Psalm 23 says “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Elijah’s soul needed restoring, and God provided what was necessary.
Here is an activity to explore what restores our ‘souls’, by which we mean all of me – body, mind, spirit – all that is me. (As the Bible Project say in their wonderful video, you don’t have a soul, you are a soul.)
Use this in a quiet service or Messy Church, in a home group, or for youth and children’s work. You could also set this up as prayer stations, with the bowls set amongst various props to illustrate the means of restoration: A Bible, some food, a pillow, etc.
You will need:
- A selection of small containers, eg: egg cups, bud vases, small glasses, test tubes, jars, saucers, bowls, lids, tiny bottles, etc
- Several bowls of water (optional: add food colouring in shades that mix well)
- Spoons or droppers
- Card and marker pens
Place the bowls of water on small towels around the room, and have spoons or droppers nearby.
Talk about things that restore our souls. For Elijah, God sent food and drink, sleep, and the care of someone who noticed his need. For David, the Shepherd provided green pastures and quiet waters, and company through the dark valley.
What restores your soul? It may be something very physical and practical, like Elijah’s food and sleep. It may be something less tangible, like David’s ‘quiet waters’. It might be Scripture or songs, peace or pizza, chocolate or cheery friends. I’m sure you can think of others. Write these things on cards and place them by the bowls.
Encourage each person to choose a container (have plenty of different ones to choose from) and to fill it with water from the various bowls.
Many churches’ liturgies encourage us to pray for those ‘who suffer in body, mind, or spirit’. While it is very helpful to remember that mental anguish and spiritual dryness are just as much a subject for prayer as Mrs Fosdyke’s neighbour’s cousin’s chilblains, the differentiation between these three is a modern artefact.
The Bible has a holistic approach, rather than the Greek division into ‘body’ (physical, imperfect) and ‘soul’ (spiritual, perfect) with optional ‘mind’ thrown in for good measure. This two-part or three-part person is more based on Plato than Paul.
Passages such as Deut. 6:4, which talks about loving God “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might”, is not dividing our love or our selves into three distinct categories, but is using Hebrew poetic style, repeating parallel terms to emphasize a point.
In the Hebrew world-view there is only a whole person, made alive by God’s breath/spirit (it’s the same word). The Hebrew word translated ‘soul’ (nephesh) does not mean that ethereal, spiritual bit of me that makes me ‘me’. It usually just means ‘person’, but is literally ‘neck’ (as in stiff-necked people). Similarly ‘mind’ has no equivalent, although the Hebrew for ‘heart’ denotes the seat of decision-making (not emotion, which may be signified by bowels!) Also the Hebrew concept of salvation is a whole-person thing, not just saving your immortal soul from hell.
The modern term ‘hangry’ (meaning being bad-tempered because of low blood-sugar) taps into this whole-person approach. Any parent will know that the first thing to do with a grumpy toddler is to feed them. This cures most ills. The next weapons in the arsenal are hugs and sleep. To be honest, these work with grown-ups too. Sometimes I am far more like the Wicked Witch of the West than Glinda the Good Witch, and if I have the sense to stop and think I can see that I’m tired, or hungry, or hot, or too busy, or worried, or … fill in your own.
God knows we’re like this – he built us after all! Our blood chemistry affects how our brains work, and what we think affects our blood chemistry, and both of these can affect our walk with God. For me, I need to physically slow down my body (often by walking a labyrinth) to clear my head to hear God. They’re all linked.
Elijah had just had a massive battle with the prophets of Baal and he was totally wiped out. It manifested itself in physical exhaustion, spiritual burn out and mental depression. And you know what? It was OK. It’s OK to be wiped out sometimes. It’s OK to not always be able to cope. It’s OK to not be super-human.
God sent what Elijah needed to recharge his batteries, and it took a couple of doses. What do I need to recharge my batteries today?
1 Kings 19:4-8 New International Version
[Elijah] … 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 travelled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
New International Version
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Nephesh’ word study
By Revd Ally Barrett
1 Kings 19: When Elijah couldn’t even, God gave him permission to rest by providing a tree for shelter, some water and a cake.
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