Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

08/12/12 Sermon

1 Kings 19:4-8

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

How many of you have ever driven in the South where there’s lots of farmland and seen a cotton field or soybean field that had a lone, solitary tree in the middle of it?

In the South these trees have a name----they’re called “Resting Trees”.

They’re called resting trees because in the 19th century when slaves were working in the fields picking cotton, they needed a place to get some shady rest from the hot, scorching sun.

That lone, solitary tree was an oasis from the despair of hard, slave labor.

Now I thought about this image and metaphor of a resting tree when I read today’s scripture.

We see the story of the faithful prophet Elijah who takes a day’s journey out into the wilderness where he finds a lone solitary broom tree.

And under the very limited shade that a broom tree provides, we hear Elijah’s prayer to God---- “Lord, I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Have you ever been there before?

Have you ever been so beaten down and depressed that you’re ready for God to just go ahead and take you?

You know many of us can deal with bouts of depression and burn out.

An article in Psychology Today reported that the average American is 10 times more likely to deal with depression than their parents and 20 times more likely than their grandparents.

Depression is something that all of us can deal with. -----And even those who are faithful.

Moses dealt with depression in dealing with the Israelites and expressed his weariness to God.

We know in the Old Testament that Job who was stripped of his family and property and afflicted with sores and some “great” friends who tried to comfort him was depressed.

The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that he wished he’d never been born.

Jonah wished God would take his life.

And even the apostle Paul in prison spoke of his grief. (Phil. 2:26-28)

People of faith are not exempt from dealing with depression. In fact I think they are even more susceptible.

Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote--- “If we give and give and give, we have less and less and less—and after awhile, at a certain point we’re so weak and worn that we hoist up the flag to surrender”. He added---“to live out one’s idealism brings with it hazards”.

Elijah was one who was living out his idealism. And in doing so it brought hazards.
The story of Elijah occurs in the 9th century before Christ at a time when the people of Israel had fallen away from following God.
Ahab who was the king of Israel had married a princess of Phoenicia by the name of Jezebel who was a follower of an idol god by the name of Baal.
Now Baal was a false fertility god.

The belief was that if you worshipped Baal your pocketbook would be filled up and you were also encouraged with this fertility god to engage in sex .

The idol of security in money and sex is eerily familiar----but that’s a different sermon for a different time. 
Anyway, Jezebel had brought in 450 prophets of Baal and built a temple for this false god and then ordered the killing of many of God’s prophets.
Meanwhile Elijah is sent by God to go tell King Ahab and Jezebel that because of their wickedness there would be a severe drought and famine. Now this went right up against the fertility god of Baal who was supposed to bring you fertile rain and sunshine for good crops.

Jezebel was real pleased with Elijah as you can imagine when the drought came to fruition.

Ultimately there is a great showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah puts it before the people of Israel that they need to make up their mind who they’re going to follow.
Is it the god of their pocketbook and their sexual desires or is it the one true God, Yahweh?
Two altars are built, one for Baal and one for Yahweh. Wood is laid on the altars. Two oxen are slaughtered and cut into pieces; the pieces are laid on the wood.

Elijah then invites the priests of Baal to pray for fire to light the sacrifice. They pray from morning to noon but nothing happens.        Elijah ridicules their efforts (he tells them to shout louder!).

So then Elijah takes "four large jars" of water pours them on the ox, and asks God to accept the sacrifice.
Suddenly fire falls from the sky, consuming the water, the sacrifice and the stones of the altar itself as well -----------and the people of Israel all shout the Lord is God!

And then Elijah orders the death of the prophets of Baal who are slaughtered by the people of Israel.

That of course really makes Jezebel happy with him so she orders the death of Elijah.
So what we see here is that Elijah’s idealistic faithfulness to stand up against evil; to bring back the people of Israel into relationship with God led to a hazardous lifestyle---and it led to depression.

And so that’s where we pick up today’s scripture; Elijah running from Jezebel under the resting tree, praying that God will take his life.

Now many theologians see this scripture and they speak about Elijah having a weak moment of faith. They say Elijah was clearly unfaithful in his fear---- that he was mistrusting of God’s will and God’s provisions.

Others point to his foolish conversation with God in the 14th verse where Elijah tells God:

The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left…..
This can seem foolish and self-righteous of Elijah right?

