Dealing with Anxiety – God’s Prescription for Burnout | Mike Mazzalongo |

According to the National Institute of
Mental Health, here in America, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, over-stress,
burnout, those type of things, anxiety disorders, affect roughly 40 million
Americans between the ages of 18 and 54. These are not stats, like, from 20 years
ago. These are like April 2016 – 40 million Americans. We have more food than we can
eat, most of us have homes to live in, and jobs. We’re not at war with each other
yet, hopefully. We live in relative security. We can go where we want, marry
who we want, eat what we want, live where we want, work where we want. No
imminent threat, and yet 40 million Americans struggle with anxiety
disorders. I suppose we could use words like stress, worry, as well as anxious,
when we talk about the struggle that affects so many of us from time to time,
and to a greater or lesser degree. It’s not just people from 18 to 54. People
younger than that and people older than that struggle with these
type of things, but that’s kind of the stat that I’m working with. In the world
there are a lot of remedies offered to counter the problems of stress and
anxiety and worry. Obviously, there’s medication,
vacations, therapy, support groups, all kinds of things, breathing exercises, yoga.
As Christians, however, we believe that even if these methods might be helpful,
and many of them are, the most satisfying and permanent solution to the problems
of worry and stress can only be found through faith, and specifically through
faith in Christ. With this in mind, I’d like to review the story of Elijah and
how God helped him deal with his extreme case of stress and
worry and eventual burnout. And that’s where we go for our lesson, First Kings
chapter 19, let’s begin reading verse 1 to 3, it says, “Now Ahab told Jezebel all that
Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then
Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even
more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about
this time. And he,” meaning Elijah, “and he was afraid and arose and ran for his
life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.”
Now I don’t have time to read the entire story so I’m picking it up
right here, and maybe just paraphrase, give you a little bit of background.
Elijah, the prophet, lived in the ninth century before Christ. He was a prophet
who served God during the reign of several kings, not just one king, but many
kings, but one especially bad king, and his name was Ahab and his wife’s name
was Jezebel. Now much of Elijah’s ministry involved the conflict between
himself and the royal couple over the introduction of pagan worship to Israel.
Jezebel was from Tyre and through her influence the worship of Baal Melqart,
who was the official nature God of Tyre, was being actively brought into the
kingdom. The word Baal or Baal, as it’s pronounced, means master or possessor or
husband. In pagan religions of the time every piece of land had its master and
so each place or each town had its version of a master or a Baal deity. That’s
why you have Baal, the name of one city, Baal, the name of another city. Every
city, every town, every plot of land had this god. In response to this, Elijah
had prayed for a drought to come over the land and it did not rain for three
years. And the point behind this is, that since Baal was a deity that was supposed
to control nature, this drought was a demonstration of this pagan religion’s
emptiness and lack of any power. Elijah, towards the royal couple and
towards the country, was saying, you people are starting to follow this God,
this is the God that’s in charge of nature. Let me show you who’s in charge
of nature. And so he prayed to Jehovah, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham
and Isaac and Jacob, and prayed and said, no rain. And no rain came for three long
years. Of course, the drought also made the king and queen greater enemies of
Elijah. After three years, Elijah challenged all the prophets of Baal to
meet him at Mount Carmel in order to demonstrate who was greater, Jehovah or
Baal. After this meeting Elijah taunted and ridiculed them and performed a great
miracle before the assembled people to show that the God he served was
the true God, and Baal worship was futile. After this great demonstration of
power, Elijah then ordered that the 450 priests of Baal be killed and they were
put to death by the people. The point here was that all of these priests had
been appointed by Jezebel and were supported financially by Jezebel, in her
attempt to bring this religion into Israel. Now, if this were not enough, he
also offered another prayer asking God to send rain.
