Welcome to day one of our 7-day anxiety detox. These are stressful, worrying, anxious times. So over the next seven days we’re going to learn what God, through the Bible, has to say to help us.
We’ll be learning from Elijah, Jesus and the apostle Paul: this is ancient, life-giving wisdom to combat this deadly and contagious virus.
Right now I think a lot of us feel like a jar of river water, all shaken up. The water isn’t clear, our minds our muddied with fear and panic.
That’s how Elijah felt in 1 Kings 19. Take a moment, if you can, to pause to pray and read the chapter.
Elijah is threatened with death by scary Jezebel (think Cruella De Vil, or Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter fans)). We too are threatened with death by the cruel and intimidating COVID-19.
Elijah, it says, was “afraid”. He panicked and ran. He was so beset with fear, compounded by his physical and emotional exhaustion from the extraordinary exploits of the preceding chapter, that he was even suicidal. That’s what fear can do. But God offers us a three-stage way out: physical rest, mental perspective and renewed sense of purpose.
God shows us that he cares about our whole wellbeing. He doesn’t start with a pep talk or tell Elijah to read a particular passage of Scripture. God makes him a cake of baked bread. He lets him sleep. He encourages him to take exercise (to journey to Mount Horeb). Sometimes before we can meet deeply with God and find peace, our physical needs, need to be satisfied.
Finding rest in God often begins with our bodies. Are you eating, sleeping and exercising well? It might be hard to get to the gym, etc. right now so I recommend youtube star Mr Body Coach’s home workouts.
Rather than describe a way to find physical rest, let’s try to do it for a few moments together. Wherever you are right now, sit up, imagine your head being pulled gently up from above. Feel your feet on the floor and your back in the chair. Try to focus on your breathing. Close your eyes. Take three long slow breaths in and out. Don’t panic, this isn’t some strange form of Christian hypnotism… ‘listen to my voice, you will give Howard and Westminster Chapel all your money…’ No, it’s about being aware of God’s presence and noticing where your body feels loved or abused. Are your shoulders raised? Is your jaw clenched? Keep breathing slowly and bring what you notice to God in prayer and ask him for help to find rest.
Anxiety caused Elijah to lose the plot. He thought he was the only believer left alive, when God still had 7,000! Are you losing perspective, panic buying, for example, in this public health crisis? Does it feel sometimes like you and everyone are going to die, when actually, the statistics point to your survival (the overall mortality rate *if* you get infected is around 1%)? (We’re isolating not to save ourselves but to lovingly protect the most vulnerable.)
When we start to lose perspective, God encourages us to think and see. To help us to think, he asks us a question. To Elijah he said, “What are you doing here?” That’s a bit like the question he posed to Adam, “Where are you?” (at spiritually that is). It’s an invitation to self-examination; to sit down where you’re at, to own your feelings, emotions, inner angst and frustration. It’s a chance to be real. To bring everything out from hiding into the light of God’s presence; permitting that supernatural light to bring transformation. So: what are you doing? Where are you at?
Having begun to think, and see yourself, then we need to see God. We find hope when we stop looking down and in, and start looking up and around. God displays his almighty power to Elijah. It’s a reminder of who is in charge that puts Jezebel and COVID-19 panic in its place. Terrifying storm-force winds, tearing rocks apart, whipped up in an instant. The ground-shaking power of an earthquake. The sublime majesty of an all-consuming fire. This is what God is like!
It was a loud, divine disturbance designed to get Elijah’s attention, that would suppress and silence his inner, anxious noise machine, and enable him to hear God’s gentle whisper. Are you looking to creation; seeing and savouring the power and glory of God? He made everything, out of nothing. Peace starts to come when you trust in Jesus, when you live by faith that this almighty God’s got you!
Guidance from God comes to Elijah as he becomes still and real in the presence of God. It’s a bit like parenting toddlers. The terrible-twos’ tantrums over not getting what they want. They scream and shout. I’ve seen some kids hit their heads on a wall repeatedly in protest. All parenting advice says don’t try to reason with your child in that state. Move them to where they’re safe, distract, or pretend to ignore them, pray they’ll calm down. They can’t hear you above their own ‘noise.’
God loves you enough to wait for your teachable moment, when the muddy river waters have settled, so you can listen, and understand what he wants you to do. For Elijah that was to appoint two new kings and prepare a successor. What is God saying to you about your purpose in these changing times? How does he want you to love him by loving your neighbours? The way to find out is to be still… to rest physically… to get mental perspective… to tune in to his voice, his gentle whisper. Can you hear him gently encouraging you?