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Leading Despite Exhaustion and Doubt

Merida explores the struggles that Elijah, one of the most celebrated prophets in the Bible, encounters as he moves from clear, obvious, physical or material victories empowered (and enabled) by God to what can be considered to be waiting or pause periods designated by God. This is surprising, to a degree, because Elijah is one of only two ordinary men (the other being Enoch) who were directly assumed into Heaven without dying. “Following the events at Mount Carmel, Elijah gets extremely discouraged, but God graciously renews His servant” (Merida, 2015). Elijah experiences frustration, exhaustion, doubt, and depression following a concentrated period of time during which God worked through him, or at least, in his presence by rebuilding the altar of the Lord (1 Kings 18:30), destroying the altar of Baal (1 Kings 18:38), slaying the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:40), and bringing rain to a famine-stricken land (1 Kings 18:45) Elijah forgot to keep his mind, his life, focused on God and God’s perfect will (English Standard Version Bible, 2001).


With this lack of willing focus, of determined attention to the Lord’s plan, Elijah turned his devotion to his own feelings, his own thoughts, and thus “We find our brother Elijah depressed, throwing a pity party, running from Jezebel, and asking God to take his life” (Merida, 2015). Elijah does not see the immediate returns he expected based on the actions the Lord executed, and he makes the extremely common mistake of turning his focus inward. “He previously ministered to others but now is focused on himself” and “…here we find him running like a coward from a lady…we see him fleeing apart from God’s word” (Merida, 2015).


Worse yet, Elijah preferred to die rather than try to trust God and overcome his own weaknesses. “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001). It is difficult to argue against the physical exhaustion Elijah feels (slaughtering the prophets of Baal, running 120 miles to Beersheba, etc.), and the impact of his emotional exhaustion is not surprising either. “Emotional exhaustion, as a main component of the burnout syndrome, refers to a lack of energy and a lack of emotional resources, which are fully consumed by work (Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1986)” (Niessen et al., 2017). This emotional exhaustion was born of the struggle Elijah engaged in, a struggle against God’s will, and it manifests in negative emotions which in turn drive negative behaviors ranging from rebellion against a righteous authority (God) to surrender to a sinful enemy (self). This is a fight between a man and his ego, an internal fight with an internal enemy. Considering Elijah to be an “employee” of the Lord moves this concept into a relatable contemporary discussion. Research has shown that “…internal feelings of anxiety and depression resulted in strains, such as burnout and physical symptoms. Because of unreleased anxiety and depression, employees would also suffer from low job satisfaction, poor performance, and eventually, intention to quit” (Pyc et al., 2017). This “burnout” is evident in Elijah’s flight to the wilderness, which is indicative of Elijah’s attempt to avoid participation in God’s plan, which in turn may indicate his doubt in the Lord’s strategy.


In any relationship or organization, doubt can be a powerful inhibitor. This can be especially true in project execution, where “an infusion of doubt can degrade a project’s reputation, leading to a downward spiral that can feed on itself. But the spiral can be averted or reversed with the right diagnostics and appropriate actions” (Brown et al., 2017). Each task God blessed Elijah with can certainly be viewed as a project, an interrelated sequenced set of discrete activities intended to work in concert towards collective deliverables and associated metrics (e.g., time, cost, quality, and scope). The diagnostics for doubt during project execution (or in life in general) may identify the doubt itself, the root cause or source of the doubt, the applicability or rationality of the doubt (whether it is logical or not), the value of the doubt (whether or not it is helpful, e.g., a valid warning sign or indicator), etc.


Outside of project or task completion, why is doubt dangerous to an Old Testament prophet or a Christian in current times? The answer is simple. Doubt indicates a focus on self, versus Christian faith, which is a focus on God. “One cannot practice true stewardship without to some extent adopting a selfless and servanthood orientation” (Peters, et al., 2017). Elijah forgot this principal when he chose to (attempt to) evaluate and assess the all-powerful, all-knowing God’s will from a limited, extremely finite human perspective.


Internal negative feelings like doubt and despair can be leveraged to improve productivity because “…vulnerability and self-doubt are normal and can help...We just need to be careful that these feelings don’t progress into imposter syndrome, which can lead to anxiety, perfectionism and fear of failure” (Alani, 2021). Christians can leverage these feelings as learning points, moments of growing pains in our walk with God through life, by keeping a simple truth in the forefront of their thought processes. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001).


Merida clearly details the awesome wisdom and power of God as He worked through Elijah, and also the impotent effect of Elijah relying on his own wisdom and power. It is critical to remember that God’s will, His plans, His decisions, His everything and anything, it will always prevail. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001). This theme is relevant today and will be until Christ returns. Elijah is often presented as the ultimate human warrior for the Lord, a man of such faith that he was blessed with the power to accomplish feats the likes of which we read about in comic books (e.g., Superman, the Flash, etc.). Understanding that his struggles and the resulting exhaustion and doubt they produced humanizes this Biblical superhero, allowing Christians to realize that if we can experience the same lows as Elijah, we can also enjoy the same highs. As for me and my current and future leadership endeavors, this is an incredible reminder of our call to serve God just as Jesus demonstrated, and the wonderful, blessed existence God’s servants enjoy. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001). When the exhaustion and doubt start to surface, I am reminded to trust in the Lord, that His ways are above my ways, and that He is victorious (English Standard Version Bible, 2001). What I may perceive as setbacks or losses are all parts of His perfect plan, and He loves me, so they deserve a positive reaction coupled with further reflection into His will.


References


Alani, L. (2021). Leadership roles: tips for developing confidence: How to learn from a mentor, silence your inner voice of doubt and develop your own style as a leader. Nursing Management - UK, 18-19. https://doi.org/10.7748/nm.28.2.18.s12


Brown, K. A., Hyer, N. L., & Ettenson, R. (2017). Protect Your Project From Escalating Doubts. MIT Sloan Management Review, 58(3), 79-87. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fscholarly-journals%2Fprotect-your-project-escalating-doubts%2Fdocview%2F1885859512%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D12085


English Standard Version Bible. (2001). ESV Online. https://esv.literalword.com/


Merida, T. (2015). Christ-centered Exposition Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/lib/liberty/reader.action?docID=4412639#


Niessen, C., Mäder, I., Stride, C., & Jimmieson, N. L. (2017). Thriving when exhausted: The role of perceived transformational leadership. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 103, 41. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fscholarly-journals%2Fthriving-when-exhausted-role-perceived%2Fdocview%2F2090270569%2Fse-2


Peters, R., Ricks, J. M., & Doval, C. (2017). Jesus Centered Leadership and Business Applications: An Alternative Approach. Business & Society Review (00453609), 122(4), 589-612. https://doi.org/10.1111/basr.12132


Pyc, L. S., Meltzer, D. P., & Liu, C. (2017). Ineffective leadership and employees’ negative outcomes: The mediating effect of anxiety and depression. International Journal of Stress Management, 24(2), 196-215. https://doi.org/10.1037/str0000030



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