So after three years, the heavens opened up and the water poured forth. After
doing these things, realizing that he may be in danger, he
escaped on foot to another town and that’s where we picked up the reading,
where she threatens him and she says I swear to you, before the day is over,
you’re going to be as dead as those priests over there. So he takes off
running. I give you this story to underscore the idea that Elijah
experienced a physical and emotional and spiritual rollercoaster for three years,
culminating in the great showdown at Mount Carmel. He is only a man. And if we
read between the lines, we realize that this man is close to burnout, extremely
anxious, extremely stressed, ready to completely fall apart. Now Elijah
experienced things that were beyond what normal life requires of ordinary people
and that’s what was causing his – I mean, I, we, don’t have time to get
into all of it, but I mean, a certain amount of stress is good. You need a
certain amount of stress to get you up and going, but too much stress, when the
needle is in the red all the time, too much stress, that leads to burn out. And
too much stress sometimes is what happens when too many things are
happening at the same time. And so in Elijah’s life, if you look over the three
years, you see, first of all, miracles were done in his name. And you think, well,
that’s a good thing. But having a miracle done in your name
as you call out to God is a very exciting and stressful thing. There
was a war going on, that he experienced, a natural disaster. Yeah, he prayed that
there be no rain. Well, there was no rain for three years, that brought a drought
upon the country, terrible economic loss, and he was the cause of it, that the
people were blaming him. Threats of death, forced travel, he had to runaway, he
had to hide. Have you ever had to run away and hide for your life? I mean, think
about that for a second. Imagine, people are looking for you, they
want to kill you. That’s a pretty stressful thing. And then, of course, the
rejection by society. He’s trying to serve God, he’s trying to do something,
but everybody, both sides hate him. The king and queen hate him, the people hate him.
So people, they can manage some of these things, but when too many good
things or too many bad things happen too rapidly, we blow a fuse, we burn out as a
protection. Our body is protecting us from total destruction, as if our body is
saying, well, maybe you want to keep going at this pace, but I’m going to cause an
electrical short circuit here, just to stop everything, so that we don’t
completely ruin ourselves. That’s what was going on with Elijah
now, burnout, has symptoms. And we can recognize these burnout symptoms as we
look at Elijah and the dialogue that he has with the Lord. So we go back to
chapter 19 and we pick it up in verse 4, the first symptom, if you wish, or one of
the major symptoms of burnout is despair. In verse 4 he says, “But he himself went a
day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree;
and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now O
Lord, take my life.” Even though he had witnessed a great victory, he had
done great miracles, he was in despair. And the chief – the
signifying feeling about despair is there’s no hope. You have no hope. He had
no hope. Not because there was nothing to believe in, not because there was no
proof to support his faith, he had no hope because he couldn’t function
properly to see these things anymore. Another evidence of burnout is
self-depreciation. I’m no good, nobody loves me. Look at verse 4, continue
in verse 4, right to the end he says, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my
life, for I am not better than my fathers.” Self-depreciation. I’m no good, nobody
loves me. Why should I try? Burned-out people are hard on themselves,
no matter what they’ve done, it’s never good enough.
Burnout makes you feel like a failure and nothing can convince you otherwise.
Even if your wife or your husband or your friends tell you, well, no, but look
at all the good things that you’ve done, and you’ve accomplished this, and people
love you. You just cannot be convinced that there’s anything good about your
life or your person. Those voices inside your head that tell you,
that encourage you, or discourage you, usually are the loudest during the times
that you feel overstressed and over worried. One of the symptoms is when that
voice is constantly negative in your mind, constantly telling you that you’re
not good, that you are not going to make it, you’re not worthy, then something else
is taking place there. Another symptom, anger and resentment. Like I said, it’s a
long story, so let’s just skip down to verse 10. In this dialogue, that he’s
having with God, chapter 19 he says, “Then Elisha came there to a cave and lodged
there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are
you doing here, Elisha? And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God
of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your
altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek
my life, to take it away.” Do you see the resentment there? Elija felt angry about –
he felt angry about how he felt. If you do your best, if you try your hardest, if you succeed, what should happen? Well,
you should feel good, not bad. When the only reward we get from all of our
efforts is fatigue and depression, we need to step back a little bit, because
we’re close to burnout. He’s, here, I mean, the greatest
victory, single-handedly defeated all these priests, stopped the invasion of
this false religion into the country and how does he
feel? He says, I’m the only one left. I’ve tried the best and look
what’s happened to me. In other word, he’s saying to God, I did what You wanted
me to do, and look where I am now. What’s the point of serving You? What did I get
for all of my effort? Anger, resentment and then of course, loneliness. Verse 14,
skip down to verse 14, he said, “Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the
Lord,” repeats this, he repeats it from before, he says, “I’ve been very zealous
for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant,
torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am
left; and they seek my life to take it away.” Does that sound familiar? Well, he
just said that a little while before. The Lord is talking to him. Why are you here,
Elijah? What’s the problem, Elijah? He says, well, I did what You said and
look where I am and I’m all by myself and I’m the only one that’s fighting. And
the Lord talks to him some more, talks to him some more, and what does Elijah do? He
repeats the same thing. He’s in shock. You ever notice people in shock? What happens
to them many times, if they’re at least awake, they kind of start repeating the
story. Well, I was just standing there and I went to cross the street and then
cars just came out of nowhere and just brushed me back and I bounced against
the wall and I hurt my head and my arm is sore. And three minutes later,
four minutes later, someone else is saying, are you okay? Yeah, well, I just stepped out to go –
It’s like a broken record. They keep repeating the thing, they’re trying to
absorb it. He’s trying to absorb it. He can’t quite absorb everything. Why?
