Grace at an unlikely Time

October 25, 2015

There’s a
new Prime Minister in Canada and when you woke up Tuesday morning you were
either ecstatic or disappointed, but however you feel about the new Prime
Minister the Bible tells us that we have an obligation as Christians to pray
for Prime Minister Trudeau and may I suggest for Mrs. Trudeau and their
children as well.
And if
you could deliver a message to the Prime Minister what would it be?  I have already contacted our member of
parliament and asked him to relay my message to his boss. And maybe some day I
will have the opportunity to let him know in person.
This is
week three of our Moments of Grace series. 
In week one we introduced the entire concept of Grace and how Paul
developed a theology of Grace based on the evidence of Grace in the Bible and his
own experience of Grace. In week two we saw how grace took Rahab from the
brothel to a place in the genealogy of the Messiah.  That would be Jesus.   But not only does Grace appear in the most
unlikely places it also appears at the most unlikely times.
3000
years ago God decided to confront the King of Israel over some problems that he
had with him.  The king’s name was Ahab
and this is what the Bible had to say about him
1 Kings 16:30-33  But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, even more than any of the
kings before him.  And as though it were not enough to follow the example
of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians,
and he began to bow down in worship of Baal.  First Ahab built a temple
and an altar for Baal in Samaria.  Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did
more to provoke the anger of the LORD,
the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him.
Now
that’s saying something because there had been some pretty awful kings before
Ahab.
So whom
did God use?  The prophet with the
biggest following in Israel?  Some sharp,
well spoken, well dressed, high profile guy who was known and respected in all
the right circles?  Of course not, that’s
what we’d do.
 Instead God reaches down to a little town
Tishbe in Gilead and pulls out a prophet named Elijah.  Kind
And in
reading through the Bible we discover that Elijah was just a human as we
are.  Nothing special he was just regular
people. 
The only real description we have of him comes in 2 Kings 1:8  They
replied, “He was a hairy man, and he wore a leather belt around his waist.”
Now I
don’t know about you but when I was growing up anyone who had all kinds of hair
and wore leather belts was called a hippie. 
Elijah is
seen by some as an Old Testament John the Baptist, but I suppose to put it into
proper perspective, John the Baptist was a New Testament Elijah.  The last mention we have of Elijah in the Old
Testament is in 2 Kings 2:11  As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a
chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two
men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven.
That’s kind of neat. 
The next time Elijah is seen is in the New Testament when Jesus went up
to a mountain top with Peter, James and John in Matthew
17:3
 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah
appeared and began talking with Jesus.
And maybe you are thinking “Denn that was like 900 years
later, that’s impossible.”   For us, yes,
for God, well you know what the Angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37  For
nothing is impossible with God.”
That’s a little back ground,
the entire story is found in 1 Kings and happened during the time that Israel
was ruled by the wicked king Ahab and his equally wicked queen, Jezebel.  It was Jezebel who introduced Baal worship
throughout the kingdom and immorality ran rampant.  It was during those dark days that Elijah
stood out as a beacon of righteousness in a sea of degradation.  His speech was characterized by boldness and
his ministry was marked with miraculous deeds. 
It was Elijah who challenged the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal
and then prayed down fire and then rain. 
And if the story stopped
there none of us would be able to relate to Elijah and yet we are reminded by
the brother of Jesus in James 5:17 Elijah was as human as we
are.  And so we have to conclude
that the type of experiences that we have that he would share and that we would
share his experiences as well. 
Elijah is a prime example of
Herbert
Freudenberger’s contention that “Burnout is the let-down that comes between crisis
or directly after ‘Mission Accomplished’.”
Elijah was a successful,
high achiever type “A” personality.  He
had spent a pile of emotional, spiritual and physical energy in the show down
at Mount Carmel and as a result he saw the people of Israel turn away from
their idol worship and turn back to God. 
He then prayed for an end to a three-year drought and it rained.  When that prayer was answered he ran 30 kms
from Carmel to Jezreel and at that point he was certain that Queen Jezebel
would fall on her knees and repent.  
Instead she threatened to have him killed.  He was expecting more success instead he was
rejected and threatened and his joy turned to fear.  1 Kings 19:3 Elijah was afraid and fled
for his life.
Existing on a physical and
emotional high, he was caught off guard. 
Emotionally and spiritually he was depending on his own strength and
when that failed he ran instead of prayed.
The entire story climaxes in
1 Kings where we read this 1 Kings 19:4 Then he
went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a
solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he
said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already
died.”
Sounds like Elijah may have
been at the same place as Poet John Keats when he wrote “I am in that temper that if I were
under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.”
