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Psychiatry students were in their college class one day when their professor began a discussion to prove a point. â€œWhat weâ€™re going to talk about today,â€ the professor said, â€œare emotional extremes that people go through. For example, â€œWhatâ€™s the opposite of joy?â€ he asked one student. â€œSadness,â€ the student answered. â€œThe opposite of depression?â€ he asked another. â€œElation,â€ she replied. Turning to a young man from Texas he asked, â€œThe opposite of woe?â€ â€œWell, now,â€ the Texan replied, â€œI reckon the opposite of woe, would be giddy up.â€
Perhaps he hasnâ€™t experienced a lot of woe in his life.
Of course, this is a good thing but scripture understands this may not be the case for all. Psalm 34:18 says, â€œThe Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.â€
Itâ€™s a fact that most people go around pulling themselves emotionally by the bootstraps. Itâ€™s a DYI operation for most people too often for too long. We ought to think of getting some help with this. Psalm 55:22 tells you, â€œCast your burden on the Lord, and (the Lord) will sustain you.â€
Some churches put this whole casting program right into their worship program. Itâ€™s not a bad idea. Maybe we should try it here. What I mean is a couple of years ago, a church offered a time during their Sunday service for people to come forward and have hands laid on them and pray for healing. The speaker pointed out that there was â€œa lot of hurt in this room,â€ sickness, broken relationships, grief.
The response began as a trickle. Soon, others began making their way down from the balcony, walking along individually or in pairs, or rolling forward in wheelchairs. Before long, the trickle became a torrent. One of the prayer helpers didnâ€™t anticipate the type of prayer asked for. â€œAt least 2 out of 3 asked for prayer for depression,â€ he said. â€œI thought it would be more for physical needs. But so many said, â€˜Iâ€™m depressed. I feel unworthy. I see no future.â€™ I was amazed at how many felt unworthy.
So many people feel down, saddened, overwhelmed, anxious about their future, depressed about themselves. Weâ€™re not alone. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, â€œThe Lord goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.â€Â
We each have a tipping point. We have a capacity to take on difficulties, disappointments, and troubles but only to a point. Beyond this,
more than this, we are in danger of being overloaded, emotionally taxed, physically endangered, spiritually overwhelmed.
I donâ€™t know what your line is but you ought to know it. Itâ€™s important for each of us to know when weâ€™ve reached our limit. When you have, you need to take care of yourself.
Scripture gives us a case study in a serious depression in our lesson this morning. It also shows us how we can get back some control of our lives, and reclaim our emotions and spiritual strength.
We find that Elijah experienced many of the classic symptoms of being overwhelmed and depression. He felt fear: â€œElijah was afraid and ran for his lifeâ€¦.â€ He experienced suicidal tendencies: â€œ(Elijah) prayed that he might die. â€˜I have had enough, LORD,â€™ he said. â€˜Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.â€™ He suffered excessive tiredness: â€œThen he lay down under the tree and fell asleepâ€¦â€ He slept for a couple of days, maybe longer.
He knew feelings of rejection: â€œThe Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken 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.â€ And he experienced this depression for a long time, forty days and nights.
Now, whatâ€™s really amazing about this is that just days before Elijah had preached one of the greatest sermons of his life. He confronted 400 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Fire had come from the heavens to consume the sacrifice heâ€™d placed on the altar and a few hours later a downpour of rain had fallen on a land that hadnâ€™t had any for years.
Why would someone who had preached an impressive message and experienced some of the most powerful displays of Godâ€™s power be crippled by fear, hopelessness and despair? Why would he run away to a desolate corner of the world and lie down and give up? There are probably all kinds of reasons, but the fact is he did.
And what this tells us is that even Godâ€™s most dynamic servants can suffer from sadness, feelings of anxiety and even depression. Itâ€™s not necessarily a mark of a lack of faith. Elijah was the man of God in his day. And now heâ€™s so far down in the depths of despair. Something had gone too far for Elijah.
I want you to notice what God did to help and heal Elijah. First, God recognized that Elijahâ€™s mood was not an imaginary problem. Elijahâ€™s feeling of being overwhelmed was real. It was starting to direct his life
downward. But the Lord didnâ€™t say, â€œGet a hold of yourself Elijah. Whereâ€™s your faith, man?!â€
In answer to Elijahâ€™s prayer to die, God just lets him sleep.
Sometimes our problem is weâ€™re just tired. Weâ€™ve run ourselves ragged. We stay up too late; we donâ€™t take time out for ourselves; we keep up a schedule that would take down an ox. Or we havenâ€™t exercised enough.
Take some time to do something good for Godâ€™s Temple. Make it a little stronger, a little healthier. Our bodies need to be taken care of for us to do well, feel positive about ourselves, and have the strength to do whatâ€™s ours to do. Elijah needed most of all to rest.
Thereâ€™s something else that happens in our scripture that is so important for when life has you hurting: An angel provides food and drink for Elijah. When weâ€™re down and almost out, we will have to rely on someone else to see us through.
