Leadership Lifter: Recovering From Emotional Burnout

by Rick WarrenRick Warren

Last month we looked at how we can experience emotional burnout through focusing on our feelings rather than facts, comparing ourselves to others, assuming blame for the actions of others, and exaggerating the negative. This month, we are going to look at four things that we can do to counteract emotional burnout. 

The thing I like about the Bible is that it doesn’t just give us the causes of our problems in life, but it gives us the cures. God helped Elijah do four things that are just as applicable to our lives 2000 years later.  If you are on the verge of burnout, depressed, you’ve got the blahs, and you are tempted to be like Elijah and run away from that job, or that relationship, or that problem you’re facing, then you need to do these four things. 

1.  REST YOUR BODY  1 Kings 19:5-8 

Relax.  Take care of your physical needs.  That is the first thing you need to do when you are suffering from emotional burned out.  “Then Elijah lay down under the tree and he fell asleep.  All at once after a while the angel touched him and said, `Get up and eat’  And he looked around and by his head there was a cake of bread baked and hot coals and a jar of water and he ate it and drank it and he lay down again.  Then the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, `Get up and eat for the journey is too much for you.’  So he got up and ate and drank again.  And strengthened by that food he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mount of God.”  

It’s interesting to me that when Elijah started having a pity party and started contemplating suicide and started saying, “God, I just want to die!” that God did not scold Elijah.  He did not give him a sermon (which would have only added to his guilt). God’s remedy, step one, was simply eat, sleep, eat, sleep. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is go to bed.  It is amazing how a good night’s rest will do wonders for your attitude.  Weariness and fatigue promote depression. Do not neglect resting your body and mind. 


Pray about it.  Tell it to God.  Get it off your chest.  Complain to the Lord.  Confess it to God.  Spill your guts.  Share your problems with God.  

God said to Elijah in verse 9, “What’s bugging you?  What are you bothered about?”  Elijah let him have it.  “Then he went into a cave and spent the night and the word of the Lord came to him, `What are you doing here Elijah?’  Elijah replied, `I’ve been very zealous for the Lord … “  He’s telling God how he feels.  

The thing I like about this is that God let him complain until he was out of words.  God did not interrupt him.  God did not criticize him.  God is not shocked when you complain, when you say, “God, I think my job stinks!”  God is listening.  “God, I don’t like the fact that I’ve had poor health.”  The Psalms are full of David’s complaints.  I used to read these Psalms where David was mad at his enemies and wonder how that got in the Bible.  It was pretty vicious at times.  “Knock their teeth out, God!  Bash their babies against the wall.”  That doesn’t sound too spiritual, but it was exactly the kind of spiritual catharsis that David needed. 


Get your eyes off the problem and get a fresh awareness of what God wants to do in your life.  I like what God did.  He took Elijah outside.  “Come outside the cave, Elijah.  I’ve got something I want you to see.”  And God put on a production.  It was unbelievable.  Verse eleven tells us, “God said, `Go out and stand in the mountain in the presence of the Lord for I’m about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord.  But the Lord was not in the wind.  And after the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”  God put on one fantastic light show.  There’s thunder, lightning, earthquakes, and rocks are splitting apart.  It was amazing, but God was not in all of those big things.  God spoke to him in a whisper.  

Isn’t that typical?  God rarely speaks to us in the dramatic ways – all of a sudden feel the Lord’s presence and get a word from God.  No, most of the time God speaks to us is in the quiet times. He comes when we are sitting still, praying, or reading the Bible. He might come to us as we are sitting out by a quiet lake and just being quiet and give us an idea or an inspiration.  God reminded Elijah that he was right there, that He hadn’t gone away, that He was there beside him, and He said, “Just be quiet.  Realize I’m here with you.” He is with you, too. 


Recommit your life to God’s purpose.  Let God give you a new direction, a new purpose, a new job, a new career if need be, a new ministry.  Verse 15 tells us, “Then the Lord said to Elijah, `Go back the way you came.'”  He said, get back to work Elijah, go to this city and anoint this man to be the king.  He gave him a project, a job.  

The quickest way to defeat your depression is to get involved in the needs of other people.  Immerse yourself in your ministry.  As you give yourself away, God gives to you and you become a channel.  You stop sitting around in self pity, contemplating your navel, saying, “Poor me!” and you begin to say, “How can I help others?”  The happiest people in the world are those who help other people.  Let God guide you in your ministry, and refresh your commitment. 

Perhaps you are struggling with depression.  Maybe you didn’t feel like getting out of bed this morning.  Maybe you are having a hard time making decisions.  You just don’t know what to do.  You feel like everybody’s against you and it seems like the world is falling apart.  Maybe you feel trapped in a job or trapped in a relationship. You are constantly tired.  You have no energy.  Maybe you feel like running away like Elijah did.  You want to split, forget it all.  

Well, my friend, I have good news for you.  Jesus Christ says there is hope.  

A number of years ago I went through a dramatic period of depression in my life — major depression.  I was too proud to kill myself and I said, “Lord, You just kill me.”  That would be the nice, easy way out.  I can identify with Elijah.  Maybe you have felt that way. Maybe you feel that way now. Please, don’t despair. This is not a permanent condition. There is a way out.  You don’t have to stay depressed.  God can help you through it if you’ll take these steps.  You’re not alone.  God loves you and is right there beside you, even when you feel alone. 

Ask Jesus Christ to give you a new purpose in life. Ask Him to recharge your heart. What you need is a reason greater than yourself which will draw you out of yourself and your depression. If your ministry is a burden, not a blessing, then you are not in tune with Jesus and the life He has planned for you. He says, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” 

Get some rest. Release your frustrations. If there’s something you feel guilty about and regret, ask Him to forgive you. Drop it. Let it go. Refocus on God. Tune in to Him. Pray, “Jesus Christ, help me to sense you, to believe you, to realize that you are here with me. Help me to feel your presence and your guidance.” Then recommit your life to His purposes. Commit yourself anew to him. Then take a deep breath, exhale all of that anxiety and tension, and move on. 

Rick Warren is the senior pastor of Saddleback Church and the best-selling author of many books, including The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life.

3 Responses to Leadership Lifter: Recovering From Emotional Burnout




  2. Dana says:

    This article was an answer to pray! Several of our leaders (including our pastor on a renewal) are facing this situation now. The article will be shared with our session and gives light and understanding to decisions made and will encourage those in leadership that there is hope and a purpose for their continued involvement (allthough may be different) in the ministries of our church and the calling to be God’s servant. Thank you!

  3. Sammie Drehr says:

    What an amazing article right on the heels of the exact valley I was going through. I love the Leadership lifter. Can’t wait to share it.

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