Are You Tired of Being a Christian?

How to turn your exhausting religion into an enjoyable relationship

“If my activism, however well-motivated, drives out love, I am stuck with law, not the gospel of grace. then I have misunderstood Jesus’ gospel.” 

Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Depleted Yet Applauded

Have you ever met someone who is more interested in complaining about being exhausted than they are in receiving help? Burnout is the red badge of courage for some Christians. They would rather live depleted yet applauded than refreshed and balanced. A balanced life is not as attractive to them because it often goes unnoticed.  

What is the draw of exhaustion? It is where you find your justification to complain, compare, and criticize when you are stuck in a religious performance trap. It causes you to feel protected from criticism when you fall short. “How could I have done anything wrong? Look at how hard I work!” 

It also re-enforces your offense when you do not get what you think you deserve. “Why are they being promoted instead of me? I have cooked and cleaned while they have wasted time instead of working!”

Martha, Did You Know?

What did Mary know in Luke 10:38-42 that Martha did not?

A “Martha” measures her prayers, Bible reading, and serving. Her spiritual speedometer makes it easier to determine what she deserves and what others do not. The problem with this practice is you never really know what is going on with others behind closed doors. That is God’s business and not yours.

A “Mary” may seem to neglect some things, but she does not lose sight of the most important thing. Her reward is not in getting recognized, but rather in experiencing the pleasure of God’s presence. She usually ends up getting both.

It can be hard to see someone receive more for doing less, but that is not what this is all about. If things really were fair none of us would like what we got. 

I used to be a Martha myself. I took pride in having a hard time resting. I always felt I needed to be doing something. “I must be more committed than others,” I thought, “because I do not even enjoy taking a break.” 

This line of thinking should be a red alert on the dashboard of your spiritual life. It is not a medal of accomplishment you hang proudly around your neck. It reveals a restless soul that is not at peace.

The Performance Trap

As I have said before, you should value your position in Christ over your performance for Christ. When you over-emphasize performance, you end up getting less of it. Eventually, this leads to religious burnout. 

The Christian performance trap wants you to believe it is unspiritual to ever say no to spiritual things. The reality is, it is not spiritual to always say yes to more. It is more spiritual to say, “yes” to your priorities, the things God has asked you to do, and “no” to good things that take you away from those things.

Religious Formulas

Your good works should be motivated by your love relationship with Jesus and not a spiritual reward system. You make God your debtor when you work hard because you think He will bless you with what you want at the end of your labors (position, recognition, etc.).

Religious formulas like this can also influence how you pray and navigate problems. For example, “If I pray or do this, and have enough faith, then God will do that.” This mindset boxes God in to only what you can understand. It offers a easy fix to your problems that resembles a “get rich quick” scheme. The problem is, you inevitably become discouraged in your relationship with God when things do not work out the way you thought they would. 

All of this adds an unnecessary weight to your spiritual journey. 

It can be hard to follow the Holy Spirit day-to-day instead of trusting in things that bring immediate comfort. Checking off a box seems easier than checking-in with God. The box does not challenge us or require waiting. Even so, we should always choose a relationship with a living God over dead religious formulas. 

A Labor of Love

Exhaustion often begins with passion, zeal, and good intentions. You may be able to lift something you were never meant to carry, but you will drop it before you reach your destination. Lay down your heavy burden of burnout Christianity and take up the yoke of Christ. It is easy and light. It is a labor of love.

The Test of Faith During a Pandemic

How to Respond to a Spiritually Dry Season

Has your spiritual life suffered during the pandemic? Recent studies (1, 2) show there has been a significant drop in the number of believers who read the Bible daily during the COVID-19 Outbreak. On the other hand, non-believers are searching for God more than ever (3). I believe this shows both the promise and the problems of walking through a wilderness season in your faith.

Have you ever been in a spiritually dry season? You know, those times when your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling instead of making their way to heaven. You do not need a pandemic to experience this. It is something many of us go through at one time or another. Maybe you are in a similar situation now. If so, you are not alone.

