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Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. - 1 Kings 19:3 (NIV)
Some time ago, I read an article in Success Magazine about a small business owner of a San Francisco travel agency who was having some personal struggles. Listless and depressed, he could no longer motivate himself. “I was short-tempered with clients on the phone,” he said, “and I took out my frustrations on my staff.” Diagnosis? Burnout… a problem facing scores of men and women these days.
The cartoon that accompanied the article was particularly interesting. It pictured an attractive, well-dressed executive at a cocktail party, wearing a nametag that said, “Warning: Contents under pressure.” Ever feel that way? Ever say something like, “I’m done. I just can’t take it anymore.” Yeah, me too. I’ve been in the ministry now for forty years, and I’ve had seasons when I’ve had overwhelming feelings of burnout. I was kind of like a bad garden hose with multiple leaks—not much left for doing anything well.
We’re talking about burnout in our devos this week, using the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. One thing worth noting is that burnout is more than just fatigue; it’s unfulfilled expectations, disillusionment, a lack of fulfillment that wears us down and makes us feel inadequate for life’s many demands. We can get burned out over lots of things—marriage, career, parenting, financial pressure, debilitating health problems, or nagging fear and anxiety.
Elijah was there. Sitting beneath a tree in the wilderness, he said, “Lord, take my life. I’m no better than my ancestors.” Wow. That from a man who had just experienced an incredible victory on Mount Carmel over 450 false prophets of the pagan god, Baal. Let’s not criticize him; instead, let’s lean in and see what we can learn about ourselves and God. You might be surprised. See ya’ back here tomorrow.
Take about four minutes and read all of 1 Kings 19. Circle the things that seem to indicate symptoms of burnout, as well as positive steps to overcome it.Share Tweet
I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too. - 1 Kings 19:10 (NIV)
I have a friend, a single mom, who most days feels completely overwhelmed. “I didn’t choose this,” she says, “and sometimes I can hardly handle it. There’s one income now, not two; one car in the driveway, not two; one driver to shuttle the kids to school, soccer, little league, and dance class… and I’m it! Things at work are as stressful as ever, but there’s no one to tell it to when I get home. Sometimes I’m just spent.”
As she spoke, I had two thoughts: 1) I’m not sure I could do it, and 2) I have great respect for those who endure life a-day-at-a-time, despite tremendous difficulties. I’m proud of my friend; she stays in the game despite problems that many of us would find almost unbearable.
Others have different challenges. Several years ago I visited an elderly couple in a nursing home. Married 54 years—she, lucid and vibrant; he, a longtime Alzheimer’s patient, now listless and debilitated. But both of them… very, very special. Human trophies of commitment and extraordinary love. There was a twinkle in her eyes as she said, “My husband’s a gift from God—always has been and always will be!” Her voice oozed with tenderness as she spoke his name with a depth of caring I've seldom seen. I was deeply touched, yet pained by their circumstances. Nevertheless, their love for one another could’ve been framed in gold and labeled, “Radiance.”
Strange… how we sometimes encounter life-changing demonstrations of indescribable love in such unexpected places… a hospital room, a nursing home, or even more remarkably… on a cross.
Thank you, Father, for people who stay in the game despite difficult situations; who slog along faithfully when everything in them screams, “Quit!” Whether married, single, or single-again, life’s just hard sometimes. Please help us. I know You will. And by the way, thank you for Jesus, who loves us like no one else ever can or will. Amen.Share Tweet
Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. - 1 Kings 19:5 (NIV)
Today we find Elijah on the heels of two days of running. First, he ran 18 miles to Jezreel, then after a threat on his life, he ran an entire day and night, finally collapsing under a tree in the wilderness. Surely he was exhausted, and exhaustion tends to be one of burnout’s closest friends. Want to know a good remedy? Rest.
Interestingly, God didn’t rebuke Elijah for running or resting. Instead, He served up a warm meal via an angel! (Angel Food Cake? Ha!) But here’s my point: Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can ever do… is take a nap! Jesus understood that. He told His disciples, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mk. 6:31, NLT) I once heard Rick Warren say, “If you burn the candle at both ends, you’re not as bright as you think you are.” Yep.
