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REACH OUT I’LL BE THERE
OCTOBER 5, 1997
One of the many things I love about the Bible is the fact that it is a straightforward book. Not only does it paint the positive side of its characters but also the negative as well. And when God paints a portrait, He brushes in every detail of his subject matter. Now if the Bible was just a book that talked about the upside of His characters, I couldn’t really identify with it. But, because it is a book that talks about the downside of these personalities, it is something I can relate to and identify with. I love the Bible, I really do.
Depression. Despondency. Loneliness. They are part of our human existence on this flawed planet. How do we deal with these emotions? How do we face them? Today we are going to connect with a character from the pages of scripture named Elijah. Elijah was a man who dealt with depression. As we peer over this prophet’s shoulder, we are going to look at the upside and the downside of his life. We are going to see how he really faced the music.
The Bible says that Elijah was a man subject to passions like we are. He was optimistic. He was a visionary. He was a man who, for the most part, saw the good in people. Do you ever meet people like I do sometimes who major in pessimism? Do you ever meet people who always see the glass half empty instead of half full? I heard about a woman the other day who said, “I feel good today. But I always feel the worst when I feel the best because I know how bad I am going to feel once it gets worse again.” Elijah was not like that. Elijah was positive. He saw the glass half full.
Throughout the Bible you will see a bunch of icons dealing with depression. Moses dealt with depression. If you read the life of Moses it is not so shocking that he experienced depression from time to time. Jonah faced it after a great spiritual awakening. The Apostle Paul even faced it throughout all his trials and tribulations. Even Simon Peter faced it when he denied Christ. But the most shocking of all is Elijah. You wouldn’t think that the E Train would deal with depression. But he did. Elijah dealt with it, he faced it.
I want you to remember something. We are talking about the man who walked into the office of the most powerful person of that day, King Ahab, and predicted the beginning and the end of a three-year drought. That is the guy who went into depression. I am talking about Elijah, the man who stood on Mt. Carmel and faced 850 false pagan prophets and King Ahab himself. Elijah challenged their false god, Baal, to a contest and through a strange and miraculous turn of events, the God of Israel, Jehovah, came down and defeated and wiped out the 850 prophets which put it in King Ahab’s face. To top it off, after this incredible victory, Elijah outruns a chariot 17 miles. You would think that Elijah is on a roll. He is flying on all cylinders. He is in a hot streak. He has got it going on. But don’t speak too soon. Don’t speak too soon because Elijah, this man of faith, went into a serious funk. He really did.
The Bible says that old King Ahab, that henpecked, defeated, dominated husband had to go back to the White House and tell his pit viper wife, Jezebel, the news that her prophets had been defeated. You see Jezebel was the one who got King Ahab into false worship. I can just picture Ahab sneaking into his estate, sandals in one hand, trying to open the door without it making any noise. Of course, every noise would just echo throughout the mansion. I can see Jezebel raising up from her lounge and saying, “Ahab, is that you? Tell me the good news, honey. Tell me how we wiped out the Hebrew hick, Elijah. Tell me how Baal won.” And Ahab probably dropped his head and said, “Honey, don’t get mad but the God of Israel, Jehovah, won the contest. The prophets are gone.” And the Bible says that from that moment on, Jezebel, this evil woman, put out a contract on Elijah’s life. Get the picture here. Stay with me here. We are talking about a man who had just gone one on 850. We are talking about a man who had single-handedly, through his prayers, delivered the nation of Israel. And now the Bible says, he hears about one evil woman who wants to take him out and he is running, fleeing the scene. He is afraid. He is freaked out. Elijah downloads his disc into depression. I am talking about he was down, dooby do dah, down. Way, way down. How could this happen to Elijah? How could this happen to you and to me?