Does God Lead Us To The Desert?

God lead the nation of Israel into the wilderness immediately after delivering them from Egypt. The desert was used to transform them from captives to conquerors.

The Spirit also led Jesus into the wilderness immediately after his baptism before his public ministry began. 

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Matthew 4:1 ESV

Then there is this verse in Hosea.

“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.”

– Hosea 2:14 NLT

Here we see God not only leads into the wilderness, but there is also the reward of Intimacy with Him there.

We should be careful not to ask God to take us out of somewhere He has led us into for His purposes. The wilderness seasons of life can cause us to feel alone and overlooked. These are not times when God had forgotten us but are when He has isolated from other things so we can focus on him.

The wilderness can be painful. We just want the desert to end. Here are three things I have learned to pray while in a spiritually dry season.

3 Prayers for the Desert

Ask God to show you what He would like you to learn

…instead of praying for Him to get you out of your circumstances.

I used to pray, “God, get me out!” When things got tough. Now, I know when I want to do this, it is always an alert God is up to something. Sometimes, the lesson is finding peace in waiting or redefining what success looks like. Other times God puts new tools in my hands I didn’t know I needed. It takes time to learn them before I can begin to see the benefits they can bring. 

Ask God to draw you closer to Him and make you more like Him

…instead of praying for things to God back to the way they were.

It can appear there is not much good we can take from some seasons of life. Thank God those are so few. But even in the darkest times, we can take away some good. That is because, in everything, God is always bringing us closer to Him and making us more like Him. We need to be open to the process. 

Ask God to prepare you for what he wants to give

…instead of asking why He has taken so much away.

Before God can provide us with what He wants us to have, we must be willing to make room by letting go of what we already have. The wilderness is the perfect place for this to happen.

The discomfort of the wilderness is mostly from detoxing even though we may feel like it is from a lack of something want. The desert causes us to lean on God in areas we have we have substituted with other things. The side effects of not having those things meet our needs on a surface level will soon be replaced by the satisfaction of allowing God to do a deeper work in us.

An Oasis in Every Desert

When life gets rough, we can still have some of the most tender moments with God. The intimacy that results from the wilderness is one of the main reasons we can always leave those seasons with gratitude.

There are other results from God leading us into the wilderness that can be found in Hosea as well.

“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.”

Hosea 2:15 NLT

The wilderness is not about God sending harm our way to purify us or make us better. He is not the author of bad news but He can turn our bad news into good news when we put our trust in Him. The wilderness is a season where God intentionally allows our lives to be stripped down in a way that may make us uncomfortable at the moment, but if we press through with our eyes on Him, He will bring us through a transformation we can be thankful for as a result. 

What are some lessons you have learned from the wilderness? What tips would you give a friend is you knew they were about to enter a desert season?

*Sources:

  1. https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2020/07/22/pandemic-has-people/
  2. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/state-of-bible-reading-coronavirus-barna-abs.html
  3. https://www.lightworkers.com/pandemic-has-led-to-reading-the-bible/

This content is an excerpt from my mini-book, The Case for Following Your Heart, and originally appeared on my blog June 2019.

Digging Ditches

Inspiration to Reach Your Mountaintop

By: Suzannah Driver

What could go wrong?

If you can do any other job other than church planting and pastoring, do that!” Joe and I looked at each other and joined the chuckles coming from other future church planters sitting in the room. We had a combined twenty-two years of ministry under our belts and knew God had called us to plant a life-giving church in Pensacola, Florida. So, what could go wrong?! The short answer is: Everything

Nearly three years into leading and pastoring Echo Life, I think back on the cautionary statement spoken to the eager church planters. Would we have ever chosen a different route? No. We know through and through this is exactly where we are supposed to be and what we are called to be doing. But this has single-handedly been the most challenging and difficult three years we have experienced in ministry. 

