Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gritty Life

     Life gets gritty sometimes. The past few months, I've really been forced to come face to face with the struggles some people face that I had not seen much of before, especially in the form of depression and extremely dark times. I've gone through periods of silence from God and times that just felt like a dark mist over my life, but the friends I have who struggle with it certainly feel it much more deeply. The darkness is as real as any feeling they've ever had.

     In trying to be an encouragement and a support to them, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at characters in the Bible who went through dark times. David, for example, being a character in the Bible who shows nearly all the signs of depression. He is complete with mood swings, extreme darkness, intense emotion, and loneliness. Job seems to show at least a temporary fight with depression (who would blame him!) after the death of his family that is archived for us in the book. Seriously, the whole book of Job is a long illustration of the darkness a man can feel in his life. Even our Lord Himself we see going through an extremely dark time in the Garden of Gethsemane, that while this I don't see as depression per se, it certainly is a glimpse into the heart of our Savior during a deep time of struggle.

     But one of the ones I like the best is one we don't think of because it's a little known story, Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Again, I'm no counselor and I'm no doctor. I can't diagnose depression, but any reader can see Elijah is going through darkness here. First off, let me take my first shot here. This is Elijah, a prophet who received messages straight from God! A chosen instrument! Elijah, this mighty man, messenger for God, coming off this mighty experience in the previous chapter of showing his faith to be so strong! Elijah has just seen God's hand move miraculously through Elijah's enormous faith, faith that put God to the test publicly and ended with a great victory for Jehovah.

     Coming off this experience, this is when we would picture Elijah to be bolder than ever! He just faced down hundreds of prophets of Baal, put God to the test, and saw God come through mightily; this is his moment now, right? I mean, he's preaching, he's praying, he's bringing people to God right and left... uh, no. Actually, Jezebel threatens to kill him, and within hours of this great, mountain top experience with God, Elijah is fleeing into the desert, crushed.

     What cause Elijah to wilt right there isn't said in the text. We can guess. Maybe Elijah really was overcome with loneliness, feeling as if he were the only one who really followed the true God anymore, but honestly, I think that was a secondary reason. Maybe Elijah expected God, after this great sign in front of all the people the previous day, to crush Jezebel and Baal altogether and institute the true religion back to Israel in the wake of the great victory. Whatever the reason, we don't know.

     What we do know is that Elijah is curled up under a shrub in the desert telling God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” (v. 4) It's hard to picture. This hard man of God, this prophet who just the day before killed hundreds of men with his own hand and saw marvelous works of God, is curled up under a juniper tree in the wilderness, done. There's no better way to say it than to say Elijah was done. It is enough! "I've born enough, let me die."

      These dark times happen to the strongest men, the bravest leaders, and the most courageous prophets. Struggles are not a sign of being weak, being worthless, being less. In fact, if the Bible tells us anything, it tells us the righteous suffer more than the evil! Satan was not in a hurry to bring calamity on the evil people around Job, but on righteous Job. We don't see Jezebel crushed in her spirit begging for death. We don't see Goliath soaking his bed in tears at night. We don't see Caiaphas sweating drops of blood. If it's any indication, it's the strong and the righteous who many times suffer more! The dark times do not speak of our worthlessness.

      But secondly, it's what happens next that gives me joy and hope. Elijah is comforted with food from an angel, and he makes the journey to Horeb, the mountain of God. What happens next is breathtakingly fear inspiring and beautiful in the same moment. Here, in Elijah's darkest hour, God reveals Himself. Elijah stands before the mountain and lets out the deepest feelings of his heart. I've heard sermons where Elijah is called whiny or pitiful for saying what he does, but frankly, seeing Elijah as we do the rest of the Bible, I don't think that's the case. I think this was Elijah at his deepest, most raw, vulnerable moment, being honest with God with no charades and facades. “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."

     Here's Elijah pointing out to God that he has been God's servant, but not only has Israel not gotten better, but it's gotten worse! Now Elijah's running for his life and he is alone. Here is Elijah, this great, bold man, pouring our his heart to God in the mountain. Here is the place of raw vulnerability before the Almighty. And God answers. Oh, how He answers.