Today we are going to trace Elijah’s descent into despondency and depression. As we do so, I think that God is going to teach us some lessons along the way. I want to show you right up front the cost of depression because we all face it. The first cost is that Elijah lost his perspective. I will never forget a friend of mine who was going through financial trouble about eight years ago. He said, “Ed, they can take my car. They can take my house. They can take my country club membership, but they can’t eat me.” I have never forgotten that. They can’t eat me. The Bible says in I Kings 19:3, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” He should have considered the source. We are talking about one solitary female. Jezebel wouldn’t have had him killed. Why? If you read the account in the Bible in I Kings, there were a number of faithful people, over 7,000. If she had taken him out, she would have lost the throne. Any time someone begins to knife you or influence you or try to intimidate you, always consider the source. Jezebel, sadly, was a woman with great potential but a woman who was damaged. Damaged people, damage people. Did you get that? Damaged people, damage people. When someone is after you, trying to damage you, just step back and look at his or her life. Look behind the veneer, the exterior, and more often than not you will see that you are dealing with a damaged person. They are not necessarily after you; they are feeling badly themselves. They have poor self-esteem. They feel damaged and they want to damage as many people as possible.
Elijah was afraid and he ran for his life. You don’t see Elijah stopping and dropping to his knees and asking God for a Gatorade. If he had stopped his run and hit his knees and asked God to show him His perspective, what His will was, the tide would have turned. God would have shown him, but he didn’t stop. When we loose perspective, we begin to see small, insignificant things as dangerous and we begin to get scared. He lost his perspective.
The next cost of depression was that he isolated himself from others. Elijah isolated himself from others. Have you ever wondered why the cast on Gilligan’s Island is so wacky? Think about it, Gilligan, Skipper, Professor, Mary Ann, Ginger, Thurston Howell III and Lovey. They are nuts. They really are. And this week I have discovered why. Isolation. Isolation. They so isolated themselves for so many years on Gilligan’s Island that they began to do crazy things. They tried to make radios out of coconuts. If you stay isolated long enough in depression, you will begin to try to make radios out of coconuts.
Elijah should have been drawing close to his friends. We should draw near those who can help us. But, strangely, during depression and despondency and loneliness we isolate ourselves from the people who can help us the most. Verse 3 says, “When he came to Beersheba….” Now it doesn’t say he grabbed a beer, it says he came to Beersheba, that is a city. “When he came to Beersheba he left his servant, while he, himself, went a days journey into the dessert.” I love the way the Bible emphasizes that – he, himself. We are always the most susceptible when we are alone during a time of discouragement. I know it is our tendency to draw away, to Gilligan’s Island, but don’t do that. Seek help. Seek help. Seek help.
He lost his perspective. He isolated himself from relationships. And also, notice verse 4. He neglected the warning signs. Elijah neglected the warning signs. I love car alarms. Different alarms have different sounds. I recommend car alarms because if you get one it will lower your car insurance. But the thing about car alarms is this. Car alarms go off all the time. We don’t even pay any attention to them. We just neglect them. Ehhhh. Ehhhh. Ehhhh. Ehhhh. Ehhhh. And finally we will pull a little pad out of our pocket and E-E, E-E, OOP. Someone could be breaking into the car, just tearing it apart and we don’t pay any attention any more to car alarms. We kind of neglect them, don’t we? It is part of our culture. It will lower your insurance, though. You might want to get one, if you don’t have one.
I think about old Elijah. Elijah is just kind of walking through the parking lot of life in depression and God is giving a lot of warning signs. Ehhhh. Ehhhh. Ehhhh. Ehhhh. All he needs to do was pull out his little pad and do E-E, E-E, OOP. And God would have changed the entire situation. He neglected the warning signs. Verse 4, “I have had enough, Lord.” We are always the most vulnerable after victory. Elijah was physically tired. He was toast. The man had just run a marathon. I have run one in my life before and after about 17 miles, you hit the wall. And if you check it out, Elijah ran 17 miles. He was toast physically. Spiritually he was drained. He had just faced King Ahab in his office and faced him atop Mt. Carmel. Emotionally, his adrenaline was dried and he was fried. He was in a tough situation. What do you do when you are drained? What do you do when God is giving you these warning signs? Do you pay attention to them? Do you take care of them or do you just kind of go on down the primrose path of life saying, “Oh, I am bulletproof. I am superman. I am superwoman. I can do it all. I don’t need any R & R. I don’t need any relaxation. I don’t need anything to replenish me.”
