“When fatigue sets in, form breaks down.”
It is strange the things that stick with you. Besides proper shooting technique (knee over the ball, land on your shooting foot) and a love for the game, this is the most useful remnant from a childhood and adolescence largely marked by soccer.
When I find myself impatient and short-tempered with my kids, the phrase pops into my mind. When miscommunication begins to happen more frequently in marriage or when I find increasingly frustrated with the circumstances of my life, I hear the haunting words of my soccer coach.
When my form, the principles and truths I seek to live out and practice, begins to break down, there is a strong chance I am overly fatigued, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and/or physically.
A wise man, my husband, taught me the words of a wiser man, Solomon, when he saw my tendency to work harder when I began to get exhausted. “If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.” Ecclesiastes 10:10.
Solomon is saying, when the ax becomes dull, when your form breaks down, stop and sharpen the ax. In the words of my husband, “Work smarter, not harder.”
When our faith or our love or our patience blades grow dull, the temptation is to dig deeper, swing harder and exert more effort. This often just leads to further exhaustion and dulling.
So, how do we sharpen our blades? What does this look like, especially in the life of a believer? A glimpse into an exhausting season of the prophet Elijah’s life provides precious insight into how God sharpens our axes.
If anyone had reason to become exhausted it was Elijah. Poor dude was called as a prophet to the terribly stubborn and poorly situated people of God. He predicted a severe drought that lasted years, causing the anger of King Ahab. After being kept alive supernaturally by ravens who brought him food during a season of isolation and hiding, he was kept alive by the faith of a starving widow and her son, who shared their last bit of flour and olive oil. He was used by the Lord to bring the same widow’s dead son back to life. I’m exhausted in every realm just imagining what if must have felt like to be Elijah emotionally, spiritually and physically.
The exhaustion comes to a head after an incredible prophet show down on Mount Carmel in which God used Elijah to show Himself real and active in juxtaposition to the inattention and lifelessness of the gods of 400 false prophets. Directly after God has used him in such a tremendous and miraculous way, Elijah snaps at the threat of Jezebel.
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life…He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19: 3 and 4.
Those are the words of an exhausted follower of God, of one whose faith form has broken down due to extreme fatigue.
Thankfully, God doesn’t chide him, pull him up by his belt loops and tell him to get back in the game and work harder. Rather, He sends angels to minister to his exhausted servant. Twice the angel of the Lord touches him and gently tells him to eat some food and get some rest.
Moving back toward physical health, the Lord begins to work on His spiritual exhaustion, causing him to take a 40 day mini-Sabbatical back to Horeb, the mountain of God, a place of deep significance. There, in the cave, the two have a little chat.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.”
We hear the words of an exhausted, depleted man. The Lord and I have similar conversations, usually paired with weeping and whining on my part, over parenting, marriage, ministry and life as a human.
“Aimee, what is going on?”
“Well, Lord, I have been trying my hardest. I have been in your Word, I have been attempting to carve out time to serve my husband, to meet the needs of each of my children. I am praying for these college girls. But nothing seems to be working. I am done. Check mate.”
When we begin to have conversations like this with the Lord, our form has broken down, often due to fatigue. In these vulnerable moments of exhaustion, we need exactly what Elijah needed: a reminder of the Lord’s power and a fresh, intimate experience of His presence.
Elijah was expecting him in the powerful wind or the earthquake that shook the ground or the terrible fire whose flames licked at his neck. However, what He needed is what God delivered: a gentle whisper from the Lord.
Elijah did not need to work harder, he needed the Lord to sharpen his ax of faith. He needed to be reminded that God was worthy of the exhausting work and would go with Him, providing the strength he so desperately needed.
When our exhaustion causes us to begin to raise the white flag of surrender, what we most need is time alone in the presence of our God. He will take care of the rest.