Bible Devotions

Handles for Hopelessness


2006-07-27

It can happen to anyone!

3 Elijah was afraid, so he got up and fled for his life to Beersheba in Judah. He left his servant there, 4 while he went a day’s journey into the desert. He went and sat down under a shrub and asked the Lord to take his life: “I’ve had enough! Now, O Lord, take my life. After all, I’m no better than my ancestors.” (1Kings19:3-4)A few weeks ago I preached about depression. The response was very positive and many felt that the message needed to be passed on. This series will be an attempt to put that message into bite-size chunks.
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Although there is a stigma attached to depression, the medical profession and many involved in caring for people have come to realise that “the blues” are not always easy to “get over.” It is also not easy to “just pull yourself together.”

In this series I hope to look at a few passages, examining the causes of depression and some tools along the way.
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Elijah is probably one of the faith-heroes of the Old Testament. Boldly confronting Ahab and Jezebel who were the “Bonnie and Clyde” of the Israel’s history, living for long months on bottomless jars of oil and flour, raising the widow’s son from the dead, stopping and starting the rain, and having the fiery showdown with the prophets of Baal. (Not to mention the chariot of fire as his final act!)

With these swashbuckling exploits in mind, these two chapters (1Kings19-20) come as a huge surprise! How can the great Elijah be depressed?

But he is!

And this is a sobering reality. It can happen to anyone. Depression isn’t just something that happens to the weak or those who lack vision. There are a significant number of Biblical and famous historical characters who have found that life has become flat, black and white, two-dimensional and heavy-going.

People who suffer from depression, whether it be long-term or short-term, feel like they are failures and that God is disappointed in them. This too is a common experience.

The bottom line of our passage today is that Elijah reached this devastating place where his passion, vision, energy, courage and zest-for-life was gone!

It is a devastating experience and it can happen to anyone. The good news is that the Bible knows about hopelessness and gives us handles.

We will explore them over the next few weeks.
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Dear Lord, give me understanding and compassion when I meet people who are in the same place as Elijah. When I am in the desert and hiding under the shrub remind me that I am not alone.


2006-07-28

What happened to Elijah?


3 Elijah was afraid, so he got up and fled for his life to Beersheba in Judah. He left his servant there, 4 while he went a day’s journey into the desert. He went and sat down under a shrub and asked the Lord to take his life: “I’ve had enough! Now, O Lord, take my life. After all, I’m no better than my ancestors.” (1Kings19:3-4)In view of Elijah’s reputation and successes his implosion is unexpected and puzzling.

What happened to Elijah? How did he come to this desperate place of doubt, disillusionment and despondency?

Elijah’s pain can be summarised in one word: BURNOUT.

Here’s how burnout happens:
1. Pushing too hard, too fast. Elijah faced many battles and even winners can get wounded in the fight. He faced many challenges and the stress levels were high. Stress in itself isn’t bad – an unstressed muscle will never grow. But while stress promotes growth, the growth happens in the rest periods. Elijah needed rest and recovery time for his emotional and spiritual muscles to recover after the stresses he had been through.

2.His output exceeded his input. You can’t keep on giving out if your spiritual and emotional tanks aren’t being refilled.

3. He needed a friend. This will only become clear later, but one of Elijah’s deepest sources of pain was that he felt desperately alone.

The results of burnout are excruciating:
* Irrational fear and loss of perspective: Elijah ran from Jezebel like a scalded cat. Today people begin to suffer from panic attacks. Jezebel wasn’t such a big problem – Jehu had her tossed out of a window! (Pity we can’t do that to the people that terrorize us!). But many of us begin to have irrational fears of manageable problems.

* Loss of purpose and direction: Elijah lands up in the desert without a plan.

* Withdrawal: Although he needed friendship, Elijah strangely opts to isolate himself. I am amazed at how people stay away from church when they need it most!

Are you on the road to burnout?
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Dear Lord help me to recognise the signs of burnout in myself and others. Help me find the balance between stress and fulfilling rest. Amen


2006-08-01

Basic Burnout Treatment


5 He stretched out and fell asleep under the shrub. All of a sudden an angelic messenger touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked and right there by his head was a cake of bread baking on hot coals and a jug of water. He ate and drank and then slept some more. 7 The Lord’s angelic messenger came back again, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, for otherwise you won’t be able to make the journey.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. That meal gave him the strength to travel forty days and forty nights until he reached the mountain of God in Horeb. (1Kings19:5-8)How did God treat Elijah’s burnout?