Every Sunday afternoon, I am toast. I don’t recover from the weekends until about Tuesday. One of the ways that I have found to replenish myself is to do something I like to do on Sunday afternoons, sometimes by myself. I just grab my fly rod and go our in the yard and practice fly casting for about an hour. You would be amazed at how much that helps me. What is it for you? Is it playing golf? Is it talking to a friend? Is it shopping? Kidding, just kidding.
He lost his perspective. He isolated himself from others. He neglected the warning signs. Also, look again at verse 4. He began to sink into the sands of self-pity. Self-pity will put a hurt on you. Self-pity sounds kind of benign but it is bad stuff. Self-pity will damage you. Here is what it says in verse 4. “Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors.” I want to ask Elijah who is keeping score. Who is playing the comparison game? Self-pity is dangerous, dangerous stuff.
A couple of summers ago a couple of friends of mine from this church took me down to the jungles of the Yucatan peninsula. One morning we were walking down a little path following some Mayan guides. They were just tiptoeing through the jungle like it was nothing. A friend of mine who is probably in this service hit some quicksand. I am talking about some legitimate quicksand. Whooom. He began to sink. Well, amazingly, another friend of mine who also goes to this church just stood there and watched him. He wasn’t about to get near that quicksand. Luckily, my friend in the quicksand grabbed a mangrove root and pulled himself to safety. My friend who witnessed this returned back to our campsite and flew back to Dallas the very next day. But, self-pity is a lot like quicksand. We begin to sink into it. We sink lower and lower and lower. But the good news is that God always provides a mangrove root. He always provides a way of escape.
Elijah asked God to take his life that he was not better than his ancestors. Self-pity also has a way of kind of diluting the good that we are doing. Have you ever been involved in that? I have felt sorry for myself before. I think that it is not really worth it, that I am not making a dent, a difference. I am the only person doing this. There is no other single parent facing what I am facing. There is no business going through what my business is going through. Have you ever felt this way? Hey, that is not true. It is a bunch of lies that will cause you to get depressed. There are many causes of depression but I just wanted to emphasize four.
Now, let’s look at the cure for depression. I want to ask you this question. How many of you have driven a bus? How many of you have been certified and licensed to drive a bus? Do we have any bus drivers here? We have some. If you drive a bus, I know one thing you need to do. I don’t know how to drive a bus, but I know this. If you come up to a train track you need to do three things: stop, look and listen. Let’s say it. Stop, look and listen. I like that. One more time. Stop, look and listen. If you don’t do that, one day a train could run you over. If you are depressed and if you don’t stop, look and listen, depression can run you over. It could run me over. And this is what God tells Elijah to do. First of all He says, “Stop.” Look what the Bible says in verse 5. “Elijah, get up and eat.” Take a nap. Chill. Here is my bed and breakfast for you. And the Bible says that an angel prepared some hot bread on hot coals and provided some fresh water. And Elijah just ate and drank and slept. He ate and he drank and he slept. Sometimes one of the most spiritual things that we can do when we are depressed is just to sit back and eat a nice meal and relax. So if you ever wanted a text to pig out, here it is right here. I Kings 19:5. God did this. God did not preach him a sermon. “Oh, Elijah, you have messed Me around. You have failed. I can’t believe you have done this.” He just said that His angel was there with him, he should have a nice meal and then go to sleep. He wanted him to replenish himself physically emotionally and spiritually.
