The darkness seeps in. Shadows overtake. Doubt. Fear. Insufficiency. The whispers drone on with frightening intensity: “You are alone.” “No one cares.” “You can’t do this.” “Your life sucks…and it’s all your fault.” “The pain will never end.” The blight of discouragement and depression strikes each of us at one time or another, regardless of social status, age, gender, or race. When fear, hurt, or depression leaves us quivering in the corner, the light at the end of the tunnel seems light years away. In such times, the label “failure” seems to loom above our head in flashing neon lights and it appears clear that we are alone in our inability to perform.
But God knows better. And He wants you to know better too. As an English teacher, I work in stories. I read stories. I write stories. I explain stories. I teach stories. I live a story. Stories are powerful means of conveying great truths, and, I believe, one of God’s greatest methods of reaching our hearts. Look the Old Testament and the majority of the New Testament. It is a grand story of the mission of God to create worshippers for Himself. But within that overarching narrative are countless stories of men and women who walked through depression, who were social outcasts, and who were “failures.” These are the same men and women listed in the Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. But God. As a side note, whoever came up with the “rule” that sentences should never start with “but” may be a grammatical genius, but never read Scripture. Take note of the times, especially in the New Testament, where the phrase “But God” is used. Paul loved this phrase and masterfully used it to contrast the failures of humanity throughout history with the redemptive power of a God of grace.
One of my favorite stories of all time is found in 1 Kings 19. In the preceding chapter, Elijah, a world-renowned prophet of God has just called down fire from heaven, soundly embarrassing and defeating Baal’s prophets in a “my-God-is-better-than-yours” match. In celebration of his victory, Elijah prays for rain, ending the three-year drought, then races King Ahab’s chariot down the mountain to the town of Jezreel, nearly forty miles away. If there were superheroes in ancient Israel, Elijah had to be one of them. Dash, the speedster of the animated Incredibles® film, has nothing on Elijah. He has just beasted Baal’s prophets in a fire-breathing contest, outran a chariot, and won the admiration of a nation. Well, kind of. Enter 1 Kings 19. Elijah is in a cave. He is scared. He is hiding. He is discouraged. Like you and I, Elijah is listening to the haunting voices that tell us we are alone, we are failures, and we are deserted. But God didn’t leave Elijah in the cave. (There it is again—“but God”!) God came to Elijah in the cave—not in a strong wind, not in an earthquake, not in a fire, but with a still, small voice. The great, powerful, Creator of the universe that had consumed the altar on Mount Carmel was still great and powerful, but He also was the God who cared for Elijah on a personal, intimate level. Not content to let Elijah rot away in his cave of depression, God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” And it is in Elijah’s response that I see my own heart reflected like a mirror: “I…, I…, I…” This is the power of stories. We are quick to react and grow hard when people come to us and accuse us of wrong, but, like David and the prophet Nathan, our hearts hear the truth of stories and respond unconsciously, convicting us of sin and encouraging us with grace.
For it’s in Elijah’s life that I see my own heart—quick to become bitter and discouraged when people walk over me or ignore my accomplishments. But like Elijah, God doesn’t want to leave me there. He wants me to see in His own Son the freedom to forget myself, the freedom to welcome people to walk on me, and the freedom to have joy in the dark, painful center of suffering. So God gently shows Elijah that he is believing lies, that he is not alone, and that he needs to get off his butt. God tells him to “go.” He has the same message for you. If you are in the cave of fear, depression, loneliness, anxiety, or pain, God yearns for you to know that you are not alone, that He is with you, and that He has a purpose for your life as a part of His grand narrative of bringing worshippers to Himself.
This was written as a guest post for Ryan Weaver’s blog at ryanaweaver.com.