There are three very practical elements to how God helped Elijah deal with the sense of desolation and despondency.

1. He allowed him to sleep. Very often folk who are depressed sleep too much and at the wrong times. But those who suffer from burnout, are often people who burn the candle at both ends and go to bed with so much on their minds that they don’t sleep properly. The escape to the desert was Elijah’s doing, but God used the quiet and the simplicity of the situation to give Elijah what he needed soo badly… SLEEP.

2. Nutrition. A heavenly chef serving simple basic foodstuffs: bread and water. Not fast food, not fancy food, not food on the run, but food at leisure and food at rest. The basic rhythms of sleeping and eating are restored.

3. The simplicity of physical exercise. Elijah travelled for 40 days. For this period of time there was nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other. There was a profound simplicity in his day that allowed him time to think and reflect. The amount of walking Elijah had to do would also have meant an improvement in his physical condition.

What is interesting to note is that when he reaches Horeb, he doesn’t yet FEEL better, but he is in a position to receive the next installment of God’s gracious healing.

Are you burned out? Why not book a weekend away with no agenda but lots of sleep, simple food, and the simplicity of nature. Leave your cellphone off and take no work. Begin and establish a routine of regular uncomplicated exercise. A daily walk will be a good start.

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Dear Lord. Thank you for the tender practical care you showed to Elijah. Help me to take care of others and myself in the same way.
Amen.


2006-08-02

Creative Solitude


8 So he got up and ate and drank. That meal gave him the strength to travel forty days and forty nights until he reached the mountain of God in Horeb. (1Kings19:8)The Bible abounds with the number 40. Forty days is the length of time Jesus spent in the wilderness being fed by angels. Moses also spent 40 days on Mount Sinai.

Forty is the number of completeness and solitude. It is connected to separation and simplicity. It is about connecting to God and ourselves and about clarifying things.

In centuries gone by people waited weeks for letters. They could only access information in libraries and went to bed when it was dark. Our world today is so rushed and pressurised. Instant communication, constant information (tv & internet) and artificial light mean that we go too fast, are over-stimulated and sleep too little.

For our own sanity we need to slow down, disconnect and simplify from time to time. Forty represents a perfect period of time. We will have to work out what that is for us.

Here are some possibilities: An afternoon in a park watching children play (with our cellphones off.) A weekend where we don’t get in our cars and do the shopping thing. An evening with the TV off and a long soak in the bath with a good book.

The point is that this solitude is creative and simple. Elijah had nothing to do but walk. But the walking was important – he had direction. “Blobbing” only makes the blues worse. Good solitude has a simple activity.

People who are naturally introverted need solitude. People who are naturally extrovert can also use a bit of time alone, but for them solitude is quality unrushed time with someone they can really trust.

Times of solitude are like deposits in our emotional bank accounts. We don’t always feel better straight away. We will see that Elijah didn’t _feel_ better when he got to Horeb – but the forty days were part of his healing!


2006-08-03

The same question twice


And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

(1Kings19:9-14)When Elijah gets to mount Horeb, he spends the night in a cave and then the Lord comes to him with a question…
“What are you doing here Elijah?”

In terms of Therapy_101, this is a good question! It orientates, calls for a summary, and gives you responsibility. Elijah’s response is a litany of pain and frustration. After the Divine Wind, Earthquake, Fire and Whisper, the _same_ question is asked and we are given EXACTLY the same answer.

At first I was tempted to think that one of the scribes accidentally copied the verses a second time, but there are other incidences in Scripture (like Ps.42) where the question is repeated.

I think there are times that life throws us questions and the answers burst out of us with almost no thought. Very often we are perfectly in touch with the _content_ of our problem, but we are not in touch with our emotions on the subject.

I can’t help but wonder if Elijah’s first response was one of strident anger and pride whereas the second response was one of deep pain, sadness and desperate need.

Sometimes it is not only that we are answering the right questions, but that we must answer them with the real emotions and not just out of anger and frustration.

