Elijah’s Three Remedies for Burned Out Spiritual Leaders
1. Do Something Spiritual…Like Take a Nap
One of my favorite parts of this story is how God finds Elijah in the desert but doesn’t engage with this existential crisis he’s having. Instead, he in effect says “Hey, why don’t you take a nap, drink some water, eat some food, rest again, and then we’ll chat.”
What would God want to provide for you right now? Do you need to take a day off? Go for a hike? Go to your favorite restaurant? Sleep in? All these can be spiritual, and don’t fool yourself into thinking “well I don’t have time.” You don’t NOT have time. Taking care of your emotional, spiritual, and physical needs are often the most productive pastoral task you have.
2. Be Still
The moment I mentioned this story you knew this one was coming (you’re pastor after all!), but don’t skip past this part and miss how beautiful the “still, small voice” moment is. What is Elijah looking for from God? He’s wanting him to show up and DO SOMETHING! “God, fix it!” he’s saying. And this is a BIG fix it. God wipe out evil. God, remove these wicked rulers. God, change the hearts of your idolatrous people. God, show up in power like you did on Mt. Carmel and make this all go away.
So God sends a raging fire. An earthquake. A wind that tosses boulders like ping pong balls. Each of these is echoes of previous Big God moments, with the wind and fire specifically being common signs of God’s wonder-working presence moving in Israel’s midst. But this time God isn’t in any of them. Instead, there’s a still, small voice that shakes Elijah to his core.
What would happen if you let go, just for a second, of all your grievances, the giant to-do list God needs to take care of, that giant financial need, the missing volunteers, the state of America, or whatever else and instead you went to a lonely place and listened for the still, small voice to speak?
3. Go Make Disciples
Behind our burnout, discouragement, or desire to walk away is the question of whether any of this even works anymore. Does God still change lives? Can the church really be the church? Does any of this matter? This is what Elijah is asking, and notice how God responds. God tells Elijah “listen, you’re not alone. Now go down from this mountain and find a guy named Elisha. He’s going to be your apprentice. Teach him everything I’ve taught you.”
Oftentimes we as pastors are so busy trying to get other people to make disciples, we forget to do it ourselves. But the truth is a big part of what keeps your pastoral tank fueled is seeing a transformed life. So who can you disciple? Is there a newer Christian in your church you love being around? Are there high capacity leaders in your church you find energizing, but who need someone to walk them further into God’s kingdom? If you had time to pour into three to five peoples’ lives, who would they be?
When we see God change someone’s life we remember “oh yeah, this actually works.” We remember that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us. We remember that God has always been into spiritual guerrilla warfare, taking one enemy outpost at a time, a silent rescue mission near invisible to those who aren’t looking.
As we make disciples not only do we see that God is at work, but over time we look around and realize we’re not alone. We now have fellow warriors with us in the journey.
It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to be depressed. It’s okay to be discouraged and feel alone, because ministry is hard. So go rest. Be still. And then make disciples.
God is with you.