We’re tired. At least, that’s the vibe I get when talking to people about how they feel as we wrap up 2021.
It doesn’t feel right to finish the year feeling a lack of energy, disappointed or anxious about what’s next for us. It doesn’t feel right because we’re heading towards Christmas - the celebration of Emmanuel come! We should be geared-up to celebrate the very historical event that brings us hope and joy to keep living in this world.
Maybe this year sucked for you. You feel completely drained and you’re at your wits end. You feel there’s nothing much left you can give to your family, friends or church.
I’d like to use an example from the Bible to encourage us in how to respond when we feel low and empty. Maybe you’ve had a fantastic year, Praise God! This example from the Bible may be helpful for you to help those not in your situation.
1. Burnout comes unexpectedly
Elijah’s story is a great example for us to be encouraged by. His story is found in the Book of 1 Kings chapter 18 and 19.
In chapter 18, we see one of the greatest highs of Elijah’s ministry as a prophet. On Mt. Carmel, he took on 450 Baal prophets and won spectacularly. But in chapter 19, after Jezebel says to Elijah: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not ask your life like that of one of them” (verse 2), Elijah became afraid and ran for his life.
Jezebel wanted Elijah dead and he ran for his life.
It was only a chapter ago that Elijah confidently poked fun of Baal, saying, “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (verse 27).
One moment Elijah was on top of the world, the next he was scared and asked God to take his life.
Elijah had burnout not because someone threatened his life and he was afraid of dying. Elijah had burnout because he felt what he did had no impact at all, that he couldn’t revive Israel to worship God wholeheartedly. In chapter 19 verse 4, Elijah told God he didn’t think he was any better than his ancestors.
That’s the thing about burnout. It comes unexpectedly. It can come after an amazing Sunday service, a big mission night or an intimate weekend away. Burnout happens.
2. You can’t ‘will’ burnout to go away, you must go through it
Elijah’s story of burnout is so inspiring not because he ‘successfully’ overcame burnout but because he had to go through it.
For some task-orientated people, like myself, we might fall into the trap of thinking that feeling exhausted and spiritually low is something that can be fixed if we mediate on the right scriptures, read the right books or find the next task to do.
Ignoring our feelings and ourselves won’t do us any good.
During Elijah’s lowest point, the angel came to him twice and gave him food and drink. Elijah slept, ate and drank - the most ‘unspiritual’ and ‘unproductive’ things to do.
Doing those things for two days didn’t magically ‘cure’ him from burnout. The story shows us that he continued to wrestle with it. God teaches us that rest is important and that there’s no magic fix for burnout. It takes time and God still wants to use us to do great things.
3. God cares about us in our burnout
Elijah experienced God in the big moments of his public ministry. He witnessed God putting Baal and Baal’s prophets to shame.
Now, in this story, Elijah experiences God in a different way. He experiences God in an intimate way.
1 Kings chapter 19 verse 11 tells us that there was a powerful wind, earthquake and fire but God chose not to speak to Elijah through those powerful elements but rather through a gentle whisper.
God reveals Himself to us in many ways, perhaps the best ways are through His gentleness and compassion. God speaks to us in a gentle whisper. God gently touches our eyes and brings healing. God comes to us as a wee baby, helpless and vulnerable.
God is so big, He stretches pass the widest universes, yet He meets us where we are.
This year may have been a challenging and tough year for you. I hope you find peace knowing that God cares and He wants to journey together with you through it, no matter how long it takes.
Rachel is a pastor, preacher and writer. Based in Sydney, she’s a fan of literature, sport and the arts. Check out her website rachellhli.wordpress.com