I believe that God graciously gives us this example to remind us that we can bring our complaints to Him as often as we _need_ to. This is something that we _should_ do because we need to connect to the content and the emotions of our pain.


2006-08-04

Where the pain comes from


“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The 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.”
(1Kings19:9-10)
Elijah’s lament is recorded twice in the Horeb interview. Both times he voices _exactly_ the same concerns:

1. He was worked _hard_ but fears it has been for nothing:

2. Not only does Elijah feel as though he has failed in his work, but their rejection of God makes him feel like he has failed His Lord.

3. Elijah feels like he is the only one left. There is no-one else. No-one who understands. No-one who can connect with what he is going through. No-one who can hear him, encourage him, or pray for him.

4. He feels rejected, misunderstood, and unfairly treated and devastated by scary truth that they (Jezebel) want him dead.

The awesome truth here is that any of these circumstances can take us into the depths of discouragement and disillusionment. We can easily experience depression:

* When we have the sense that we are not making any difference at all.

* When people we love and feel responsible for behave in ways that go against our belief systems.

* When we feel all alone and as though no-one understands us.

* When we feel rejected or have a very nasty confrontation with someone.

These experiences and feelings can easily lead us to despair. If we recognise the feelings early, we can counter them with better perspectives.
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Dear Lord, when personal failure, the failure of others, loneliness and rejection threaten to steal my peace, please let me find my hope in You.
Amen.


2006-08-07

Inner or Outer Storm


11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
(1Kings19:11-13)
Have you ever heard of a Theophany? It is a technical term that the scholars use to describe a powerful naturual scene where God’s grandeur is revealed. Psalm 29 (about a thunderstorm) is a Theophany.

Interestingly, this passage is an anti-Theophany: Although the natural events are impressive, God is not making his presence felt through earthquake, wind or fire.

Scholars have suggested that the WEF (Wind Earthquake Fire) were symbolic of Elijah’s state of mind. He felt blown and tossed, shaken and unsteady, burnt out and consumed. Some have even suggested that the WEF were not real, but just in Elijah’s mind.

I have no problem with the WEF being real. After all, Elijah had been asked to go and stand on the mountain. When the WEF had passed Elijah had to come out of the cave again – the WEF had obviously been real enough to make him go and hide in the back of the cave!

Occasionally people go through hard times and ask themselves “What is God saying to me?” CS Lewis said that God _whispers_ in our leisures, _speaks_ in our daily lives and SHOUTS in our pain. It is true: God _can_ and _does_ use pain to speak to us and help us grow.

BUT there are times when hardship isn’t the message. Sometimes we suffer for no other reason than the fact that we live in a broken world. When the the WEF come upon us and it seems not to make sense, then prepare for the gentle whisper:- the SSV (Still Small Voice)

Reality and Real Life can be a turbulent, unstable and threatening place – we should not be too caught up in the circumstances and attach too much meaning to them – if the lessons in the WEF are not obvious then we should be listening for the SSV.
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Dear Lord, help me not to be so overwhelmed by trying to make sense of my circumstances that I am not able to hear Your gentle whisper. Amen


2006-08-08

Letting Go


“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The 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.”

(1Kings19:13-14)On Friday we analysed Elijah’s complaint. We saw four kinds of pain that contribute to despondency and depression:

* When we have the sense that we are not making any difference at all.

* When people we love (and feel responsible for) behave in ways that go against our belief systems.

* When we feel all alone and as though no-one understands us.

* When we feel rejected or have a very nasty confrontation with someone.

This is the second time that Elijah voices these concerns. The first time was before the WEF (Wind, Earthquake and Fire). Now that Elijah has experienced the raw power of the WEF and the awesome intimacy of the SSV (Still Small Voice) his complaint is voiced differently.

The first time Elijah voices his complaints we know that he has not let go – that’s why we hear them again (to the extent of word-perfect repetition.)

Sometimes we hang on to our pain. The things that have gone wrong and the raw deal that we have been given become our reason-for-being. We can let our pain have the power to define us. We can’t imagine ourselves without our burdens and so we subconsciously hang on to them. It has taken the bigness of the WEF and the closeness of the SSV to persuade Elijah to LET GO.

