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  • David Schrader, PhD., National Pastor

Running on Empty

While heading out on family vacations, I had the habit of stretching the distance our car would travel, when every indication on the gas gauge was warning me that I should pull over and fill up. The signs were there–first the yellow lights, then the red lights, then the constant chimes! Running on sheer empty. How crazy is that? The fact that I hadn’t run out of gas on any occasion just seemed to fuel the ridiculous assumption–that I could always ignore the signs and keep on going for a few more miles.

Oh, I had my reasons. I wanted to eliminate as many stops as possible. With seven kids and two adults, these pit stops could take a while. I was hoping to always coordinate the fill–up times with the washroom times–you know– it was all about saving time so we could get to our vacation spot sooner and enjoy our time longer. How's that for good logic?

Well, that wasn't good logic at all. Upon reflection, I was uptight and needed to unwind. My disregard of the warning signs was an indication of just how stressed I was.

When we are uptight and stressed–trying to push ourselves faster down the fast lane is not wise. We need to obey the warning signs. It could even be fatal to ignore them. I was reminded that there are others out there like me (not at all comforting) after reading the following story. Frank Allegretti, 64, was a meticulous pilot with more than twenty years of experience—which makes it all the more shocking to hear that he crashed the plane he was piloting in an Iowa cornfield because it ran out of gas. He died in the crash. Interviewed for an article about the crash, Allegretti's wife, Cheryl, said, "Like everybody has told me, he was the most cautious, [safe] pilot they ever knew."

So, why did Frank Allegretti push the limits and ignore the signs? We'll never know the answer to that question. Sadly, Allegretti's story is fairly common among pilots. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials say pilots run out of gas with surprising frequency. In the past five years, fuel exhaustion was the cause or a contributing factor in 238 small plane crashes in the U.S., killing 29 people. "It's surprising to me," said Tom Haueter, director of NTSB's Office of Aviation Safety, "that there's a group of pilots who will knowingly push it, thinking, I can make it the last couple of miles and come up short."[1]

Stories like these are a sobering reminder of the dangers of ignoring the warning signs of running out of gas. It also speaks to the fact that too often we see ourselves as being invincible. The same dangers apply to pastors, church leaders and just about anyone that knowingly hurries down the fast lane without regard to running out of spiritual energy. We need to recognize the dangers of driving ourselves too hard under the guise of "service to the Lord" while running our lives on near empty. This is not God's plan for us, especially when he desires to fill and empower us with his Holy Spirit. This is why Paul said in Eph. 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.” The original language implies our need to be continuously filled. None of us were designed to run on empty. Not even Jesus did this. He withdrew to desolate places on many occasion just be alone, to rest and to pray.

Lettie Cowman, in her book, "Springs in the Valley", tells an interesting tale from African colonial history:

In the deep jungles of Africa, a traveler was making a long trek. Local tribesmen had been engaged from a tribe to carry the loads. The first day they marched rapidly and went far. The traveler had high hopes of a speedy journey. But on the second morning these jungle tribesmen refused to move. For some strange reason, they just sat and rested. On inquiry, as to the reason for this strange behavior, the traveler was informed that they had gone too fast in the first day, and that they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.[2]

Lettie Cowman went on to conclude: "This whirling rushing life, which so many of us live, does for us what that first march did for those jungle tribesmen. The difference: they knew when they needed to restore life’s balance; too often we do not."[3]

God instituted the concept of a Sabbath for all of us. Sabbaths are times to help our souls catch up with our bodies. Letting go and relaxing at the feet of our Saviour lies at the heart of the Christian gospel even though it runs countercultural to our busy, consumer–driven lives. Remember Jesus' words to Mary about her sister Martha? Take a look:

Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.“ But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.“ (Luke 10:39-42)

EndFragmentIf we can let go of the assumption that our hard work will bring us all that we desire, we will be better suited to look at the present moment and receive it with gratitude. Andrew Murray put it this way, “Beware of the barrenness of a busy life”. Your life might be fast–paced and you may even think you are accomplishing a lot. But have you checked your “spiritual gauge” lately? Maybe you are dangerously close to running on empty. Take a look at your “gauge”. If you’re running on empty, pull over, rest awhile and fill up your soul with the goodness and strength of the Lord. Take a gasp of fresh air and take in what the prophet Isaiah says in Isa. 40:28-31:

Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

[1] Associated Press, "Pilots Flying On Empty Baffle NTSB," USA Today (11-30-09)

[2] L. E. Cowman, Springs in the Valley, (Grand Rapids: MI) Zondervan Publishing House, 1969

[3] Ibid.

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