It is of course good to busy yourself in a good thing—in Christian ministry, for example. But can there be too much of a good thing?
Hi, I’m Fred Zaspel, and we’re talking today with Dr. David Murray about his new book, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. If you’re lazy, this book may not be for you. But if not, you may need to listen in.
David, welcome—and congratulations on your new book.
Thank you, Fred, you’re right, definitely not for the lazy.
Tell us what your book is all about. What is the contribution you are hoping to make?
The book is, hopefully, a Christian response to the epidemic of burnout, stress, anxiety that men are experiencing. Men in ministry, for sure, but I think Christian men in general that are really feeling the pace of life as leading to an unhealthy life, a dangerous life even and certainly not a spiritually healthy life.
This book did not come about as a purely theoretical study—tell us how you came to an interest in the subject yourself.
This book came out of a personal experience, painful personal experience, actually. I had been living at way too fast a pace for too long, too much happening, and I had some warning shots across my bows. The Lord, in the year before my crisis, you might say, certainly was calling me to pause, to slow, to stop, but I didn’t really heed it. And then I ended up in hospital with blood clots in my lungs that had broken off from a clot that had developed in my leg. And that’s a pretty serious medical condition, pulmonary emboli; a lot of people die of it. I was spared and it was an opportunity for me to really hear God’s voice. And I learned a lot; I don’t think I learned enough. I put some things in place, but not enough. And sadly, too soon, I was back to my default pace, and so God, in his mercy, sent more blood clots into my lungs. And I figured, a lot of people die of this the first time, and I’ve been given not just a second chance, but now a third chance. So the second time I really listened and I began to write, I began to think, I began to study, and I began to realize that I was living a dualistic life, maybe, you would call it. By that I mean I’m doing ministry all the time, which is great, but I was neglecting my body. So I was focused on the spiritual, but I was neglecting the physical. I began to write about that, blog about it and men started contacting me for help with similar issues and that began to develop into a ministry that came to the attention of Justin Taylor at Crossway via some people I had helped. And he said hey, David, it would be great if you could put this into writing; put it in a book and get it out to lots of men because there are so many who are going through similar things and you’ve got the biblical foundation here, but you’ve got a lot of practical helps in this book, a lot of research and it’s a very holistic approach. He thought we could do a Christian version of Boundaries here, that would give a good gospel centered focus to re-pacing life.
Are you aiming mostly at men?
Yes. Actually, initially Justin Taylor had asked me to write for ministers, for pastors, for ministry workers. And there’s definitely a great need there, but I thought about it and I thought of some of the men that had come to me over these years, and I thought this is a man-wide problem. It’s not just ministers. Christian men in all walks of life are suffering from the pace of life, the impact of digital technology, the pressures in our culture. So Justin and I said, okay, let’s aim it at men, but let’s have regularly, throughout, a focus on those in ministry, leadership positions. And that’s what we’ve tried to do, so hopefully it will be relevant for all, but definitely those in ministry should have a special help from it.
What is a “grace-paced” life? And why do you call it that?
As I studied this, I began to realize that our view of grace was too narrow. It was very much focused on theological grace. And I began to sense there is much more of God’s grace in this world, for God’s people, that we need to be willing to receive. So I talk, in the book, about five kinds of grace: motivating grace, which basically means whatever we are doing, that we are motivated not by career or money or ambition, but by gratitude for the grace of God in Christ. And I think, even in ministry, we can lose that. But if we can keep that powerful fuel at the source in the center of our lives, then I think we’re not going to be running on fumes so much with all the damage that comes.
So, there’s motivating, there’s also moderating grace, which is basically telling ourselves, look, it’s great to be motivated, it’s great to serve the Lord, but God doesn’t really demand of us that we kill ourselves in the shortest space of time as possible or that we try and earn his favor through our ministry work. Christ has done it all; he has finished the work. And an embrace of justification should not only motivate our lives, but also moderate our ministries by enabling us to put our trust, not just in God’s salvation, but in God’s providence as well, and see that we don’t need to serve and suffer our way into his favor but Christ has already done that.
Then there’s multiplying grace, which is basically the idea that we don’t need to do the sowing, the watering, and the reaping all ourselves. That we do the sowing, and God does the multiplying. That it doesn’t all depend on us. He’s promised to take our loaves and fishes and multiply them far beyond what we can imagine if we would trust him with it and try to do less ourselves.
Fourthly there’s releasing grace, which is saying I’m not going to demand to have control over my life. I’m not going to try to micromanage myself, my congregation, everything in my life; I’m going to release control to the sovereignty of God. And here again I think Calvinists have to challenge themselves. We talk a lot about the sovereignty of God in salvation, and yet we are often the most Arminian believers when it comes to providence and ministry and micromanagement and controlling; and we have to learn to release, not just our salvation, but everything into his care.
