon the Lord, there are 4 wonderful things that you can look forward to - Firstly, you will renew your strength. As we have seen earlier, this strength is the willpower to persevere in doing God's will even under the most trying and difficult circumstances of life. 

Secondly, you will mount up with wings as eagles. Your spiritual life will take take you upward to heights of glory that you have never known before! There are things of the spiritual realm that God has prepared for those who love Him that no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard and no heart has ever imagined. These are the deep things of God which are revealed to us by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9,10). 

Thirdly, you will run and not be weary. This run refers to the spiritual race that God calls every Christian to run - a race of endurance that can only be completed successfully by looking to Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1,2).

Fourthly, you will walk and not faint. This walk probably refers to the daily conduct and testimony of your life before the world, that will enable you to be a fruitful Christian, leading sinners to find salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ! 

Now that you have seen these 4 wondrous results of waiting upon the Lord, why do you still wait to commit yourself to do it?

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25