No one talks about nervous breakdowns anymore -- the term is archaic -- yet we still get nervous and sometimes break down. Life is stressful, suicides are up, morale is low, anxiety is high, and Americans are snapping like toothpicks. Stress is ravaging our homes and diminishing our quality of life.
If you're contemplating a good old-fashioned breakdown, let me refer you to a doctor who's a friend of mine. He's the Great Physician, and he makes house calls. Recently, I preached about the crackup of the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and it's a case study in how the Lord treats nervous collapse. When we first see Elijah in the Bible (1 Kings 17), we meet a rugged individualist unflinching in the face of conflict and a powerhouse of prayer. But after a tense day on Mount Carmel and an angry episode with Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18), Elijah suffered a breakdown (1 Kings 19). He fled in fear and prayed to die, bemoaning his fate as the last known prophet in Israel. But the Lord made a house call; and reading 1 Kings 19 is like watching a physician pull various tools and medications from his black bag to treat a frantic patient. Here's a list of nine divine prescriptions I jotted down while reading this chapter.
First, Elijah, like us, when stressed needed solitude. Leaving his servant behind, the prophet went a day's journey into the wilderness to be alone. While we can't run from our problems, we do need healthy breaks from the anxiety they cause. We do this by planning a vacation, taking a walk, soaking in a hot bath, or lingering at a coffee shop. We should do something for ourselves every day, for if all our moments are spent for others we'll grow weary of life. The Bible tells us to take heed to ourselves (Acts 20:28). That requires solitude.
The next element of Elijah's restoration was prayer. Alone in the wilderness, Elijah told God exactly how he felt, praying honestly and simply; and while the Lord didn't answer Elijah's plea to die, the dialogue between patient and physician was instrumental in the recovery, as it must be for us.
Third, Elijah needed rest, nourishment and exercise. Verse five of this chapter says Elijah 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." Many of our nervous spells come from exhaustion, dehydration and a poor diet. The Great Physician prescribed what today's doctors would suggest -- more rest, adequate water and a proper diet.
Elijah also received angelic help in this story. In my book, "Angels: True Stories," I analyze the 234 references in the Bible to angels. My favorite verse on the subject says angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). Though we seldom see them, angels are more involved with life than we realize.
Time is another of the Physician's tools, for Elijah's recovery covered 40 days and nights. Often in counseling, I remind people of a simple fact -- the deeper the injury, the longer the time needed for healing. This is true physically, emotionally and spiritually. Some traumas we may never forget, but time is a balm for soul, a curative salve in the Physician's bag.
The sixth element in Elijah's restoration was the gentle whisper of God. During his 40-day treatment, Elijah saw spine-tingling displays God's power: wind and fire and earthquake. But the most dramatic moment came from the hush of a gentle whisper, and when Elijah heard it he knew God was speaking to him. For me, this usually happens as I read my Bible. I recall a night when I was too distraught to sleep, but while reading the epistles I came across 1 Peter 5:7: "Cast all your care on him, for He cares for you." Those words were as real to me as if God whispered them into my ear. There is a promise in the Bible for every problem, and a word for every day. God mends our hearts with His still, small voice.
God also prescribed Elijah a set of renewed tasks, described in verses 15-17. The prophet still had work to do; his days had purpose. God has something for us to do too, even if we've suffered a smashup. Our usefulness hasn't ended. As long as we're on earth there's meaningful work for us to do.
Eighth, the Lord gave Elijah divine reassurance. My favorite verse in the chapter is 1 Kings 19:18: "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel -- all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal." Elijah thought he was the last surviving prophet, but he was underestimating God by 7,000 percent. When the Lord is involved, things are never as bad as they seem. We often underestimate him by, say, 7,000 percent.
Finally, the Lord gave Elijah a good friend. Verse 19 says: "So Elijah went from there and found Elisha... Then (Elisha) set out to follow Elijah and became his servant." How often God brings just the right person into our lives to befriend us in times of need. Nothing replaces the power of friendship.
We fall prey to all sorts of nervous disorders, but Jesus said he came as a physician to treat the sick of heart (Matthew 9:12). Perhaps you've heard the old hymn that says: "The Great Physician now is near, the sympathizing Jesus. / He speaks the drooping heart to cheer, O hear the voice of Jesus." If you're near the breaking point, remember: The Great Physician still makes house calls. He has lots of resources in His little black bag and lots of reassurance in his little black book.
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer, O hear the voice of Jesus.