A woman told the story of what happened when one of her nephews, David, (her sisterâ€™s boy), died in a fire. â€œMy mother was home alone when she received the call that David had died. (Just a word of caution, a person should never be alone and hearing this type of news over the phone). Alone as she heard the news, something inside of her snapped, and when dad got home he found her disoriented and in a state of shock.
The next day I had a conversation with her and she would say, â€œDavidâ€™s dead?â€ â€œYes mom, Davidâ€™s deadâ€ Iâ€™d say. And then sheâ€™d talk about him for a while. And then her eyes would glass over as sheâ€™d ask again â€œDavidâ€™s dead?â€ â€œYes mom, Davidâ€™s dead.â€ And the conversation would repeat itself all over againâ€¦ and againâ€¦ and again. Itâ€™s never easy to see someone you love go through such a brokenness.
The doctors advised dad that mom be put in the hospital for a while. But dad said â€œNo, Iâ€™ll never get her back if you do that!â€ And for the next few days he never left her side. He waited on her, he held her, and he spoke kindly to her. No probing questionsâ€¦ just rest and love. In time, she recovered and dealt with her grief.
Often what we need is just someone who will keep us together until we can get back on our spiritâ€™s own two feet. Donâ€™t resist help when you need it. Let kindness in your life. Take what the Lord gives you. And if you look hard enough, thatâ€™s Godâ€™s angel sent just for you.
Itâ€™s natural for us to have expectations for our lives. As children, we dream of being sports stars, princesses, President of the United States. For
the vast majority, life doesnâ€™t take us there. There are times in our lives when our expectations do not match our reality. The job promotion doesnâ€™t turn out. A book deal never comes. A relationship you really believed in turns sour. And people suffer other harder disappointments, even tragedies, than these.
When your heart weighs so much itâ€™s tough to lift your heart. We never want our pain. But God isnâ€™t done with us when weâ€™re walking through the valley. The Lord doesnâ€™t leave us when itâ€™s darkest. Weâ€™re being remade, refashioned, recreated, and his Spirit is holding our spirit the whole way through.
After all, your spirit is directly linked to Godâ€™s spirit! What you have inside of you is made of the same stuff as the Lordâ€™s spirit. What youâ€™re going through, if given a chance, will mold you and make you and change you and in some mysterious, God-directed way grow you in time.
Someone once said, â€œI believe in the sun even when itâ€™s not shining. I believe in love even when it is not shown. And I believe in God even when he doesnâ€™t speak.â€ When weâ€™re in emotional trouble we have trouble believing God is doing much of anything. But the Spirit is hard at work in ours helping us to survive and committed to us thriving again, changed, transformed but always under Godâ€™s care.
In all this time, God doesnâ€™t say a word to Elijah. And while we donâ€™t see any direct counsel, we can be very certain good things were happening to Elijah, small things but after a while they add up.
We must look for the angels in our lives feeding us a simple meal. Thatâ€™s the thing I like the most about the scripture. Elijah is fed by an angel twice and he never even takes notice of it. Was it an angel? Thatâ€™s what scripture says but maybe the point is that Elijah was provided by someone food and drink, the minimum needed, by the grace of God. Even when he didnâ€™t see God taking care of him, even when he had much bigger expectations for his life, he was still being blessed by the simple pleasures of love, food and drink.
How often we ought to take a good hard look at our lives and take in the good things we still have.
But eventually God did deal with Elijahâ€™s depression. What did God have Elijah do? Well he first had him get back on track with his faith. Elijah went to Mt. Horeb, where the Law was given to Moses, and there the Lord
would meet him. Itâ€™s tough to get back on track if we donâ€™t try to lift our heart to the Lord.
Church is one of the best places to deal with depression. When Church is done right itâ€™s the place where we listen to each other and help one another. â€œBear one anotherâ€™s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,â€ says scripture.Â
Andrew Newberg, director of clinical nuclear medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, studied the brains of religious individuals who either prayed or meditated. His team found a dramatic increase in action in the front region of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex. The region is associated with judgment and empathy. When we get to church, when we take this time to pray, to slow down, and lift our hearts to the Lord, we feel more connected to ourselves, others, to God.
The group also discovered decreased activity in a region of the brain known as the superior parietal lobe, which gives us our sense of â€œself.â€ The findings seem to indicate that people, while engaged in spiritual pursuits, felt a loss of self, that is they felt their own situation and its difficulties less and instead felt other peopleâ€™s condition and troubles more.
And if I might just throw out a blatant commercial for coming to worship each Sunday, coming to church, prayer and meditation have been shown to lower the risk of depression and heart disease and improve immune function.
The Lord is working things out for you. There are angels all around you. Lift your heart to the Lord. Godâ€™s Spirit is strong upon you and within you, blessing you and keeping you for his nameâ€™s sake.Â
Can the church say Amen?