Although the Hebrew text does not give us an idea of the emotions behind Elijah’s words, I am pretty sure that the second “venting” of Elijah’s predicament was much more of a “letting go” than the first.
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Dear Lord, sometime I hang on to my pain and let it define me. Give me the courage to realise that even in the midst of the most powerful storms I can be close to you if I will just let go of my pain.


2006-08-10

God’s answer


The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet…. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1Kings19:15-18)Now that Elijah has let go of his pain, God gives him a concrete plan and tangible encouragement. The plan is fairly simple, but whether it is simple or complex, a plan is a tremendous gift to someone who feels like Elijah does. The main features of the plan are as follows:

1. More walking!!! (Go back the way you came.) This time with a clearer sense of purpose and direction than before. It can’t be emphasised enough that physical exercise is a very important part of this healing process.

2. Delegation, Companionship and sharing the load. Jehu is to be anointed as King – an indication that Elijah’s task in not hopeless or endless – there will be lasting change in Israel. Elisha is to be appointed as Elijah’s successor. Elijah will have a protegee, he will leave a legacy, he won’t be working alone.

3. Elijah is NOT ALONE. He thought he was the only one left. But there are 7000 like him.

Inactivity and Directionlessness are perfect partners to the blues. God’s solution involves activity and comfort.

When I feel a cloud of despondency on the horizon, I look for simple mechanical tasks that are not too taxing mentally but give a sense of achievement. I tidy my desk, pull out weeds in the garden, go for a bike ride, go for a walk with Caleb, or wash the car.

The task of appointing people gave Elijah team-mates, but also cut him some slack – the buck didn’t only stop with him. Many of us “hit the wall” in our business environments because we try to go it as “Lone Rangers” instead of working in teams.

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Dear Lord, thank you that I am never alone – that there are always others who have faced what I face and have made it through. Help me to find a plan that will get me going again whenever I get stuck.


2006-08-14

Disheartened Psalmist


1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (Psalms42:1-3)Because vs.1 is quoted as an example of devotion and committment, very few people realise that the Psalm is actually the cry of someone going through the trough of depression.

For today I have just laid out the structure of the Psalm. From tomorrow we will take it bit by bit. Please read the psalm through once or twice, noting the headings I have inserted (in CAPS).

DESPERATE LONGING FOR GOD.
1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
HIS FEELINGS AND THE CAUSE OF HIS PAIN
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
THOUGHTS OF A BETTER TIME
4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

SELF-EXAMINATION
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God.
CONTEXTUALISING HIMSELF
My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
REFLECTION
8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me– a prayer to the God of my life.
REAL PRAYER
9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” 10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
SELF-DETERMINATION
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.


2006-08-15

Desperate Longing for God


1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalms42:1-2)While many have read vs 1 as a fine example of the psalmist’s devotion, it would be more accurate to recognise his panting as desperation. This is not a deer idly grazing on lush green grass with a picturesque stream nearby. Imagine instead the swollen tongue of thirst and the dry cracked lips of exhaustion and need.

When we go through the dip of despondency, we often experience a sense of “God-forsakeness.” This sense of God’s absence _usually_ has very little to do with God moving away from us and everything to do with our state of mind. It is not so much that God is far away, but rather that we _feel_ that He is far away.

We’ve all been there: The prayers bouncing off the ceiling, the loss of enthusiasm in worship, the dry-as-dust Bible reading and even irritation with people who seem so close to God and make it look “oh so easy”. With it comes the guilt: “I should be closer to God. I should just be able to ‘snap out of it’! Why can’t I have more faith? I just need to read my Bible more…”

But nothing seems to work.

And yet, deep down we know that it is God we need. We feel like a deer on a chain and the water is near, but the chain doesn’t let us get there!

If you’ve been there or if you are here now, TAKE COMFORT! You are not alone. You are not the only one here. Your experience is recorded in Scripture. The reality of desperate God-thirst is not just yours. There are others who have walked this path and have found water and peace.
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Dear Lord, thank You for thirst. Without the thirst we would forget that we need You. Although the thirst makes us desperate, we know that it brings us back to You. Protect us from becoming obsessed with the thirst and help us always to think of Your Living Water.


2006-08-17

His feelings and the cause of his pain


3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalms42:3)“I cry all the time.”