And then lastly, receiving grace, and maybe the emphasis of the book is on that. It’s just seeing how much God, in common grace, has given to us to receive gifts that we often reject. Like sleep, and exercise, and friendship, hobbies, recreation, and seeing these, not as signs of weakness, but as signs of I’m receiving what my wise heavenly father has designed for my good and has provided in his grace. That’s the grace-paced life.
What are some warning signs of burnout?
What I’ve discovered in talking to men about this is it’s different for each man. So, for me, it was physical. My body broke down. And thankfully, I was spared, but yes, my body broke down. For others, it’s emotional. Men might plunge into a really deep depression and really not understand how did this happen, I’ve got nothing to be said about. It’s such a full and busy life, but it’s bad, actually, over too long a period of time, but depletes people and leaves them empty, emotionally depleted. And others, it’s moral. And I’m sure there’s no need to name names here, but I think you and I know the Christian scene here well enough to know that the last while there’s been so many ministerial flameouts and it’s ended in moral failure, but when you hear their stories, they will admit that it was a ministry without spirituality. It was a ministry without purity for too long, and that the busyness of life had just pushed God out, although they were in ministry. So, for some it’s moral, and for others it’s relational. They are falling out with everyone, their marriage is in a mess, kids are estranged. I think God designed us so differently that for some of us the physical warning lights get our attention, for others the mental or emotional. So it’s not one-size-fits-all, basically.
Okay, I see it. The warning signs are there. I’m burning out. What do I do now?
Okay, buy the book! (Laughing)
Well, I think that first step of being honest is key. I am burning out; I’m seeing warning signs. I think for so many of us, and I speak for myself here, too, the warning signs are there, but we are ignoring them or we’re covering them or we’re thinking, I’ll deal with them down the road. I think some just real honesty, that I’m in trouble here, and there are bad things happening. I need to stop; I need to pause; I need to face up to reality. And sometimes people in our lives are trying to get us to do that and we’re not listening. So I think just some honesty, some transparency.
Secondly, get help. It’s not something, usually, that we can fix ourselves. We might need a doctor; we might need our wife involved; we might need to get friends, pastors, counselors. We won’t fix this on our own. We got ourselves into the mess, but usually we can’t get ourselves out of it. Again, God has provided lots of resources in his church and in his people to help us. I suppose one of my hopes, Fred, for the book,’ is that it will help men to be more vulnerable with one another. I’ve been very vulnerable in the book, myself, and I think the more we can do this, the more honest and transparent we can be with one another, the more it helps others to do the same, that we’re not supermen.
Be honest; get help; I think, also, to approach it in a holistic manner. Some men may think, okay, I just need to fix the physical; I just need to fix the spiritual; I just need to fix the cognitive or the relational, or whatever; you actually need to address it all. That’s one of the things I try to do in the book is to show that, yes, we need theology, we need spirituality, we need prayer, communion with God, but we also need sleep, and we also need days off, and we also need vacations, and we may need some help with retraining our thinking, and help with our identity. It’s usually a multi-factorial cause that requires a multi-factorial cure.
And the last thing I would say to somebody who’s really concerned and worried and feeling hopeless is have hope. Because I can say, Fred, that all the men that I’ve dealt with going through this, if they use the means God has provided, they will get out of it. And it won’t just be hey, I can get back to what I was doing before; no, that’s how you got here. But it’s restoring a balance of a healthier life, getting back to spiritual flourishing and thriving. I think one of the blessings of burnout, actually, is you begin to realize for way, way, way too long, I’ve been living in a low-grade, almost like a depression, just trundling along the bottom emotionally, mentally, relationally and when we use what God has provided, I think we can hope for a much happier, healthier, holier life.
You have a sequel to this book coming out later this year, right?
Kind of. It’s more of a partner book. This one is for men, and again, just chatting with Crossway we thought women suffer from this, too. So we thought maybe we should have a book for men and women and we realized we can’t really do that. There’s sufficient difference between men and women’s experience that you really need a separate treatment. So my wife, Shauna, has passed through some depression in the past, quite a long time ago, but quite a bad depression and it really was, partly at least, the results of burnout. There’s some pregnancy related issues, too. So she tells her story in the book and she tells the stories of other women in the book. It gives a female flavor and we try to feminize the book, and really focus on the particularly unique female causes and cures, because not everything that helps men helps women. We hope that men and women will, together, husbands and wives get together and read it through together and understand one another better as well as understand themselves better.
We’re talking to Dr. David Murray, author of the new book, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, addressing a very real and all-to-common problem and offering some uncommon but very wise counsel. Buy a copy for your pastor—it just might spare him and your church a good deal of pain.
David, thanks so much—always great to talk to you.
Thanks so much, Fred, God bless your work.
Editor’s Note: Check out these videos and listen to Dr. Murray talk about his new work:
Buy the books
Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture