Scripture: 1st Kings 19:10-18
Title: Energy – Part 2 (Energy for the soul)
- Treat the cause and the symptoms
- Recovering the soul’s energy
Today we continue our series on well-being and care of the soul, using the acronym: HEALING.
– Each letter represents a word which, when properly applied, is life giving to the human soul…
– Hope Energy Appreciation Lament Inter-dependence Nurture & Giving
– Last Sunday we heard about the body’s energy
– Today our message focuses on the soul’s energy
When we talk about energy, as it relates to people, we mean the strength, vitality or power required for activity.
– Energy is one of the resources we need to function and get things done.
– Depression is a state of very low energy or exhaustion.
To help us explore this subject of the soul’s energy we will continue looking at an episode in the life of Elijah – from 1st Kings, chapter 19
– Elijah was one of the great prophets of Israel
– In 1st Kings 19 Elijah is on the run for his life after defeating the prophets of Baal. He is at a very low ebb – physically & emotionally exhausted
– Last Sunday we heard how an angel restored Elijah’s physical strength with food and sleep. This morning we pick up the story from verse 10…
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal, and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us
Last week I talked about the body’s energy and the importance of maintaining healthy rhythms and balance with our sleeping and eating
– This morning our focus is the soul’s energy
– By the soul’s energy I mean things that feed our mind, emotions & spirit
– This is not to say that the body & soul are separate or unrelated
– To the contrary there is a close relationship between our body & soul so that what happens to our soul can affect our body and vice versa
– Nevertheless, the soul needs different things from the body – we cannot live by bread alone
Treat the cause and the symptoms:
If we think of our whole person like a tree, then the roots are sort of like the soul, while the branches are like the body
– Meaning or purpose is like the soil which feeds the roots of our soul and enables our whole life (body & soul) to stand
– Just as you can’t see the roots of a tree because they are underground, so too you can’t see your soul in a physical sense, but you can see the effects of the soul – you can see the fruit in other words
– The fruit represents the health (or sickness) of the body & soul
– The fruit of the tree is only a symptom, not the cause
– For example the fruit might be pain or it might be joy
– It might be cynicism or it might be faith
– So often when the fruit in our life is unpalatable, or not enjoyable, we treat the symptom with a pain killer, while ignoring the root or the underlying cause
To illustrate the importance of treating the cause, as well as the symptoms, let me give you some scenarios. Here’s the first one…
– You are at sea in your boat and it starts to leak. Land is 5 days away and your radio is broken so you can’t call for help. What do you do? Do you..
– A.) Ignore the leak and carry on?
– B.) Empty the water out by hand?
– C.) Patch the leak?
– D.) Both B & C – patch the leak and empty the water out?
– Yes, I reckon D is the best answer – deal with the cause (which is the hole) and the symptom (which is water in the boat)
Here’s another scenario…
– You break your leg falling out of a tree – what do you do? Do you…
– A.) Take a painkiller?
– B.) Go to hospital to get treatment for your leg?
– C.) Both A & B
– D.) Harden up and climb back into the tree?
– Yes, I reckon C is the best answer – deal with the cause (which is the broken leg) and the symptom (which is the pain)
One more scenario…
– Your body breaks out in hives because you’ve been eating too many apples – what do you do? Do you…
– A.) Eat more apples to condition your body against hives?
– B.) Keep eating apples and take an antihistamine?
– C.) Stop eating apples and take an antihistamine?
– D.) Blame God for the suffering he has caused by making apples?
– I reckon C is the best answer. If you keep eating apples while taking an antihistamine you might deal with the symptoms but you’ll never address the cause of the problem
Recovering the soul’s energy:
As we heard last week Elijah was in a state of abject despair – he was so down he had asked God to take away his life but God refused to euthanize Elijah
– Instead the Lord began to restore Elijah by providing him with food and rest
– But Elijah knows the problem runs a lot deeper than being physically tired & hungry
– Once he has recovered his physical strength Elijah is able to address the needs of his soul (the root cause of his despair) and he does this by going on a spiritual retreat – by walking off into the wilderness to meet with God at Mount Horeb
Put yourself in Elijah’s shoes for a moment – 40 days on your own, walking through the wilderness – what is that doing to Elijah’s soul?