Reaching the Summit

Mount Fuji, though it is a mere 12,388 feet tall, is no joke. I have had the opportunity to summit this mountain twice. On both occasions, we began the ascent at midnight, guided only by our headlamps and a small, braided cord leading to the top. The climb is virtually straight up. The terrain is made up of unstable pumice stones. The air is thin, making it difficult to breathe. Most of my climb was alone, in the dark, feeling light-headed, stumbling my way up, and rolling my ankles at least 30 times. This is also church planting. 

I would love to say that everything has been a beautiful mountaintop experience, but that would be so far from the truth. It has been a lonely uphill climb full of bumps and bruises. For several months now, I have felt like I have been struggling up a mountain and have only seen the light of day for a moment. This is the kind of discouragement that leaves you sitting on your laundry room floor weeping and asking God if this really was the right move (by the way, the enemy is a jerk and loves to kick you while you’re down. Don’t pay any attention to the thoughts you have in these dark moments. Find a friend who can share a light with you and show you that you are still moving in the right direction). 

Kings Digging Ditches

As I have been fighting my way through the deep, dark, discouragement, my time with Jesus has landed me in 2 Kings 3. Three kings have come together to fight against Moab and they find themselves wandering in the desert and completely out of water. They call for a prophet and Elisha shows up on the scene and gives them a word. “Dig ditches all over the valley.”

I imagine these kings looked at each other in disbelief. Surely they knew about the exodus story (kind of a big deal). They knew God had provided water from a rock, manna from heaven, so surely He could do it again! But no, God instructs the people to…digditches.

This is the desert. The sun beating down, the tools are primitive. The prophet continues, “You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water…This is easy for God to do; he will also hand over Moab to you.” (2 Kings 16-19 MSG) 

Can you imagine crying out to God for help and then Him telling you to do some back-breaking work in the desert. “Dig ditches.” How many? How deep? For how long? When is the rain showing up again? How are these going to be filled? The people had no answers but instead had an opportunity to operate in faith and obedience. 

Filling Up the Valley

Like many other believers and pastors, I am in a season of digging ditches. I am asking God for provisions, and I know He will provide, but the nagging question of when and how make faithful obedience even more difficult. Add to that the age of social media and I’m over here looking at other churches wondering why they got the provisions and I’m still having to dig with no end in sight.

This is where I have been the last several months. Many days of tears, frustration, anger, and feeling abandoned by God. Then I remember, “ You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water…this is EASY for God to do…” My responsibility is to be faithful. My responsibility is to obey. My responsibility is to dig in where I am placed and not check to see whose ditch is already finished. 

Maybe you’ve been digging for weeks, months, or years. Maybe you feel like your ditch is significantly deeper than the people around you. Maybe God is preparing you to be a well of great depth for future generations. Maybe He is preparing you for far more than you could ever imagine. Don’t give up! Don’t keep looking for the wind and rain, but know and believe that He is faithful. He sees you. He will answer you! Keep digging! You are not alone. 

Suzannah Driver

You can follow Suzannah on social media at @SuzannahDriver. You can find out more about the church she pastors along with her husband Joe in Pensacola, Florida, at echolifechurch.com.

The Case for the Wilderness

3 Prayers for the Desert 

Have you ever been in a dry season spiritually? Can you remember the last time you walked through what seemed to be a wilderness? Maybe you are in a similar situation now. If so, you are not alone.

Does God Lead Us To The Desert?

God lead the nation of Israel into the wilderness immediately after delivering them from Egypt. The desert was used to transform them from captives to conquerors.

The Spirit also led Jesus into the wilderness immediately after his baptism before his public ministry began. 

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Matthew 4:1 ESV

Then there is this verse in Hosea.

“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.”

– Hosea 2:14 NLT

Here we see God not only leads into the wilderness, but there is also the reward of Intimacy with Him there.

We should be careful not to ask God to take us out of somewhere He has led us into for His purposes. The wilderness seasons of life can cause us to feel alone and overlooked. These are not times when God had forgotten us but are when He has isolated from other things so we can focus on him.

