If you conduct an internet search for the term burnout, you’ll find hundreds of articles about the steep rise of this condition since 2020. Though the turn of phrase was coined only a few decades ago, it’s not a new concept. In fact, 1 Kings 19 gives us a picture of intense burnout from a person in ministry. This chapter demonstrates God’s tender care for the weary, burned-out believer.
“‘I have had enough, Lord,’ … .” -1 Kings 19:4b
In 1 Kings 19, Israel’s prophet Elijah is on the brink of emotional collapse. The prior chapter details Elijah’s confrontation of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, which culminated with fire falling from Heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice to the Lord. In all likeliness, Elijah may have assumed that this demonstrative display of God’s power would send Israel to its knees in a wave of repentance. Instead, it led to the queen of Israel vowing to take his life.
So Elijah flees into the wilderness, where he finds himself completely depleted, both physically and emotionally. He then lays under a bush and utters the five most relatable words a weary believer can pray: “‘I have had enough, Lord,’ ... (1 Kings 19:4b).”
God’s response in this moment illuminates how He cares for believers on the brink of despair.
In suffering, God doesn’t always answer our prayers as we desire.
Elijah’s ministry to Israel was stressful, exhausting, and, at times, seemed to accomplish nothing. So much so, at his deepest point of desperation, he prays for God to end his life. This plea comes from a man whose prayers were powerful! He’d previously prayed for a three-year drought in the land, for the drought to end, and for a widow’s son to be raised from the dead—all prayers answered yes by God. But when Elijah asked the Lord to take his life, the Lord’s answer was no. God knew the bigger picture of what was yet to come for Elijah. In fact, Elijah was one of the few people in the Bible who never died! When God answers no to our prayers in suffering, it’s always for our good.
When we’re weary, God cares for our needs.
“Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’” -1 Kings 19:5-7
After Elijah prays for God to take his life, he lays down and falls asleep. His tank is empty, and he has nothing left to give. Many believers today can relate to reaching this point of burnout. What a beautiful picture these verses paint—when we’re too weary to go to God, He comes to us. God knew that before He could address Elijah’s spirit, He needed to first care for his body. So the angel of the Lord, who theologians believe was a physical manifestation of God Himself, came and tended to Elijah in his depression.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “The spirit needs to be fed, and the body needs feeding also. Do not forget these matters; it may seem to some people that I ought not to mention such small things as food and rest, but these may be the very first elements in really helping a poor depressed servant of God.”
In times of brokenness, God hears our cries.
When Elijah awakes the second time, he begins a 40-day journey through the wilderness to Mount Horeb. There, he gives full vent to his frustration with God.
“And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’” -1 Kings 19:9b-10
God knew Elijah needed what we all need in times of great brokenness and despair—a personal encounter with His presence. He calls Elijah to stand on the mountain as His presence passes by. But instead of appearing to Elijah in a great wind, earthquake, or fire—much like the mighty displays of God’s power Elijah had grown accustomed to—He comes to Elijah in a gentle whisper. God speaks out of calm, not chaos. What a comfort to know that the God of the universe listens to and cares about our frustration and despair in times of burnout, even when He knows our earthly perspective is limited.
God doesn’t leave us in our isolation.
Burnout can make us feel more isolated than we actually are. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah genuinely believes he is the only person left in Israel who follows Yahweh. After caring for Elijah’s physical needs, then listening to his emotional anguish, God reveals to Elijah that he’s not alone as he feels. In fact, there are 7,000 people in Israel who have not bowed to Baal! Instead of leaving Elijah alone in his despair, God helps Elijah shift his focus from his difficult circumstances and turn his eyes toward others. The Lord tasks Elijah with anointing his predecessor, Elisha—a reassurance that Elijah is no longer alone in his ministry to the people of Israel.
In our greatest moments of burnout, when we feel our well has run dry, this passage of Scripture reminds us that God is for us. He cares for our needs, He hears our cries, and He will never leave us alone.
Marlena is a mom, wife, and freelance writer in Texas. She has a desire to use her skills to glorify God and encourage others.