When We Have A Crushed Spirit

NewChurch-Podcast-Art2Sometimes we are sad for no good reason or depressed and can’t logic our way out of it. Elijah is one of the coolest guys in the Bible who just happened to be a bit of a melancholy.

He is one of the most important people who ever lived but most of us don’t know much about him, we’re going to look at some of his story. Turn to 1st Kings 18. 1st Kings is one of the books in the Old Testament that talks about the kings of Israel. Elijah’s time was a particularly dark period, his job was to be God’s prophet and speak His Word to the people and especially to the king. In this case it was King Ahab, you might have heard of him, he was a very bad man but his wife is even more notorious than he is. Her name was Jezebel—The Jezebel, the original. Ahab was a turkey on his own but she pushed him to be probably the worst king Israel ever had. And that’s really saying something.

Half the kingdom had turned away from God and were worshiping a false god named Baal, who was Jezebel’s demonic god of choice. She had all the true prophets of God murdered except for Elijah, and not because she didn’t try but because God had kept him hidden from her.

There had been a drought for three years and things were desperate. Crops had died, livestock had died and people were starving. God told Elijah to come out of hiding and go to King Ahab and tell him “I will soon send rain.” This is the setting for our story.

1st Kings 18
Ahab went out to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, the troublemaker of Israel?”
“I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. Now summon all of Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”

So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.
Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 12.23.50 PMIt was a throwdown of the gods in a simple game of “which one knows how to light a fire and burn some meat.” The prophets of Baal went first. They cut up the bull, placed it on their altar and called out to their god from early morning until noon, but nothing happened. At Noon Elijah started making fun of them, “Maybe you have to shout louder! Maybe Baal is relieving himself or daydreaming, maybe you need to wake him up.” This taunting really got them going so they started dancing and chanting, they cut themselves with knives and swords until their blood was gushing out—You have to hand it to them, they were very committed, they really went for it. They continued to act like lunatics until evening came but nothing happened. Baal was a no show.

Then Elijah said, “Okay, out of my way boys. My turn.” He prepared the altar, cut up the bull and laid it out for sacrifice to God but he wanted to make sure there was no doubt about the power of the One True God. He dug a trench around the altar and told the skeptics to pour water all over the offering and wood. He had them do this three times until the water filled the trench and the whole thing was soaking wet. They couldn’t have set it on fire it they had tried.

Notice that he poured all this water on the altar during a drought. Water was scarce but he had them use a ton of it anyway.

This is what happens next:

At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
Then Elijah commanded, “Seize all the prophets of Baal. Don’t let a single one escape!” So the people seized them all, and Elijah took them down to the Kishon Valley and killed them there.

To show that the LORD is the One True God and to bring the people back to serving Him alone, God answered Elijah’s prayer in a big way. He even burned up the dust and the water in the trench, leaving a steaming dry patch of ground. Imagine how the prophets of Baal felt, who I’m sure were true believers in their false religion up to that point. They are standing there with their big pile of wood and meat with flies all over it, not looking very impressive at all—feeling stupid. The people turned back to the LORD and Elijah had all the false prophets put out of their misery.

This was a good day for Elijah. Can you imagine being him? Can you imagine how vindicated, affirmed, and encouraging this must have been? Then like the end of a supernatural fantasy thriller, he prayed for rain, and after three years a mighty rainstorm soaked the land. The people turned to God and the drought was over. This would have been a great time for the credits to roll and for everyone to leave the theater. The difference between a happy ending and a tragedy is where you stop telling the story.

When Jezebel heard about all of her pet prophets being killed and about how Elijah had ridiculed her fanatical faith in Baal, she was furious. She vowed on her own life to kill him within the next day.

This is where our hero takes a strange turn. See, I would fully expect Elijah the prophet who has the courage to soak the sacrifice before asking God to set it on fire to just laugh in her face. “Kill me if you can, you, you… Jezebel!” Shouldn’t he just call fire from heaven to strike her dead in her pretty little sandals? But for some reason, and logic has nothing to do with it, Elijah was done, he was tired. It says that he became afraid and fled for his life. He went out into the wilderness alone and prayed that God would just kill him. He had had enough.

Maybe he thought, “If the King and Queen aren’t going to repent and believe after what just happened with the whole “fire from heaven” thing then they are never going to get it. What’s the point? I give up, Jezebel wins.” And he laid down and went to sleep, hoping to die before he wakes.

Proverbs 18 says, “The human spirit can endure a sick body,
but who can bear a crushed spirit?”

Have you seen the Shia LaBeouf motivational videos? We kind of expect God to get in Elijah’s face: “Just do it! Do it! If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up!” We expect God to call Elijah out for being a baby and a quitter but that’s not at all what happens.

