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It's OK Not To Be OK !

Cuthbert cross

It's OK To Not Be OK ! 

Read : 1st Kings 19: 1-15a 

Ordained ministers of word and sacrament have many differing and varied experiences of being called to the ministry in which they serve. For most - perhaps - this call to ministry comes in the form of a gradual growing awareness that this is the path that they should pursue. For others the call takes the form of an uncomfortable, unsought compulsion to preach and pastor and lead in this way. For others it is a very uncertain and quiet inner urging that needs rigorous testing and confirmation before it is accepted. For a few the call to ministry is an apparently sudden and dramatic moment of revelation. 

I know one minister whose call came as she was sitting in the public gallery of the General Assembly. The last thing on her mind was any thought of pursuing this path, and then it was as if God spoke within her, and the course was set.  

When sharing this account of her call to ministry with a friend, she noted the look of amazement on the friend's face. And then the friend said, "I am just amazed that God turns up at the General Assembly"! 

Which raises the question; where do we expect to meet with God? 

We may have differing expectations of meeting with God at the General Assembly, but most of us might expect to meet with God in Church, or to meet with him in prayer, or in some beautiful setting. And most of us will know folks who seem to find God constantly present on the golf course! 

But few of us - I would imagine - would expect to meet with God in the midst of some wilderness desolation in our life's journey, or in the face of deepest discouragement, or in a moment of suicidal despair. 

Yet that is where God met with Elijah; met with him, renewed him; refreshed him and re-commissioned him for his ministry. 

Elijah had just won a spiritual battle with the prophets of Baal on the top of Mt Carmel; a literal and figurative mountain-top experience. But now Queen Jezebel had plans to kill him, and Elijah fled for his life. He journeyed through the wilderness; He wished he could die; He complained bitterly to God.  

He was physically exhausted; emotionally spent; spiritually empty.  

Elijah had come to the end of himself. He couldn't take any more pressure. He was afraid. He prayed to die.  

Stress, burnout; we think of them as modern conditions. We might even think of them as indicative of some kind of spiritual or personality weakness. But here in this story which is almost 3,000 years old we find one of God's most dedicated and effective servants experiencing what can only be described as burnout.  

And it was there in his wilderness that God met with him anew. 

Despair, suicidal feelings. We do not like to admit that we might encounter these; that people such as us - people of supposed faith -might have to deal with such feelings, that for some of us - at some moments of deep despair - death might be thought of as a sweet alternative to whatever we are facing. Even today such feelings can remain the personal secret of so many because we imagine that Christians ought not to feel or think such things. And that rather echoes some of what I was seeking to express in this morning's sermon. 

Depression, despair? We somehow feel that they are wrong, sinful, inappropriate…  

But, in fact, that kind of view takes no account of biblical realities or real Christian experience.  

Moses got depressed… the psalmists so often cry out in confusion and anguish to God.. Elijah was burnt out and suicidal. They all knew the reality of the emotional and spiritual deserts.  

Many of the great Christians down through the centuries also battled with these experiences. The reformer Martin Luther; the bible translator J B Phillips; the 19th century preacher CH Spurgeon, known as the Prince of Preachers. 

Spurgeon was reckoned to be the most eloquent and effective preacher of his day; a man whose influence is still widely felt. Yet this gifted, chain-smoking evangelical preacher suffered from deep fits of depression. He feared financial disaster… suffered from deep loneliness... spent days on end in bed… but it was Spurgeon who preached a sermon which echoes Elijah's experience… the sermon was entitled "Man's extremity; God's opportunity"  

When we are in the place of darkness - the wilderness of despair - the depths of discouragement; God is there.  

One Christian writer put it like this "There is not a pit so deep that God is not deeper still" 

Where might we expect to meet with God?  

Well of course we might reasonably expect to meet with God in worship, in church, in prayer. Of course, we might expect to encounter something of His presence in the beauty and peace of nature or the joyful company of friends and family.  

But we might also expect to find that he is there is our dark times, our wilderness journeyings, our burnout episodes, our suicidal moments.  

It may be for us, as it was for Elijah that we will not immediately discern his presence… Elijah could not sense God in the wind or the earthquake or the fire… but then … there was the sound of silence… sheer silence…. And then a voice, the voice of God; a voice that invited Elijah's honesty, invited him to tell the Lord all his feelings, to express his anger, to describe his disappointment..  

Shame on the church that we can find it so difficult to listen to the deepest and most despairing feelings of others.  

But thank God that He will listen, that He invites us to express our pain and discouragement.  

And in that there is the hope refreshment, and re-assurance, and the renewal of our faith journey. 

It was a refreshed, renewed, re-assured and re-commissioned Elijah who returned to the work to which God called him.  

He had met with God in the wilderness… He had been honest with God… He had been renewed & refreshed by God.  

Wilderness times are not strange or uncommon experiences, although we are often reluctant to admit to facing them. Though they may feel like setbacks, and though God may feel distant, the reality is that such times are times when we can meet with God. The wilderness is the place where we might expect to find God… beyond the wind and the earthquake and the fire of His apparent absence… there will be the silence and the whisper of his voice inviting us to be real with him... inviting us to resume the faith journey with him. 

Rev David Denniston , June 2009