Lessons from Elijah: Burnout

Chris Hay —  March 6, 2013 — 3 Comments
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the seriesLessons from Elijah

I am a recovering burned out pastor. Doing fine, thank you. But I hit the wall several years back and had to resign a great ministry. The church I was pastoring was excited about the future and eager to reach out. We did some good things, and the future was bright. But I was done. I would wake up on Sunday mornings with this dark heaviness that consumed me. It was oppressive and exhausting. I would pray through it, seek God’s intervention, and make it through Sunday morning. But then I was utterly exhausted the rest of the day. Every pastor is tired on Sunday afternoon, but I was beyond tired.

During this time I found great encouragement in reading the story of Elijah. He was a great friend and mentor. 1 Kings 17-19 contain some really great truths that helped me back then, still help me, and are food for anyone feeling a bit of burnout.

Elijah was God’s mouthpiece to tell King Ahab that there was about to be a 3-year drought, which pretty much meant a serious economic downturn. I imagine Ahab could see the approval ratings of his kingship dropping like the proverbial rock. And he took it out on Elijah. Ahhh, ministry. We proclaim God’s Word, and people blame us!!

But note that God orchestrated this drought. He designed it, He ordained it, He sent it. Then he tells Elijah to get out of town and head for the wilderness. Elijah would suffer in this drought as every other Israelite would. It was hard times, through and through. I can’t help thinking about the various ‘droughts’ in my life, times when I felt empty or thirsty. And nothing seemed to help. We all have these times, and the great prophet Elijah was no exception.

brookGod’s plan was to send Elijah to a distant brook called Cherith to hide out. As far as we know, the Brook Cherith was in a pretty remote area east of the Jordan River. It has been described as a wild ravine and a good place for various outcasts to hide out. The brook would provide water, and God would command ravens to bring food for Elijah each day. So God orchestrated the drought in Elijah’s life, but then he designed the solution. Granted, it was a strange solution. Ravens are scavengers so I can only imagine the kind of food they brought to Elijah! It would appear he was eating road kill for a few years!

But the point is this: God took care of Elijah. It was hard times, for sure. But God sent Elijah off to a remote quiet place, and He personally directed his care and feeding. How long was he there? Hard to say. The drought lasted some 3 years, and Elijah lived in only 2 places during that time: Brook Cherith and Zarephath. So, many months at least. Maybe a year or more. What did he do while sitting out in the wilderness? Again, we aren’t told, but I would assume he rested, prayed, and studied the Torah (assuming he took his copy along). Basically, he spent extended time alone with God.

And I would suggest to you that this is the point: the solution to burnout or drought or emptiness is extended time alone with God. Our lives are crazy busy. There aren’t near enough hours in the day, or days in the week, or weeks in the month, to get everything done that we think we need to get done. And so we run out of fuel. Our tanks are empty. We burn out. The drought has begun. If you are there, then let me encourage you that God has a remote brook for you, full of refreshing water. He has some ravens all ready to bring you some nourishing food. But you have to slow down long enough to eat and drink from His never-ending supply. Like Elijah did.
Oh and it gets better. Elijah hasn’t even hit the serious burnout wall yet. He is so much like us. I am so thankful that God chose to reveal some of this great prophet’s secrets. I’ll explore this more in a future blog post. In the meantime, slow down. Take a breath. Spend some time with God. Some serious, extended time, alone in the presence of Almighty God. Just you and Jesus.

Coram Deo!

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Chris Hay

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Chris is the Director of Church Relations at Eternity. He grew up as a pastor’s kid and served in the pastorate for over 20 years, both in associate and senior roles, before coming to EBC. He is passionate about seeing people live out a radical life-changing commitment to Jesus, and he is deeply burdened for the spiritual health of pastors. He and his wife Dawn are the founders and directors of Zarephath Ministries (ZarMin.org) which provides spiritual retreats for pastors. His hobbies include reading (history, biography, Puritans, mystics), woodworking, and being in God’s glorious creation. He and Dawn homeschooled their two amazing children.