You probably know someone who isn’t coping well with the demands of our high-paced life. That person might be you! Take heart, you’re not alone.
Employee burnout is on the rise globally, with the World Health Organization predicting a global pandemic within the next decade. Competing for market share in our global economy requires more hours of harder work (with the same pay). What makes it worse is that our smart-phones and communication devices have opened the door for work (and the associated stress) to follow us home, taking hostage what once was our place of rest and refreshing.
Early on in my working life I experienced the reality of emotional and spiritual burnout after juggling a career, a church plant and studies, being newly married with a medical student. For the first three years I coped well with the pressure, but as my responsibilities increased, emotional and spiritual fatigue set in. Through a melt-down in my office I learned the hard way that one’s output cannot exceed one’s input indefinitely; we have to live a balanced life to ensure healthy sustainability.
Last year I was deeply inspired by Trevor Hudson and Jerry Haas’s book “The Cycle of Grace, Living in Sacred Balance.” This powerful lesson from the rhythms of Jesus was first discovered and published by Dr Frank Lake.
As Psychiatrist Lake worked closely with the British Missionary Society to India and was disturbed by the number of well-trained, well-supported missionaries who sailed off with clear sense of purpose to India, only to return within a few months, showing signs of emotional and spiritual burn-out in depression, cynicism and disillusionment.
Dr Lake connected with Prof Emil Bunner, a renowned Swiss theologian, and together they studied the Gospels asking the question: why did Jesus of Nazareth not show signs of emotional and spiritual burnout during his intense mission? What Lake and Brunner discovered together was that Jesus lived a life of dynamic balance of receiving grace and giving grace – which Hudson calls The Cycle of Grace.
The Cycle of Grace
ACCEPTANCE. Lake and Brunner accentuated the fact that Jesus only started his ministry after receiving the acceptance and affirmation of his identity from his Father (Mark 1:11). His life was lived from the secure platform of being “God’s Beloved Son”, one who pleased his Divine Father. Jesus started his work as one who was at peace, free from the enslavement of striving to please anyone. He was secure in that his identity and approval was a gift of grace from his Father who loved him.
The authors for the New Testament frequently celebrate the truth that every believer share this platform of grace with Jesus our Lord: we too “are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” (Colossians 3:12). In which way have you embraced your identity as God’s chosen, holy and beloved one?
SUSTENANCE. The gospels reveal in Jesus’ life habitual practices in which he sustained his identity as being “God’s Beloved Son”. Jesus would regularly withdraw to spend time alone in prayer with his Father. He would regularly worship with other believers in local synagogues and the temple. He surrounded himself with close friends where he could be vulnerable – the disciples and people like Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He had a very social life, being at home with whoever invited him over for dinner parties so that he was labelled “a glutton and wine-bibber!” (Luke 7:34). Whenever Jesus opened his mouth he spoke truths from Scripture and Kingdom observations from nature, showing that Jesus studied both these to see his life in light of God’s providential care and direction.
As Trevor Hudson notes, I too find it extremely comforting that my Lord Jesus also needed to order his life in such a way to receive sustaining grace from God his Father. How do you order your life to receive grace from God to sustain your pace of living?
SIGNIFICANCE. Jesus understood his significance in God’s purpose. Before he sought to do the Father’s will, he accepted what he was meant to be in the Father’s will. Jesus’ favourite title for himself, is “the Son of Man” – an Old Testament reference to the coming Messiah who would receive universal, everlasting dominion (ref: Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus knew what he was meant to be in this world, not just what he was meant to do. He understood that more than doing things for God, he himself was a sign of God’s grace to this world – in a unique sense. Other names by which Jesus described his role in this world was with his “I am”-statements in John, describing his way of relating and giving grace.
Each of us has a God-given desire for significance. A friend of mine pictures her unique way of being as a chandelier, creating space under and around her for the Light of God to bring clarity, comfort, peace and hope. My way is being like a water-bearer, bringing God’s encouragement and strength where I go. Hudson describes his significance of being a healing conversationist. You too have a unique way of being. Can you articulate in which way are you a sign of God’s grace to this world?
FRUITFULNESS. Lake and Brunner called this phase in the Cycle of Grace “achievement”, but Hudson prefers fruitfulness to highlight the work of God’s grace in producing results. How did Jesus produce fruit? His highly productive ministry was characterised by announcing God’s reign, demonstrating it with miracles and healings, and teaching about the Kingdom of God. He was always accepting of the women, children, foreigners and all “sinners” that were culturally ostracized. His ministry was highly transformational of individuals (eg. Zacchaeus, the Samaritan Women and the “Legion” the Gadarene) and communities, but most of his time and attention was in discipleship or mentorship of his chosen disciples.
We too are called and graced to be fruitful. In which ways do you distribute the grace of God given to you?
The Cycle of Works
After discovering Jesus’ balanced life in the Cycle of Grace, Lake and Brunner understood the reason for the burn-out of the British missionaries to India: they burned out because they operated in the cycle of works. After obeying their call to foreign mission, preparing well in seminary, these passionate ministers worked tirelessly, compelled to achieve tangible results that proved their significance in God’s mission, working hard to sustain the fruit of their labour in the hope of being affirmed and accepted as real missionaries, true believers and worthy sons and daughters of God. And their striving for results that validate caused burn-out. It always does.
The Cycle of Works will forever enslave one to work harder for approval and acceptance. The Cycle of Grace will always empower one to confidently work, and even take risks, knowing that one’s worth and identity is secure.
Are you ready to step deeper into the Cycle of Grace, following in the footsteps of Jesus our Lord? Accept Jesus’ invitation to follow his way of life, the rhythms he set in place to ensure his input and output stay in balance.
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
 Sarah Tottle, Dropping like flies: the rise of workplace burnout and how to tackle it, The Conversation, 28 October 2016. http://theconversation.com/dropping-like-flies-the-rise-of-workplace-burnout-and-how-to-tackle-it-67494
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