This is a common symptom of more serious forms of depression and is a complaint of men and women alike.

Fortunately we are moving away from the “cowboys don’t cry” mentality and have come to understand that tears can be helpful in the process of venting pain and sadness. BUT there comes a time where tears or intense sadness are not productive, but are a symptom of a “stuckness.”

When this happens, we need help.

The Psalmist in a short sentence describes many symptoms of debilitating blues. His emotions are out of control – tears have replaced decent nutrition and sleep patterns are seriously disrupted.

People around him taunt him: “Where is your God?”
This phrase can be variously interpreted:
1.They’re telling him to turn to God. (“Where is God in your picture?”)

2.He had boasted that he was going to do something with God’s help and it wasn’t working out.

3.He has suffered setbacks (like Job) did and people believed that this was a sign that he was no longer under God’s blessing.

I don’t think that the first explanation is the likely one. I rather suspect that it is 2 or 3. This gives us a another clue to his pain: the psalmist is dealing with great disappointment because the Lord wasn’t doing what he (or the community) expected.

Disappointment is often what lies at the heart of depression: We have had certain expectations and reality didn’t come to the party. If this is intense or happens repeatedly it can affect our emotions, appetites and sleep.

But Scripture records this kind of pain and the very human reality that it can even happen to a worship leader and hymnwriter in Israel (that’s who we think the Psalmist was.)

God is not aloof from our pain – He understands it.
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Thank you Lord that You are not far away when sleep is disrupted, appetites are disturbed and emotions are out of control. Thank you that this psalm shows that You understand our pain. Amen.


2006-08-17

His feelings and the cause of his pain


3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalms42:4)“I cry all the time.”
This is a common symptom of more serious forms of depression and is a complaint of men and women alike.

Fortunately we are moving away from the “cowboys don’t cry” mentality and have come to understand that tears can be helpful in the process of venting pain and sadness. BUT there comes a time where tears or intense sadness are not productive, but are a symptom of a “stuckness.”

When this happens, we need help.

The Psalmist in a short sentence describes many symptoms of debilitating blues. His emotions are out of control – tears have replaced decent nutrition and sleep patterns are seriously disrupted.

People around him taunt him: “Where is your God?”
This phrase can be variously interpreted:
1.They’re telling him to turn to God. (“Where is God in your picture?”)

2.He had boasted that he was going to do something with God’s help and it wasn’t working out.

3.He has suffered setbacks (like Job) did and people believed that this was a sign that he was no longer under God’s blessing.

I don’t think that the first explanation is the likely one. I rather suspect that it is 2 or 3. This gives us a another clue to his pain: the psalmist is dealing with great disappointment because the Lord wasn’t doing what he (or the community) expected.

Disappointment is often what lies at the heart of depression: We have had certain expectations and reality didn’t come to the party. If this is intense or happens repeatedly it can affect our emotions, appetites and sleep.

But Scripture records this kind of pain and the very human reality that it can even happen to a worship leader and hymnwriter in Israel (that’s who we think the Psalmist was.)

God is not aloof from our pain – He understands it.
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Thank you Lord that You are not far away when sleep is disrupted, appetites are disturbed and emotions are out of control. Thank you that this psalm shows that You understand our pain. Amen.


2006-08-18

Thoughts of a better time


4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. (Psalms42:4)Memories can help or hinder our recovery process when we are caught up in the webs of despondency.

Here the psalmist is thinking back to a happy time. A time when he was in the presence of God. Joy was in the air and spiritually he was a leader.The problem is that was _then_ and here in the _now_ things are different.

These kind of thoughts can hinder if we look back at the past and idolize it as something that we wish we could have again. Then memories are a mourning of things lost.

We can never make things like they were. We cannot replay history, but we can make new memories that are even better, richer, and fuller.

The beauty of the past should be a constant reminder that the future can be filled with hope and joy. Memories of a happy past are a powerful tool to remind us that the current dip will not last forever.

Happy memories can motivate us and inspire us to keep going in the fight. Even when there is a great discrepancy between how we feel _now_ and the happiness of our memories, the joy and hope that the memories give can motivate us and help us shake off lethargy.

