DECEMBER 9th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Dealing With Your Feelings PS 13 / 1 KINGS 19:1-13
“FEELING BLUE? BE RENEWED!”
Have you ever noticed how the holidays magnify the emotions? The highs are higher and the lows lower. Some people are in ecstasy; others in agony. For some the holidays that twinkle silver and gold all around them are full of black and blue within them.
During this season suicide rates go up, marriages fall apart and family conflicts intensify. Last year at Christmas, over three million arguments led to police intervention. So how do you deal with how you feel when you're feeling blue? To be sure, you wouldn't be alone. Over 18 million Americans, according to recent estimates, will be struggling with feelings of depression this Christmas.
Godly people get depressed as well – people like Moses, Jeremiah, Job, and the subject of this morning's character study – the prophet, Elijah. Elijah was given an enormous task of telling King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, that because of their wickedness, God was bringing on a severe drought.
For some reason, Ahab and Jezebel didn't like Elijah very much after that. Imagine that! Mean- while, some false prophets led the people in to worshipping idols of bulls called Baal. So Elijah set up a kind of showdown of sorts – a showdown to establish clearly once and for all who the true God really is – Baal or the God of Israel. The account is found in the preceding chapter, where it reads:
“Then Elijah said to Ahab and his prophets, 'Get two bulls for us. Let your prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood without igniting it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – He is God!'”
(1 Kings 18:23-24)
So Elijah's saying, “Let's build two altars. I'll build one to my God over here. You build one to yours over there. We'll butcher some bull, pray and see which God sends down fire to cook our BBQ.”
It brings to mind a Sunday school class that was studying this very story. The teacher explained how Elijah commanded the people of God to fill four barrels of water and pour it over his altar and its trench four separate times. “Now,' the teacher asked, 'can anyone tell me why the Lord would have Elijah pour water over the bull on the altar?'
A little boy leaped to his feet. 'I know!' he exclaimed. 'To make the gravy!'
So..., the false prophets prayed to Baal while their steak sat in the sun all day going bad. Elijah prayed and instantly fire from heaven incinerated the bull and all the water in the trench. Crispy!
“Instantly the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the bull, the wood, the stones and even the dirt. It even evaporated every drop of water in the trench. When the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, 'The Lord is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
(1 Kings 18:38-39)
With that event, God promptly ended the drought, so abruptly, in fact that Ahab had to hightail it so as to not get his chariot stuck in the mud. And if that wasn't amazing enough already, when he returned to the city entrance, some 18 miles away, there was Elijah, waiting for him. The power of God had come upon Elijah and he outran Ahab's chariot, and then some! Imagine how that was for Elijah!
There you are, sitting on the city gates, as the fellowship of the King come riding into town. Reminds me of a couple of hobbits...
[DVD clip from the film, Return of the King; ]
What a great moment for the prophet Elijah! If I'm in his place I'd probably do a little victory dance and maybe even sing a song: “We are the champions! We are the champions! My God not your gods, cause Yahweh's the champion..., of the world!” Something like that, right?
But here's the thing. Just a short time later, having escaped Jezebel's murderous wrath, we find Elijah discouraged and depressed. We're told: “He went into the wilderness, came to a broom tree and sitting beneath it prayed that he might die. 'I've had enough, Lord!' he prayed. 'Take my life!'”
(1 Kings 19:4)
From victory to the valley, from the mountaintop to the wilderness, just like that! Biblically the wilderness is not just a location it’s suggestive of a person's emotional and spiritual state. “I am no better than my ancestors!” Elijah bemoans, (1 Kings 19:4), revealing that he feels he's as bad as those who wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their lack of faith. His story, his isolation and struggle with discouragement, offers insight to those who likewise battle the battle of the blues.
For those of us who struggled with bouts of melancholy, three key insights leap off the page. First, be aware of your vulnerability to melancholy. What has triggered such moments in the past?
Elijah hit several common trigger points for depression. For one, he was physically fatigued. Having just run an 18-mile marathon, he is once again, on the run. He's exhausted. It’s key that we're told that Elijah sought and found rest. We're told that after he prayed, “he lay down under the tree and fell asleep”. (1 Kings 19:5) And again, after the angel ministered to him, “he lay down again.”
(1 Kings 19:6)
One thing that makes us vulnerable to the blues is that we allow ourselves to get too stretched, too stressed, and don't allow ourselves to truly rest. As an insomniac, that's certainly true for me.
We're also told that Elijah had gone straight from the mountain into the wilderness, physically and spiritually. He was stressed and under pressure, facing ongoing conflict, hunger and personal threats. In such a season, even a Holy Spirit anointed man of God can lose perspective.
But perhaps the biggest trouble spot was that of his being alone. We're told back in verse three: “He left his servant in Beersheba and went on alone.” (1 Kings 19:3) For those who suffer sadness and depression during the holidays, loneliness is by far the number one trouble spot, our achilles heel.
As Julia Roberts once admitted, “I've felt incredible loneliness in my life. What is the point of having a great job or experiencing something spectacular if you have no one to share it with? If life is experienced alone, it's all really pointless, really. It's all just vapor.” (Julia Roberts)
We're at the greatest risk when we isolate ourselves. When we do, we fall into the trap laid for us by the enemy. One of the first lies the enemy utters in the ears of the discouraged is this: “Its hope-less. No one understands. No on can relate.” But that's a lie. In fact, one reason God sent His son was so God, thru him, could relate to us, share our pain and redeem it. So first, be aware of when you are vulnerable to feeling blue and remember to fight, the urge to isolate!
Second, pursue a fresh perspective! Sitting under that broom tree, Elijah lost perspective. I don't know, maybe he thought, he could sweep his heartache under a rock with that broom...tree, but human remedies like entertainment, sex or drugs are temporary at best.
Like Elijah, as he later sat in that cave, we tend to be consumed with the wall right in front of us and lose the big picture. We can't see the mountain for the cavern walls around us, dismissing what God has done for the voices within us and sometimes around us filling our head with dark thoughts...
There was a church in Tennessee whose preacher was letting everyone have it one morning. 'It won't be long until everyone around here will be dead!' he shouted. People's shoulders drooped except for one fellow who sat there smiling. The preacher glared at him and shouted, 'Didn't you hear me? Everybody around here, sooner or later, is going to wind up dead!'
The fellow smiled and replied, “That's too bad, but I, for one, ain't from around here!”
Sometimes what we chiefly need is perspective. Amidst the doom and gloom we're wise to keep in mind that we are not of this world, we ain't from around here! We belong to what Jesus called, the Kingdom of heaven! The big picture is that troubles will come, but as Jesus declared, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)
The third insight is this: in times of discouragement, seek to be renewed by God's Spirit, who brings peace to the troubled mind and great joy that is for all the people – including you! That renewal takes shape in several ways. One, Elijah receives physical renewal. He receives rest and sustenance at the hand of God. Two, Elijah is in desperate need of relational renewal. His protests reveal this...
“The people have rejected (us)..., even putting the prophets to death with the sword, and now I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too!” (1 Kings 19:10)
He's saying in effect, “Everybody hates me, nobody loves me, I think I'll got eat some worms!” He's been burned one too many times, he claims, and wants to give up, but God knows what he needs. He needs relational renewal, among other things, so he connects him with a guy by the name of Elisha. “After he left from there he met Elisha...and Elijah placed his cloak upon him. (Later) Elisha arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.” (1 Kings 19:19,21) It was as if God said, “Elijah, meet Elisha. Elisha, this is Elijah. Elijah – Elisha; Elisha – Elijah!” The two of them became a blessing one unto the other. Elisha becomes a great source of encouragement and Elijah becomes his mentor.
Through that bond, God brought renewal to Elijah. The father-son kind of relationship they formed also gave him a sense of purpose, a person to love on and pass on his legacy to. That's one of the great gifts of being the church, thru Spirit-led relationships we're renewed thru a common sense of purpose. We encourage one another and partner in reaching out to those at risk. There's an awesome video on Facebook that dramatizes this as a man helps a dog at risk and others join the effort...
[Facebook video of people helping dog... ]
Finally, God brings refreshment, clarity and inner healing through the Holy Spirit. There is no more darker, lonelier place than feeling disconnected from God. Dark thoughts often lead us to feeling as such. So it was with Elijah, but then God showed up and spoke into his heart, not in a flash of light, or rattling earthquake, but in a voice as quiet as a whisper. Why? Because God wanted him to be still, to stop voicing his dark thoughts and shift his prayer from one of talking to one of listening.
Elijah's renewed vitality and clarity of perspective came as he stopped talking, shutting off the tape running in his head, and turning his inner ear to the Spirit of God. What he heard, prompted him to get his gifts back in the game. What he heard, was God quietly asking, 'What are you doing here?'
(1 Kings 19:9,13)
God is saying in effect, don't give up. I have great things still for you to do, great things I will do through you. But you have to keep moving as indeed I, your God, am on the move.
What are you doing here, in proverbial fear and anxiety when I have promised to be with you, to speak to you and through you? Who can stand against you if I am totally for you? My son, my daughter, you have so much to offer, so much yet to share, so much of my presence yet to experience!
My friends, don't give up! If dark thoughts plague you listen for God's still voice, who may well ask you, What are you doing here? Hardships will come, to be sure, but nothing can ever thwart my will and I assure you, as my servant Paul declared: “Neither life nor death, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any power, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:38-9)
What else, I wonder, might God say, if we took the time to talk less and listen more? Would you care to give it a go? Shall we give him our ear? Let's listen in, shall we...?