Running on Empty

August 15, 2021

Pastor John Hering

1 Kings 19:3-8

1 Kings 19:3-8

Elijah was afraid, and he ran for his life. He went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he sat down under a broom tree, where he prayed that he would die. He said, “I’ve had enough, Lord. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Then he lay down and went to sleep under the broom tree.

Suddenly an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”

Then he looked around, and near his head there was a loaf of bread baking on coals and a jar of water, so he ate and drank, and then he lay down again.

Then the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, because the journey is too much for you.”

So he got up and ate and drank. Then, with the strength gained from that food, he walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Nobody wants to experience “burnout.”  The dictionary meaning is this: “fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.”  Using a word like, “burnout” probably paints the mental stress for a person pretty well.  Maybe you’ve heard other words used like “exhausted, stressed out, mental breakdown,” or even “running on empty.”  Running on empty paints a pretty good picture, too.  Under international regulations, an airliner must carry enough fuel to reach its destination as well as its assigned alternate, plus enough extra fuel to handle at least 45 minutes of delays. That makes a lot of sense because you don’t want to be in an airplane running on empty!  We are aware of this in our cars as well.  Matter of fact, your car probably has a low fuel light that comes on when the tank is running low.  I’d like to compare this to so many people today—their spiritual fuel tanks are running low.  This was the case of Elijah, so often in our own life, we feel like we’re

Running On Empty

Because we’re burned out

“How did I get here?” So many stressed out people have said at one time or another.  It can be a temptation for us as well.  We remember God’s promise to guide our life, but it doesn’t seem like his GPS is in line with our life’s plan. We can call on God to help us, but when we look around it sure doesn’t seem that God’s emergency response team is anywhere close. Maybe we’ve even come here to God’s house hoping to experience an enriching spiritual experience and ended up disappointed because the long service ended up missing the mark of filling us up.  Elijah was wondering the same thing. God caused a great famine across the land due to the idol worship of the Israelites. However, Elijah was provided food by the ravens while living by the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. Then he stayed at the home of the woman from Zarapheth and God caused her flour and oil to never run out so they had bread to eat. Finally, there was the big showdown on Mount Carmel.  King Ahab and the prophets of Baal were put to the challenge.  They built their altar and Elijah built his.  Whoever’s altar was fired up by their god/God would show who’s god/God was the true God.  The Baal prophets worked hard, but there was no fire.  Elijah prayed to the Lord and fire rained down from heaven and consumed his sacrifice, and even the altar of water-soaked stones. The 450 prophets of Baal were put to death. Talk about a being on a roll! Elijah’s confidence tank in the Lord was full! It appeared that the true God was once again going to lead his people back to faithfulness to him.

But then the bottom fell out!  “Then Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, including the fact that he had killed all their prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to say to Elijah, “May the gods punish me severely and even double it, if by this time tomorrow I have not made your life like one of theirs” (1 Kings 19:1-2). Elijah was scared. He was running on empty. He must have wondered what happened to the God who made himself known through such powerful circumstances? Why would God allow such a wicked woman to spit in God’s face and bow her knee to Baal? Elijah had more questions than answers so he went and sulked under a tree. “Elijah was afraid, and he ran for his life. He went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he sat down under a broom tree, where he prayed that he would die. He said, “I’ve had enough, Lord. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Then he lay down and went to sleep under the broom tree.”

You can understand Elijah’s dilemma, can’t you? I mean, you’ve been there too, haven’t you? You’ve witnessed God’s power displayed with drama one day only to fizzle out the next day. You have wondered why God didn’t use his almighty power to heal your sickness, and you were running on empty. You have dealt with people who live their life with little regard for the Lord and life was running on empty. You’ve worked hard, sometimes even feeling over worked, felt like no one appreciated you, and when you’ve needed God to give you a boost you only felt like you were running on empty.

Appli: How would you counsel Elijah sitting under the broom tree? I’d begin by reminding Elijah that we are sinners living in a sinful world. There is not one person, not even Elijah, who deserves God’s mercy. But, for the sake of the Messiah God had been merciful to Elijah many times. In mercy during the famine God had provided him with food many times over—by the birds, by the woman, and even protected him in the face of the king and his false prophets.  The Lord had been merciful to Elijah. Yes, God had taken care of Elijah. Were the times tough?  Yes.  Could things be better?  Yes.  Elijah should have known better.  But, he turned to himself. He forgot all the Lord had already done for him. He felt burned out, but the Lord would teach him that he was still living under the grace of his merciful Lord. The Lord did not give up on Elijah.  He did not abandon him, but worked to fire up his prophet and strengthen him for his eternal purposes. Elijah was running on empty until the Lord

Fired him up!

Our imaginations can run wild thinking about ways that we would fire up Elijah. How about God pops up out of the sand and says, “Here I am.  I’m with you!” But, that would be too easy. When things are too easy we don’t learn anything. And when we don’t learn anything we don’t grow in wisdom and character and faith. And when we don’t grow in wisdom and character and faith we don’t improve our ability to handle more stress, temptation and confusion.  God doesn’t always spoon-feed us an answer to our problems. Sometimes he makes us look so that when we find him we have grown in wisdom and character and faith. But, sometimes God is so gracious to us that he does spoon-feed us exactly what we need.