The wilderness can be painful. We just want the desert to end. Here are three things I have learned to pray while in a spiritually dry season.

3 Prayers for the Desert

Ask God to show you what He would like you to learn

…instead of praying for Him to get you out of your circumstances.

I used to pray, “God, get me out!” When things got tough. Now, I know when I want to do this, it is always an alert God is up to something. Sometimes, the lesson is finding peace in waiting or redefining what success looks like. Other times God puts new tools in my hands I didn’t know I needed. It takes time to learn them before I can begin to see the benefits they can bring. 

Ask God to draw you closer to Him and make you more like Him

…instead of praying for things to God back to the way they were.

It can appear there is not much good we can take from some seasons of life. Thank God those are so few. But even in the darkest times, we can take away some good. That is because, in everything, God is always bringing us closer to Him and making us more like Him. We need to be open to the process. 

Ask God to prepare you for what he wants to give

…instead of asking why He has taken so much away.

Before God can provide us with what He wants us to have, we must be willing to make room by letting go of what we already have. The wilderness is the perfect place for this to happen.

The discomfort of the wilderness is mostly from detoxing even though we may feel like it is from a lack of something want. The desert causes us to lean on God in areas we have we have substituted with other things. The side effects of not having those things meet our needs on a surface level will soon be replaced by the satisfaction of allowing God to do a deeper work in us.

An Oasis in Every Desert

When life gets rough, we can still have some of the most tender moments with God. The intimacy that results from the wilderness is one of the main reasons we can always leave those seasons with gratitude.

There are other results from God leading us into the wilderness that can be found in Hosea as well.

“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.”

Hosea 2:15 NLT

The wilderness is not about God sending harm our way to purify us or make us better. He is not the author of bad news but He can turn our bad news into good news when we put our trust in Him. The wilderness is a season where God intentionally allows our lives to be stripped down in a way that may make us uncomfortable at the moment, but if we press through with our eyes on Him, He will bring us through a transformation we can be thankful for as a result. 

What are some lessons you have learned from the wilderness? What tips would you give a friend is you knew they were about to enter a desert season?

Burned Out on Church?

5 Books to Read if You Are Burned Out

Your church should be a place that refreshes you and gives you the opportunity to refresh others as well. Even in the best environments we can get caught up in what we are doing and lose sight of the why behind it. In general, it’s just a good idea to take time to refresh your soul. If you find yourself in this place, or maybe you have given up on church entirely, then here are five books that may encourage you from those who have walked through similar experiences.

Pharisectomy: How to Joyfully Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases by Peter Haas

The name gives you a good indicator of what you can expect from this book. It is irreverent, hilarious, and packed with insightful research and biblical clarity on healthy and unhealthy church culture. I was surprised by how much I laughed out loud reading this book. It’s a good thing it keeps you chuckling because the smiling provides an excellent anesthetic for the heart surgery that will take place as you read this book.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning

Someone asked me recently what my all-time favorite book was. This is definitely a contender for first place. Rich Mullins credits the message of this book with changing his life, but only after first resisting it. This was the same for me. I came across this book for the first time over 15 years ago, but my religious mindset at the time caused me to reject it. I sometimes wonder if exploring this book then may have saved me a lot of heartache. On the other hand, the lost time has only increased my appreciation for this simple message of grace.

In this book, Brennan artfully confronts the destructive falsehood of manmade religion with brilliant strokes of grace. It is tweetable, readable, and utterly unforgettable. It is packed with stories of brokenness and redemption, including his own. The Ragamuffin Gospel is a balm to any broken heart that desires more of God and less of man-made religion.

Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

Toxic Faith could be a textbook in a class on how to recover from church burnout. It takes a spiritual and psychological approach to revealing the cause and solution to a toxic faith, as well as church burnout, in a believers life. If you are interested in a Christ-centered and psychological approach to understanding how to get out of a religious rut, then this book is for you. Toxic Faith has given me the language to discuss ministry burnout and how to recover from it more than any other resource.

Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey

This book took me completely by surprised and redirected my life in a path of healing and grace but not before helping me confront my own religious pride. Philip Yancey is without a doubt, my favorite Christian author. Scratch that. He is my favorite author. In this book, he discusses how 13 unlikely mentors who, starting with Martin Luther King Jr., helped restore his faith in the church after growing up in a racist fundamentalist church in the South. His access and background as a successful journalist give him a unique approach and delivery on this subject.

A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness by Gene Edwards

If you want to serve in ministry leadership in any capacity, then you need to read this book over and over again. It has more one-liners and zingers than just about any other book on this list. It is also the shortest and probably the easiest to read. It is a parable following the stories of David, Saul, and Absalom, that will help you identify healthy leadership and the unhealth that is in your own soul. A healing and enjoyable read.

Bonus – Shipwrecked: A Journey to Discover Authentic Faith by Josh Roberie

I decided to write this book after reading somewhere that there is more truth in fiction than non-fiction. From that idea, I wondered how I could share the emotions that surround the struggle of breaking away from religious pride and finding authentic faith in the humblest of circumstances. I wanted to weave together a journey that was enjoyable to read and also included the gems of truth that have helped me find enjoyable and meaningful Christianity in my own life. In Shipwrecked, I use an allegorical parable of a sinking ship to tell a story, loosely based on my own, of finding healing and hope after experiencing religious exhaustion.

What did I miss? Comment with your favorite book on this topic. I’d love to check it out!

Unfinished Business

3 Ways to Handle Unmet Expectations

Have you ever thought of the perfect comeback except it was too late? Maybe someone put you on the spot and you didn’t think of the right response until the ride home. You left the conversation with unfinished business. Once you realized precisely what you wanted to say the chance to show the world your wit and brilliance had passed you by like someone waiting for a bus that has already come and gone.

It’s taking too long

Lately, I have been working on an outside project that is taking much longer than I expected. Ladders, tools, and pieces of wood are spread out all over the place. It has become a huge inconvenience. Not only that but each item is also a reminder that the project I want to be complete is currently just a mess. Parts of my heart can look this way at times as well.

Unfinished business can leave us with an uncomfortable weightiness. It’s like a cold for the soul. What do we do with this feeling? It can come from the abrupt ending of a hope or dream we wanted to work out. It’s the ache in the soul that arrives when people we love depart too soon. We know this feeling when the plans that we meticulously document in the journal of our heart are surprisingly blotted out by someone else’s intrusive marks.

What exactly are we supposed to do with unfinished business?

1. Honesty – This may be the most difficult thing to do, but we first need to be honest with ourselves. We should ask if this should ever have been our plan or desire to begin with. Was this ever the right relationship or career path or is it just wanted I wanted to work out? Is there a better fit elsewhere?

2. Healing – We need to be careful about continuing our journey on broken feet. Pushing through without pausing to heal may appear to be the best path but often leaves us stranded, vulnerable, and worse off than before. Wounded warriors are immortalized in film but are often the first casualties in the story of life when they do not stop to get the help they need. You will encounter pain in your journey but if every step hurts it may be time to not give up, but rest for the sake of finishing well.

3. Hope – Unfinished business can sometimes just be a reminder of who is the one actually writing our story. When we take the pen out of God’s hand we often settle for a dimmer version of the brighter story he had planned for us. Unfinished business reminds us to trust, have faith, and lean on the Author of our lives. You never know what surprise ending He may have in store for us if we insist on our own narrow expectations.

A missed opportunity, a failed accomplishment, and people who leave our lives too soon can leave us with feelings of despair. These are also opportunities for us to not only be reminded where our trust and comfort should really be but to also witness the miracle of God finishing the dream in a way that is beyond anything we could have ever expected.

Dare Greatly

Overcoming Critics While Daring Greatly

2017 is almost over and I thought I would share one last post to wrap up the year. This is not an encompassing post to process all of 2017, but rather just a final thought.

