Sometimes servants of the Lord become spiritually exhausted. Instead of unbounded energy for more and more ministry, they feel out of gas. Instead of unbridled joy, they feel almost nothing. What is the problem with these people? I don’t know. There is not enough information to figure out simple solutions when you just see another person’s exhaustion.
Exhaustion can follow right on the heels of great spiritual victory. Exhaustion can follow many months of sustained spiritual energy. Sometimes it is a lack of regular rest. Sometimes is sin. Sometimes God allows the devil and the person’s own flesh to attack as a spiritual test. Sometimes too many good ministry opportunities crowd out space for recharging. Sometimes the body just isn’t working right. There are combinations of these and other factors working within a given individual’s experience. of spiritual exhaustion.
Much like depression, we must always be cautious as we minister to those going through times of exhaustion to not rush to simplistic solutions. Be quick to listen, love, and pray, and then slowly move with your exhausted friend toward solutions. Your friend may not even know all that is going on within themselves. Be patient and give space as the Lord works.
It is encouraging that the Bible gives stories of faithful servants of the Lord experiencing similar challenges. Just after one of the greatest spiritual victories in the Bible, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, comes one of the biggest spiritual flops in the Bible, Elijah running scared from Jezebel. These stories are recorded in 1 Kings 18 and 19 back to back. I would encourage you to read both of these chapters.
As you read the stories of the Bible, there are dangers of missing the bigger picture of the grand storyline of Scripture, and also of over interpreting and moralizing the details of the stories more than the Bible warrants. That said, God has done many more things than made it into the Bible. The stories that made the inspired cut are given to us by God purposefully, and useful examples are part of those purposes.
Elijah’s case of spiritual exhaustion seems to be the huge let down after the huge victory. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah brings bad King Ahab, the people of Israel, and 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to Mt. Carmel. They have a mighty contest of two sacrifices, where the god who answers by fire is to be regarded as the real God. Even with every advantage given to the pagan prophets, their empty idols proved impotent, while the one true God sent so much fire from heaven that it vaporized the water logged sacrifice and even the altar it was on. The people repented and worshipped God and the false prophets were executed by Elijah. God then sent rain on the land after three and a half year judgment drought. It was an amazing victory in every way.
But when bad King Ahab’s worse wife Jezebel heard about what happened to her favorite pagan priests, she threated Elijah’s life, and he ran away like my scared dog when it thunders outside. Here’s the part where we want to take note of God’s dealings with his tired servant, without making his case the absolute prescription for every such person in every situation.
As you track through the account in 1 Kings 19, you see Elijah running 250 miles southward, from the northern kingdom of Israel, through the southern kingdom of Judah, into the Judean wilderness, and finally to Mt. Horeb.
Elijah was depressed, looking at his life through very dark lenses. He even wanted his life to end.
Before he gets to Mt. Horeb, God sends an angel to Elijah with some food and drink and instructions to sleep. I heard a man say once that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap. If you are exhausted in ministry, you might just be physically wiped out. Taking a step back and getting quality rest and proper physical nourishment is a great place to start the road to restoration. It is also wise to visit the doctor to make sure everything is working properly.
We are whole people, with physical bodies and immaterial spirits or souls. Both bodies and spirits interact in ways we can’t always sort out. The Psalms and our own experience frequently link holiness and happiness with positive physical effects, and likewise sins with negative physical effects. I’m not saying there is always a direct connection between a sniffle and a sin, but who hasn’t “worried themselves sick?”
After Elijah was restored physically he went to Mt. Horeb, which was the mountain where Moses met God and received the Ten Commandments. Elijah sought God and God ultimately responded to Elijah in the still small voice. God revealed to his servant some of the plans that God was about to work out in Elijah’s own life and in Israel.
While we aren’t looking for special messages from God, we ought to seek after God in prayer and look to hear from him through the Bible. We also ought also to look at our lives Godwardly. Instead of counting on our own abilities to figure our challenges out, we must get God in our thinking. Even massive dark trials look much differently as the light of God shines upon them. God is always at work, even when we feel so tired and discouraged.
God was so kind in his dealings with his discouraged servant Elijah. It ought not surprise us so; God is a good heavenly Father. He is kind towards his children. He is for us because of Jesus Christ.
God was also kind to tell us the story of Elijah. If you are exhausted, like I have been recently, you are not alone. God has had exhausted servants for a long time. He knows how to pick them up and recharge them. Even if your details are different than Elijah, I hope God will use his story to spark fresh hope in your heart. He understands your exact situation. He has allowed you to get where you are. He loves you. He is at work.
Where do you need to start on your road to recovery? Do you need a nap? Do you need to seek him in prayer? Do you need to humble yourself and seek help from a Christian friend? Do you need to schedule a physical? Do the next thing. You don’t have to have all of the answers. Just do the next thing. God will help you. He gives grace to the humble.
By John Crotts