I was recently asked to speak on the topic of how to heal from emotional exhaustion. The story that immediately jumped to mind was the tale of how the Prophet Elijah became emotionally and spiritually overwhelmed, and how he got through it.
The story is told in 1 Kings 18 - 19. I'll offer some background here for context, but I challenge you to read those chapters to get the full story.
In essence, Elijah confronted the wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel over their leading Israel away from God and their appointment of false prophets over the people. Elijah challenged their false prophets to a public showdown on Mount Carmel.
It was a simple, but dramatic test. Elijah would prepare a sacrifice and the false prophets (850 of them) would do the same. Both sides would call upon their deity to send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice.
When the day of the contest came, Elijah stood by and mocked the false prophets as they called on their gods to no avail. There was no fire from heaven. Nothing at all, aside from their cries to silent gods.
Elijah, on the other hand, to unmistakably demonstrate the power of the true God, had the people drench his altar with water. He called upon God and the entire altar, including the trenches of water, were consumed by fire from heaven. At this show of miraculous power, the people fell to their knees and reasserted their faith in God.
The false prophets were executed and Elijah was indelibly established as a true prophet of God. Even more powerful than the king and queen. As you may imagine, these events didn't go over so well with Ahab and Jezebel.
The queen threatened Elijah's life. And immediately on the heels of such an astonishing victory, Elijah ran for his life in fear. In hiding, he went as far as to ask God for death.
It doesn't get much lower than that. But if it can happen to Elijah, it can happen to anyone. We can all become spiritual weaklings when we are emotionally exhausted.
In Elijah's case, he had been hunted for months by the king and queen because they blamed him for a famine the land was experiencing. Elijah was a man on the run. It took tremendous bravery and faith in God to confront the apostate monarchs and their legion of false prophets. It was one prophet versus 850.
How do you like those odds? I'm sure Ahab and Jezebel did at first. After the stunning victory on the mountain, Elijah had to have been emotionally exhausted. I'm sure he wasn't ready for a credible threat to his life from a woman who had killed many other prophets.
So he ran! And we often feel the same way. When we are overwhelmed, our tendency is to run and hide from our responsibilities or to significantly withdraw from life. Bur just as God met Elijah right where he was, He will be there for us as well, in our exhaustion.
But we must learn to be gentle with ourselves. I'd like to highlight three takeaways from the Elijah story.
First, emotional exhaustion is real. There's no shame in being worn out by life at times. As people of God, we often feel that we (and certainly people like Elijah) ought to know better. That we should stand in faith, in times of difficulty.
And that's true. There is a time to stand in faith. But God knows we are weak. In times of weakness, we are supposed to lean into His strength. God never judged Elijah. Instead, he sent His Angel to minister to him and to restore him to physical and mental health. That is his goal for us whenever we are overwhelmed.
Emotional exhaustion is often driven by stress. And stress can be triggered by good as well as bad events. Elijah had just experienced a massive spiritual victory. He literally had one of those mountaintop experiences.
That is a time when we should be on our guard. When we achieve highs, it's often followed by emotional lows. No one remains on the mountaintop indefinitely. Invariably, we must come back down to the valley where we may have to confront our own Jezebels and Ahabs.
Emotional exhaustion can be healed. God sent his Angel to Elijah, and through him, God did several key things that we can learn from.
He gave Elijah company and good conversation. Note, there was no rebuke. Just a reminder of who Elijah is and who God is. He gave Elijah assurance. That's something we can offer to others when they are feeling emotionally run down.
He gave Elijah food and water. In our exploits for God, we can put ourselves last, neglecting daily self-care. That is a mistake. Our bodies are temples of the Lord, and so we have to prioritize our health. No health. No wealth.
He allowed Elijah to rest. It's important to include periods of long-term and short-term rest into our routines. The word of God constantly challenges us to enter into God's rest. Lack of rest is a prime culprit for emotional exhaustion.
He reaffirmed Elijah's purpose and calling. The dramatic showdown with the false prophets was now over. It was time to move on to his next mission. We must learn that God is changeless but fluid. We don't have to remain in a situation that's emotionally exhausting. There's other work to be done.
He affirmed that Elijah was not alone. On the mountain, it was 1 to 850 false prophets, but God assured Elijah there were 7000 followers that hadn't bent the knee to the false gods. He was not alone. After Elijah recovered he was sent to anoint his successor, Elisha. God is always thinking of us and thinking ahead.
We can release our emotional baggage to Him.
Thanks for reading this. We'd love your feedback and comments. Please also share with anyone you think may need some encouragement.