      What happens next is a testimony to God's enormous power.  "So He said, 'Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.' And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks 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. 12 After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing."

      Ladies and gentlemen, this is God. This is God revealing Himself, in all His splendor and majesty, to Elijah. The crushing power on full display. Here is Elijah, standing on the mountain waiting for God to come and give him an answer. And what God does is show Elijah a tiny glimpse of His majesty.

      A massive wind races across the mountain. I remember a lake trip in Colorado to go fishing. We drove deep into the Rocky's, and came into a narrow valley between two mountains that hid this small lake from view. It was a windy day, and I have never seen wind like that before. It was ripping through the trees, bending them over, whipping that mountain lake like the ocean. It was raw power on display. I believe what Elijah saw made that wind look like a spring breeze. This wind was breaking the mountains apart and smashing rocks. Can you imagine Elijah cowering in the open of the mountain as rocks crash around him and mountains split? Can you imagine the glory of God on more full display?

     But God's not done. Next, an earthquake smashes across the mountains, rocking Elijah's entire world. What gets me is that these things were not only on Horeb. These are catastrophes that would have been felt the whole region over. Only Elijah had the front row seat on the epicenter of this display of God's power.

      Lastly, God sends a raging fire crashing across the mountain. Picture Elijah, cowering as rocks shower around him, the mountain splits at his feet, and fire rips across the ridgeline. The man, for the first time, comes face to face with the raw power of God. Ps. 97 speaks of the winds and the fire that come out before the Lord, and this fits perfectly. What we see here seems to be the precursor to the Lord's presence. When God revealed Himself, it was not in the cathedral to soft, flowing music. It was begun by the roar of wind and the crackle of fire and the crashing of falling rocks. 

      But then... a soft wind. A gentle breeze. What a marked difference! We see the power of God... and now we see His presence. His glory, His Shekinah glory descends. We don't know details, all we know is that God spoke. But I feel like His words were rather unnecessary after that display. I don't feel like Elijah's complaint was voiced with the same oomph and frustration the second time. I think his voice trembled a little bit, and his hands shook as he voiced his woes to God.

     But what I love to see here is what God has done. He does two things to Elijah. 1.) He demonstrates His utter and complete control over the earth. After that display, there will not be any discussion over whether or not God is totally sovereign. No questions asked, "He does what He pleases in heaven and in earth, and there is none who will stay his hand or say to Him, 'What have you done?'" 2.) God does not strike Elijah in His fury. He does not look in Elijah's face and tell him, "I'm sovereign. Stop whining and get over it." No, God shows Elijah undeniable proof that He deserves Elijah's trust in His power and His magnificence, and then He continues on as if nothing had happened. As if Elijah had never asked for suicide. As if he had never cried and poured out his heart under a juniper bush. 

      God didn't look back. He gave Elijah a glimpse, first of His power, and then in His gentleness, second His nature. Elijah saw God that day. Yep, Elijah, the guy crying by himself in the desert. That one with the darkness and the death threats and the suicidal thoughts? Yep, that guy. That's the guy God chose to reveal Himself to in a way we never saw before since Sinai and will probably never see again until the final judgment.

      Life is gonna be dirty sometimes. You're gonna get dirt under your fingernails, dust in your lungs, and scars on your body. Surviving takes grit, it takes endurance. The weak give up, never bothering to fight. The strong don't win. The strong fight, they lose, they get up, and fight again. The strong in this fight are fighting for the sake of the fight, because their victory's already been won. They're not fighting because they have to win; they're fighting because their commander says to fight! We fight, we fall. The strongest of us fight, and we fall. And when we fall, we remember the truth, that our God is great, He is magnificent, and He is madly in love with His bride. And that is our hope when life is gritty.


  1. Ohmygosh Taylor, this is EXACTLY what I needed just now! I'm in your position too, trying to support friends who are going through some pretty dark times. This post was such an encouragement to me... I don't even know exactly how, but it just encouraged me to keep going, that the darkness is not the end for me or them, that always Christ brings us through. Thanks Taylor. :)

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Cassie! Stay strong for your friends. I know how hard it can be sometimes to hang in there and stay supporting. :) This message isn't just for those in the darkness; it's for those holding their hands.