God is always more kind and patient with us than we are to ourselves.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 12.25.15 PMIt says the Angel of the LORD came to him while he was sleeping and touched him on the arm. A lot of people think when the Bible speaks of the “Angel of the LORD” it is referring to a pre-Christmas Jesus, I think they are probably right. So, Jesus shows up, let’s him sleep a little longer while He makes breakfast, then gently wakes him up and offers him bread and water. It says Elijah wakes up ate and drank then went back to sleep. This happens again, He wakes him up feeds him and hangs out.

Elijah got depressed and wanted to be by himself and wallow in his sadness but God didn’t leave him alone. He met him where he was and comforted him. He didn’t say “Let me know if there’s something I can do for you.” He just showed up and brought food.

People used to know how to do that but many of us have forgotten. When your friends are sad go to them, make them food and sit with them. Don’t just ask because they will usually say they don’t want anything. They don’t know what they want, it’s part of being sad.

After the visit he must have felt a little better because he got up and went on a forty day walk. Kind of like Forrest Gump. “Momma always said you have to put the past behind you,” I think that might have been part of what he was doing. He walked a couple hundred miles toward Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, the same mountain where Moses met God and was given the Ten Commandments. This is always a good and healthy thing to do—go for a walk to clear your head, and go toward God. Seek first the Kingdom of God.

It takes a while but he finally gets there and spends the night in a cave. Once again God doesn’t leave him alone, He shows up and says to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah says this in response:

“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.”

Elijah felt like he had been left alone. There was no one else following the LORD, and his people wanted to kill him. He had been a good prophet, he had done his job, he was brave, and no one listened. He had done everything God had asked of him and he felt like it didn’t make any difference. He had seen amazing things, done amazing things, and no one cared. They just wanted to kill him anyway.

You might think God would comfort him by saying how his ministry had accomplished good things, give some examples of people he had helped but God wanted to make His point using a multimedia presentation.

God told him to stand before him on the mountain. He sent a mighty windstorm to blast the mountain sending rocks flying and making a thunderous sound but Elijah noticed the LORD was not in the windstorm. After the wind God sent an earthquake that shook the mountain impressively—probably very frightening. After that He sent a fire. In all these mighty acts it says the LORD was not in them.

Elijah had seen these kinds of things before. He had been the prophet of God used to shock and awe people with giant displays of supernatural power. But God doesn’t speak to the heart of man in a thunderous voice of signs and wonders.

The LORD spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper. God asked him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah gave the same answer, he basically said, “I’ve done everything You asked me to do but no one cares. I’m the only one who is following You. I’m all alone and the people I am trying to help want me dead.”

God listened to Elijah, He fed him, He sat with him and then He spoke words of comfort.

First He assures him that he is wrong about being alone. God says there are 7,000 others who have not bowed to Baal, including a young man named Elisha. He sends Elijah on a mission to anoint a new king (which is music to his ears because it means Ahab and Jezebel are about to be dog meat) and to find Elisha and hire him as his assistant, to anoint him and train him to be his replacement.

These are all great words for Elijah. You are not alone, Your life’s work is important, I am not done with you, your enemies will be destroyed, and I’m going to give you a friend. You don’t have to do this by yourself.

Do you know what the most beautiful words in the English language are? They’re not “I love you” or “I want you,” they’re not even “Here’s that $500 bucks you loaned me.” The most beautiful words in the English language are “I’ll be there for you.” “I’ll be there for you.”

God gives Elijah a friend. Someone to walk with him. Someone to share the burden. The Bible records several times when Elijah tried to run away and be alone again but Elisha would not leave his side, no matter what he said. Eventually, after many more adventures the day finally comes when Elijah is going to hand his job over to his protege. He asks his friend if there is anything he can do for him before he is taken away. Elisha, who loves and respects his mentor asks for a double portion of his spirit if he is to follow in his footsteps. Here’s what Elijah says and what happens:

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”
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. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.
Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

They continued to search for Elijah with fifty men for three days. They had seen a lot of crazy things with Elijah and they thought God might have transmogrified him onto the top of a mountain somewhere, but they abandoned their search and realized he was gone. God had taken him.

There are only three people in the Bible that I am aware of who are taken directly to heaven. A man named Enoch, Elijah and Jesus. This is a very exclusive club.

The next time we see Elijah he will be repaying the kindness shown to him by the Angel of the LORD who had visited him when he was alone and sad. Elijah shows up, along with Moses to minister to a very weary Messiah on the Mount of Transfiguration. They showed up to encourage Jesus and the Father said, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” kinda cool.

Sometimes we are like Elijah and our hearts are heavy and we just feel sad for no good reason. Sometimes it’s right after our greatest victories. Sometimes we feel like all the work we have done is just spinning our wheels and nothing matters. We don’t matter. We feel alone and tired.

“A crushed spirit who can bear?”

Everything is hard when our spirit is crushed.

You know what the most amazing thing about the story of Elijah is? That we know it. That the Word of God would tell us the truth about such a flawed hero. That He didn’t think He should spin the story so that Elijah comes off as a better person. That’s what we would do. We always use the spin machine to put our religious leaders in the best possible light. Or the worst possible light. I think it is a great testimony to the truthfulness of God’s Word that The Bible is full of real people who have the same struggles we have, it’s not full of ideal people and superheroes that we could never live up to. It’s like real life and sometimes it’s confusing and messy.

