A Prayer of Blessing (1 Kings 8:54-65)

Solomon, by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

As soon as Solomon finished praying and making these requests to the Lord, he got up from before the Lord’s altar, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out to heaven. He stood up and blessed the whole Israelite assembly in a loud voice: 

“May the Lord be blessed! He has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. He hasn’t neglected any part of the good promise he made through his servant Moses. 

May the Lord our God be with us, just as he was with our ancestors.

May he never leave us or abandon us. 

May he draw our hearts to him to walk in all his ways and observe his commands, his laws, and his judgments that he gave our ancestors. 

And may these words of mine that I have cried out before the Lord remain near to the Lord our God day and night so that he may do right by his servant and his people Israel for each day’s need, and so that all the earth’s peoples may know that the Lord is God.

There is no other God! Now may you be committed to the Lord our God with all your heart by following his laws and observing his commands, just as you are doing right now.”

Then the king and all Israel with him sacrificed to the Lord. Solomon offered well-being sacrifices to the Lord: twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep when the king and all Israel dedicated the Lord’s temple. 

On that day the king made holy the middle of the courtyard in front of the Lord’s temple. He had to offer the entirely burned offerings, grain offerings, and the fat of well-being sacrifices there, because the bronze altar that was in the Lord’s presence was too small to contain the entirely burned offerings, the grain offerings, and the fat of the well-being sacrifices. 

At that time Solomon, together with all Israel, held a celebration. It was a large assembly from Lebo-hamath to the border of Egypt. They celebrated for seven days and then for another seven days in the presence of the Lord our God: fourteen days in all. (Common English Bible)

Prayer is arguably one of the most significant works a spiritual person could ever do.

Why do I say that?

Because we, as people (especially Americans!) tend to be focused on solutions, fixes, and getting things done. We work hard; and if it doesn’t work out, then we pray.

Yet prayer is a needed activity from the get-go. Prayer is to be infused from the beginning to the end. Prayer is to be our very breath.

Relying solely on our strength, smarts, and stamina – on self – may yield some results; but the human touch cannot provide like the divine touch. Trusting in all else, besides God, shall eventually fail.

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm. (Psalm 20:6-8, NIV)

King Solomon prayed. He prayed before building a temple to the Lord. He prayed during construction. He offered prayers after its erection and provided prayers of dedication to it.

And, in today’s Old Testament lesson, Solomon was faithful to pray and bless the people who participated in the building, as well as all the people who would worship at the temple.

Biblical prayers are solid theological models for us in our own prayers. They give us some needed form and function, directing us in how to pray and what the content of those prayers ought to be.

So, I offer this prayer of blessing for you, based in Solomon’s to the people:

Blessed be the Lord our God, who has given peace to people, just as he said he’d do. Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Not a one of all those good and wonderful promises that God spoke has failed.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our very own God, continue to be with us just as he was with all of our spiritual ancestors.

May God never give up and walk out on us.

May God keep us Christo-centric, revolving our entire lives around him, devoted to him, following the life path he has cleared, being attentive to the words and ways of Jesus, walking at the pace and the rhythms he laid down for us to follow and observe.

May these words that I pray in the presence of God be always before the divine throne, day and night, so that the Lord will do what is right, just, and fair for us and for all people everywhere.

May mercy and justice reign day after day after day. Then all the people on earth will know God is the true God; there is no other God.

And may your lives be totally obedient to God, following the path of righteousness the Lord has cleared, alert and attentive to avoid the path of temptation, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Crisis and Care (1 Kings 19:1-8)

Prophet Elijah by Mykhailo Boychuk, 1913

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “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.”

