Jason Chua: A Journey that Started with Burnout
Recovering from burnout starts by recognizing our condition and accepting help
Jason Chua, the founder of Burning Hearts, was a burned out youth pastor before starting this prayer ministry. In this conversation, he shares keys on how others can move past burnout as well.
Tell us about your experience with burnout. How did it happen? Were you overwhelmed with work or failure?
Not really. I actually realized I was burned out after leading a very inspiring mission. I was a youth pastor, and we would take young people from our church to the streets – praying for the sick and prophesying over people on Orchard Road, the busiest street in Singapore. We saw some amazing impact and tangible results. Yet internally I was really struggling.
I knew I had felt this struggle since my time in my previous church. I was a leader among hundreds of young people, and I would be on the stage each week, leading worship. But there was a growing gap between who I was at home and who I was on stage. Most of my driving motivation was an ambition to be known. I wanted people to love what I did, based on how I could pray or sing on the stage.
I had now reached my last straw. The ministry was going great, but the more I did it, the more I had this sense of dissonance. The gaps in my heart were growing bigger and bigger. Burnout didn’t happen because I was doing too much, but because I was giving something I didn’t have.
My journey of recovery came when I was at this point of wanting to give up. Right after that experience at Orchard, that same night, I was going to just throw in the towel and not show up in church anymore. The ache of disparity was so huge. I was too tired. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I wanted to give up.
But then as I was lying in my bed, God broke in with His thunderous voice, and awakened my dying soul in the night. His voice was thunderous yet also very tender. The phrase He spoke that really brought life to me was this, “From everlasting to everlasting, from beginning to the end, I gave up everything just to have this one thing – your heart.”
When I was at the end of myself, it turned out I was at the beginning of God.
How did you respond to this breakthrough? How did God lead you from there?
I was struck by the overwhelming desire God has for my heart.
I wanted to seek Him, so I went for a 6-month internship to the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri in the United States.
When I was there, it was mandatory for us to be in the prayer room six hours a day. We could bring in our Bible, reading material, and a notebook – nothing else. Not even a cell phone!
As a Singaporean, it was challenging. I was fidgety and couldn’t sit still. I considered my capacity for God – I was only able to give 30 minutes to God. The rest of the five and a half hours was a dying process.
But yet, over time, it was in that space that the Lord reconstructed my life by teaching me how to handle His word and how to engage the Holy Spirit.
What were the key lessons you learned that enabled you to overcome your burnout?
I learned to wait on God, to meditate on the Word, and to have Jesus as my preoccupation. For my many years as a Christian, I needed the external trappings of worship. The loud sound, the nice music, the experience of the service. Without those things I was struggling.
That prayer room revealed so much of what I was depending on. God took away these external stimulants. I would say 80% percent of my time in the prayer room was regular and mundane – it wasn’t always amazing. But yet there was that 20% that was full of life-changing experiences with God.
The 80% is life changing as well, of course, as I learned to cope with the mundane. It could be things as simple as having my emotions touched by just reading the Scripture, or receiving a revelation. Even conversations with friends over meals were the moments I felt transformed.
“Burnout didn’t happen because I was doing too much, but because I was giving something I didn’t have.”
In those 6 months at IHOP, my capacity for God expanded. My ability to enter into His presence was no longer dependent on external stimulation. I learned to actually enter His presence, and also to have internal fascination with Him.
In that whole deconstructing and reconstructing, the Lord breathed life to me again. That prayer room was the very environment where I learned not to feast on things, but on the Word and with the Holy Spirit.
This enlarged my capacity and revived my life. I fell in love with Jesus again.
What 3 things would you say to church leaders on the brink of burnout?
1) It’s “okay” to be not “okay”. It’s alright to be honest and real about the condition of our hearts.
When Jesus talked about the church in Sardis in Revelation 3, He said they were alive on the outside but dead on the inside. Most pastors and leaders have experienced this. Outside they look so alive, but back home they will crash. Recognizing and admitting is the beginning of healing.
2) I would tell them it’s okay to let go of your responsibility for a season. We are not indispensable. God is more interested in our hearts. He can always raise up someone else to do our job.
Our hearts should be the priority. If our hearts are dying, we need to repent. Repent from all the things that have caused us to lose our first love. Remember to do our first works: learn to delight ourselves in the Lord, in His Word, and in His presence – to have that authentic connection with Him.
3) Always be found in a community of people that are accountable to each other. These people must love you enough to tell you to stop what you are doing and receive healing. If they know your family is in turmoil because you are burning out, you have to give these people the right to pull you back and tell you, “Stop.” This is safety and accountability for our own good.
These 3 things are so important and helpful for me. In my own practice, every time I’m not okay, I need to tell my wife and my friends so they can hold me accountable. I drop my responsibilities and go away for time with God, so I can engage the Lord and the Holy Spirit.
Jason Chua, the founder of Burning Hearts, was a burned-out youth pastor before starting this prayer ministry.