Well, for starters, we know that physical exercise and spending time in nature is actually good for the human soul in that it renews our perspective
– When we are walking in the mountains or by the ocean or looking at the stars at night we are reminded that it’s not all about me
– We are part of a something much larger than us and our problems
Of course, Elijah probably walked through nature a lot – so he wouldn’t have been as disconnected from God’s creation as a modern city dweller might be
– So simply walking through the wilderness wasn’t going to be enough to sort out Elijah’s soul – he needed something more than that
The psychologist Carl Jung had a theory that we each have a number of sides to our personality – including an extroverted side and an introverted side
– However, we usually have a preference for either one or the other – sort of like we have two hands with a preference for using either our right or our left
Introversion and extroversion is about where we get our mental or emotional energy from – it’s about what recharges us and what drains us
– Introverts usually recharge their batteries by spending time alone or with just one or two other people
– Going to a party where there are lots of people and lots of small talk is exhausting to an introvert
– Extroverts are the other way inclined – they love lots of activities and lots of people around – being on their own is usually exhausting for them
– Introverts prefer to process their thoughts internally before speaking
– Whereas extroverts prefer to think out loud – they speak in draft
One of the things we need to do to take care of our soul is understand whether we have a preference for extroversion or introversion and make sure we manage our life in such a way that our soul gets the balance it needs
– So, if you discover that you are an extrovert then having a job where you get to interact with other people a fair bit will be good for you
– Whereas a job where you are alone a lot probably isn’t such a good match
– Or if you discover that you are an introvert then after a busy week at work you will need to plan your weekend with some quiet time in it
– Or if you are at a party and you need a break from people you might go and do the dishes – because that’s less tiring than talking
This introversion / extroversion stuff is something I’ve found to be true and helpful in my own experience
I asked the question before, what would it have done to Elijah’s soul to be on his own for 40 days in the wilderness?
– Well, it probably depends on whether he was an extrovert or an introvert
– I don’t know if Jung’s theory applied in the ancient world but if it did then I suspect Elijah was an introvert and the time alone (after the conflict with the priests of Baal) would have been what his soul needed
– Too much time on the front line facing your enemies is exhausting for anyone, whether you’re introverted or extroverted – Elijah needed some respite from the battle, which his spiritual retreat would have provided
– Time alone would have also given Elijah opportunity to process his thoughts, internally, so he knew what he wanted to say to God
– However, too much time alone isn’t good for your soul either, even if you are an introvert – everyone needs social connection and community
When he finally reaches Horeb Elijah finds a cave to shelter in for the night and God gets him talking (presumably Elijah hadn’t talked to anyone for 40 days)
– God asks Elijah, ‘What are you doing here?’ and when Elijah speaks, the Lord listens patiently
– To some degree listening releases people from the burdens & pain they carry and in this way helps to restore energy to the soul
– Listening well is a fine art – it requires both grace & truth
– On the one hand Elijah needed God to listen in a way that made him feel safe – without judgement or criticism
– At the same time he also needed God to gently challenge what is false
You see, each of us is telling ourselves a story – we are playing a script over and over in our mind to help make sense of our lives
– It’s like breathing – we usually do it without thinking about it
– The story we tell ourselves is like the soil in which we are planted – it feeds our soul with meaning & purpose
– We need to be careful that the story we are telling ourselves is true
– If we tell ourselves things that are not true then the roots of our soul are feeding on what is false and the tree of our life becomes sick
For example, when a child is mistreated by the adults in their life they will often tell themselves that it is their fault – that they somehow deserved this
– No one else would say it was their fault, but that’s the story they tell themselves to help make sense of what has happened to them
– Adults are supposed to care for me but they haven’t in this situation
– Adults are always right therefore I must be wrong
When the child grows up they usually carry that story into adulthood
– They think they are responsible for all the bad things that happen to them
– They develop a sense that they are not worth much and they don’t take care of themselves very well
– Not everyone who is mistreated responds in this way but many do
So what story is Elijah telling himself? In verse 10 Elijah says to the Lord…
“I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
On the face of it, it would appear that what Elijah is telling himself is true
– It is true the authorities are trying to kill Elijah
– And it’s true that Elijah has been very zealous for the Lord
– He has dedicated his whole life to serving the God of hosts
– He has put all his eggs in one basket
– He doesn’t have a plan B or a retirement fund
However, when we dig beneath the surface we see that much of the story Elijah is telling himself is not true
– The sub text to Elijah’s story goes like this…
– ‘I am alone in this task – it all depends on me and I have failed
– My mission was to turn the hearts of the people back to God
– To make people aware of their sin and lead them to repentance
– But no one has heeded my call, therefore my life’s work has been for nothing – my life is meaningless
– Because it all depends on me and because I have failed, Israel has no future and I have no future – so there’s no point in carrying on’
– This is the story that Elijah’s soul has been feeding on for months, maybe years – no wonder the fruit of his life is pain & despair
– No wonder he wants it to end
What Elijah needs is a new story – one that is true and good for his soul
– So that’s what God gives him
Elijah’s story excludes God – Elijah’s story imagines that evil has won and that God is powerless to do anything about it
– Consequently God reminds Elijah of his power & presence. From vs 11…
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
The wind, the earthquake and the fire are all powerful forms of energy
– In the past God had made his presence manifest to his servants through earthquake, wind & fire – but not this time
– God does not come to Elijah in force as we might expect
– No – the Lord comes to Elijah in sheer silence
– God’s presence, in verse 12, can also be translated as a gentle whisper or a still small voice – I guess God’s presence can’t be easily defined
Perhaps the point is: Elijah had expected God to behave in a certain way but when the Lord didn’t behave as Elijah expected Elijah lost hope
– However, just because God doesn’t turn up in the way we expect doesn’t mean he is absent or powerless
– No one expected the Son of God to turn up as a baby born in a manger and yet that is how God chose to reveal his presence to humankind
– In vulnerability and innocence
Now you would think after that incredible display of God’s power & presence the problem’s with Elijah’s soul and story would all be sorted
– But that was not the case – Elijah is not changed by the presence of God
– When the Lord asks Elijah a second time, ‘What are you doing here?’
