Running on Empty

Do you ever feel like you’re running on fumes? I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Have I ever? Sister, I’m there now.” I can identify.

You can think of your personal energy reserve as a big bucket. People you meet will either add to your bucket or help themselves to some of your bucket’s contents. Some of us work in a setting or deal with people who do nothing but drain our bucket for us until there’s nothing left. Then we come to church and run into others who do the same thing, like spiritual vampires. Some people live for the opportunity to drain other people’s buckets.

Everyone’s going to be running a little low now and again because of the circumstances of our lives or the people we get to deal with. So where do we get a refill? We can fill each other’s buckets with support and encouragement. Some of us try to fight the tempest alone, which has never been safe for humans. We can catch each other when we stumble1.

Let’s consider another source for our bucket’s contents: God2. Let’s take a Psalm David wrote during a crisis. Give Psalm 22 a good reading.

Oftentimes, when we’re in a crisis, we feel isolated3. It’s easy to feel as if no one else has ever been where we are. Even God doesn’t seem to recognize the real pickle we’re in. David, called a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t perceive God’s presence with him during the disaster that spawned Psalm 224.

When our bucket gets low, we also feel worthless. Not only does God seem to be out in the ozone, but everyone we know is out to get us, too. David felt like he was subhuman5. Not only was there no one to help him, but those who saw his distress belittled him6. We’ve all run into people who take great amusement at the misfortune of others. Sadly, some of these people are the ones we should’ve been able to count on for a pick-me-up.

It gets worse when we fret so much that we become ill. Whether David was literally this sick or exaggerating, he was definitely not feeling physically well when he wrote this7. Stress can cause all manner of ailments from insomnia all the way to ulcers or worse.

So what was David’s response? His bucket was obviously drained dry at this point, so how’d he get a refill? Surely not from the people around him if he perceived that all were opposed to him. First, he confided his fears and pains to his Maker. That’s what Psalm 22 is about. He laid out his prayer in detail including all the angst he felt and how solitary life appeared to be at that point. We aren’t imposing on God if we communicate those things to him earnestly. Job, who lost everything in the world, spoke very plainly of the mental anguish he felt8.

Next, David reminded himself of God’s nature9. God never slumbers10. He is the Holy One11, eternal12, faithful13, and ever-present14. If God is for us, who can be against us15? Sometimes we serve a concept of a God that is much smaller than the real God is. He spoke the universe into existence in a week16. He knows the end from the beginning17. I mean seriously, one angel wiped out 185,000 Assyrians after dinner one night18, and God is certainly greater than any of the angels19. God can handle helping us with our empty buckets.

Third, David asked for God’s help20. So often we have not because we ask not, or we ask to please ourselves rather than seek the things of the Kingdom21. It’s not enough to just tell God we’re having a rotten day, week, month, or year. It’s necessary for us to ask for his guidance, discernment, or just plain help. How much easier would we find the things in our life if we asked God for help first rather than after we’ve exhausted everything else at our disposal?

Ultimately, David praised and worshiped God22. We shouldn’t neglect that in our prayer life, either. It helps keep us humble and reminds us of who’s in charge here.

Like all of us, David had a roller coaster life. Psalm 22 shows not only how he felt when things went nuts, but it also shows us how he dealt with it. His first resource should be ours as well. When our bucket starts running dry, we should be turning to the endless source of our strength.


1 Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

2 Exodus 15:2, Psalm 18

3 Psalm 22:1-2

4 1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22

5 Psalm 22:6

6 Psalm 22:7-8

7 Psalm 22:14-15

8 Job 3

9 Psalm 22:3

10 Psalm 121:3-4

11 2 Kings 19:22, Job 6:10, Psalm 89:18

12 Deuteronomy 33:7, Romans 1:20

13 Isaiah 49:7, 1Corinthians 1:9

14 1 Kings 8:57, Psalm 27:9, Hebrews 13:5

15 Romans 8:31

16 Genesis 1-2

17 Isaiah 46:10

18 2 Kings 19:35

19 Hebrews 1:6, Ephesians 1:21, 1 Peter 3:22

20 Psalm 22:19-21

21 James 4:2b-3

22 Psalm 22:22-31



2 thoughts on “Running on Empty

  1. If I’m reading this right you can turn to got to help yourself gain your fill your bucket again and regain the strength to continue. That sounds about right!


    • Hi Simon,

      Yes. We are meant to gain our strength and our life from God. When we rely on others or strictly on ourselves to renew our strength, we end up setting unrealistic expectations. Then we become disappointed in the others or end up catering to vices increasingly so we feel better about our situation.

      This creates a perpetuating cycle of disappointment and dissatisfaction.


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