Nothing left to Burn

According to the dictionary, a workaholic is someone who compulsively works hard and long hours.

Does this describe you? Someone who cannot physically, or emotionally, rest until every task is completed. Do you push yourself to the breaking point until your wick burns to ashes?

“But I must,” you say. “No one else will do it.”

That may be true. You may be the only one working on a specific task but that does not negate the fact that, like a machine, you need the proper maintenance and fuel to continue functioning.

But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “This isn’t the right way to do this.It is too much work for you to do alone. You cannot do this job by yourself. It wears you out. And it makes the people tired too.”’

–Exodus 18:17-18.

This short passage in scripture is often skimmed over or ignored completely, but are we missing the diamond in the rough buried here?

For context, Moses and the Israelites have just come out of Egypt and crossed the red sea. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, brings Moses’ family to visit and while he is there, he notices Moses spends his entire day, from sunrise to sunset, listening to the Israelites’ disputes. Jethro tells Moses he is putting too much work on himself and needs to call upon others to help him. Moses was one man; he couldn’t take care of six hundred thousand plus people by himself. The most amazing part is that Jethro wasn’t even a member of God’s chosen people and yet even he could see what was wrong here.

Why can’t we see that in our own lives? Why do we insist we do everything ourselves? I personally love the adrenal rush of a deadline, the badge of honor that comes with working hard and continuing to work through lunch and bedtime. Somehow it gives me validation that I am doing well because I am pushing myself to the limit. But how fast can your cell phone load a picture if it’s on a 5% battery? How quickly can it pull up an app if you are without Wi-Fi or mobile data? How well can you hold a phone call with no service?

Your mind and body function on the same principles. You need food, not just empty calories to stop your stomach from growling, but good food to nourish you. You need sleep, not just a power nap to keep you from collapsing, a restful full night of sleep.

“But I don’t want to be lazy, and people rely on me. How can it be biblical to throw in the towel?” You implore.

Well for one you’re not throwing in the towel; you’re charging for another round of fighting. And secondly, let’s look at want God commanded Elijah.

“And he (Elijah) asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”  And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.”  And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.  And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.”

–1 Kings 19: 4-8.

Elijah was a man with a heavy workload, and a heavy heart. The whole world was against him at this point, and he was the only one prophesizing openly for God. He was in a spiritual pit, a pit so deep he didn’t want to live anymore. That sounds like burnout to me. What did God do to solve this issue?

 He ordered rest.

Once Elijah received it, he was able to go for forty days straight without stopping! That is the kind of refreshment we need. Not a microwave meal and a fifteen-minute nap.

“But who will do the work while I’m resting? It will just sit there untouched.”

Again, the answer is two-fold. First, maybe it should sit there. I find in my own work I can push my foggy brain to do something for hours and experience only minimal results. But when I return fresh, rested, and full of life, I can do about three times that amount of work in the same amount of time. Secondly, going back to our good friend Moses, he didn’t do it alone. He had friends. In Exodus 17:11-13 we read,

“Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.”

Moses’ job was to hold up his staff. If he did the Israelites won but if he lowered his hands they lost. (This fascinating story but for the sake of brevity I won’t go into it. For context I recommend you read Exodus 17)  

Holding your hand up in the air for an hour is painful, how could he hope to do it the entire day? He had the help of others, Aaron, his brother, and Hur a trusted friend. If you are fortunate enough to have good friends and family members, for your sanity’s sake reach out to them. If your job requires constant attention call for their help. You are not a superhero or even superhuman, you are a person with physical, mental, emotional, and above all else spiritual needs. Consider this your order for some R&R soldier.

Get your stuff together, call a trusted friend if you have one, and let others help you take a rest or even a vacation. Turn off the phone, take a nap, eat a good home-cooked meal, read a book, or better yet open up scripture in the quietness of nature. A trip to the woods is usually a good way to escape the world.

Pray, reflect, and breathe. You’re not giving up, you’re not giving in. You are charging your heart and body for another match against giants, but you don’t fight alone. It’s a tag team match, you and God against malicious opponents, and if you’re lucky there’s a third member of the team. A good friend to dry off your sweat and shove a water bottle into your hands and cheer you on.

“-but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
-Isaiah 40:31

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