In particular: The Psalmist’s memories relate to his life of public worship and his relationship with God. When Jesus writes to the church in Ephesus in Rev 2 He says: “You have forgotten your first love… remember the HEIGHT from which you have fallen.” They didn’t have to stay in the trap of mediocrity that they were in – they could scale new heights of faith and devotion.

Good memories are a power tool to help us keep fighting and remember that it is worth it! We will love again, we will laugh again!
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Dear Lord please bring to mind memories that will inspire and motivate me when I am unmotivated and down in the dumps. Amen.


2006-08-22

Self-Examination


5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me… (Psalms42:5-6)The Psalmist repeats the same set of Questions and Answers twice, once in the middle and once at the end. Here in the middle his questions are questions of self-examination. As he wrestles with the sense of pain and loss that he feels, his question seems to be: “How did I get here?”, “Why can’t I snap out of it?” and “Why can’t I just trust God more?”

When we have a serious case of feeling “mizzy” (miserable) there comes a moment where we have to weigh up our feelings against reality. It is as though the psalmist is working at reminding himself that God is greater than his problem. (“C’mon soul! What???? Are you worrying about that?!!!???)

Then he reminds himself to consciously to put His trust in God!

But it hasn’t worked! Somehow the psalmist is stuck:
1. Trying to put his problems into perspective hasn’t worked.
2. Choosing to hope and praise God hasn’t worked.
(His soul is still downcast)

Tomorrow we will see that he realises that he is stuck and the problem is not his circumstances, but his soul:
And he does something to remind him of God’s greatness

Although it seems not to have helped much here, the process of self-examination is really important. It will ultimately prepare us for the good news that:
1. God is bigger than our problems
2. Our souls (attitudes and hope-levels) have the ability to transcend our troubles.

3. We can hope in God
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Dear God, sometimes step one of getting out of the blues is having the courage to ask myself “Why are you downcast?” because sometimes I get my perspectives all wrong. Please help me put my hope in You.


2006-08-24

Contextualising himself


My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember You
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar. 7
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalms42:6-7)
Last time we saw that the Psalmist did a bit of self-examination. This revealed that he was stuck – he couldn’t “snap out of it.” But this does not mean that he settled into a passive, self-pitying victim mentality.

He concludes: “My soul is downcast within me; THEREFORE I will remember You…” He recognises his stuckness and takes _action_.

In his case, his action is to take himself out into the vast beauty of nature. He takes himself from the Jordan valley to Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar. He considers the roar of the waterfalls and the crash of the waves.

It is a good list of the best that nature has to offer:
– The serenity of the river
– The majesty of the mountains
– The thunder of the waterfalls
– The power of the sea
And he has let these natural scenes wash over him.

Tomorrow we will examine the effect of this “therapy.” But for today it will be helpful to note that when remembering the past didn’t help, the next step was to contextualise himself. He placed himself in situations that were big, spacious and awesome. (We don’t know if the last line means that he actually took a swim or if the waves became symbolic of the way he felt – but there was a real connection to the power of the water)

Often when we succumb to the blues, we let our worlds shrink. We stay at home, we mope around in one room or in a small environment. The Psalmist has moved himself into the bigness.

Sometimes when I feel the clouds of despondency coming on, I can avert them by taking a walk or going for a bike ride. I’ve been known to get out into the garden at six in the morning and pull out weeds (Very therapeutic!) Brenda has seen me carry our CD player into the shower and play some kick-butt praise and worship music while I “wash the blues right outta my hair!”

The point about today’s reading is that the Psalmist refused to let his blues push him to a point of becoming self-referencing. He deliberately put himself in a place of bigness.
——————————————–

Dear God, I so easily get wrapped up in myself, how I am feeling, and how big my problems are. Give me the courage to formulate a THEREFORE and move myself into a situation where I am faced with Your bigness.


2006-08-25

Reflection


8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me– a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalms42:8)Yesterday we saw the Psalmist deliberately take himself out into creation. He was stuck: downcast and disturbed and he wasn’t managing to shake it off. So he acted! He took himself out into the Bigness.

The _viewing_ of rivers, the mountains, the waterfalls and the sea are not enough to shake the doldrums: they are signposts to a deeper truth. In vs.8 the psalmist takes the time to _read_ the signs.