In Elijah’s case we see
several feelings that are associated with burn out and depression.
1 Kings 19:10 Elijah replied, “I have
zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with
you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the
only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
Feelings
of Self-Centredness. 
Elijah came to
the place where he felt that everything depended on him.  He thought he was indispensable and felt that
if he didn’t do it then it wouldn’t get done. 
“Oh Lord, it’s just you and me and nobody else understands the
situation.  But that’s ok Lord, because I
have broad shoulders, just pile a little more on.”
This line of reasoning is
common among pastors who refuse to delegate because they don’t think anyone
else can do as good of a job.  I knew a
pastor who had gone thirteen years and never missed a Sunday in his pulpit.  Why?  Because he didn’t think that was anyone else
who could do as good of a job. 
The problem is that it
doesn’t take long to go from “I don’t need anyone but God” to “God can’t do it
without me” to “I can do it all by myself.” 
And we expect that from toddlers but not from grown-ups. 
Listen to the words of Paul
in Romans 12:3 Because of the privilege and authority God has
given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you
really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by
the faith God has given us. 
Getting back to the story 1 Kings
19:10
Elijah replied, “I have zealously
served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their
covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your
prophets.
2) General
Feelings of Resentment
To put that in perspective in the verse before God had
asked Elijah where he was and Elijah goes off on this tirade that has nothing
to do with the question that had been asked. 
That’s so typical, when we can’t or don’t want to answer a particular
question we act like it was never asked.
I remember there was a
difficult question asked on a systematic theology exam I was writing in college
and a friend of mine wrote.  “I don’t
know the answer to this question but I do know who the twelve apostles were.” 
And he listed them, nice try
but no marks because while he may have answered a question correctly it wasn’t
the question that had been asked.
The question that God asks
had nothing to do with the children of Israel. 
And yet that is where Elijah started. 
I would hazard a guess that there were a lot of unresolved hostilities
in Elijah’s life. 
In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus explains
the dangers resentments and lack of forgiveness pose to our spiritual
lives. 
I don’t know how many times
I have sat across from someone for counselling and it all comes bubbling out,
the hate and bitterness over some hurt or slight, either real or imaginary that
is literally eating them up from the inside. 
And what they don’t realize is that they are still allowing those people
to hurt them. 
1 Kings 19:10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously
served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their
covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your
prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”   
3) Feelings
of Paranoia   
It’s not a great
distance from “No one appreciates me” to “Everyone is out to get me.” 
It was Henry Kissinger
who said “Even a paranoid can have enemies.” 
And there was no doubt that there were those who were opposed to
Elijah, but he  took one threat against
him and turned it into the entire nation being out to get him. 
In Elijah’s mind Jezebel’s
lone threat had become a national conspiracy against him, seeking his
assassination. 
 4) Feelings
of Self Pity 
Did you catch the
whining here?  If there is one particular
emotion which supersedes all others in burnout and depression it is self-pity,
“Oh poor me, I have it so bad.” 
Most people know the story
of Helen
Keller, who lost her sight and hearing as a small child, lots to feel
sorry about listen to her words: “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to
it, we can never do anything wise in this world.”
Elijah was so caught up in
Elijah that he couldn’t see anything or anyone else. 
And if people don’t agree
with you about how bad things are then you start to detach yourself from others
because at least you understand how bad things are for you.
1 Kings 19:4 . . . He sat down under a
solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he
said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already
died.”
5) Specific
Feelings of Resentment  
Sometimes it’s
resentment against our spouse or parents, or friends.  In Elijah’s case it was resentment against
God. 
When Elijah asked God to
take away his life he was in effect saying “I am not satisfied with what you
are doing in my life and it’s your fault.” 
And so from the depths of despair we begin blaming God for where we
are. 
Now instead of it being my
problem or the result of the way “They”, whoever they were, acted now it is
God’s fault.  E
lijah demonstrates his dissatisfaction
and lack of trust concerning God’s control in his life.   And Elijah may have felt like he was
abandoned by God, but that wasn’t the case. 
Let’s see what we can find
in Elijah’s story.  Elijah has come to
the lowest point in his life and he wants out. 
He is showing classic symptoms for burnout and depression, so how does
God deal with that? 
The simple answer was he
dealt with Elijah with Grace.  He didn’t
turn his back on him and he didn’t declare him ungrateful and forgetful.  And he didn’t treat Elijah justly, giving him
what he deserved.  “Oh yeah, if that’s
how you feel, then that’s how it will be.” 
Instead we read,
1 Kings 19:5-6 Then he lay down and slept
under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told
him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some
bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down
again.
1) God
Met Elijah’s Physical Needs. 