Are you tired? Hey, find a way and a time to rest. Twice Elijah ate a good meal and took a nap. Then he went on a 40-day road trip to Mount Horeb. That’s where Moses received the 10 Commandments. It was a sacred place where Elijah could reconnect with God and sort out his problems. When he reached “The Mountain of God,” he went into a cave and—you guessed it!—got a good night’s sleep. (1 Kings 19:6, NIV) Then the next day he has an amazing encounter with God.
Don’t deny yourself rest, dear one; you know you need it. Guess what? Others know when you need it too! You probably don’t need another sermon, book, DVD, or podcast to listen to; you may just need some rest and some time alone with the Father who wants his loved ones to get their proper rest. (Ps.127:2,TLB) Even when we’re sleeping, He’s there, and like any parent, He loves to smile at His sleeping children.
Go back the way you came. - 1 Kings 19:15 (NIV)
Yesterday, we left Elijah on Mt. Horeb enjoying a spiritual retreat. After an earth, wind, and fire show (no, not the band), God came to Elijah with a still, small voice, a whisper, a symbol of intimacy. We have to get really close to someone to hear a whisper. Amazingly, Elijah’s first recorded words after that mountaintop experience are these: “...I’m the only prophet left, and now, they’re trying to kill me too.”
I don’t know if God ever laughed out loud in the Bible, but this might be one of those times. Elijah’s math skills were obviously limited, so God reminds him that He still has 7,000 prophets in Israel! Elijah needed to learn that what God has done... is never all He’s able to do. We need to learn that too.
1809 was a big year for Napoleon Bonaparte as he conquered Austria in his quest to rule the world. Many thought it would be the death of freedom as they knew it. But guess what else happened in 1809? History-makers like William Gladstone and Alfred Tennyson were born. And in a rustic log cabin in Hardin County, KY, an illiterate farmer and his wife heard the cries of their newborn son, Abraham Lincoln, who would eventually bring an end to the evil of slavery in America. Friends, God isn’t bound by our interpretations of events. Elijah needed to learn that, and so do we.
Chapter 19 of 1 Kings ends with God recommissioning Elijah for ministry. He sends him to anoint Jehu as king over Israel, and Jehu would later wipe out Bael worship in the land (something Elijah had unsuccessfully tried to do). Then God sent him to anoint Elisha, who would become a great friend, and, ultimately, his replacement—more about that tomorrow.
So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. - 1 Kings 19:19 (NIV)
Gordon MacDonald wrote, “God will carry us in His arms until we are able to walk, and He will carry us in His arms when we cannot walk, but He will not carry us if we refuse to walk.” I’ve experienced all three scenarios in life, and I’m guessing you have too.
Yesterday we left Elijah starting over in ministry. After ample time to rest and be refreshed, the time had come for him to get back in the game. So God provided him with new responsibilities, and He also gave him a new friend named Elisha. He found Elisha plowing his parents’ fields with twelve yokes of oxen (an indicator of wealth), and he threw his cloak around Elisha’s shoulders (an invitation to become Elijah’s successor). I love Elisha’s response! He burned all the plows, slaughtered the oxen, had an enormous steak dinner for everyone he knew, then he left home and followed Elijah. They did life and ministry together for about 7 years, including establishing three schools for prophets (2 Kings 2). Finally, Elijah went to heaven, and Elisha carried on his legacy.
Do you have an Elisha in your life, a loyal friend? If so, count your blessings. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one. If one falls down, the other pulls him up, but pity the man who falls when there is no one to help him.” Among the very best cures for burnout is a friend who cares, someone who walks in when everyone else walks out. Dear one, that is a gift from God.
Self-pity is the enemy of all spiritual growth, but, sometimes, the love of a good friend is God’s cure for it… a friend who loves you, warts and all, yet challenges you to rise above your circumstances and get back in the game. Do you have a friend like that? Will you be a friend like that? If so, praise God. Seriously… praise God right now!Share Tweet