He needs to trust in God, count his blessings---He needs to stop his whining, stop his complaining.

He needs to remember that if he’s not faithful God will replace him with someone else who’ll get the job done.
It’s so interesting how hard we can be on Elijah as well as on ourselves when we find ourselves going thru times of depression.

But you know, when I look at this story of Elijah burned out, worn out and beaten down I see something different than an unfaithful, foolish man who didn’t trust in God.

What I see is a human being who was seeking to be faithful, who had been thru the mill, who was depressed, disappointed and discouraged for good reason.
His people had turned away from God. And where were the 7000 other that God spoke of…they certainly weren’t around for Elijah earlier!

Elijah was also threatened with his life, he had just been a part of the massacre of hundreds of people (post traumatic stress syndrome)

And even the great showdown of God’s power could have been reason for let down.
Many people wonder how Elijah could have went from such a high to such a low so quickly.

And yet, haven’t you ever had an experience of great elation that led to being burned out and bummed out later?

We’re human beings who experience despair and depression. And that’s what we see with Elijah.
The point here is that instead of looking down on Elijah’s resting tree moment as a failure in faith or a foolish prayer we need to see it as an act of human weakness in the midst of seeking to be faithful.

And that’s what all of us need to know. You see God didn’t tell Elijah that he was weak and whiny. He didn’t tell him that his depression was a sign of faithlessness. He didn’t tell him to count his blessings or that he was going to be replaced.

Instead, God listened to him and then provided for him thru an angel.
Now that’s something that you and I need to hear. As people of faith we are going to experience disappointment, discouragement and depression. That is if we are truly following Christ----I mean, we’re human.
And if we are trying our best to follow God and be faithful to God we are going to get disappointed and discouraged.
Pastors perhaps experience this kind of burnout and discouragement more than any:
Statistics show that 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.

-50% of pastor’s marriages end in divorce.

-80% feel discouraged.
-50% are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living.
-80% of seminary graduates leave the ministry within 5 years.
-70% constantly fight depression.
-80% of pastor spouses feel their pastor is overworked and wish their spouse would choose another profession.
The majority of pastor spouses say that the most destructive event that occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered into the ministry.
These statistics are for people who are seeking to be faithful.
But you know pastors aren’t the only ones dealing with despair and depression.

All of us can find ourselves running from some kind of Jezebel who threatens us.

How about the diagnosis from the doctor who tells us we have a terminal disease?

Or the husband who watches helplessly as his wife slowly wastes away because of cancer.

Many of us have lived a life of trying to be faithful and yet bad things happen.

How about the faithful father and mother who do their very best in bringing up their children but are crazy with worry because their child is dealing with drugs.

Or how about the marriage partners that started out with such excitement but over the years has turned into boredom.

Or how about the marriage that was so rare and joyful for so many years but has ended by death of one leaving the other wondering if they will ever smile again.

The message to us today is that even as faithful people, we will experience despair and discouragement and depression---

And while there can be a temptation to believe we are lacking faith or acting foolish, or need to count our blessings, the reality is that in our depression and worn out despair, God is calling us to the resting tree of his grace where He loves us and listens to us and provides for us.

Our God is not a god of beating down his faithful servants; he doesn’t threaten us nor does he sugar coat.

God simply offers us his grace to sustain us and give us hope and purpose.
As Elijah came to God at his resting tree, he went to sleep in God’s arms.
And God loved him and provided for him.

God gave him comfort food of living bread and water; the comfort food of hope and purpose and a promise that he was not alone.

And then God gave him assurance as he set him out with more work to do, refueled, re-energized.
Today we are being reminded that whenever we find ourselves worn out, weak and weary that we need not beat ourselves up and see ourselves as foolish and faithless.
Instead we simply need to remember that there is a resting tree for us. A resting tree where our God is there to listen and sustain and provide for us.
On our own we are weak, but in him we are strong. Let us not be ashamed to be depressed.
Instead let it be a reminder that God is inviting us to come to him, to hear his good words of blessing to you.
God will give us what we need to take up the journey again.

A journey that will one day lead us to another tree----the resting tree where we will no longer be worn out and weary.

Instead we will find the peaceful shade--- of the tree of eternal life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen