Posts Tagged 'depressed'

Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 4

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Jeremiah’s nickname was “the weeping prophet” for good reason. His message was a miserable one. Remember when the Lord called him to the prophetic ministry?

They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:19. NIV)

The “they” referred to Jeremiah’s people. Not his enemies, but his friends, his family, and his neighbors. “They” would resent Jeremiah’s sermons so much that they would be an almost constant threat to his life. No wonder he would say this:

Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame? (Jeremiah 20:18. NIV)

In case you think Jeremiah was the only prophet who struggled, don’t forget about Jonah’s experience:

Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:3, 9. NIV)

And even John the Baptist, while he didn’t want to die, certainly had his doubts when times were rough:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2, 3. NIV)

Serving the Lord can be one tough gig. It can be costly. For so long, Jeremiah put up with slander and death threats and plots against his life. Surely he could expect some relief! But none came. The rough patch was getting longer and longer. It didn’t help that his sermons were getting more and more harsh. It got to the point where “the weeping prophet” wondered if he should – or even could – keep it up.

The prophet is a jail-bird, Jer. 20:1 – 6.

Here’s the message that got Jeremiah in trouble with Pashhur:

Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the Lord’s temple and said to all the people, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’ ”. (Jeremiah 19:14, 15. NIV)

Pashhur was the chief officer of the Temple and he was so outraged at Jeremiah’s sermon, that he got violent and threw him into prison.

When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord’s temple. (Jeremiah 20:1, 2. NIV)

If you find it hard to believe that a priest – a man of the cloth; a man of God – would react to a Word from God in such a way, don’t be. God’s Word isn’t always a “good word” and sometimes it can be downright inconvenient. Never underestimate human arrogance. We want what we want and we don’t want anything to get in the way, not even God.

It might be significant that Pashhur, this priest, was an Egyptian.

A night in prison might be enough for some preachers to tone down their rhetoric, but not Jeremiah. He pushed the envelope even further – stretching it to the breaking point.

‘”And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.’ ”. (Jeremiah 20:6. NIV)

So now we know why Pashhur hated Jeremiah so much. Jeremiah’s truthful Word from God was rubbing against Pashur’s sermons of lies. This Egyptian had been telling the people that Egypt would come to help Judah if Babylon should attack.

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 8:11 NIV)

There’s a high price to pay in being a faithful follower of God, but there’s also a high price to pay in mocking Him. God was going to deal with Pashhur. His name was changed to “Magor-missabib,” meaning, “Terror on every side.” In other words, he would be a terror to himself and all the people who listened to his false prophecies. That was Pashhur’s personal punishment, but that was just the beginning. All of Judah would suffer because of one man’s false prophecies.

For this is what the Lord says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will give all Judah into the hands of the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. I will deliver all the wealth of this city into the hands of their enemies—all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. (Jeremiah 20:4, 5 NIV)

The prophet is depressed

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived ; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. (Jeremiah 20:7, 8. NIV)

These are among the most powerful verses in the book. You and I are centuries removed from Jeremiah’s day. We may not be able to relate to Judah and Babylon and Pashhur, but we can certainly relate to what Jeremiah wrote here. Who hasn’t felt like the prophet felt? Who hasn’t felt like they deserved better from God? One scholar thought so, but he made an important observation:

It is significant that Jeremiah’s inner struggles and persecutions never led him to doubt the reality of his divine commission, and his sense of being overpowered by God never made him lose his own personality.

He was right about that. We all feel like Jeremiah sometimes. But we, like he did, should keep on keeping on, never giving up. We may feel like it sometimes, and we may think less than honorable thoughts about God, but in the end, it’s what we do and how we live that counts.  King David had a similar experience with the Almighty:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1, 2. NIV)

Those are terrible things to say about God! But these aren’t:

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:23, 24. NIV)

Same man, same psalm, different attitude. God knows us and He knows how weak we are. Jeremiah’s experience, like that of David, may have discouraged him and caused him anguish, but he didn’t give up on God. Neither should you. Ever.

But how do you do that? Psalm 42 gives us some help because in it we see some wild mood swings and we see now David worked through his emotions to finally come to the right conclusion:

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11. NIV)

Yes, your emotions and your heart will betray you from time to time, but you can’t let them derail your faith. In the end, you have to do what David did – use your God-given ability to reason and think and remember what you know about God. And if you find that hard, just do the right thing in spite of what you may think or feel.

Jeremiah did. But he suffered:

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. (Lamentations 3:1 – 3. NIV)

Actually, Jeremiah was wrong. It wasn’t the Lord, it was the people who did these things to Jeremiah. This was a cry of desperation, though. Jeremiah was not only a prophet, but he represented his people before God, and so when God unleashed His punishment on them, the prophet felt it. It’s hard for us to imagine how he must have felt. He was doing everything right, God wasn’t punishing him, but his feelings were real, and like David before him, he worked through his feelings and because he was a believer, he came to the right conclusion:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21 – 23. NIV)

Some of the most beautiful worship songs we sing were borne out of moments of great desperation, like this one. Life is seldom easy, but if we keep our focus on the Lord, no matter what we may think or feel, we, like Jeremiah, will come to the right conclusion. Our great hope arises out of our darkest experiences.

Hope in the midst of hopelessness

But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked. (Jeremiah 20:11 – 13 NIV)

Most scholars agree that these verses (much of chapter 20) were written just before the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah, by this time, had yet to experience the darkest moments of his life. He had been beaten, mocked, imprisoned, harassed, separated from his family, had no friends, no reputation, and his beloved city was on the brink of being overrun by Babylonians and steamrolled to the ground. No wonder he wrote what he wrote in the very next verse:

Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! (Jeremiah 20:14 NIV)

Our weeping prophets certainly had his ups and downs, but while his emotions were riding the roller coaster of his life, his spirit was firmly connected to heaven. When Jerusalem finally fell, Jeremiah did not fall with her. The years of trials, loneliness, and solitude had created a faithful servant of God, who had more compassion and empathy than any other prophet. The worst day of his life was the day Jerusalem crumbled but Jeremiah’s faith in God remained intact.

ELIJAH: THE DEPRESSED MAN

1 Kings 19:1—8

“May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  (1 Kings 19:2b)

Of women, Tennyson observed,

Men at most differ as heaven and earth, But women, worst and best, as heaven and hell.

Or, to put it slightly more bluntly,

Woman is unspeakably more wicked than man, also cleverer.

Friedrich Nietzsche is right, and Queen Jezebel proves it.  There is no hate like a woman’s, no anger like hers.  And to quote myself,

Women never do anything half way!

Poor Elijah found this out the hard way.  Despite all the miraculous signs that accompanied this prophet, despite the fire that fell from heaven at Elijah’s request and despite the fact that the rains came after Elijah asked for them to come, Jezebel remained unmoved.

Enraged at what her husband, King Ahab, told her about what happened on Mount Carmel, especially about how all the priests of Baal were rightly slaughtered, Jezebel unleashed all her fury on the one man she blamed for the misfortunes of Israel:  Elijah, the man of God.

Jezebel is a picture of how some sinners react to the truth of the Gospel when they hear it.  Instead of admitting her sinful folly and renouncing her detestable religion, she reacted with a fanatical zeal, determined to take the life of Elijah.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ arouses this kind feeling in some who hear it.  Some respond to it in faith, but others in violent opposition.

But Elijah’s embarrassing response to Jezebel’s threat also proves something; it proves the veracity of what Elihu observed—

Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.  (Job 32:9)

Surely we must consider Elijah a great man who did great things, but at the same time it is good for us to remember that the greatest of God’s servants were people just like we are and men of “like passions.”

Let’s consider some salient points surrounding Elijah’s flight of fear.

1.  A coward on the lamb, verse 3

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there.

Apparently Elijah had hoped Ahab would exercise his authority and influence both as the king and as the husband over Jezebel, but it seems as though Ahab, as evil and wicked as he was, was also a lily livered, pantywaist, milksop, and milquetoast of a man who let his wife run roughshod over him.  As weak a man as Elijah may have been in running away, Ahab was worse because he let his wife call the shots.

For his part, the prophet probably played right into her hands.  She basically gave him 24 hours to “get out of town” or be killed.   Had Jezebel really wanted Elijah dead, should could have easily had him seized and slain on the spot.  What this wicked queen really wanted was to discredit not only God’s man but also God Himself before all the new converts won on Mount Carmel.  Without a leader, they would have fallen away again from Jehovah and back into Baal and Asherah worship, where she wanted them.

We can’t help but wonder why Elijah could not stand up to a woman like Jezebel.  Consider what this man had just been through:  he experienced God’s miraculous divine provision, he performed the most astonishing miracle ever—he raised the dead to life, he single handedly faced down 450 pagan prophets and their king, saw fire come down from heaven and rain come down from heave at his command, yet he cowered before a woman.  Just who was this Jezebel, anyway, that she should provoke such a reaction?

Jezebel was every bit a “queen” in every sense of the word, for royal blood coursed through her veins.  She was determined to get her way whatever the cost (see 21:11—15).  Jezebel’s temperament and personality were so strong that her husband feared her and was utterly corrupted by her (see 16:31 and 21:25).  Because of her ungodly influence, both Israel (see 16:32—33) and Judah to the south, through the marriage of her step daughter Athaliah to Judah’s royal house (see 2 Kings 8:16—19; 11:1—20; 2 Chronicles 21:5—7; Psalm 45), experienced moral and religious degradation unparalleled.

However, while Jezebel was formidable and undoubtedly a real piece of work, Elijah was definitely a man with problems that became evident with push came to shove.

His great successes caused him to have inordinate pride that made him take himself far too seriously.  Elijah had come simply expect success with no great effort expended and nothing to fear.  He had come to bask in the glow of the spectacular.  We might even speculate that Elijah had expected the wicked Jezebel to just surrender to his majesty in the face of all the miracles he wrought.