Then He said for Elijah to get his head up and look. The Bible says in verse 9 that God began to question Elijah. Now why is God asking questions? He knows the answer to every question. Why is He doing this? A lot of counselors ask questions, too. Do you know why? God asked questions for the same reason counselors ask questions. It helps us to analyze our situation. Counselors are just borrowing from God’s methodology set forth thousands and thousands of years ago. He said, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah then had to think about what he was doing there. By this time he was in a cave. “What am I doing here? I am God’s man, anointed by God and here I am in this cave depressed.” Then in verse 10, here is what Elijah said. “Well, I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.” You see how he is beginning to exaggerate and take things out of context. God reminded him that it was only one person, Jezebel. And then God reminded him that there were 7,000 of his countrymen who were still following Him. Elijah was not the only one. Elijah’s job was not score-keeping. And your job and my job is not scorekeeping. Oftentimes we think something is a failure when in God’s eyes it is a success. When Jesus Christ hung on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth, the entire world thought that He was the biggest failure going. But three days later, God turned the greatest failure into the greatest success story in the universe. Jesus secured our salvation. So don’t get into the bookkeeping, scorekeeping game. God will take care of it. Stop, look. You know what God told him. “Elijah, get out of the cave and look to Me for a second. Elijah, I want you to hear some earth, wind and fire.” The Bible says that God got his attention, first of all through an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. Then the winds came through. But God was not in the winds. Then the fire fell. But God was not in the fire. Verse 12. “God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice.” Your translation might say a gentle whisper. God, more often than not, speaks to us with a gentle voice as opposed to a big old megaphone enhanced shout. Yet too many of us look for God in the spectacular: the rallies, the conference, the one book, etc. But God says that He is right there in the obvious. He is in the still, small voice business. “Hey, Elijah, I have gotten your attention through earth, wind and fire. Now look to me.” Stop, look. And then He said listen. He didn’t say hear. He said listen. And God begins to talk to him. You know what God tells him? He says, “Elijah, I am not through with you. I have got great plans for you. I have got some wonderful things in store for you.” Now God had already catered a meal for him. He had gotten him out of a cave and brought him to the mountaintop for earth, wind and fire. And now God is going to bring him a close companion. Elijah didn’t just hear, he listened. If Elijah had just heard, he would have continued to sit there. Listening is active. That is what God wants us to be. Listening is application driven. He got up and did something. If you want to stay depressed, just hear and sit there. You will be depressed for the rest of your life. If you want to get out of depression, begin to move and act. Do something.
Look what happened in verse 19. “So Elijah went from the cave and found Elisha.” He found a wealthy farmer named Elisha. God placed Elisha in Elijah’s life. The Bible says that Elisha ministered to Elijah. But God didn’t just throw Elisha in Elijah’s face. He told Elijah to get up and to find Elisha. When we are feeling down and despondent and lonely. We think that we have no friends, that no one is talking to us, calling us, writing us. Get up, take some initiative, pray to God for friends. Take some relational risks and he will bring people into your life.
You know, I have had people say to me that they have been coming to this church for about eight weeks but they have not ever met anyone. I ask, “Have you gone to home team?” “No.” “Have you been involved in ministry; greeters, parkers?” “No.” “Have you tried out for one of the co-ed flag football teams?” “No.” “Have you gone to the men’s ministry breakfast or the women’s ministry breakfast?” “No.” I say, “Wait a minute. Time out. There is something wrong here.” We have got to take the initiative and take the risk and meet the people. God has an Elisha for you. He has several Elishas in my life. And quite frankly, if the Elishas weren’t there, if I hadn’t gone out and sought the Elishas, I would be in a bad fix right now. That is how important relationships are.
But don’t miss this next thing that I am going to tell you. Here is what we do as human beings. We say, “OK, God tells me to stop, look and listen. That is good, Ed.” Then we may begin to worship the R & R that God gives instead of God, Himself. We worship the vacation spot, the great meal, instead of the Lord who provided it. Or God will give us a close companion and we so love being with our best friend, our Elisha, that we forget it was God who gave us that friend. God will give us a great scripture verse and sadly, especially in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, many of us will begin to worship the Word of God, instead of the God of the Word. That is dangerous.
The next time that you feel like your world is full of confusion and happiness is just an illusion, the Four Tops said it and God is saying it, reach out. God is saying reach out and I will be there. But when you reach out make sure to stop, look and listen.