Last week, we started talking about depression by looking at the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19. If you missed that, you can find it under "sermons" at www.abidinggrace.com. We looked at noticing the signs of depression and seeing the dangers of those tell-tale signs, from focusing on feelings instead of facts, to taking responsibility for things you’re not responsible for, to withdrawing to "be alone." We focused a lot on the problem of depression. This week, let’s see the solution.
In 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah frustrated, alone, tired and hungry. We find him depressed. And then we get to verse 5: "All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’"
It is here we see God working. To his tired, worn-out, hungry servant, God sends his angel to take care of the basic needs that Elijah, in his stress and fear, was ignoring. He gave him food. He let him rest. And then he gave him food again. Don’t underestimate this. When we get so stressed and worked up, we neglect the basic blessings that God has right here for us. We don’t eat well. We don’t sleep well. But here we see God providing those things for Elijah.
But that’s not even the half of it. Look at verses 9 and 10. God gets his servant to talk about his problems, "What are you doing here Elijah?"
Sound familiar? It should. The Bible tells us in 1 Peter, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." In Psalm 50, the LORD invites us to, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you." God gets his servant praying, speaking out loud his problems. In fact, he asks him twice to explain himself, to make Elijah actually articulate what is going on in his head, just like he wants us to do. Don’t bottle up your problems inside. Talk it out, to God and maybe even to a brother or sister in Christ.
And look at what happens when Elijah does. Elijah puts it out there. Twice he says it out loud: "I’m all alone. My work is worthless. I can’t handle it."
The reality was something quite different, but first God just let him talk. He listened. And then God showed him something, and not the kind of thing Elijah was looking for. Look at verse 11. "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."
And remember what Elijah had just been through. He he had seen a powerful miracle and a great victory but now was frustrated because it didn’t have the effects he thought it would.
So God shows him a powerful wind, but the LORD was not in the wind; that’s not where God’s real power of presence is. He shows him a mighty earthquake — but no, that’s not the LORD either. Then a blazing fire — but no, still no God — even though God had just given Elijah that great victory through fire on Mt. Carmel. That wasn’t really how he did his real work. Then, verse 12: "After the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave." There was God — in the gentle whisper.
The biggest feats of strength we can wish for and think that they will solve all the problems? No. That’s not what we need. It’s the still, small voice, even the whisper of God’s Word. There is strength, for Elijah and for you. The still, small voice — in the Word of absolution, "You are forgiven," in the taste of bread and wine in communion — the simple, quiet, small-looking things. Think about it. God comes in the quietest ways: the baby born in a nowhere town sheep pen (the boy being one of hundreds who traveled with his family to visit the temple); the man who gently touched the leper and made mud for the eyes of the blind man; the one who quietly blessed the food and distributed it to thousands; and the one whose heart went out for the people. The one who said nothing when he was accused and was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
The power was not in our Savior cutting off the heads of his captors, but in touching the soldier’s ear. The power was not to make Pontius Pilate bow, but to willingly bow to the justice for our sins. The crucifixion of a man did not look powerful — but think of what it accomplished.
In his quiet blood, all constraints holding us are released. In his humble death, all powers against us vanish. And in his life, in his resurrection, we have strength. And God brings that Word to you at church, on the quiet melody of a hymn, not in the yelling and screaming or entertaining of the preacher, but in the power of the Word, even when it is whispered.
No spectacular display of power could ever do more to cure depression, because, just like all those celebrities I listed last week have learned, depression isn’t tied to our successes or failures as we think. The solution is in God’s still, small voice — the message that He is with us, whether or not anyone or anything else is. And once he has gotten us to see that — he gives us purpose in life. The rest of our text is God giving Elijah a job to do. God will use him. And you, reader, God will use you. Friends, God has a job for you, too. Share this still, small voice. Be the angel to your brothers and sisters who need you.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.