Because he’s saturated with stress and anger and resentment and, here, loneliness.
He repeats his complaint and with it his greatest worry, that he’d be left alone.
Burnout makes people feel that no one really understands them, no one really cares, no one knows how we feel or why we
feel the way we do. It’s a terribly lonely thing. Elijah lived nearly
3,000 years ago, yet his symptoms and feelings are so very familiar to us who
struggle today in 2017 with depression and low self-esteem and resentment and
and alienation, in our modern pressure-cooker society. Because people
have not changed. We’re the same as we have always been. There are some
common mistakes that people do when they suffer from too much stress or they’re
on the verge of burnout. Aside from the physical feelings of fatigue
and the emotional problems associated with burnout, this condition also pushes
us to make mistakes that we would not normally do if we were emotionally balanced and rested properly. Mistake number one, for example, we focus
on feelings, rather than facts. We focus on feelings rather than facts. Elijah
prayed that he might die. He looked inward and he saw the world through the
lens of his feelings, not through the facts of what had actually happened. I
feel like a failure, therefore I am a failure. This is called emotional
reasoning and it’s a mistake. I feel lost even though I’ve confessed Christ and
I’ve been baptized and I’m doing the best I can to be faithful, but I feel
guilty, I feel that I’m not worthy, therefore all of what he said must not
be true because it doesn’t match how I feel. Well, brothers and sisters, we’re not
saved based on what we feel, were saved based on what we believe and what we
do. People who are overstressed or burned out are easily drawn into
focusing and interpreting our life through our feelings, rather than our
facts. Mistake number two, we begin comparing ourselves to other people.
Elijah cried that he was no better than who? Than his forefathers. We usually
compare our weaknesses to other people’s strengths. And we always come out – you
ever notice that? I like to play golf. Who do I compare
myself to? Well, I compare myself to a guy who plays twenty strokes better
than I do every time. Or well, you look at the pros on TV and you see it’s
one of the pros who makes this fantastic shot, makes it look easy, two
feet in front of the pin. And then when you try it and it doesn’t work, you – oh man,
what’s the matter with me? What’s the matter with me? I’m going to
give up this game. Who are you comparing yourself to? The world champion.
Mistake number three, stressed out people motivate themselves with negatives
instead of positives. Elijah complained that he had been zealous for God, but the
people had rejected God and his preaching, in verse 10. Do you see it? We
blame ourself, we punish ourselves with criticism and we label ourselves with
harsh judgments. It’s no wonder we feel bad. We become our worst critics. I always pray, God help me not to be too critical, to be
more gracious with other people. You think I can be critical of you, you ain’t
seen nothing till I start being critical with myself. Why? Because I know me. I know who
I am. I know how hard I really tried. You know what I’m saying. So when I level
criticism at me, whoa it’s got a very pointy edge. You can’t motivate yourself by
criticizing yourself. I’m not saying we should excuse or just let everything go
by that we do wrong. No, of course not. We need to hold ourselves accountable, but
we cannot motivate ourselves to higher and better and more noble and more spiritual,
by continually criticizing ourselves, doesn’t work. Mistake number four, we
exaggerate the negatives. Elijah said, I am the only one left. Later on the Lord
tells him, yeah, you and 7,000 others. The attitude, or this attitude, degenerates
into self-pity and to despair. So here’s what the cycle looks like, okay, this over-stress, over-anxious cycle. It begins we’re overburdened, we’re over stimulated,
we’re overworked, we’re overstressed, we’re over worried, too much, too
fast. And it doesn’t have to be bad things, it can be good things. We’ve just got
too much, too many plates spinning in the air. This leads to a weakened physical
and mental resistance, as well as the spiritual letdown. You just don’t have
enough gas in the tank to take care of all the things that you’ve been
committed to or to take care of all the things that may have happened to you.
