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Carey NieuwhofDecember 13, 2022

Overwhelmed. Overcommitted. Overworked.

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“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

I was a trying-to-be-devoted husband and a dad of two young sons, and at the same time, I was leading one of the fastest-growing and largest churches in our denomination.

At first, everything seemed manageable.

When I arrived in our little community, the church was small. How can you be overwhelmed when you’re leading a church with an average attendance of six?

But six became 60, which became 600, which became 1,000, and I couldn’t keep up. In fact, I developed a deadly equation: more people + more responsibility = more hours.

Ever been there? Life gets busy. Kids. Financial stress. Marriage struggles. Your friends, family, co-workers and everyone else in the universe have access to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You never get a break.

And before you know it, you find yourself overwhelmed, overcommitted and overworked.

What I didn’t see coming was that amid the relentless pace of trying to keep up, my heart was withering, dying, disappearing.

“Above all else,” the Scriptures tell us, “guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). An older version of the NIV Bible once framed it this way: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

My spring had dried up. As my heart went hard, everything else good dried up: my patience, my kindness, my compassion, my gentleness. Gone. And I was a pastor.

The price of busyness is your heart.

And yet it became easy to justify my busyness. Because all the activity that was numbing my soul was for Jesus. And people were being saved. How could this possibly be a bad thing?

About a decade into the rocket ride that was my church leadership, things ground to a dead halt. I burned out.

I didn’t declare a finish line to my work, so my body did.

Since then, I’ve developed a little mission statement I remind myself of every day: Live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow.

In this moment, if I’m not living in a way that will help me thrive tomorrow, I’m doing it wrong.

That means saying “no” — a lot. It means closing the laptop at the end of the day. It means getting eight hours of sleep, carving out time to exercise, finding a hobby and eating healthier. It means focusing on what only I can do and ignoring, delegating and declining the rest. It means meaningful time with Christ and with my family. It means taking time off.

The strangest thing is that by doing less, I’ve served far more people. Our church grew — a lot. As I got healthier, so did everyone I led.

Since I've handed off the church's leadership to the next generation, these days I’m able to minister to more leaders every day than I ever dreamed possible. Doing less has led to far more. Who knew?

And my heart? It’s alive again.

Ironically, guarding your heart isn’t one more thing to do. It’s the thing that leads to everything getting better.

What do you need to cut out of your life so your heart can come alive again?

Lord, help me figure out what’s drying up the wellspring of life in me. Give me the courage to say “no” to things that don’t matter so I can say “yes” to what does. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


To see whether your sense of overwhelm might lead to burnout, take the free burnout assessment here.

For more on how to free up your time, energy and priorities so you can thrive, grab a copy of At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor by Carey Nieuwhof.


Hear Carey Nieuwhof and Andy Stanley discuss how to find margin in life and leadership.

Enter to WIN your very own copy of At Your Best by Carey Nieuwhof. To celebrate this book, Carey’s publisher will give away 5 copies! Enter to win by leaving a comment here. {We’ll randomly select 5 winners and then notify each one in the comments section by Monday, December 19, 2022.}


Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (NIV)

Think back to a time when the fruit of the Spirit was more evident in your life than perhaps it is now. What was true of your rhythms and disciplines then?

© 2022 by Carey Nieuwhof. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
P.O. Box 3189
Matthews, NC 28106