– Elijah answers exactly as he did before – he is still telling himself the same story: that he is alone and that it all depends on him and he has failed so there’s no future for him, no point in carrying on
Sometimes God’s presence is not enough – sometimes we need human presence as well
– In Genesis 2 when Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden, the Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
To help Elijah realise he is not alone and it doesn’t all depend on him the Lord instructs Elijah to anoint two kings (Hazael & Jehu) and an apprentice prophet (Elisha) to carry on his work
– Jehu will deal with the bad guys that escape the sword of Hazael and Elisha will mop up the ones who escape the sword of Jehu
– In other words, Elijah it’s not over yet, your enemies won’t win in the end
– Nor does it all depend on you – my purpose will be achieved through a team effort.
– Therefore you have not failed in your mission – you are vindicated
– Your life has not been a waste. Your work is meaningful
– What’s more, you are not a victim – you are a survivor
Finally the Lord says to Elijah, there are 7,000 others who have remained faithful to me. In other words, Elijah you are not alone as you suppose
– God has the last word
– Elijah now has a new story to tell himself, one that is true
You know, when I think about the way God restored Elijah’s energy I’m aware that the Lord used a number of different strategies
– He didn’t just give Elijah a pill and send him on his way
First the Lord gave Elijah food and rest – to restore his physical energy
– Then the Lord restored Elijah’s soul by giving him time apart from his enemies – too much conflict is bad for the soul
– Next the Lord listened to Elijah – in order to hear the story Elijah was telling himself, sort of like counselling I suppose
– Then the Lord gave Elijah a new story, one that was true and life giving to his soul
– God did this by revealing his power & presence to Elijah
– And by showing him a future in which all of Elijah’s enemies were removed and he was not alone
– The work continued with Elisha and a faithful remnant of 7000 souls
What story are you telling yourself?
– Is it one in which you are a victim and God is powerless to do anything?
– Is it one in which you end up alone because you think no one likes you?
– Is it one in which the bad stuff that happens is always your fault – that you don’t deserve to be treated with respect?
– Is it one in which you will only be accepted if you pretend to be someone you are not?
– Is it one in which there is no redemption, no forgiveness, no future if you fail or make a mistake?
– It is one in which everything depends on you?
– They are just some of the false story lines (lies) we tell ourselves
– We have to tell ourselves the truth – our soul depends on it
Two things you can do to weigh your story to see if you are telling yourself the truth or not
– The first thing is: read the Bible on your own and in conversation with other Christians and as you read ask God to reveal the truth he wants you to know and to dismantle the lies you have come to believe
– The second thing is: Find a good counsellor – someone who will listen to you with grace & truth – someone you feel safe with, who will gently challenge what is false in your story and affirm what is true
Jesus said, it’s the truth that sets us free
Questions for discussion or reflection:
1.) What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?
2.) Where does the soul’s energy come from? (What feeds your soul?)
3.) What do you think 40 days alone, walking through the wilderness, would do to Elijah’s soul?
4.) Would you say you were an extrovert or an introvert?
– What energises you?
– What drains you?
– Is your life organised in a way that gives your soul the balance it needs?
– If not, what might need to change for that to happen?
5.) What does it mean to listen well (with grace & truth)?
– How might we be a safe listener?
– When listening to others how might we gently challenge what is false?
– How might we affirm what is true?
6.) What is the underlying cause of Elijah’s despair?
– (That is: What is wrong with the story he is telling himself?)
– How does God give Elijah a new story?
7.) What story are you telling yourself?
– How might you verify what is true in your story and identify what is false?
8.) Take some time this week to reflect on the meaning of verses 11-12, in its various translations. (E.g. sheer silence, still small voice, gentle whisper…)
– What is God saying to you in these verses?