One of the reasons I love the Bible so much is because it’s filled with real stories about real people. I don’t always understand the stories—especially those in the Old Testament—because I have limited understanding of cultural context.
In spite of my lack of understanding, though, biblical stories have spoken to me deeply. They have comforted me during seasons of discouragement. They have brought hope during times filled with despair. They have provided God’s perfectly administered discipline when I’ve messed up or been misguided.
During the past few posts, we’ve been focusing on the story of Elijah as told in 1 Kings 17, 18 & 19. I’ve enjoyed observing how Elijah’s story applies to real life stresses you and I deal with regularly. Even though we encounter troubling issues during our often chaotic 21st Century culture, I’m not sure about you, but my stress actually pales in comparison to the Old Testament prophet’s problems.
My first post dealt with Elijah’s cumulative stress. The next showed how an angel tended Elijah’s physical needs—generally a good place to begin during periods of high stress. The third post described the way in which God spoke to this discouraged man’s weary soul in a ‘still small voice’—‘a gentle whisper.’
Today, I’d like to explore the next portion of this story in 1 Kings 19:13-18, (Scriptures are from the New International Version). Along with Elijah’s story, I’m linking some of my own experiences of working with people who, like Elijah, struggle with discouragement and stress.
13a When Elijah heard it [the “gentle whisper], he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Elijah came out of a cave. While in Israel, we saw caves carved into the barren hillsides.
I’m privileged to offer pastoral counseling at Lake City Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The people I see have at least a basic belief in God, although many are feeling a bit (or even a lot) angry with God. None are under the illusion they have it all together, and some come with a sense of embarrassment because they can no longer manage their hurt—their brokenness—all alone.
I have a feeling Elijah pulled his cloak over his face not only because of an incredible sense of awe but also with feelings of helpless shame.
13bThen a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
One of the first questions I ask a person with whom I meet is something like, “What brings you here today?” I always ask this question with kindness—never with condemnation. I can only imagine the tenderness in God’s voice when asking Elijah this question.
14 [Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The story I usually hear tells how hard a person has been trying, how nothing the person has tried seems to be working, how he or she doesn’t know what else to do. People often describe being hurt by others’ behaviors. Many of the stories I’m told are heartbreaking. Like Elijah, there’s generally a sense of lonely despair.
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and [my paraphrase: do what you’ve got to do] 18 … I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal…
Much of Israel’s landscape is dry and barren. Even though it’s a small nation, vast space exists between locations. I imagine it would be easy to feel isolated in a place like this.
Even though the difficult things we experience in life must never be minimized because of their unique importance to us, there comes a point—if we hope to deal with our situation—when we must face the problem head on and do what we’ve got to do. God will help. God revealed to Elijah there were 7000 others in the nation who had remained faithful even as he had. Even today, God will be faithful to lead us to those who deal with hardships similar to ours, and who will support us on our journey into wellness.
Healthy communities are powerful. Groups of folks willing to walk alongside and help us as we deal with difficult dilemmas are invaluable. Almost always, one of the primary referrals I give to people I see is some type of group.
In the next post, I’d like to investigate further the significance of groups, looking at benefits and ways to choose a group that will fit you and your needs well. Until then, I want you to know what an honor it is to me when you read these posts and join me in…
Listening on the Journey…