Church Work and Elijah: God’s Prescription for R&R (part I)

The end of the school year is cause for celebration. Students have succeeded in learning their assigned courses and will be headed on to the next level of study. Teaching anniversaries are recognized- God’s gifts of teachers and their care for kids are celebrated. Retirements will occur and many will reflect on the impact of those special teachers.

But the end of the school year can also be cause for a giant sigh and maybe even some expressions of “I can’t take this much longer.” Tough classes have worn some of the teachers down. Too many “irons in the fire” may have caused a principal or two into thinking that it’s time to look for some other vocation. It might be that there’s a bit of Elijah creeping in with the exhaustion and a consideration of oh woe is me (I Kings 19).

Fatigue can be the outcome from many areas of our life. Consider these 4 and see if these resonate right now-

  • Disappointment. Nothing can be a better set up for undue fatigue than working hard, being tirelessly diligent (or “zealous” as Elijah said) and not meeting personal, unattainable expectations. Are you  punishing yourself for too many shortcomings? Are you frustrated with colleagues not matching your energy and drive? Are you frustrated with the unforeseen happenings that just seem to be constantly in the way of your success? The disappointment may be more self-imposed than reality.
  • An unhealthy self-concept. Church professionals often live the “poor wretched sinner” part of our theology to the pinnacle of pietism. Might some unresolved guilt be living out its suffering in you?. Because of this harboring guilt, is the overflowing joy of forgiveness not being allowed to kick up its heels in a perception of “God’s own child” instead?
  • Covetousness. We know the commandments. As good Lutheran professionals, we have Luther’s meanings nailed down too. But how about their meanings practically in our lives…especially in our vocation as teacher and principal? Happiness and security should not come from performance in our jobs. When this happens,  it’s easy to be “wowed” by a position, power, prestige, and possessions. Being a teacher in small town Iowa is God-pleasing- just as much as that triple graded school in the south. The brand new gym and auditorium are wonderful gifts from a gracious God but so is the packed gym that has decades of memories.
  • Rejection by Others. Unfortunately, we fall to this one way too much and it has crippling effects. Colleagues don’t appreciate our insights. Administrators sense the loneliness of the principal’s office. Health textbooks talk about someone to love, something to do and something to hope for, but due to our own security, church professionals often feel exhaustion from being rejected, unloved, being challenged for our decisions. There is a root issue here and it’s about misplaced affirmations.

Are there lessons of real life church workers and their own exhaustion? Exhibit #1- Elijah.

1 Kings 17-19 gives us an account of God’s mighty prophet as he dealt with Jezebel and Ahab. Might it be that we experience much of  the same in our vocation as did Elijah?

17:1-7- Elijah declared what he was commanded of God to Ahab. It was bad news- a famine to end all famines. Elijah did as he was commanded….and then was told to head to the river and enjoy God’s promises of food and drink- the promise of daily bread.  There was no concern from Elijah at this point about perception from others, about exhaustion, about approval from a superior. God commanded according to his good and perfect will; Elijah lived it out and was taken care of by God.

17:8-16- Elijah shared God’s promises with the poor widow and her son that God would provide for THEIR daily bread, even as they had next to nothing and Elijah had welcomed himself into their home. What did Elijah see? God’s grace, not just to himself in the hospitality of the widow, but also in God’s generosity to the widow’s needs as well.

17:17-24, God uses Elijah to show that God has power over all things- including life itself.

Chapter 17 is pretty intense. As God’s prophet, Elijah had the task of being God’s mouthpiece, His hands and feet, and Elijah was faithful. Praise God for this faith! His eyes must have been awed by God’s grace.

In Chapter 19, Elijah’s faith and discipleship to God were challenged with the anger of Ahab and Jezebel. In Chapter 18, God showed through his chosen prophet that He was all powerful and demonstrated his acceptance of Elijah’s offering and in the slaughtering of the prophets of Baal. Evil doesn’t like to be exposed and when it is, it comes with vengeance. This evil was voiced from Jezebel and Ahab. “Confident and obedient Elijah” was now “targeted and exhausted Elijah.” This time on his own, as opposed to the blessing of God seen in chapter 17, Elijah hides and retreats from God’s mission for him.

And there we are, with Elijah. Faithful, sure of God’s promises, we often prayerfully go on in our vocation, knowing that we are in step with the One who is in control. But just like Elijah, we get exhausted and, at this time of year, we are ready to run and hide a while.

What is God’s prescription for help? Look for the next article post for the answer.