When Life Feels Stuck [5/6]
This is the next instalment in a series of posts from Howard and Holly. Read the first parts here.
Lie Down | Paul and Elijah | Galatians 1:11-24 and 1 Kings 19:1-18
London is crazy busy. It’s official, surveys say we work longer hours, totalling three more weeks a year than those in the rest of the UK. Another report says 85% of UK adults are experiencing stress regularly.
Our lives are a bit like a jar of river water. We’re constantly being shaken up. Your boss gives you a new project. Shake. Your lecturer gives you a tight coursework deadline. Shake. One of your kids is having a difficult time at school. Shake. And this is just the regular stuff.
Your partner loses his job. Shake. Your mum gets diagnosed with cancer. Shake. Your sister passes away. Shake.
The water becomes cloudy and chaotic and we stop thinking and seeing clearly. The jar needs to remain still for the waters to become clear again. The same is true for your life.
“Life moves pretty fast,” said ‘life coach’ Ferris Bueller of 80’s fame, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Sometimes the way to get unstuck from running on the hamster wheel of London life is to stop, to get horizontal and lie down.
I think that’s what Paul did when he went to Arabia, as Galatians 1 (when read with 4:24) reports. Well, it doesn’t quite say that he laid down, but I think I can make a strong argument for him doing so.
After Paul’s world was turned upside down (in a good but deeply challenging way) on the road to Damascus he goes “immediately” to Arabia. In doing so he’s following in the footsteps of Old Testament prophet (and fellow religious zealot) Elijah. The two episodes are, I believe, linked: notice, for example, “and go to the Desert of Damascus” (1 Kings 19:15) and “returned again to Damascus” (Galatians 1:17).
When Elijah was feeling fearful, frustrated and flirting with throwing the towel in, he went to where God spoke with Moses – from the burning bush to showing His people His glory: Arabia, Mount Sinai, a.k.a. Mount Horeb.
When the going got tough he didn’t run to Hotel Chocolat or to binge on Netflix; he went into the wilderness to begin a 400-mile journey to meet with God. He went to his sacred place, somewhere he had faith to encounter the LORD. Do you have somewhere like that?
God is omnipresent but there are certain places, whether due to past experience or peaceful context, where we have more faith to meet with God; make sure you have one.
But before he gets very far on this journey, what does Elijah do? Lie down!
He sleeps, then he eats, then he sleeps and eats again before setting off for some serious exercise. God blesses this behaviour, he even bakes the bread! It demonstrates that God is concerned about our whole being.
Some of you are dangerously tired, so wound up you’re unable to relax. You need to stop fighting exhaustion and give into it. That’s what Elijah did. It’s not a sin to take a nap if that’s what you need. God deals with Elijah’s depletion with food, sleep and then exercise.
This lying down. This stopping. This resting was all necessary for Elijah to meet with God: to take stock and get perspective. The experiences of: fire from heaven, miraculous answer to prayer, Usain Bolting approx. 15 miles (the preceding context to 1 Kings 19) were lost in fearful exhaustion.
Jezebel’s threat (think Bellatrix Lestrange or Cruella de Vil) drowned out the divine; “I’m the only true believer left,” he thought, when there were 7,000 still alive!
When you feel stuck, trying to stay afloat in stressful seasons of life, it’s easy to lose perspective. In such circumstances, God encourages us to slow down and (1) Think; and (2) See.
1. Think. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asks. He asks the same question of you. It’s similar to the first question He ever asked, “Where are you Adam?” It’s an invitation to self-examination; to see yourself as you are and name it in God’s presence. That’s what Elijah does, “I only am left”. ‘I feel so alone’, he’s saying…‘and I’m terrified’. In our context: ‘I’ve been working flat out to serve you God but I feel so empty.’ It’s an opportunity to be honest with God and let His light penetrate and transform darkness in your life.
2. See. Having begun to think and see yourself, you need to see God. We find hope when we stop looking down and in and start looking up and around and see the definite-article ‘hero-outside-ourselves’. God gives Elijah a display of His almighty power. It’s a reminder of who’s in charge that puts Jezebel in her place: terrifying storm force winds tearing rocks apart whipped up in an instance. The ground shaking power of an earthquake. The sublime majesty of all-consuming fire. This is who you serve! It was a loud, divine disturbance designed to drown everything out and get Elijah’s attention…so that Elijah would be able to tune in and hear God’s gentle whisper.
Stopping, resting, powering down your technology and lying down will help you drown out the world’s noise and tune in to God. Let God get your attention as you look for him in His Word and His World, in creation but especially Christ, accomplishing your salvation.
When you do this, you’ll find a greater sense of purpose. It’s interesting that Elijah doesn’t come asking ‘what should I do next?’ But gracious guidance does come as he stops to meet with God. In other words, be still and the knowing will come.
Sometimes parenting toddlers is tough. The terrible twos they’re called. They came early for both our kids. Tantrums over not getting what they want. They scream and shout and sometimes stamp their feet. I’ve seen other kids hit their head on a wall repeatedly in protest! All the parenting guidance says you can’t reason with your child at this age when they’re in such a state. You move them to where they’re safe, ignore them and pray they’ll calm down. They can’t hear you above their own noise.
In a similar way God loves you enough to wait for a teachable moment…when the river waters have stilled and are clear and quiet enough for you to see and hear the next step He wants you to take.
For Elijah that was to appoint two new kings and a successor, a companion to be a mutual encouragement. For Paul, I think we are to understand that God spoke to him in Arabia, just as He did Elijah, confirmed him in his calling and encouraged him to announce the world’s true king.
What will it be for you? The way to find out and get unstuck is to stop and meet with God. That’s how you’ll be able to go deep with Him. Find your sacred place. Schedule some shut eye. Go for a contemplative prayer walk. Get serious about Sabbath. Lie down and listen for God’s gentle whisper.