Are You Running on Empty?

Spiritual Exhaustion - I was running on empty. My inner life had atrophied. The joy had fled.
By Jill Briscoe

Elijiah had run till he was exhausted. Flat on his face under a broom tree he asked God to end his life. “I’ve had enough Lord,” he said! The problem was that he was running on empty. Have you ever found yourself like Elijah? I have. God always meets his tired servants when they’ve run out. He cooks them breakfast – just as He did for Elijah. He knows how to replenish our soul.

What is going on in the Deep Place where nobody goes – in your heart?

Once I was struggling with the issue of spiritual burnout. I was involved in youth missions and it was tough. But I had been a youth worker for a few years and I had learned to play the game – smile the smile and look like a missionary, talk like a missionary and act like a missionary. The only thing I couldn’t do with a degree of expertise was sing like a missionary!

I worked myself into the ground. I ran faster and faster till I ended up under the proverbial broom tree. My children began to play up. What is wrong with them? I grumbled. They were driving me crazy! They began to resent the mission, the missionaries and our whole lifestyle. When they whined I smiled a hard, brittle “Jesus smile” and told them it was a privilege to serve the Lord in a difficult situation.

But I soon saw that my children were not creating my attitude, they were simply revealing it! Kids are great at seeing the heart of the matter, and basically I had to admit that what was the matter with my heart was the heart of the matter!

I was running on empty. My inner life had atrophied. The joy had fled. The shadows wouldn’t go away. All that was left was an unhappy, unthankful young woman whose heart was cold and who was running so hard – working her heart out for God – that she was out of energy, ideas, compassion for kids, and sleep!

Fortunately there were people I was accountable to who could see what was (or what wasn’t) happening. They knew there was no smile on my heart even though there was a smile on my face. Some had had similar struggles and could read the signs. They loved me enough to see if they could help.

“I didn’t think it showed,” I muttered miserably.

“Well it does,” they told me cheerfully. “You’re a pretty good hypocrite, but we knew there was nothing going on down there inside of you because no one’s been receiving anything from you for a while!” Ouch! That sent me to the Steps of my soul.

“It’s true, Lord,” I howled when He graciously came and sat on the Steps with me. “I’m empty! I’ve nothing left to give.”

“It’s been true for a long time,” He agreed without any hint of condemnation. Then gently, “The journey is too much for you.”

I realized then it had been too long since I had led anyone to Christ, been an encouragement to a friend, really prayed with my kids beyond the “Now I lay me down to sleep” thing, or reveled in God myself.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“We need to talk,” He answered. And we did, till the shadows flew away and I was ready to walk out into the sunshine with the kiss of God on my face and, in truth and joy unspeakable and full of glory in my soul again.

“Maybe I need to stop running. All this activity – my Sunday school class, take a break from youth work – just stay home and regroup.”

“You mean quit?” he asked mildly.

“No, but maybe I should stop running so fast and furious.”

“You don’t need to stop running,” He replied, “though we can talk about prioritizing. I’ve wanted to help you in a while! You don’t need to stop running, Jill, you need to stop running on empty!” Then we settled down to business.

As I was preparing to leave the Deep Place and return to the Shallow Place and start running again, I remembered a magazine article I had been reading about camels! “I was reading this missionary newsletter, Lord. You know, the one with a picture of a camel after a long drive across a desert,” I continued. “It looked really funny and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized it was running out of food.”

“It had a flat hump?” He asked with a twinkle in His eye.

‘Er, yes – it reminded me of me. I feel as if I’ve been running across a desert carrying this heavy load of work and now I’ve used up my store of food and feel like a flat camel!” Then we both laughed.

Before I left we read the Golden Book together and I began to replenish that “hump”! Soon I wouldn’t be running on empty any more! Just like Elijah was replenished under his broom tree, I went 40 days and nights on the food he fed me from the Golden Book that day. And I didn’t even realize I was running!

I have found that the devil never stops trying to get us running on empty one way or another. Don’t let him do it to you! Go to the Deep Place inside you: you’ll find Him waiting. He’ll say to your soul, “the journey is too great for you, rest here awhile. Let me prepare some food for your soul. We’ll eat it together.”