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, 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.” Then he lay down under the bush 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 some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

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. (New International Version)

In a typical week, I see a variety of people. Here are just a few persons I’ve encountered recently:

  • A man who went for a routine doctor’s visit and was examined, then rushed to the hospital where he had his left leg amputated.
  • A woman who witnessed her son attempt to kill his wife by stabbing her multiple times.
  • A pastor’s spouse who is overwhelmed with the depth of human need and emotional trauma she sees every Sunday in her urban congregation.
  • A man who is bitter, refusing any sort of spiritual care or assistance at the end of his life.
  • A family who watches on, while their beloved mother and grandmother is slowly slipping into eternity.
  • A pregnant mother who is on total bed rest, downright frightened by not knowing what will happen, and if her baby will live or die.

We live in a fundamentally broken world. Everything is askew and awry, with people feeling the brunt of the things which are neither right, nor fair. The examples I highlighted are all, like the prophet Elijah of old, good people who have found themselves in the crosshairs of circumstances beyond their control. 

Their situations left them feeling a range of emotions: abject horror, terrible sorrow and sadness, shocking denial, sheer panic, and crippling shame. The sense of confusion, fragility, and powerlessness are palpable.

So, what in God’s name do we do when we are faced with trauma, either in ourselves or in people we care about? How do we keep going when it seems as if it takes far too much energy just to be myself and do the things I need to do?

A crisis or trauma turns our world upside-down. Things will never be the same again. Yet, it’s a unique opportunity for healing and growth. Whether you care for someone, or need care yourself, there are three questions that have arisen for me as I have gone through my own crises and talk with folks facing traumatic experiences.

Who are you?

It’s only human to question who we are whenever a crisis situation hits. Who is a man if he doesn’t have a literal leg to stand on? Who is a mother when her son commits an atrocity? Who is the pastor’s wife when she seems unable to meet needs? Who is the bitter man when his expectations are not met? Who is the family when their matriarch is gone? Who is a woman if she doesn’t have a child?

It’s not a simple question. And it can’t be quickly answered. Trauma throws doubt on who we thought we were before the crisis. It can expose the shadowy parts of our lives we didn’t know were there, or bring light to the reality that our lives were built on things which don’t last.

Suppose you are a caregiver, trying to offer help. If your goal is to make the person feel better, you’ll quickly find out that you are not God. You cannot fix people’s pain. Who are you if you can’t repair broken people and solve their problems? 

What do I do?

If you’re a caregiver, you take action – not by changing feelings – but through attending to the basic needs of the one in trauma. A crisis situation isn’t the time to explore emotions; it’s the time to feel them. 

While a person is experiencing grief on a monumental scale, offering thoughtful assistance with decision-making, organizing the mundane things of life, and handling necessary details, can be a loving way of bringing care and concern.

In our Old Testament lesson for today, God, the ultimate caregiver, was attentive to Elijah’s immediate needs by ensuring that he was able to rest and be well-fed.

For those facing a crisis or dealing with trauma, your task is to grieve. Allow compassionate people to do things for you. There’s no need of offering an apologetic for your emotions, tears, and troubles. If you’re the kind of person that’s been there for others, let them now be there for you.

How can I move on?

We move on through hope. We continue the journey of life with the confident expectation that it can be good again, even though it might not look like it now.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:1-7, NRSV)

Hope comes from a place of genuine care and not from the posture of trying to hurry yourself or another person along in their emotions because we are unsettled with such grinding grief.

Some people are uncomfortable with seeing their loved one or friend in a state of vulnerability. So they withdraw, or try and get them to short-circuit their grief and get over it sooner than they should. 

There is strength in weakness, and power in vulnerability. True love is a mystery. There are times when we must give up our analysis of events and people, and simply appreciate what is right in front of us. Letting go of control can open to us a whole new world of possibility, creativity, and hope.

Faith is the ability to look ahead and see hope on the horizon. When a community of people strengthen faith in one another through the spiritual means of listening, prayer, active compassion, thoughtful words, and healing presence, then that group of persons has discovered what it means to share the human condition and be a caring presence.

