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When You Are Running on Empty

by Bob Russell

Bob Russell1Gleaned from www.bobrussell.org


Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.


Dear Bob,

     I enjoy your blog immensely.  In fact we are using it for our Bible study for the next several weeks.

My faith isn’t in question, I am a strong believer, and I do believe the Bible is inerrant word of God.  I am in the word every day and attend two men’s groups. My world is just so noisy that I don’t hear His voice very often.

I have had a very difficult decade and have struggled as a single parent, financially, and am trusting that God will help me in this life.  All of my problems were of my own doing – my sin and my disobedience…period.  I have been sober for over 7 years but the wreckage of my past is still punching me in the gut on a regular basis.

My problem is that I am just out of gas. My daughter asked me out of the blue what I had on my bucket list about a month ago and I seriously drew a blank.  It was frightening to realize there wasn’t anything on it. I don’t “consider it pure joy” and feel like I have tried to go to Him and find the peace that He promises. But rarely do I experience that peace.  

I’m not really angry, I just have NO GAS left in my tank. There are many blessings in my life. I know the problem is in the mirror…not in Heaven.  Any ideas?  


It’s good to hear of your consistent, strong faith in Christ. It’s also refreshing to read that you take ownership of the consequences of your own behavior.  All of us have made serious mistakes in our past but most of us rationalize them, blame them on others, or even incriminate God for the unpleasant harvest we reap after we’ve sown the seeds of disobedience in our life.  I applaud your honesty and spiritual perception.  That’s rare.

Be sure to rejoice in the complete forgiveness and marvelous grace of God. Remember, Moses committed murder, and as a consequence, had to live for a prolonged period in obscurity.  But God’s grace forgave Moses and restored him to a significant leadership position in Israel.  The sins of the past don’t have to determine your contribution in the future.

You expressed your frustration as “being out of gas.”  I think a lot of Christians can identify with that feeling.  A young minister emailed me some time ago saying, “My problem is not that I’ve fallen into a moral failure, but I’m just drained.” Eugene Peterson described the Christian life as “a long obedience in the same direction.”  And there are times when the road seems awfully long…and mostly uphill.  That must be especially true for single parents.

The Bible encourages us to “Never be lacking in zeal but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11), probably because one of Satan’s most lethal temptations is discouragement.  But how can we do keep our spiritual fervor when our energy is depleted and we feel like we’re running on empty?

At the risk of reducing life to another pat formula, below are some suggestions that have worked for me and that I share with younger preachers who are nearing burn-out.  Maybe two or three of the following ideas could help reinvigorate you.

  1. Be sure to take one day off every week.The fourth commandment reads, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”  God designed us to rest from our work one day in seven.  When we don’t observe any kind of Sabbath we eventually run out of energy.  Dr. Matthew Sleeth underscores this principle in his excellent book, 24-6 – A Prescription for a Healthier Happier Life.
  2. Practice a daily quiet time. Start every day by reading a chapter or two of Scripture and meditating on it.  Then pray about what you are thankful for the previous day and ask God to anoint your tasks for today.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Give me this day my daily bread.”  When you spend a few minutes with God in the morning He provides additional energy and a peace of mind throughout the day.
  3. Listen to CD’s of a good Bible teacher and uplifting Christian music while you drive. Find several preachers you really like and listen to their sermons.  The Bible is meat and milk for the soul.  When it’s taught effectively our spirits are fed and energized.  Find a radio station that plays the kind of Christian music that inspires you and listen to it as you drive or as you perform routine tasks.
  4. Enjoy a hobby that has nothing to do with your assigned responsibilities.  Someone said we need three things to keep us going: someone to love, something to do and something to hope for.  As a preacher, I loved the church and was devoted to the church.  But I needed something outside the church to look forward to periodically.  Something that would break the monotony and get my mind cleared and refreshed.  Somehow it helped me get through a boring meeting if I could think to myself, ‘I’m going to play golf tomorrow” or “I’m going to the U.L. football game Saturday.”  An anticipated hobby gave me something exciting to look forward to and provided energy to endure draining tasks.
  5. Develop one or two close, trusted friends with whom you can vent. The Bible teaches us to bear one another’s burdens.  It reminds us, “As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).  The Christian life was not meant to be lived in isolation.  Share your life with another who really understands your circumstances because, “two are better than one because…if either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Eccles. 4:9-10).
  6. Take a Mission trip with a church group. Some people really enjoy mission trips.  They can’t get enough of other cultures and international travel.  I don’t.  I am a homebody. I don’t like long plane trips.  I don’t like eating food when I don’t know what’s in and I don’t like sleeping in a bed when I don’t know what’s in it!  When I take mission trips I find myself counting the days until I get home.

I like what mission trips do for me spiritually.  There’s something about getting out of your comfort zone and having to trust God in a risky environment that’s healthy for us.  To witness Christians in third world countries who have so little of this world’s goods and yet who are extremely joyful in their faith, humbles me, convicts me…and  somehow re-energizes my soul.

  1. Occasionally take a prolonged break from your routine. Moses taught the Israelites that their fields were to remain unplanted every seven years. That wasn’t just for the resting and replenishing of the soil, but for the reenergizing of the farmers.  Jesus’ ministry lasted just 3 1/2 years and yet He spent the first forty days, alone in the wilderness with God.  I hear people say they can’t afford to take long breaks, but the truth is they can’t afford not to.

The last half of my ministry I took five weeks off every summer.  I’m convinced that’s one of the reasons that I lasted forty years in the same church.  The church got a break from me for five consecutive Sundays and I got a break from them.  I found out after five weeks I was eager to come back and they seemed eager to hear me preach again.

Isaiah 40:31 reads,

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.”

I pray you’ll continue to be faithful even though you’re weary.  Sometimes the best way to tell the Lord you love Him is to put your feet on the floor and do what’s right regardless of how you feel.  Keep walking even though you feel faint.  But I also pray that God would bring the right experiences and the right people into your life to reenergize you and help you to enjoy each day to the fullest so that you again mount up with wings like an eagle and fly.


Bob Russell is Retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.


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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33