(Sung) Cold wind blows
Across the embers of a fire
Once burning bright
And I look among the ashes
For a spark of life
I need you, I need you

So I wait
Hoping that you can rekindle
This heart of mine
For I long to feel the passion
Your Spirit can ignite
Take me Lord, take me Lord

And fill we with your holy fire
Purify my heart’s desire
That my life would be an offering
Solely unto you
Fill me with your holy fire

Today I’d like to talk about spiritual burnout: Times when our passion for serving God diminishes. Times when our faith is reduced to a pile of ashes and God seems distant from our lives. We’ve all been there. We’ve all experienced what I call the fierce landscapes of life. Maybe it was after the death of a loved one or while we were facing a battle with cancer. Maybe it was wrestling with addiction or trying to raise a difficult child. Maybe it was after a divorce or while struggling with depression. Or maybe it was a period in our lives when we stayed away from the church for so long that it seemed impossible to go back. Whatever the reason, we’ve all experienced times in our lives when the fire fades, when our passion for serving God has died. And we are left to sit among the ashes of our burned out, stressed filled lives, wondering how in the world we are ever going to rekindle the divine spark within us.

For those who of us have dealt or are dealing with spiritual burnout, I’d like to offer us a word of hope this morning. A word that says we can get that spark back. we can be energized once again. Our faith can be renewed. This word comes to us from two different places today. The first is the Old Testament law book known as Leviticus. The second is the story of Mary and Martha. Both of these passages shed light on how to deal with spiritual burnout. Both of these passages show us how we can rekindle the spark of faith in our lives even after it has been reduced to a pile of ashes.

Let’s start with Leviticus 6:12-13. It talks about the altar of sacrifice in the Temple. “The fire on the altar shall be kept burning; it shall not go out. Every morning the priest shall add wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat pieces of the offerings of well-being. A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar; it shall not go out.”

You might wonder what this text has to do with spiritual burnout but the connection becomes clearer when we discover that this same imagery of temples, priests and offerings is used in the New Testament to describe the followers of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says that our bodies are TEMPLES of the Holy Spirit. 1 Peter 2:5 says “Let yourselves be built into SPIRITUAL HOUSES, to be a HOLY PRIESTHOOD, to offer SPIRITUAL SACRIFICES acceptable to God through Christ Jesus.” Romans 12:1 tells us to “present your bodies as A LIVING SACRIFICE, holy and acceptable to God, which is your SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.”

Keeping these images from the New Testament in mind, the ties between spiritual burnout and the Leviticus passage become clear. I believe that Leviticus 6 reveals a fundamental truth that we sometimes forget in the midst of our busy, stressed out, hectic lives: In order to keep the fire of faith burning brightly, we need to feed it. According to the book of Leviticus, every morning the priest is supposed to add wood to the fire so that it will not go out. Likewise, if our lives are seen as an altar, and the deeds we do are our offering, then we need to remember to feed the fire on a daily basis. We need to replenish our bodies, minds and spirits so that the fire of faith will not burn out.

How often we forget this truth. How often we become overwhelmed by our busy schedules that we forget to spend time with God through reading the Word, prayer, meditation, fellowship and worship. Feeding the fire becomes a low priority in our lives, if it’s a priority at all. Many of us come here on a Sunday morning and hope we will gather all the strength we need to face the week ahead. However, the book of Leviticus makes it clear that we are supposed to feed the fire on a daily basis, not once a week. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that we find ourselves burned out spiritually, mentally and physically when we fail to do the things that will strengthen us as well as our relationship with God.

When Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment,” he replied to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. I have always believed that love of self is the one component of this truth we cheat on the most. But Jesus is telling us that we cannot fully love our neighbor if we do not love ourselves. Part of loving ourselves is learning how to nurture our spirits, learning how to feed the fire so that our relationship with God remains strong and vibrant even in the toughest of times.

(Sung) Here I am
Will you set my heart ablaze
With your love this night?
For the wand’rings of my heart
Have let the fire die
Take me Lord, take me Lord

And fill me with your holy fire
Purify my heart’s desire
That my life would be an offering
Solely unto you
Fill me with your holy fire

This brings us to the story of Mary and Martha which illustrates the issue of spiritual burnout. According to our gospel lesson, Jesus is visiting his friends Mary and Martha. Martha immediately sets out to be the perfect hostess, making preparations for the evening meal with one hand and tidying up the house with the other. Luke tells us that Martha was “distracted by her many tasks” i.e. She was upset over all the work she had to do. She was also upset because her sister was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching, while she was busting her behind trying to be hospitable to her special guest. Martha complained to Jesus “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me!”

The key to understanding this passage is to look at the contrast between the two sisters. Martha is on the verge of spiritual burnout. The activities she is involved in aren’t wrong. She is serving Jesus, following the hospitality laws of her day, preparing a meal for a special guest, taking on the servant’s role, which is quite admirable. However, she forgot one important thing: She neglected to take the time to be fully present to her special guest. She neglected to take the time to pause and be refreshed so that she could serve more effectively.

Mary, on the other hand, seemed to understand the importance of spending time with Jesus. I’m sure she knew that supper had to be prepared. She may have helped with this task eventually. However, Mary recognized that it was important to listen to Jesus first. It wasn’t every day that he dropped by for a visit. Mary wanted to savor her time with him. She wanted to learn what she could and she is commended by Jesus for doing this.

What we learn from this story, as well as the Leviticus passage, is that it is vital for us for us to spend quality time with God. It’s easy to fall into the trap of always wanting to DO things for Jesus, instead of simply BEING with Jesus. You may have heard the old saying “Don’t just stand there, do something.” Well, Jesus is telling us in our gospel lesson “Don’t just do something, stand there!” This is how we combat spiritual burnout. This is how we keep the fire of faith burning brightly. We need to “stand there” and spend time with Jesus through reading the Word, prayer, meditation, fellowship and worship. We also need to take good care of our selves by eating healthy food and getting enough rest. It is through these things that we find the strength to endure the fierce landscapes of life. We are more capable of serving God in an effective and powerful manner.

Too often we run around like Martha, worried and troubled, distressed over all the things we have to do for ourselves, for others, and for God. This is especially true for pastors who are sometimes guilty of  doing many things for the kingdom but don’t often spend enough time with the King. Many of us sacrifice our personal time with God because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do otherwise. This, of course, is a huge mistake. We all need to make Jesus a priority in our lives. We need to take the time, even if it is only a few minutes a day, to pray and meditate, to read the Word or a devotional book, to attend church on a regular basis. When we do these things we will be able to serve God more effectively and combat spiritual burnout.

Let us learn a lesson from Mary and Martha and spend quality time with God. Let us learn a lesson from the priests of Leviticus and make sure we feed the fire. It is only when we do this that our lives will truly be set ablaze with the love of Jesus Christ.

(Sung) Fill me with your holy fire
Purify my heart’s desire
That my life would be an offering
Solely unto you
Fill me with your holy fire

How I long to feel your passion
In my life
So fill me with your fire