Dealing with Depression (1 Kings 19:9-18)

There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And 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.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (New International Version)

The prophet Elijah was downright exhausted – so much so, that he became debilitatingly depressed.

After being alone for long stretches of time, always vigilant to watch out for those who sought his life, experiencing an intense victory against some truly evil folks, and then back to being on high alert, Elijah was done.

Depression is real. It isn’t limited to a certain personality trait, and it isn’t in itself sin. It just is. More than half of people in the United States with serious depression, and even more worldwide, do not receive or will not get adequate help. 

So, if you are reading this as a depressed person, or are wondering how to help someone you care for who is depressed, it is imperative that you get help immediately. A blog post on such an important subject can really only encourage you, and somehow inspire you, to take the brave and bold step of seeking the assistance you need. 

Severe depression is profoundly crippling and is as important to deal with as prostate cancer; both can kill you on the inside even though no one knows on the outside.

I myself have experienced two major depressions in the course of my life. I’ve also had a few kidney stones. I’m told the pain of a kidney stone is like childbirth.  I don’t know about the childbirth thing, but I do know that I would rather experience a dozen kidney stones, at once, than go through another severe depression. I got help, and it changed my life. 

Depression is exactly what the name implies: a depressing or a stuffing of feelings – particularly the emotion of anger. I was so good at packing down my emotions that one night, many years ago when our neighbor had a blow-out of a party at 2am in the morning, I actually felt no anger. Just so you know: that’s not healthy. I had an anger problem. Not the kind where you explode, but just the opposite – the kind where you stuff every negative feeling in the book.

Recovery for me looked a lot like what Elijah experienced. I needed to acknowledge what was actually inside of me and begin sitting with those unwanted emotions. And I need to tell you that what was inside me wasn’t at all pretty. 

Like a wound that needs peroxide, dealing with depression hurt like hell. But I couldn’t heal without it. I couldn’t go around it, or avoid it; I had to go through it. Eventually, I learned to not only identify my feelings, but to own them and take charge of them. 

I discovered I could choose to say how I feel without apology, and I could say it all in a way that helped others, as well as myself. Holy Scripture calls it speaking the truth in love.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Psalm 32:8, NIV

Waiting for the perfect time to deal with depression will only result in deeper despondency. You are not responsible for what others may say or do, and you cannot control other people’s decisions and responses to you – trying to do so is manipulative and only creates more problems. 

Elijah wasn’t alone in dealing with depression. David and Jeremiah went through some very difficult days of being depressed. Even Jesus became stressed and despondent. But none of them stayed there, and their experiences changed not only themselves but readers of God’s Word throughout history. 

It only makes sense to tell a trusted spiritual leader, friend, or relative how you are really feeling. One does not crawl out of the abyss of darkness that is depression without some sage people surrounding the person. They can offer wise counsel, focused prayer, and careful application of Scripture. 

This is one reason why church ministry exists, so let the church do its redemptive work. So, may the clouds roll away into the hope of a new tomorrow.

Almighty God, whose Son took upon himself the afflictions of your people: Regard with your tender compassion those suffering from depression; bear their sorrows and their care; supply all their needs; help them to put their whole trust and confidence in you; and restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Companions (1 Kings 19:19-21)

Depiction of Elijah anointing Elisha as a prophet, Aylesford Priory, Maidstone, UK

Elijah left and found Elisha plowing with a team of oxen; there were eleven teams ahead of him, and he was plowing with the last one. Elijah took off his cloak and put it on Elisha. Elisha then left his oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you.”

Elijah answered, “All right, go back. I’m not stopping you!”

Then Elisha went to his team of oxen, killed them, and cooked the meat, using the yoke as fuel for the fire. He gave the meat to the people, and they ate it. Then he went and followed Elijah as his helper. (Good News Translation)

Some background…

Elijah was a prophet during a very hard time in Israel’s history. Ahab, a terribly unjust and wicked king, had led the nation away from the worship of Yahweh and toward the worship of Baal. Things were bad – both religiously and meteorologically; there was a drought of rain and a drought of God’s words.

The prophet Elijah stepped out and took on the powerful king and his diabolical wife, Jezebel. As a result, he had to go into hiding and bide his time. For about three years, Elijah was mostly on his own, moving around, trying to avoid Ahab’s wrath, just trying to stay alive during the drought.

Although Elijah’s physical needs were cared for by the Lord, the years of aloneness took their toll.

Finally, things came to a head. There was a showdown between the hundreds of Baal prophets and the lone prophet of Yahweh, Elijah. It was a dramatic encounter marked by a huge victory of the Lord through Elijah’s faith and courage.

Yet, when it was all over, and spiritual revival was transforming the land, Elijah was physically and emotionally exhausted. In fact, the darkness of depression enveloped him.

So, Elijah had a “come-to-Yahweh-meeting” which was both gracious and much needed. The prophet took the time to sleep, eat, and experience the Lord.

But, going forward, things would be different. No more going alone for Elijah. He needed a companion.

So, God instructed Elijah to specifically go to Elisha and anoint him as the next prophet of Yahweh. Which is exactly what Elijah did.

Some help…

The prophet Elijah flat-out needed help; and God knew it.

Elijah had been in his own personal slimy pit experience of exhaustion and depression. The Lord helped him get out of it. God knows better than any of us that people need one another for encouragement, companionship, giving and receiving love, and being both a mentor and a mentee.

Sheer independence isn’t even what God does, so why in the world do any of us believe we need to be that way?

Christians serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit. God is One, and God is also Community. As people created in the image and likeness of God, we were formed for unity and community with others. Therefore, it is necessary for us to have healthy dynamics of relational interactions. Elijah needed his inner balance restored through working with Elisha.

Some insight….

Not only does Elijah’s story enlighten our need for relational ministry, but Elisha’s experience also provides some insightful perspective on what it means to connect with others.

I can imagine what Elisha’s life must have been like before being anointed a prophet of the Lord. Having grown up on a midwestern American farm, I know the kind of work it takes. Elisha was out there every day. On one particular day, just like many of the other days of farm labor, he’s at the end of the work train – in the back slowly moving along with his animals, trying to get a field plowed.

Then, in the mundane dirty work of plowing, the prophet Elijah comes strolling along and puts his cloak on Elisha, thereby clearly communicating to him that he is being called to become a prophet himself.

Elisha immediately responds and goes all in with following Elijah. And with a demonstrative act of setting out on a new life, Elisha takes his means of making a living, the oxen, and kills them, cooks them over a fire made from the wooden plow and yoke, and feeds a bunch of people. He then walks away, for good.

Maybe Elisha was in his own slimy pit of depression, feeling like his life was going nowhere. We don’t really know. Yet, God chose Elisha, just like he chose Elijah, to be a prophet. Perhaps the Lord knew Elisha needed this as much as Elijah did.

Some reflection….

What, or who, do you need today?

I have found that it’s a common misunderstanding with many Christians that as long as they read their Bible, pray, and rely on the Holy Spirit, that everything will go peachy dandy. And when it doesn’t, they castigate themselves for being down or depressed or in dire straits.

It just could be that you’re trying to go it alone without the help of other people. It also could be that you have a history in which the folks you believe needed to help you, didn’t; and now you’re determined to do life alone without anyone hurting you again.

It might be that the Lord wants to use someone else besides the people you think ought to help. And it also could be that you’ve put limits on how God can work. But, really, who are you or I to tell God whom he can love us through?

Let yourself be open to the ministry of others. Be a companion.

Bless us with Love, O Merciful God;
That we may Love as you Love,
That we may show patience, tolerance,
Kindness, caring and love to all!
O Compassionate One, grant compassion to us;
That we may help all fellow souls in need.
Bless us with your Love, O God,
Bless us with your Love. Amen.