Stress Management In the Days of Elijah

Last week (before the blog went down) we talked about stress reduction and stress management. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of unnecessary stress is caused by our lack of doing the things we know we ought to 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’re able to handle.

But some stress is unavoidable. You have to live indoors. You have to eat. That means you have to work, and you’ll probably end up having to work with some difficult people. Family is tough — even when you’re doing it the right way. Do I even need to bring up finances? It’s hard to stay afloat in today’s economy even if you’ve been fiscally responsible.

So, how do you experience the rest Jesus promises if there’s stress present in your life?

Maybe it comes down to a matter of perspective.

Take Elijah, for example. He lived during the reign of the most wicked king the nation of Israel had ever known (and that’s saying something!). And it was Elijah’s job to confront this king.

And you thought your job was rough!

Elijah told the king that because of his wickedness it wouldn’t rain for three years. 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 for a winner-take-all confrontation on Mt. Carmel.

Elijah took on 850 pagan prophets and the false gods 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.

Elijah saw some powerful signs of God’s protection and deliverance.

And yet….

Jezebel threatened to kill him, and Elijah gets scared and runs away! He runs as far as he can go, and then he goes a little farther — out into the middle of nowhere. Then he collapses and says, “I’ve had enough, Lord, kill me now!”

God deals with Elijah like you’d deal with a cranky toddler. He gives him a drink and a snack and puts him down for a nap.

Elijah wakes up and runs another 40 days down to Mt. Sinai — in the Sinai Peninsula — near Egypt.

God asks, “Hey, Elijah, Prophet of Israel, what are you doing here — in Egypt?”

Still in the midst of his own personal pity party, Elijah responds, “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 do the honors?”

God says, “Watch this.”

Elijah stays put in the cave while all sorts of commotion starts up outside. An earthquake. A fire. A tornado. Then God whispers — which gets Elijah’s attention. I think God’s saying, “See what I can do when I get ready? Anytime I want, I can do all this. So, what are you doing here?”

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

God says, “Get up and go home. There’s a new king I want you to meet.”

You mean Ahab won’t be king forever?

“No, and there’s a new prophet I want you to meet, too.”

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 happening, doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. Oh, and by the way, there are still 7,000 folks who love me. You’re not alone.”

Strange: Elijah and God look at the exact same situation. God says, “I’ve got these people right where I want them.” Elijah says, “I’m 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.

One Response to “Stress Management In the Days of Elijah”

  1. ben overby Says:

    Stress is a part of our human condition—for the time being. Elijah was desperately depressed, and there are times in Paul’s writings where he displays symptoms of sever anxiety. Of course Jesus had to cope with extreme stress (wilderness, fame, leadership issues, tension with religious leaders, Gethsemane, etc). Keeping our perspective is half the battle. We need to live in resourceful frames so that we don’t generate anxiety where none is necessary. But in those situations where the world really is crashing in, perspective will only get us so far. Jesus’ frame of reference was ‘Son of God’ and ‘creator of the universe.’ However he still sweated out blood-like drops and escaped to the mountains to find a moment of solitude, reflection, and prayer. That is to say, he had coping mechanisms. Stress is a state of being. We can be better humans if we become aware of what state we happen to be in, and then learn the skill necessary to manage the state. If I find myself routinely getting into a stressful state, I first want to recognize and then ask myself what strategy I’m using to get into a stressful state. If I’m constantly generating stress because I keep eating too much, I want to discover the strategy I’m following and then alter it, thus avoiding the stress. If I’m stressed because of outside forces working on me, I want to know what strategy I’m using that moves me to a place in which I interpret the data as stress. Then, I want to develop a strategy for interpreting the data so that I’m empowered rather than diminished (as often is the case with stress). Finally, I want to be able to utilize the strategy when I actually need to. Most of this is done with reflection, and always in prayer, and always within the frame of true humanness; just like Jesus we are described as royalty, as priests, and as suffering servants. Out of that reality, and with a heavy dose of grace, the Spirit can help us cope with the stresses of life if we realize we do have a choice. We don’t have to be the passive victims of negative emotional states of being. Jesus came to set us free.