Even though
depression is a psychological condition some of its behaviour results in
physiological problems.  
Loss of appetite can become
a vicious circle with the lack of proper nutrition resulting in a lack of
energy and general apathy which causes a loss of appetite which results in a
lack of proper nutrition which. . .  Well
you get the picture. 
Difficulties in sleeping
result in listlessness and once again the resulting apathy contributes to the
ever deepening despondency and the downward spiral into depression.
God didn’t tell Elijah to go
to the altar and get right with him, he didn’t tell him he needed to pray more
or read the scripture.  Instead God
provided the two things that Elijah needed the most. 
Good food, proper
nutrition.  Did you catch that not just
food but good food, proper food.  You
ever notice what you tend to eat when you get into deep blue funk?  That’s right, chocolate ice-cream, with
peanut butter, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce.  Or so I’ve heard. 
And then God provided Elijah
with a deep restful sleep.  You ever
notice how much better life looks after a good night’s sleep?
1 Kings 19:11-12 “Go out and stand before me
on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed
by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that
the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind
there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the
earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the
fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.
2) God
Met Elijah’s Spiritual Needs.  
Elijah needed to
know that God was still on his throne and that things were as they should
be.  In demonstrating his power God was
showing Elijah that he was still in control of the situation.  In doing this he took the responsibility off
of Elijah’s shoulders and assumed it himself.
In demonstrating his control
over events he allowed Elijah to release some of the burden.  God set the tone for the conversation.  Elijah needed to be back in touch with God
and God set the stage for that. 
3) God
Met Elijah’s Emotional Needs. 
God prompted
Elijah to get rid of his intense feelings.  
During the communication God allowed Elijah an opportunity to air his
grievances.
There are a lot of people
out there who are literally walking time bombs. 
They have crammed resentment, hurt, bitterness and disappointments into
their souls.  And because they are afraid
it’s sinful to express those emotions they’ve kept them under pressure and some
day it will explode and hurt a lot of people.
To get rid of those negative
feelings you can’t continue to suppress them and bury them and hide them.  Instead they need to be expressed, not in a
hurtful way but in a constructive healing manner. 
It is only when we expose
those problems, that we can begin to see those problems realistically. It’s
only when we begin to see those problems in the light of day that we can begin
to deal with them and get rid of them.
And it’s not always a one
off process, in the account of Elijah God had to prompt Elijah three times to
open up.  It may be with a professional,
or it might be with a friend who is just willing to listen. 
4) God
Met Elijah’s Practical Needs
Only after the physical issues had been dealt with and
after Elijah had purged himself of his resentments did God give him new things
to do.
A person who is climbing out
of the pit shouldn’t be immediately put back into the same circumstances that
had put him there in the first place. 
But they do need something
to do to take their minds off the almighty “ME” they also need those tasks to
help rebuild their self-respect and self-esteem.  We were created to be productive, to create
and to do, we weren’t created to lay around and do nothing and so one of the
needs that has to be filled in our lives is the knowledge that we are doing
something. 
5) God
Met Elijah’s Social Needs 
As the final step
toward Elijah’s recovery God provided him with something everybody on the face
of this earth needs and that is a true friend. 
From that point on Elisha became Elijah’s friend, fellow worker and confident. 
Do you remember what God
said after he created Man?  Genesis
2:18
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. .
.”
In 1988 when we had finished
our building project in Truro I went into a slump, yeah that is a good word a
slump.  For several months I literally
hid in my office, I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone.  A major part of my putting my ministry back
together can be attributed to a student we hired that summer.
And for a year and a half I
poured my life into John.  For the first
four months we spent all our time together, he lived at our house and I
invested myself into his training and in return he became a friend and
confident. 
Elijah felt like he was
alone, now that wasn’t reflected in reality,  the Bible tells us there were seven thousand
other Israelites who refused to worship Baal. 
On the other hand Elijah had
been very much alone, but only because like so many sufferers of burnout and
depression he had brought about his own loneliness by abandoning other people.
Everybody needs a friend.
Now this wasn’t a do it
yourself psychoanalysis course.  Burnout
and depression are serious business. 
But God doesn’t want us to
live in that particular emotional desert. 
God has a great plan for your life, don’t let depression and burnout rob
you of that plan. 
God’s Grace is as real in
the valley’s as it is on the mountain top, remember from last week Grace is “The
free and unmerited favour of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and
the bestowing of blessings.”
And as Bob Goff defined
it as “Grace
is a painting God’s still completing over our torn canvases.”  That day in the cave, God was painting
on Elijah’s torn canvas and He wants to complete the painting of your life,
regardless of how torn the canvas is. 
But he won’t paint without an invitation.