We Are at Risk of “Burnout” in a Short-term Sprint for Jesus!

Heb 12:1-2a, “Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection].

The Greek word that is translated “race” in this verse is the word “agona” from which we derive our English word, “agony,”and it pictures strong and powerful exertion of energy in a marathon race - not a hundred-meter dash. 

Notice that the writer of Hebrews admonishes believers to “run with patience the race that is set before us.” Then in Hebrews 12:3, believers are warned of the danger of “being wearied and fainting in our minds.”  And in Hebrews 12:12 they are commanded to, “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.” It seems apparent that discouragement, weariness, and exhaustion are real dangers as believers run the race that God has placed them in during their sojourn on the earth, especially if they mistakenly embrace the sprinter’s mentality in a race that is a long-distance marathon.

Because a large majority of the church in the West has led people to believe Jesus is coming back before daylight tomorrow, so many have jettisoned the marathon runners mentality and switched to that of the sprinter who thinks the end of the race in almost in sight. As a result, so many Christians have "burned out for Jesus" in some super-spiritual short-term sprint (a countdown to Armageddon) which leaves multitudes of saints suffering in broken heaps miles from the millennial marathon marker. We are not running with perseverance the marathon race which our Lord has set out before us!

Joseph Balyeat sums up the problem: “We are running with emotional adrenaline a false race which Satan has set as a trap before us. It is time for the Church to rise up and recognize the errors of the last 150 years. Short-termed, retreatist, pietistic, premillennial Christianity has voluntarily given over every arena of public life to godless humanism in the past few decades. In so doing, they have squandered the Christian cultural capital upon which our forefathers built this nation. It is time for the premillennial prodigal son to realize the error of his ways. It is time for the Church to once again return from pietistic, short-term fantasies; to once again embrace the Reformation, proclaiming God's Whole Word to God's Whole World.”

This mistaken countdown to Armageddon has led to an almost constant bombardment of “gloom and doom” teaching. Every event in nature, whether it be volcanoes or earthquakes, drought or floods, is seen as the end of the race with the Judge waiting to pound his gavel in final judgement. Every war and rumor of war is seen as the end. The decline in public morality and the threats from political tyrants, coupled with financial disasters that loom on the horizon are viewed as the final short distance before believers are raptured to the Locker room in the sky. Then Jesus returns to a mostly evil world, and wraps up the whole race in the short-term future!

It is fashionable for modern Christian philosophers and intellectuals to speak of our civilization as "post-Christian," we should turn that around and make it Biblically accurate: Our culture is not post-Christian - our culture is still largely pre-Christian!

Addressing the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1948, an exasperated Karl Barth said: “‘post-Christian Era’? Nonsense!” How, he asked, had we come to accept the Nazi propaganda that our world was “post-Christian”? Why did we imagine that we were the first generation to face the challenge of godlessness?

  1. B. Warfield, an old Presbyterian theologian who believed that the gospel of the kingdom of God was infinitely more powerful than the lies of Satan, cites William Temple: "The earth will in all probability be habitable for myriads of years yet. If Christianity is the final religion, the church is still in its infancy. Two thousand years are as two days. The appeal to the 'primitive church’ is misleading; we are the 'primitive church'". He then quotes James Adderly, who said: But we must remember that Christianity is a very young religion, and that we are only at the beginning of Christian history even now".

Are Things Getting Better or Worse?

Ernest Hampden Cook wrote in his book, The Christ Has Come, “The fact is that bad as the world still is, yet morally it is vastly better than it was when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. . .. Few people in these days have an adequate conception of the misery and degradation which were then the common lot of almost all mankind, owing to the monstrous wickedness of the times, to continual war, to the cruelties of political despotism, and of everywhere-prevailing slavery.

What about in America? Are we headed for hell in a handbasket? Are things worse than they have ever been?

Take a brief look at a snapshot of what life was like in the United States 200 years ago. In the early 1800s there were about 5 million immigrants in the United States, but 20 percent of them were slaves. The age of sexual consent in many states was 9 or 10 years old.

Abortion was legal throughout most of the nineteenth century, and records tell us that more than one fifth of all pregnancies were aborted, with Michigan having the highest rate at 34 percent. Alcoholism was much higher than it is today. Prostitution was also higher, with New York City having approximately one prostitute for every 64 men; the mayor of Savannah estimated that his city had one for every 39. The percentage of Americans going to church was about equal to what it is today, around 30 to 45 percent. Thousands of people were moving West, and most of them had no churches to attend until years after they had settled, and communities had been developed. Native Americans were being forced off their lands and, in some cases, murdered. Tens of thousands of Chinese people were being brought into the West Coast of the United States to serve as forced laborers.

When gold was discovered in various regions of the West, gold rushes occurred, which produced some of the most vile and dangerous communities in the world. Many people in the West carried guns for protection because murder was commonplace. Throughout the United States, women could not vote, and men could legally beat their wives if they did not maim or kill them. Things in the United States were not better morally, ethically, or spiritually back then than they are now.

By stripping the Church and Bible of influence in society, by replacing the preaching of Christian ethics to rulers with the constant announcements that Israel must be invaded, that evil governments must triumph among men, that all that can be expected is for things to go from bad to worse, results in good, well-intentioned men and women of God becoming complicit in the spread of evil in the world rather than the spread of God’s Kingdom as He commanded.

This is why so many modern Christians rest content when inept missionaries make only a handful of converts after a lifetime – they expect historical defeat, and then a Rapture. To most modern Christians, failed missions are a confirmation of their worldview. In fact, it moves many Christians to delight as the world degenerates. They see this as confirmation of prophecy, and thus one step closer to their escape.

God’s Word and Spirit were not given to cripple and debilitate us. They were given to be liberating, to lead us into truth and love, and a sound mind.

After years of study of the subject of biblical eschatology, I have repented of my short-term sprinting mentality by refusing to embrace an understanding of biblical prophecy that re-empowers a dis-empowered devil; that robs the future of any hope other than a desire to get off the planet as soon as possible.

I repent of the sprinter’s mentality that sabotages the clear command of Jesus to make disciples of all nations; that takes away my children and grand-children’s future; that celebrates every bit of bad news as just another sign that Jesus is about to come back; and that basically believes the gospel is not as strong as the lies of the devil; and the like the world system, the Church will fail and end up, with the exception of a small remnant, an apostate Bride.

Sure, at 75 years of age, my part in the kingdom marathon will soon end, but I challenge those younger runners in the race of grace to avoid “burning out for Jesus” by embracing the short-term view of the future. Run with endurance the “marathon you’re in. The gospel of the kingdom will triumph over all the lies of the enemy before the race of human history ends!