The common theory is that after contesting with false prophets and running before Ahab’s chariot (1st. Kings 18), the reason that all of a sudden the incredibly bold and apparently fearless Elijah ran for his life at Jezebel’s murderous threats (1st. Kings 19) was that He was tired, exhausted and burnt out. No doubt there is something in that, as God’s immediate attention to him came in the form of rest and food. When God’s Spirit falls upon someone, they are capable of extraordinary things, but nonetheless, those who do extraordinary feats for God are still human beings.
There is a great danger when we are ministering at a time of being aware of the presence of God’s Spirit being with us, opening doors of opportunity and favour etc. that we forget our humanness. I did that at a time when many doors of favour were opening up for me to minister. I said “Yes” to every invitation and said “No” to no one from anywhere in the world! External work to the parish was done in my own time, days off and annual holidays etc. It was not uncommon for me to travel to a meeting, a five or six hour car journey away, preach, minister, drive back, and feel so alive that I would write a sermon, and work a normal full day following. On some occasions I would come home from another country having perhaps done more than a dozen talks, to conduct a wedding and then preach the following day. The result was about 15 years of severe insomnia.
During that insomnia, I was driving back to Thurso up the A9 when I was hit with incredible tiredness. I knew it was not safe to drive on, but I did. As distinctly as I have ever heard the tender voice of God in my current illness, I felt and heard his anger there and then: yes, I know He loves me and that is why He was expressing anger, but please don’t take away from the seriousness of this. I experienced His anger. “Pull over now!” I did so with a degree of reluctance. I felt a command to rest and set my phone alarm to do so. The space between waking and falling asleep is where I often here God clearest. He simply said to me, “You have broken your sleep switch.” It was not up for discussion. It was simply stated as fact.
I don’t believe this is the full reason for the state we find Elijah in in 1st. Kings Chapter 19, a state which eventually leads to us finding him in a cave at Mount Horeb. However, the fuller reason found its entrance through exhaustion, or so I think. I will go on to that another day. In the meantime, learn from my mistakes. If you are in a time where you are very conscious of God using, or wishing and striving and praying in a barren time that He would use you to bless others and to further his Kingdom, don’t assume you should say “Yes” to everything. In mercy God may cover your back as He sees the intention of your heart, but it cannot go on forever. A diary with no spaces marked in for holidays or days off is a sign of disobedience to the God who made us and made us human, though I found many of my fellow ministers in the Church of Scotland seemed to think it somehow validated their usefulness. (By the way, feeling useless and redundant and not wanted or needed is a part of Christlikeness and a vital experience for effective Christian ministry, but more of that another time.) It is a sign of lack of love for Him in that it disregards the principle of Sabbath and a sign of lack of love for those who look on and are concerned at what they see happening to you, and a sign that you do not love yourself with the love and care of God.
I wonder if some of you reading this may even be suffering from insomnia that is the consequence of a good heart toward God, an enthusiastic spirit but an unwise head? Have you broken your sleep switch as a consequence? I pray God will be kind and have mercy upon you and restore to you His precious gift of sleep and rest. Simple as that.
God bless… and sweet dreams… and what are you doing reading this at this time of night anyway…!?