Have you ever seen a sign with burned out bulbs that reduce letters to a humorous new word? I recently saw sign on a Target store missing the “p” bulb to leave the remaining letters forming “harmacy.” Sadly, many a believer today struggles with not only a dim but also a harmful outlook on their life, family, ministry, and even the Lord.
In I Kings 19, Elijah had just experienced a great victory, but as is often the case after triumph, he was physically and emotionally spent. After the mountaintop comes the valley, which made Elijah a prime candidate for what we might call “burnout.” The term “burnout” if often used to describe a person who is mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. How we do overcome the strong feelings associated with being burned out?
Overcoming burnout requires two recognitions:
- Recognize the sources.
James 5:17 reminds us that Elijah “was a man subject to like passions as we are.” Elijah felt fear. He got discouraged. He suffered burnout, just as we do. We twenty-first century believers can learn from his example.
- Unmet Expectations (19:1-3)
Maybe the reason Elijah felt the way he did was that his expectations and dreams of success were not fulfilled. He probably had a preconceived idea how things were going to go after this amazing victory in Israel. This great revival he envision only enraged Ahab and Jezebel. He may have also thought this victory would immediately change everything in his own life. Maybe “happily ever after” was what he expected. Death threats were probably not a part of his own expectations.
Like Elijah, we often struggle to process the letdown of unfulfilled expectations. As one author recently wrote, “My goal doesn’t matter if it’s not God’s goal.” If you are going after your dreams and goals in your own strength, you are setting yourself up for deep disappointment. Be careful; shattered dreams often lead people to a life of cynicism.
- Self-Imposed Isolation (19:4a)
Elijah made the mistake of isolating himself during burnout. Alone is a dangerous place to be. Maybe with your inward focus, you are not looking at things realistically. Elijah withdrew from society when, in reality, it was only two people who were against him. Everyone else had turned back to the Lord. Later God reminded Elijah that he wasn’t alone, that there were still 7,000 who had NEVER bowed their knee to Baal.
You are not alone either. You just feel alone, and feelings are never a good basis for judging reality! “Flying solo” exposes your life to be ruled by personal subjectivity!
- Chronic Helplessness (19:4b)
Elijah declares that “it is enough.” Another symptom of burnout is a feeling of helplessness. Trying to cope with the pressures and struggles, we sometimes develop tunnel vision. We look at our problems and feel as if we have not options out. Elijah appeared to do the same. He responded to the stress in his life without stopping to consider that he might have other options. There is no indication in Scripture that Elijah even stopped to ask God what he should do with life being threatened. This leads to the feeling that giving up was the only way out.
There are usually many options from which we can choose to alleviate our pressure, but we just haven’t stopped running long enough to see what God wants us to do. We need to stop and prayerfully evaluate our lives and make adjustments where needed.
- Recognize the solutions.
I recently saw a picture of an astronaut in his full gear on the moon with the caption “Help, my nose itches.” How do we solve such this overwhelming condition of burnout?
- Physical Renewal (19:5-8a)
You must always start with the PHYSICAL! Renewal is only possible with physical rest (5a, 6b). Whatever strain you are experiencing at home, work, or school is only compounded by allowing yourself to be worn down physically. This would involve sleep and leisure time for a break. This would include exercise for increased blood flow and clarity of thought.
A person struggling with burnout must also improve his physical diet (5b, 6a, 7-8a). The angel dispatched by God repeatedly urged him to eat more food since the journey before him would require much energy. A direct trip from Beersheba to Mount Horeb would have taken Elijah only about 14 days on foot (a distance of about 200 miles), but God would slow him down to teach him for forty days and nights. You need physical MARGIN in your life not only to deal with the present burden but to be ready for the great journey God has for you!
- Biblical Study (19:8b-9)
Burnout cannot be conquered by physical renewal alone; it requires spiritual regeneration as well. Strengthened by the miraculous provisions, Elijah retired to Horeb, a mountain in Arabia in the vicinity of Mount Sinai (Ex 3:1; 33:6). This was the mount of God, that is, the mount on which the Law had been given to Moses (Ex 19:20).
Though we do not hear the audible voice of God like Elijah today, we have God’s holy Word! Luke 4:4 records, “And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” When you get discouraged, get into the Bible!
- Heavenly Perspective (10-12)
As we mentioned a moment ago, Elijah’s perspective was distorted by his own expectations. One commentator on this passage states, “Interestingly Elijah spoke only of the Lord’s prophets being killed (18:13a); he made no mention of Baal’s 450 prophets who were killed. Fear and discouragement caused him to see only the dark side.” Our pessimism is often the result of a skewed view of reality.
God sent Elijah to the top of Mount Horeb, the mount of God, to get a new perspective, a heavenly perspective. After the fire a still small voice. Hebrew, a sound of gentle stillness. In sharp contrast to the tremendous manifestations of nature that moved so catastrophically before the presence of the Lord, the Lord himself now quietly spoke. The sound of gentle stillness summoned Elijah from the cave of his hiding to stand face to face with God. God taught Elijah: Sometimes I do My work in a quiet way, in a way that is barely perceptible to you, but I am doing my work nonetheless. Just trust Me.
To overcome your “burn out” requires taking your ears off of your “loud” feelings and placing them upon the “whispering” Lord!
Where are we being distracted?
- Undisciplined Relationships
- Mismanagement of “Off” Time
- Disorganization at Home and Work
Paul McGinley’s victorious campaign as European Ryder Cup captain this year included the Irishman making careful plans for even the fish tank in the team room. “Everything in the room was planned, from the carpet to the wallpapers to the images on the wall, to a big fish tank with (European) blue and gold fish,” the smiling captain told a news conference. “It was the colors I was interested in rather than the breed. It was just a little, small touch,” McGinley said. Much of not only sports but spiritual victory is built upon a sanctified attention to details. In the stewardship of our energy and passion, the details matter!
- Attentive Obedience (15-16)
Burned out people start out being attentive to outside demands and then cave to inside feelings; they are never fully attentive to God’s instructions! We do not feel our way into victory; we obey our way into it!
After God finally got Elijah’s attention, He then sent Elijah to go back and do the work that he was supposed to be doing to begin with. God was working in His own way, and each of these men-Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha-had his own role to play in what God would do in the nation of Israel. Eventually Elijah would turn over his mantle-a symbol of authority-to Elisha who would become a great prophet of God as well. Elijah still had a work to do. He still had PEOPLE to invest in! These three individuals, though differing in vocation and character, would yet be united in the humbling and desecrating of the house of Ahab, the primary source of Elijah’s stress.
Do you know the source of “goodbye?” The expression progressively developed from the parting words of “God be with ye.” Don’t permit your present “crispy complexion” to cause you to doubt the presence of God in your life. You may need to get alone with God to reevaluate your life, but it should only be to find out what the work is-not what you think you should be doing, not what you always dreamed you would do-but find out what God wants to do through you.
When a believer burns out, it’s because his own human resources have finally been exhausted. He has tried everything he knows to do in his own strength. When you get overwhelmed by life, when you’re feeling burned out, when everything seems too much to handle, it is nothing more than the clamor of the wind, the earthquake, and the fire-a wake-up call from Heaven. God’s working in your life. He’s getting your attention just as He got Elijah’s.
Will you overcome burnout by recognizes its fleshly sources and divine solutions? Here is an audio link to this study.
What else have you discovered that causes or resolves burnout?