When I was a child, I remember making a piñata out of a balloon and papier mâché. We inflated the balloon and applied the coating of papier mâché. Once the coating was dry, we popped the balloon and the papier mâché retained the shape of the balloon that had been inside. Without the extra strength of the balloon inside, we had to handle the piñata carefully, as it was rather fragile (which is a good thing if you are going to swing at it with a bat).
I see many folks whose Christianity could be illustrated with a piñata. They have experienced the Ruach, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, at some time in their lives. It filled them and their lives expanded. As they took on the works that manifested their faith, these outward signs of discipleship became the manifestation of their Christian walk. These important acts of discipleship—missions, Bible study and attendance—at some point displaced the inner Spirit as the primary expression of faith.
A faith practiced only in outward works is quite fragile, and I’ve seen many who crack under the pressure of this one-sided, outward discipleship. You will know them by expressions such as these: “I’ve done my time,” “I need a break from church work,” “Let the folks with children handle it,” “I’m burned out.” I’ve heard these comments and, I confess, at one time in my life, I said such myself. When works for Christ are done from a sense of obligation rather than passionate desire, burnout is the eventual result.
Works are certainly important, and the world is in great need of visible expressions of the love of Christ. But the primary cry of the heart is for an indwelling Spirit, not a project to complete. The “Protestant work ethic” falls short in creating disciples who are aflame with love for God and for each other.
Everything changes when one’s life is fueled by the Spirit. Burnout is replaced with burning love. The heart of stone is replaced with a living heart (Ezekiel 36:26), a heart that beats for God, and thus, for all of God’s creation. It is such a passion that called me into the work of spiritual direction.
Works, if they are to be a true expression of discipleship, must flow from a faith enflamed by the Holy Spirit. A life lived from the Divine Center leads us to works that are uniquely ours to do, that God created us and gifted us to do. From such, there is no burnout, just the heat and flame of an all-consuming love.