Then this condition produces a variety of symptoms, such as anger and depression
and low self-esteem and moodiness and all kinds of things, because these
attitudes drive us to make critical mistakes, such as: emotional reasoning, and
false comparisons, and negative self judgments, and further alienation from
other people. And then these mistakes produce, what? Well, they produce more
stress. More stress on our system, which perpetuates the vicious cycle leading to
total breakdown. And what I’m saying is that sometimes
the body, again, not claiming any medical knowledge, but I’ve seen it in
myself – the over-stress, eventually the body takes over and says okay, buddy, you’re about to kill yourself, so we’re going to do something here, we’re
going to give you a lot of low back pain or we’re going to give you some
migraines or you’re going to have an upset stomach or – we’re going
to do something to just knock you out, break the cycle, because if you keep on
spinning, you’re going to blow up. So God, thankfully, has a remedy
for burnout, prescription for burnout, because He is aware of the body’s
frailty, especially when it is under stress. In the same passage we
see the remedy that God uses to renew a burned-out servant named Elijah. The
first thing that God prescribes is rest. God gave Elijah rest for his body. In verse 5, go back to verse 5, because I’ve
had to jump around in passage here. He says, “Elijah, laid down and slept
under a juniper tree; and behold there was an angel touching him, and he said to
him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, it was at his head a bread cake baked on
hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and laid down again. The angel
of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because
the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the
strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of
God.” So the body will short-circuit if it does not receive
rest and nourishment. A balance of work and rest and leisure is the best
medicine for a burned-out system. People usually rest until they are
well enough to repeat the same mistakes that led to the
burnout originally. They’re working 64 hours, 70 hours a week, and then
they’ve got this over here, and then they’re taking care of a sick aunt, and
the church things that they’ve got to do, and then they’ve committed
themselves to something else, and all of a sudden, boom, they burn out.
And they can’t do it. They need a rest and
then they take a break, a vacation, something, just to recharge the batteries,
and what do they do when that rest is over? Well, they go back to doing the same
things over again. No changes. They don’t realize that if they repeat the same
type of things, they’re going to end up in the same place. People usually, as they
say, rest until they’re well enough to repeat the same old mistakes. What’s
needed is an attitude that understands that rest and leisure are as important
as work, in developing a balanced and pleasing life to God. And many of us,
unfortunately, feel guilty when we’re having fun. We feel guilty when we’re
having fun. As if, oh, that’s my – my guilty pleasure is, I go fishing.
Why should you feel guilty about that? And I was thinking the other day, I was
giving thanks, sometimes in my own prayers, I say, today I’m
just going to give thanks. I’m not going to ask for anything.
I’m not going to complain about anything. I’m just going to find the things in my
life and just say thank you for them. And I realized, as I was making that prayer,
that almost, I mean, I couldn’t think of an exception, but there may be one out
there, almost everything that God has created is for our pleasure. I look at
the sky, the beautiful sky, even with the cloud formation, it gives me pleasure.
Pleasure for my eyes. Look at that, it’s just amazing. And I smell – the grass gets
cut, and I smell the grass, and what does it – freshly mown grass, right, we
know, it gives me, what? It gives me pleasure.
I lay my head down on my pillow at night, the first few moments when you –
before you go to sleep, oh that feels so good, pleasure. I drink a cold glass of water, pleasure. I feel the hot Sun on my head, in the afternoon, pleasure. I mean, He didn’t have
to create us where almost every single experience that we have involves
pleasure of some kind. What kind of God do we have? We have a God that gives us
pleasure. Not illicit pleasure. Not sinful pleasure. We don’t have to do things that
are illicit or disobedient in order to have pleasure, because He’s created
everything in this world to give us some kind of pleasure. We have to
understand that life has work in it, of course, and even that can be pleasurable,
but it also needs rest and it also needs leisure in order to be proper, to be
balanced. If you’re overstressed and close to burnout something is wrong. You have to figure out what the wrong
thing is and something has to change in order to find again the balance. And
that’s why I’m not throwing this at you as an accusation, I’m saying this is what
you need to be thinking about, if that’s your situation: over-stress and anxiety
and burnout. Something will have to change. It might be, there needs to be
more leisure. Wouldn’t that be great. Or maybe there needs to be less
commitments or maybe there needs to be new commitments, in
different areas. I don’t know, but something has to change. Number two in
His prescription – so we said rest, the next one is release.
God allowed Elijah to pour out his heart, his frustrations, his fear, and his anger
before Him. Again, I’ll read one more time verse nine, “Then he came there to a cave
and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” I mean, do you think God didn’t know what he was
doing here. What was he doing? He was giving Elijah a chance to express
himself. And he did. “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts;
where the sons of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars
killed your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life,
to take it away.” He’s just, it’s just pouring out of him. Notice there’s no,
dear Lord, I humbly come before you, my God of hosts and I
appeal to you as your humble servant, Lord. There’s none of that.
It’s just Elijah, what are you doing here? Oh well, they hurt me, then I hurt them.
