Spiritual depletion is an epidemic that most people aren’t even aware they are suffering. The way I recognized it in myself after this succession of events—one mission trip detoured by an extra 31 hours of airport crazies, back to back with another international travel with its own insane story, home for a few days, catching a nasty cold, and a wonderful weekend with a purposefully planned, unrelenting schedule that ended in a 1-hour traffic jam—equaled spiritual depletion for me. I would not have even known it was spiritual depletion except that I was scheduled to teach a Bible study lesson that was titled: Spiritual Depletion. I think I would have labeled it: you are not handling life’s demands very well.
However, it does have a real name, and I’m not alone in suffering from it. I am reminded of Elijah, who, after the greatest spiritual victories of his life, sat down under a Broom Tree to die. I didn’t get that bad, but it’s comforting to know that I am not alone. I give myself freedom to admit I am spiritually depleted. I don’t think I am above it or anything; I just bemuse myself because I know the way to avoid it. I tell people how to avoid it all the time. Why not myself?
I was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit up until the point that I didn’t remember that I am desperate for God in order to serve Him anymore. Take the day it all came to a head. I had done the supernatural. I was truly aware that God was working through me (in the mission trip, the other travel as well). There was no question that I had called on God, and He had answered my prayer. Why would I get depleted? I stopped calling. He, on the other hand, didn’t stop answering.
After it had been accomplished, and I was on my way home; I fell apart. When my work was just about driving home, I didn’t call on God. I acted as if I didn’t need His help anymore. I planned to take it from there. It wasn’t a conscious thought, but it was what was going on in my soul. I could certainly drive myself 2 hours home. There was no one else to depend on. I had no bad weather, or planes, etc. that could block my journey. It was just me and the highway all the way home. And it looked as if it would work out the way I expected until I was 20 minutes from my coveted destination. That’s when my spiritual depletion became obvious to me (and my husband). I only tell others about it. I can disguise it better for the rest of the world.
I was at the end of myself. Of course God was there to get me home through the one-hour detour that could have been longer if He had not promised never to forsake me even when I forsake Him. I’m sure it was the Holy Spirit that guided me off the stalled interstate I was determined to travel, just in time to take a much longer but calmer course through stoplights and quiet traffic and drivers who seemed unaware of the highway hassles I had just escaped.
Why do we Christians become spiritually depleted? We make one simple mistake. We disconnect from God. Even though Elijah had just called down fire from heaven which was quite a spiritual experience compared to my little endeavors; he ran out of spiritual power to even want to live. Why? Because he thought it was all up to him.
The great reality is that though spiritual deletion is often a surprise to Christians, it is no surprise to God. He always has the way back covered and maps it out for us.
In Elijah’s case, an angel brought him food, drink, sleep and exercise all the way home to the heart of God. After he first talked to God, he exposed his spiritually depleted condition:
I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away. (1 Kings 19:10).
Notice the number of references Elijah makes to himself. That is a sure sign of spiritual depletion.
When we believe we are the ones doing God’s work, it’s all over. What changed Elijah was the whisper of God. God told him that He would come to him and this is how God came. And he said,
“Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave (1 Kings 19:11-15).
After Elijah placed his full attention on God again, he was spiritually restored, and he went out from that place to love and serve the Lord with the provisions God provided.