Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Stress Management and the Days of Elijah

In a previous post we talked about stress reduction. I suggested that a lot of unnecessary stress is caused by our lack of doing what we know we should do. We overeat, we engage in risky behavior, we make poor financial decisions, we work too much and sleep too little, and all of this causes stress -- over and above what we are able to handle.

But there is some stress that is unavoidable. So, how is it possible to experience the rest that Jesus promised us if there is stress present in our lives? How can we keep ourselves from worry in the midst of stressful times?

I think it comes down to a matter of perspective.

To demonstrate this, all we have to do is look at the biblical character Elijah. He lived during the life of the most wicked King Israel had ever known: King Ahab. Ahab had married a foreign woman (Jezebel) who was determined to introduce the people of Israel to pagan worship practices. She systematically killed off all the priests of YHWH and replaced them with priests of Baal. Ahab did a lot more stuff than that, but what's important for this discussion is that God sent a man named Elijah to confront Ahab.

Elijah told Ahab that it was going to stop raining for a while. Three years, in fact. But during that time, God miraculously provided for Elijah's needs -- first with birds bringing him sandwiches and then through the faith of a widow and her son.

Eventually, God sent Elijah back to Ahab for a winner-take-all confrontation on Mt. Carmel. Elijah took on 850 pagan prophets and the false god they worshiped. After some prophetic trash-talking, Elijah calmly stepped forward and called down fire from the sky. After that, he had all 850 of the false prophets killed, and then he outran a horse 12 miles back down the mountain to the palace.

I can't think of anyone who saw more powerful signs of God's protection and deliverance than Elijah.

And yet....

Jezebel threatens to kill him, and he runs away. He goes a 12-day journey down to the furthest point in the southern kingdom. Then he goes one more day's journey. In other words, he goes as far as he can, and then he goes a little farther. At this point, God shows up and Elijah says, "I have had enough. Kill me now."

God deals with Elijah like you would deal with a cranky toddler. He gives him a drink and a snack and puts Elijah down for a nap. Eventually, Elijah gets all the way to Mt. Sinai -- in the Sinai Peninsula -- near Egypt.

At this point in time, God feels the need to point something out: "Hey, Elijah, Prophet of ISRAEL, what are you doing here -- in EGYPT?"

Elijah tells him, "I'm the only one left. I served you as best as I could, but now I'm as good as dead. Why don't you finish the job?"

God says, "Watch this."

Elijah stays put in the cave, but there's all kinds of commotion going on outside. An earthquake, a fire, a tornado. And then God whispers. It's the whisper that gets Elijah's attention, so he goes and stands at the entrance to the cave.

I think God is saying to Elijah, "See what I can do when I get ready? Anytime I want, I can do all this."

"Elijah, what are you doing here?"

Elijah thinks God is still looking for information -- like maybe God didn't hear his answer the first time. So, he repeats himself -- word-for-word -- probably a little louder this time to make sure God gets it.

God says, "I heard you the first time. Did you hear me? Get up and go home. There's a new king."

"You mean, Ahab won't be king forever?"

"No, and there's a new prophet?"

"You mean, I won't be the prophet forever?"

"No, I was here before you, and I'll be here after you're gone. I've been at work getting things ready for the next chapter. Just because you don't see it happen, doesn't mean nothing's happening. Oh, and by the way, you're not alone. There are 7,000 just like you."

Strange: Elijah and God look at the same situation, the exact same circumstances. God says, "I've got these people right where I want them." Elijah says, "I am all alone and as good as dead." God wasn't panicked; Elijah was.

Elijah freaks out and runs away because he doesn't see things from God's perspective.

Maybe these are the days of Elijah after all.