“Suddenly an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”  Then he looked around, and near his head there was a loaf of bread baking on coals and a jar of water, so he ate and drank, and then he lay down again.  Then the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, because the journey is too much for you.”  So he got up and ate and drank. Then, with the strength gained from that food, he walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.” The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer and answered it in the way that was just perfect for him.  It wasn’t time to take his life, but it was time to strengthen his dearly loved prophet. First he sent his holy messenger, an angel to bring him physical nourishment.  The second time the Lord himself appears to strengthen his weary prophet.

In our Bible Class next week are going to study what the Bible says about Mental Health.  Here’s a little teaser: Having a sound mind means your brain is functioning in a healthy way.  A mentally healthy person is controlled by rational thoughts and truth.  What do you suppose controls a mentally unhealthy person? Fear, hopelessness and bad feelings.  Come to Bible Class next week when we talk about this more.  For today, let’s zero in on Elijah’s situation.  He was burned out.  He had trouble seeing the Lord in his life.  You can hear it in his voice, “I’ve had enough, Lord. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”  Maybe you’ve said something similar.  “God doesn’t care.”  Is that reality?  Is that true?  Of course not!  The Bible says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (I Pet 5:7).  But, that’s what sin and selfishness does. Remember Peter? He was doing just fine walking on the water until he looked away from Jesus and paid attention to how stormy it was and began to doubt reality, be afraid and started to sink. Jesus was there all the time. It’s just that Peter wasn’t having rational thoughts or realizing the truth.  He could only look at the wind and the waves and imagine what they might do to him.  Like Elijah and Peter we all have our failures that come from fear, hopelessness and bad feelings.  But, these sins do not excuse us from service to God. Like Peter and Elijah, we sinfully forget that our God will provide exactly what we need for the work he has in store for us. Every time we feel lonely or afraid the Lord is giving us the opportunity to look to him—our Rock and our Strength!

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “When God lets us stumble, he does so that we may fall into his arms.” How true!  When he lets us fail as his servants, he does so that we might lose faith in our strength and lean on his grace, mercy and strength instead. It is true that we might work hard to correct our trouble in life, work hard to help others see their Savior and all we get in return is opposition.  Then let us think of our Savior. He endured every opposition for us, to save us from every time we fail.

Think of it this way. A loving wife is cooking a wonderful meal for her family.  The husband walks by and she says, “Honey, would you mind getting the pickles from the fridge?” Being the wonderful husband he says, “Sure, dear,” walks over a few steps and opens up the frig. Then you can already hear it, can’t you? “Where are they? I don’t think we have any!” In this situation there are two possible explanations: the woman is right and the man, who has taken one quick glance at the contents of the refrigerator, is wrong – or the woman is wrong and the man, who has taken one quick glance at the contents of the refrigerator, is right. But, we all know he’s wrong because he’s not looking behind the jugs of milk and extra container of mayo and the two liter bottles of Coke. If she really loves him, she’ll let him look a little longer.  When he finds the pickles he’ll be fired up that he successfully accomplished his mission.

So it was for Elijah. “So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.”  The food Elijah received was certainly well fortified.  It gave Elijah a supernatural degree of strength. Elijah thought he was washed up, alone and defeated, of no use to God or the Children of Israel. But, God was with him, gave him strength, and he still had use for his prophet.

Notice where God led his prophet—to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. There is another name for this mountain. Moses knew this mountain as Mount Sinai.  Do you remember how many days Moses was up on this mountain receiving the covenant of God? 40 days. Now Elijah is sent to this mountain to commune with the Lord. It was time for Elijah to leave the struggles of ministry in the land of Israel, to shut things out and spend time in the Word and in prayer. Reminds us of Luther who had bouts with depression, yet produced huge amounts of teaching, sermons and writings. Luther said it was because of the best three hours of the day that he spent in prayer and the Word of God. Through the Gospel of Jesus he was fired up to carry out the Lord’s work.

Conclu:  Nobody likes to face burnout.  Like Elijah, we all face our challenges—disasters, jobs, Covid, cancer, deaths of loved ones, and financial breakdowns—and we feel like we’re running on empty. We’re tempted to think the Lord is not there for us. But, stop and think where God shows us his best example of being in full control of what appears to be a disaster—at the cross of Jesus. Then stand at the empty tomb where Jesus Christ rose from the dead and conquered powerful enemies that oppose your well being and fight against your faith. At the cross and empty tomb you hear and see clearly that you are forgiven. Dear Christian Friends, like Elijah, on any given day we may feel like our lives are running on empty because we’re burned out.  These are the times for us to run to the merciful arms of our Savior and be fired up to face each challenge with full tanks of God’s grace and love.  Amen.

Recent Sermons

You-Are-Loved

Grace Inspires Amazing Love

Shepherd-Holding-Staff

Your Shepherd Has Made Peace for You!

Protecting-Lambs

Trust the Easter Gifts of the Good Shepherd