The problem with burnout is that it’s like a low burning fire
inside that never gets extinguished. It keeps burning and building and
destroying us from the inside. You can pray and cry and share with others and
enter your heart before God. The emotional energy created by the stress
needs to be released and released in a positive way, not a negative way. Some
people, they get release, all right, but how do they do it? Well, they abuse drugs
or alcohol or other things like that. Or they do other self-harming things,
thinking that this will – hey I drive my car at 120 miles an hour,
that’s how I get some relief. Or I go bungee jumping off a bridge.
Yeah, that feels better. There are better and safer ways and more constructive ways
to release the raw emotional energy created by over-stress. Third part of his
prescription: rest, release, refocusing. Refocusing. Elija was seeing only the
problem, but in the cave at Horeb, he sought, again, the version and the vision of
God that had originally sent him to prophesy, he heard again the voice of the
Lord. This time, verse 11, “So he said, “Go forth,” God is saying, “Go forth and stand on
the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and
strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking 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 a sound of gentle blowing. When
Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the
entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Sometimes it isn’t a
change of place or a change of people that we need, sometimes it’s a resetting
of our sights on God and His Word and His Son Jesus Christ and His Church, that
is truly needed. In other words, sometimes we need to re-establish our spiritual
priorities, because many times the over stress and the anxieties are caused
because we have confused our priorities. We’ve taken God, who
should be up there, and we’ve put Him down here. Or we’ve taken our spouse, for
example, which should be our main priority, and we put them down here,
because, well, I got a lot of work to do and my career is demanding this and I play, whatever, I play soccer on Thursday and
Friday. But for some reason or another,
I’ve taken my spouse, who should be my priority, and I’ve put her down in
spot number four. And I don’t realize that spot number four, her being in spot
number four, is causing a lot stress and a lot of anxiety in my
marriage and in my personal life and in her life and in the life of the children. So sometimes we need to refocus,
reorder. So: rest, release, refocus, recommitment. Recommitment. As far as
Elijah was concerned, one task was over, it had been a challenge, it had been a
burden, and after a time of rest and prayer and renewal, Elijah is given a new
ministry, a different service to perform for the Lord. This time we go to verse 15.
The Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and
when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king of Aram; and Jehu the son of
Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-mehola you shall anoint as prophet in your place.” So God gives him another task.
There’s work to be done, you need to go. You need to go anoint a new
king. You need to find another assistant, a new prophet. Many times the best way to
beat burnout is to be active in different ways, with different people,
pursuing different goals. Not always, but sometimes. If our focus is on God and His
purpose, He will be able to direct us into some service that will give us
fresh hope and a renewed sense of purpose and an enthusiasm. He will
also supply us with health to do the work at hand. He noticed that Elijah, this
guy was burnt out, he was toast. He had given his all. He wasn’t the same
man as he was before, so what does He do? He gives him a younger man to work with
him, to help him, to mentor, to carry on the work. Sometimes part of the stress is, who’s going to continue the good
stuff that I’ve been doing? Who’s going to take care of my family? Who’s going to
take care of my ministry or my job or the business that I’d built up?
I’ve spent so much time working on this and now I’m getting tired and I’m
getting old. Who’s going to take over? Who’s going to bring it to fruition? Who
will love it enough that they won’t let it die? That they’ll continue it with the
same zeal that I had. These are real worries that people have. Elijah was
human like all of us here, who nearly burned out because of the pressures of
his service to the Lord; but God renewed him with rest for his
body, release for his soul, the refocusing for his spirit, and a recommitment for
his heart. Also, a reinforcement for his ministry, and that would be Elisha. God
not only cares for us, He knows exactly what we need, for what ails us, no matter
what the generation is that we live in. So the question begs, are you overanxious,
stressed, burned out? Do you recognise yourself, whether you’re a man or a woman,
whether you’re older or younger, whether you’re married or single. Do you
recognize yourself in Elijah? Is there a little bit of Elijah in you? Are his
symptoms, your symptoms? Have you given up on man’s solutions to fix the problems,
worldly ways to be renewed: denial, or escapism, or materialism, or medication, or
hedonism, all the isms. I encourage you to try God’s prescription for burnout.
Just a reminder: number one, find the proper balance between work and rest,
even if it means less money. It’s not all about money, brothers and sisters.
Number two, express your feelings to God honestly in prayer, and do it often and
do it sincerely. Number three, reestablish your priorities,
putting Christ and His kingdom first in your life. Once again, this will then
properly order all of your other priorities. And number four, begin seeking
for new ways to serve the Lord through His church, to serve your family, to serve
your career. Sometimes working at different things with different people
helps us in our renewal process. So if this prescription means that you need to
be baptized, for example, or you need to be restored through prayer, then, of
course, we wait for you to come forward as we stand and as we sing the song of

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