What do the signs say? Lots actually!
-They tell us that God is great and awesome.
-That He is capable of staggering beauty and intricacy.
-That all of creation has been carefully fashioned and formed.
-That there is exquisite attention to detail and an exhuberant celebration of diversity.

But most importantly the signs speak of tender, rhythmic and permeating love. From the sunrise that faithfully arrives each day to the appearance of each star at night creation there is a natural testimony of a God who is faithful and abounding in providence (provide-ence!).

Creation (even though it is a fallen creation – no longer able to achieve its original designed purpose) is a signpost that we ignore to our own detriment. If we make the effort to READ the signs we will discover that:
– God is very good indeed.
– There is even beauty in brokeness (smog makes beautiful sunsets) because He is merciful
– We are deeply, magnificently and amazingly loved and are surrounded by thousands of signs saying just that!
——————————————–
Dear Lord, open my eyes that I might SEE! Amen.


2006-08-29

Real Prayer


9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” 10
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?” (Psalms42:9-10)
Depression can have very real physical symptoms – The Psalmist describes the mortal agony he feels in his bones. Aches, pains, fatigue, and discomfort are frequent companions when we feel alone, discouraged and stuck.

Even more disturbing is the alarming loss of any sense or experience of God’s presence. During times of doubt and despondency we feel as though God has forgotten us, that He has gone on a long holiday, that He is angry with us or that He just doesn’t exist!

The Psalmist tackles this head on. He prays. He doesn’t experience God, but he talks to Him. He doesn’t have a warm fuzzy sense of God’s presence, but he expresses his frustrations and disappointment.

His prayer is gut-wrenchingly honest: “It feels like You’re far away, I feel terrible, my enemies are wiping the floor with me and the whole situation is making You look bad!”

The problem with going through the blues is not only that we feel far away from God, but that we allow that sense of distance prevent us from reaching out to him.

The Psalmist started by expressing his longing for God.
Then he expressed his pain and he explored his feelings
Then he remembered better days.
Then he talked to his soul.
Then he took himself out into nature and reflected on it.
Now _finally_ he is talking to God!!!

It’s not a pious prayer. It doesn’t pretend or posture. The prayer says: “Life sucks and it feels like You don’t care!” But the prayer is real and it opens the door to healing.
—————-

Dear Lord. So often I talk ABOUT You when what I actually need is to talk TO You. Help me to do that… Amen


2006-08-30

Self-determination


11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalms42:11)Our psalmist has returned to his self-answered questions. This time with more than just longing memories of a better time and an aching heart. And this time his answers bring him closer to resolution.

Since he last examined himself he has deliberately exposed himself to a variety of natural scenes, he has rooted himself in a picture that is bigger than his four walls and he has reflected on bigness. Ultimately he has turned to prayer.

Now comes the moment of decision:

Why am I downcast?
Are my problems really too big for my faith in a great and awesome God? Am I missing a perspective? Are there blessings to count, lessons learned, and grace that has abounded?

Can I chose to hope and praise?
The psalmist does.

Many people who have been caught up in a web of hopelessness and depression have been frustrated by those who tell them to “Pull themselves together” or “Just count your blessings.” It is _never_ that simple.

However, many err in the opposite direction. They say “I can’t pull myself together and so I will just wait.” Those who have walked the road of depression and have come through on the other side can identify a moment where they made a hopeful decision and chose to praise.

That decision may be to consult a physician, join a group, make a life change, let go of a harmful situation, or any one of a number of small steps. There is no escaping the fact that the psalm ends on this note. (Ps.43 which is seen by many as a continuation of Ps.42 ends in the same way.) There is no escaping the fact that at the end of the day we must take responsibility and choose to hope!

At the end of the day our most significant steps against bleakness are the small, deliberate steps of hope and faith that we consciously take as we exercise choice.
———————————————-
Dear Lord. Please give me the courage to believe that there is hope and that I _can_ offer you praise even when I’m feeling bleak. Amen
———————————————–
That brings us to the end of this series on Elijah and Psalm 42 and “Handles on Hopelessness” I pray that it has been helpful and insightful – both to those who suffer from depression and those who have found it hard to understand.

I would love to receive any constructive feedback…

The full series is available on the church website. www.emmanuel.org.za


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