What can we learn from this story?

There are many things we can learn about God in a thousand different areas, that’s the amazing thing about God’s Holy inspired Word. Every passage speaks on a multitude of subjects and levels. I’m going to focus on what I think it says about dealing with a crushed spirit.

First, even the best of us are going to get depressed. Not many people can go toe to toe with Elijah, he was a great man. Remember that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a loser if you have seasons of your life when you feel sad. Don’t let people shame you for feeling melancholy. Sometimes you’ll have a reason and sometimes you won’t. It happens to the best of us.

Second, if you find yourself in a slump, cast down, with a crushed spirit—there are some simple things you need to do. You need to rest and you need to be around people who care for you. It might be time to take a lighter load at work for a while, take some time off. Take a sabbatical, take a vacation, rest.

Last year was a dark season for me, there came a point when I knew I was spent and needed to recharge. I took a two month sabbatical from the church I was working at and for part of that time I got away from everything. I stayed in a cabin in the desert, I read the Bible, prayed and took long walks. I also met with a pastor who specializes in helping ministers who have been damaged by the churches where they serve. He is a ninja and was very helpful to me. I’ll be happy to share his contact information with you if you need it, just send me an email.

You need to rest and you need to be around people who care for you. Don’t push people away. Don’t hide from the world, don’t crawl inside yourself. Eat good healthy food with other people, don’t self medicate with junk food. Drink plenty of water, don’t spend your days drowning your sorrows with your mood altering beverage of choice. I’m the last guy to say there’s anything wrong with having a beer to take the edge off but don’t try to live there. Don’t be filled with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Third, get moving. Take a walk, and while you’re walking seek Your Heavenly Father who loves you and is always more willing to listen than we are to speak. Get outside, look up at the sky, breathe in the air, feel the wind. Listen to the gentle whisper of The LORD.

Here are some of the comforting words He will say to you when you turn to Him and listen:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
If anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.
God loved the world so He gave his one and only Son, that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

We just have to lift our hearts up to the Lord.

God will answer our prayer by giving us rest. He will also send people to us to help us and be our friends. God will not leave us alone in our despair.

Here’s the other side of that. We need to be listening for our assignments. We need to be ready and willing to be there for the people God is sending us to. There are going to be days when you are sad and God will send one of His angels to minister to you. To touch you on the arm, feed you, and sit with you until you are ready to get back up. There are going to be other days when you are the angel He will send to someone else.

When it comes to answering our prayers, God’s “Plan A” is to work through people. Growing in our faith mostly boils down to us learning to listen for our assignments and following through on them.

When God puts someone on your heart, pray for them. If you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a friend, pray for them. Then when you get up in the morning, call them. Invite them to lunch. Go to their house. Take them food. Just sit with them and do nothing. Be there for them. Listen to them. Don’t judge them, criticize them, or give them advice and try to fix them. When we are sad we mostly just need to be understood. Most of the time if someone wants advice they’ll ask for it. Don’t play “that ain’t nothin’”—you know, when they tell you what’s bothering them and you say, “That ain’t nothin’, let me tell you about when something like that happened to me.”

It’s not easy because if you’re honest, everything everyone has ever said reminds me of something about me.

I look around the world we live in and it’s so strange. Everything is amazing and yet everyone seems so apathetic. We all have riches that the ancient kings couldn’t even dream of, comforts they couldn’t imagine. Solomon in all his glory never felt air conditioning or tasted ice cream. Yet over 250 million people are on some form of antidepressant medicine in the United States alone.

The world we live in says “if you’re sad there is something wrong with you—take a pill.” Religious people tend to say “if you’re sad you are doing something wrong—you need more faith, you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop sinning, remember the joy of the Lord.”

God didn’t give Elijah advice and He certainly didn’t give him a prescription of Zoloft. Jesus is known as a “man of sorrows” who wept for the people He loves. He came to make everything new, to give us new hearts, and to wipe away every tear. We believe God came into our world to meet us, feed us, be with us and give His life for us. No other religion has this view of God.

God invites us to pour our hearts out to Him. Our sadness, anger, confusion, to take our messiness and spew it out to Him. To truly lift our hearts up to the LORD. We don’t have to hide from Him.

When we don’t feel loved. When we wonder if we matter. When we feel alone. Jesus wants us to know that He is with us, we have the love, approval and acceptance of the One who knows us the best, the One who made us. Jesus is the gentle whisper of God, the Word of God, in human form.

We will feel alone but we will never be alone. In the world we will have trouble but He has overcome the world. We will feel the pressure of work that is before us but Jesus wants to remind us of the cross. Everything that can crush us He took upon Himself and He declared once and for all, “It is finished.” AMEN


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