The Critic

When I began my first position in full-time ministry in 2005 I framed a copy of “The Critic” to be displayed in my office. It’s a lengthy quote from Theodore Rosevelt but is worth the read.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Some people just like being a critic. Criticizing can even become part of your identify without even realizing it. A critical mindset is dangerous. It will cause you to justify the fear that keeps you from standing out and making a difference. Most critics can be found putting more energy into finding fault in others instead of next steps for themselves.

The Solo

When I was in Jr. High I played the drums. I chose this because if you are going to be in the band you might as well pick the coolest instrument possible. Our school’s symphonic band was actually extremely good. In preparation for our most important state-wide competition I was given a solo. This was a big moment for me. The only problem was the more we practiced the more I got it wrong.l I didn’t think I would ever get it right. To highlight my embarrassment one day after band practice a girl put me on blast in front of a group of friends.

“Why can’t you get your part right? You are going to ruin the competition for everyone!”

That stung pretty bad. Mostly because it was true. It’s true I was doing horrible, and that if I didn’t get it right it was going to ruin it for everyone.

Never Trust a Clarinet Player

You know what was also true though? It was true that I was given a solo and she wasn’t. It was true that she could hide in a large section of clarinet players and no one would ever know if she played or not. It was also true that the only reason she had the opportunity to criticize me is because I had the opportunity to stand out. If you can’t take the criticism then don’t do anything worth noticing. If you want to make a difference then you have to be willing to accept the criticism thats come along with being different.

Must critics like being a critic more than they actually want people to benefit from their criticisms. They are normally stuck in places where their decisions won’t make a difference but they are willing to criticize you as you make decisions that could. Don’t listen to someone hiding in the clarinet section when you have been given a drum solo. (Did I take the band illustration to far? If so, I apologize. Also, sorry to all the not-so-evil clarinet players at there. I am sure there at least one or two.)

The Crescendo

Eventually our competition came. Up to the final practice everyone in the band, especially our conductor, was nervous about whether I would be able to execute my solo. When the moment came and the entire band become silent I lifted my drumsticks to perfectly play the beat I had practiced so many times. We received the highest rating possible at that competition, but the most important lesson for me was to never listen to someone in the clarinet section on my way to do something that stands out.

Later on I would see this quote from Theodore Roosevelt. It would remind me that the only reason someone has the opportunity to criticize is because I am doing something worthwhile that they are not or they would be helping. I do not want a cold and timid soul. I want to know the thrill of a worthy cause and be someone who dares greatly. Here is to 2018 and daring greatly.

Navigating Difficult Seasons

The surprising path to fulfillment

Sometimes the path out of your place of ordinary and into your place of extraordinary is through a place of discomfort. And by sometimes I mean every time.

In Ezekiel 20:10 God says that He lead His people out of Egypt, a place where they were in bondage to slavery. But what he says next is telling. He doesn’t say he lead them straight to the Promised Land, the place where they would ultimately enter into their rest and blessing. He says He led them first into the wilderness, a place of testing and discomfort.

Yes, God leads us to seasons in the wilderness. Jesus was even lead into the wilderness before His public ministry began. There is a place of discomfort between drudgery and destiny that we have to embrace in order to reach our place of fulfillment.

Why difficult seasons are necessary

In order for things to get better they first have to change. The discomfort of changing is the space in between Egypt and the Promised Land. It is possible to get comfortable with a negative situation. We can almost identify with it to the point that even though we are complaining about it we will do little to change it or even allow others to help us change. We get comfortable in Egypt.

What really keeps us from fulfillment

It is the space in-between Egypt and the Promised Land that keeps us from entering into God’s best from us, not the circumstances of Egypt. It is in this space that God sets us apart and speaks to us things we need to maintain what we receive in the Promised Land.

The question is, Do we have the courage to step out into the space in-between our ordinary and extraordinary?