“Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” (1 Kings 19:7).
When long-distance runners or cyclists hit a state of depletion it is usually a sign that something is going wrong. The body is beginning to shut down. Runners call it ‘hitting the wall.’ Cyclists call it ‘bonking.’ Whatever you call it, if you are an athlete you don’t want it happening to you.
As strange as it seems to us, unlike physical depletion, a depleted soul is not always a mistake. In fact, God often has a design in our depletion. If we’ll linger with Elijah under the broom tree we might detect what God’s design is. Here are five lessons drawn directly from the text.
1. A depleted and empty soul is not the same thing as a loss of faith; people of faith find themselves in this valley of emptiness. (19:1-9).
Throughout the entire story Elijah is in constant conversation with God. This is the essence of a life of faith. Faith is insisting that in all things we must deal with God: questions, complaints, doubts, everything. People of faith experience this depletion, this emptiness of soul.
2. Our depletion and emptiness of soul may be grounded in a disordered view of reality (19:2-4)
When Elijah stood on Mt Carmel God was the defining reality of his life. God was large; Baal and his prophets were small. Jezebel and Ahab were small. But under the broom tree, his view of reality changed. Jezebel was suddenly large and threatening and God was small. How does this happen? We’ll look at this later in the week
3. Depletion of soul and body are connected (19:5-7)
When God responds to Elijah’s complaint God does so with bread and water and sleep. Spiritual depletion and physical exhaustion are integrally connected. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your soul involves taking good care of your body. Eating and sleeping can be spiritual disciplines.
4. In our depletion God is bringing us to himself; be patient with this journey (19:8).
The journey from Beersheba to Mt. Horeb can be done on foot in about 14 days. However, God led Elijah on a 40 day journey. In our depletion God is at work to bring us to himself. That might take longer than we expect. Be patient with the journey.
5. Depletion is remedied by hearing the word of God in a fresh and personal way (19:9).
On Mt. Horeb Elijah heard God’s voice in a powerful way. The word of God came to him and restoring his vision of reality and renewing his call. What we need more than anything in our depletion is the voice of God in a fresh and personal way.
We’ll take a closer look at a few of these in the days ahead. For today: What would you identify as the signs of your own spiritual depletion?
Your ways, O God, are not our ways. We struggle to understand your design in our depletion – how you work your will in the dark and barren places of our lives. Renew our faith today, provide what we need for this journey, and make us attentive to your voice. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.