When We Are All Poured Out, God Says “Eat, Drink, Surrender”
While our team recovers today from last week’s Rooted conference in Chicago, I thought I’d share the manuscript from my devotional, which opened the conference. We hope our time together blessed all of our attendees as much as it blessed us!
During my time as a youth minister, I was consumed with this longing to share the gospel with my students. But I found myself hitting this pattern: for a time, I’d pour out and pour out and pour out like some sort of grace-possessed fire hose. Eventually though, I’d putter to fumes and shrink into this place of horrible darkness, exhaustion, and depression. Then, once I recovered, I’d go through the cycle all over again: pour out, pour out, pour out, and then darkness, depression, insatiable thirst.
While of course there was some sin writ large over this behavior, what I want to focus on is the notion that most of us are in ministry because of this beautiful, God-given longing we have to share the good news, sometimes in the manner of grace-possessed firehoses.
So go with me now to 1 Kings 19, where the prophet Elijah has a word for us. He has just performed a miracle on Mount Carmel before the wayward, Baal-worshipping Israelites. First, he built an altar to the Lord with a burnt offering, he doused the whole thing in water, and then he prayed that God would show up. He did all this so the Israelites – who’s affections were all over the place – would know the one true God. Sound familiar? With that, the fire of the Lord fell down and “consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.” The people were amazed, and they believed.
Although this breathtaking performance was accomplished through the Lord’s strength and grace and design in order that God might turn the Israelites’ hearts back to himself, Elijah had utterly poured himself out. In the language of youth ministry, he’d hosted a jr. high lock-in, planned a retreat for the high schoolers, written a sermon for the next Sunday, led four small group Bible studies in a week, scheduled all the youth volunteers for the rest of the semester, and met what seemed like a thousand students at the local Starbucks for one-on-one discipleship. And Elijah did it all, like you, like me, with one goal in mind: that his people would know the steadfast love, the saving power, the almighty goodness of the one true God – their only actual source of comfort and hope. Not only was Elijah completely tapped after this miracle, he had to go on the run because of a death threat from the king’s Baal-loving wife. And this is where the scripture gets really valuable for us here today. Elijah is done. He is exhausted. He is out of gas and he just wants to give up altogether.
1 Kings 19:3-9 says:
It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Have you been here before – when you feel you have nothing left to give your students but your very life? Maybe that’s the state you find yourself in today. The work has been hard. You are weary. You are out of resources. You have given everything you’ve got and it still isn’t enough. Friends, the good news for us, and the good news for Elijah, is that God is in the business of giving us the life we need when we are all but dead. He knows exactly how fragile, weak, and wrought with sin we are. And he meets us with perfect tenderness in these moments of holy surrender. “Eat,” he says, and he gives us the bread of life. “Drink,” he says, and he hands us the cup of salvation. “Sleep,” he says, and he leads us to the sanctuary of a darkened cave – maybe for you this weekend it’s a Courtyard Marriott.
This is what we want for you over the next few days. Whether or not you’re in a season of lack or abundance, whether you’re filled up or utterly poured out, that you would walk in grace toward freedom and rest, where you will be kept and hidden beneath the shadow of our father’s mighty wing. That those of us who have showed up today wearied and burdened would hold out our hands to be nourished by both actual food (I think it’s Italian tonight) and Spiritual food – that Bread of life, that Cup of salvation – Jesus Christ, the King of love who died for you. Friends, go like Elijah. Put your feet up, grab some coffee, receive the finishing work that has already been done on your behalf in Christ, and then go on in God’s strength instead of your own.