When that didn’t happen, Elijah’s pride was wounded and his heart broken.  He didn’t know what to do!  He had never experienced this before, so he ran away.  What Elijah needed at this moment was not a miracle, but another kind of divine intervention:  he needed to learn something.  Elijah needed to learn what we all need to remember:  God does not always work in the realm of the spectacular.  Very often, God works in very simple ways and He expects us to do the same.  Too many Christians don’t understand this, so they run around seeking one spectacular, miraculous experience after another.  They fail to realize that most of the time service to God is rendered in obscurity, in quiet, sometimes routine, humble obedience to God’s will.  Elijah forgot this, too, and it depressed him.

2.  Get a grip, man!  Verse 4

He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Elijah’s humanity is showing through under this broom three!  It is a self-centered man who ends up alone.  This tired, weary and depressed man is a stark contrast to the energetic, bold man who stood on top of Mount Carmel defying the prophets of Baal.  He ran about as far as he could, to the far end of the country, to hide from a woman.  But let’s look at Elijah as a man, rather than a super-man.

This man was physically exhausted.  In all, since he left Zarapheth, he traveled hundreds of miles on foot.   Part of that time, he was traveling through desolate land, made all the worse by drought and famine.  He must have been continually looking over his shoulder, on the look-out for Jezebel’s henchmen who were killing all the prophets.  Elijah was overworked and overwrought; he rode an emotional rollercoaster without a break.   He thought he was all alone, he wanted to be alone, and was depressed and dejected.  Taking refuge under that little bit of shade provided by the small broom tree, our mighty man of God just wanted to die.

It is interesting that another prophet, Jonah by name, prayed pretty much the same prayer as Elijah did.  Jonah also wanted to die.  There is a sterling lesson here for those of us with eyes to see it.  When our focus is not on God, it will always be on something negative.  Remember Peter?  Our Lord called him out of the boat to go walking on the water.  Of course he sank, but not before taking a few small steps.  He started to sink when he took his eyes off Christ!  Some of us are literally going down for the third time because we would rather look to ourselves or the circumstances of our lives instead of to God!

There was another man of God who had gotten tired in his work for the Lord.  He was torn between wanting to die so that he could be with God and staying alive a little longer to do more good work.  Here is how Paul saw things—

Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.  (Philippians 1:24)

For the sake of others, Paul would pick up his tired butt and carry on.  He was very different from both Elijah and Jonah.  At the exact moment Elijah was wanting to die, the nation of Israel desperately needed him!  He thought his life was worth nothing; he thought he had accomplished nothing of value.  But he was dead wrong!

3.  A first blessing, verses 5, 6

Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.  All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

God knew better than to answer that crazy prayer for death; God came to Elijah in love and tenderness.  First, God gave the prophet sleep, which he desperately needed.  Then the special touch of God through an angel nourished Elijah supernaturally.  It’s curious that divine provision seems to be a common theme in the prophet’s life; God was always making sure his man had enough to eat!   God could have taken Elijah out to the woodshed or told him to “buck up,” but he Lord knew precisely what His man needed:  rest and food.

Nobody knows our frailties and our weaknesses like God does.  We can put on brave face and fool everybody, sometimes we can even fool ourselves, but God knows what we are made of.

When Elijah woke up and saw the food, notice what he did:  he ate and drank and then went back to bed!  Many of us would have gotten up, walked around to see who left it, wondered if the food was a trick—maybe Jezebel was trying to poison him—and some of us might have been too skittish to eat it.  That cake and water, divinely provided by God, was of no value to Elijah until he ate it and drank it.  God did not spoon feed the prophet; the prophet had to get up and appropriate the food and water.  So it is with all of God’s blessings—they are out there, but we must reach out and lay hold of them.  So it is with salvation—the sinner must reach out in faith embrace God’s saving grace.

4.  A second blessing, verses 7, 8

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”  So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

As if being fed by God once wasn’t enough, God fed Elijah a second time, but this time there was a very distinct purpose:  Elijah was about to take a trip; once again, the prophet was about to be moved on to a new place by the Spirit of His God.  This time, the trip would be almost 200 miles southward to a place called Horeb.   You may not be familiar with Mount Horeb, but you probably know about Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb’s other name.  God had called Elijah to the exact same place he had called Moses to centuries before.

Two hundred miles is a long way to travel on foot, and it took 40 days and 40 nights for Elijah to get there.  No wonder God touched him a second time and encouraged him to eat!  If we have been the recipients of abundant blessings from the Lord, the chances are good that God wants us to do something; to serve Him in some way, and it may not be easy.  God got Elijah to Mount Horeb in one piece, and God will make sure you prevail when He calls you to service.

Mount Sinai would prove to be a place of revelation to Elijah, just as it was to Moses.  God was about to come to Elijah in a very special and unique way.  Had Elijah stayed put under that broom tree and had he just retired from service because he was tired and worn out and afraid and “at the end of his rope,” he would have missed out on a most amazing supernatural visit from God.

Many Christians miss out on God’s blessings because they give up when it gets hard. They give up when they get tired or frustrated or depressed.  If you are ruled by your feelings instead of faith, you will always miss out on God’s best for you.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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