Today, I said to a friend, “I’m so tired.”
But as I had my brunch a few minutes later, God said to me, “You’re not tired, you’re weary.”
We use the two words interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings. “Tiredness” is simply a result of lack of rest or sleep – which actually has been the case for me this week, but isn’t the case today. “Weariness”, on the other hand, is more emotional or spiritual. Remember when Paul said, “Be not weary in well-doing,” and how I like to say that you can be weary of well-doing, but do your best not to be weary in it. Of gives the sense of physical tiredness, sort of in the way Jesus was after long journeys or periods of ministry. Physical activity meant he needed a physical break and some time to pray. In means that the well-doing itself is a source of weariness. The nature of the activity itself is a source of some form of reluctance, resistance, even murmuring, no matter how much or how little activity takes place.
It’s when I become weary that I begin to whine to God. I begin to refer to my brothers and sisters as ‘Your children.’ I begin to wonder why I get to be the bigger person and what’s so wrong with ‘setting people straight’ with a swift and curt response. I begin to see people as ungrateful and hateful; malicious and vicious; spiteful and frightful and tedious and unserious. I begin to get annoyed with the fact that rather than live my simple, quiet life and get a pedicure and make prayers for all men from the comfort of my little convenient corner, I have to do this city on a hill ‘thing’ and be the light and keep trusting and praising.
Tiredness, we may not have control over, in that we are human and our physical bodies are not machines, and thus require rest.
Weariness, however, does have a selfish aspect to it. I remember Pastor Ambrose saying, “If you are constantly burning out, it’s because there is nothing burning in.” Burnout often is more weariness than it is tiredness.
Sometimes, weariness is unwillingness – which is just a different flavor of selfishness. Going to Nineveh when you’d rather not. Being fake-nice to a mean mother-in-law that fourth week when you’ve wanted to snap at her for three weeks straight. Pastoring a church that does not appreciate you in your love language.
Tiredness, you can solve with a nap or two and some food and water.
Weariness requires an audit. Who are you? Who do you believe God is, and does that match who He really is? How do you spend your time? What do you do for recreation? Do you take one day a week to rest? Do you need to change your job, location, friends, church? (Sorry, no, you can’t change spouses on a whim.) Where is your focus?
Weariness requires a ruthless, honest, objective assessment of one’s walk with God, which by default includes or is reflected in one’s relationships, emotions, thoughts and words. If not resolved, weariness leads to bitterness or resentment, and causes God’s children to lose heart. Weary people are on “It is what it is” and “Gotta do what you gotta do, hey?” and “Do you, buddy” mode. If they are not careful, their love can wax cold. The cause, therefore, needs to be nipped in the bud.
One can be tired but not weary. One can be weary, but not tired. It’s definitely possible, God forbid, to be both.
One can also be fatigued. And fatigue is the result of chasing, yet not getting, what God has said is ours (Matthew 6:33) or of pursuing what He has said is not ours and what, out of love, He refuses to let us access. Fatigue, which is caused by going round and round in circles to no avail, is a result of toil and is a by-product of forgetfulness or a lack of understanding of God’s favor. Fatigue can be caused by toiling after things we need only ask for.
1 Kings 19 demonstrates that Elijah experienced weariness. Just days before, he had prayed and fire had fallen from heaven, displaying to all Israel that the Living God is the only God. Elijah had also prayed for rain, and then run in front of the king’s chariot with the kind of grace, speed and sight that only God could have provided. He would have been tired had he not slept and then eaten two meals and drunk water that an angel brought to him. He would have been fatigued had he not heard from God.
Twice, he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts… and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
I have a lot to learn from Elijah today as I sit before God and allow Him to refresh me. When we listen to sermons about this part of Elijah’s life, we are told how crucial it is to be keen not to faint after big victories. We wonder how Elijah could fear Jezebel after he had just seen fire fall from heaven and slain hundreds of false prophets. But this prophet, when he fled from Jezebel, still ran to, not away from, God’s presence. He was fearful, but he was not resentful, or regretful, or rude. He did not say to God’s angel, “I need answers, not food.”
My body language as I began to type this next sentence says a lot – I literally turned away from my computer and leaned back in my couch. Elijah did not take a break from serving God. Oh, the number of times I’ve wanted to do this! I actually did it once, for almost two years, and what a terrible decision this ‘ministry sabbatical’ was! Unlike me at that time, Elijah sought and listened for the God he knew, poured out his heart before Him, and yielded. God, in turn, refreshed Elijah, and sent him on his next mission.
As I wrap this up, I remember a quote that my sister and I both like, taken from a song inspired by Isaiah 35:4…
Say to the weary one, your God will surely come.
Have you not known? have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31, KJ2)