Getting back on your feet
Spiritual depression is a common experience among leaders in God’s church, and in a strange way it’s encouraging to watch Elijah going through it. It reminds us that even the great heroes of faith experience bad times, so what chance have I got of escaping unscathed? The Bible always paints ‘warts-and-all’ pictures of its characters, which is what makes the wartless Christ stand in such stark contrast.
But even more interesting is to watch how God deals with Elijah as he hits his all-time low. Those of us who are pastors have a lot to learn as we see God being pastoral to his broken servant. He begins very practically: the opposition and threats have got to the point where Elijah, who was once unafraid to stride into the king’s presence and denounce him, is now on the run from a nasty woman. Even the best of us can suddenly find it all too much. God begins his therapy rather as in an episode of EastEnders: whatever the crisis, the first response is to put the kettle on. So he provides rest, food and drink – those practical necessities which those of us who have been depressed can so easily overlook or lose interest in. But then he takes him on a journey: for 40 days Elijah has the time and space to mull over what has been going on.
Next God listens: Elijah gets the opportunity to tell his story, not once but twice (and maybe more). Like the Ancient Mariner he has to repeat his tale in order to get it out into words, and God listens patiently. But then he speaks, and in doing so he brings Elijah three different areas of reassurance.
First he tells him that he is still God. He confronts his sense of powerlessness. The heavenly pyrotechnics are designed to restore Elijah’s sense of perspective about where power really lies, while the ‘still, small voice’ reminds him that it isn’t all about displays of power.
Secondly he tells him that he (Elijah) is still important, confronting his sense of worthlessness. Having lived through a time when I was constantly being told that I was useless and that nobody liked me I found it immensely healing to be reminded by friends of my value. But this isn’t mere words: Elijah is recommissioned to get stuck in to his work again, plunging straight back into the political arena with his prophetic anointing.
And thirdly God tells him some truths, confronting his loss of perspective and isolation. He may feel alone, but there are plenty of people still with him, even if at times they are a bit silent and distant when he needs support the most. And as an added bonus God gives him an apprentice, both to share the load and to assure him that the prophetic work will go on past his incumbency.
God, the master pastor, gently leads Elijah back to health, and I’m sure he was stronger and more resilient as a result of his weeks out of action. I also note with interest that not once does God tell him to praise the Lord and join in the worship-songs. Maybe his church has something to learn from him!