Let’s be honest. Sometimes life can overwhelm us. Unsettling world events, frightening economic times, unexpected conflicts, the abandonment of truth and emerging disdain for God’s Word and His people can leave us feeling … well, discouraged. And that troubles us. For some reason we equate that feeling with spiritual inadequacy. But is it?
The Bible contains many accounts of God’s people facing times of real hardships and discouragement. Through it all, God was mindful of their human frailty and never abandoned them. That is just as true for His people in our day. We have been given assurance that God is working through the most overwhelming circumstances … even when we can’t see it.
If ever there was a man who understood this, it was Elijah. His remarkable story is found in 1 Kings and encourages us today. A prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel, Elijah was called by God to oppose the wicked King Ahab and his equally wicked wife Jezebel. Their agenda was to establish the worship of Baal in Israel and turn the hearts of the people away from God. They weren’t seeking peaceful co-existence, they were seeking to dominate by whatever means possible. So they never hesitated killing the prophets of God and replacing them with 450 false prophets of Baal. It was a dark time and it was into this arena that God called Elijah and empowered him with astounding authority over the events that would undo his godless opponents.
It began with the proclamation that the Lord would send a punishing drought. For three years not a drop of rain fell. At the end of the drought, Elijah confronted Ahab directly and challenged him to a contest to reveal the true God. Believers of Baal were given opportunity to set up an altar with a sacrifice and have their god show himself powerful by sending the necessary fire. Baal worshipers cried and cut themselves from morning until evening, but to no avail. And then it was Elijah’s turn. He built an altar, placed the sacrifice upon it, had it drenched with water and prayed to the Living God to display His power. The intensity of the fire consumed everything … the sacrifice, the altar and the pools of water that drenched it. There was no doubt whose god was God. Elijah then seized these wicked men, destroyed the false prophets and turned the hearts of the people back to the Lord.
Our temptation is to think great victory will put an end to further conflict. Maybe that’s what Elijah thought. But, back at the palace, Jezebel seethed at this conquest and issued Elijah’s death notice. Given all that God had already done to empower Elijah, you would think he would have been unshaken by Jezebel’s threats. He wasn’t. This seemed a message that shook him completely. He was afraid. In fact, he ran for his life into the desert, sat down under a tree and prayed “I have had enough Lord, take my life.” and he laid down and fell asleep.
What happened to the man that prayed down fire from heaven? The same thing that happens to us when we face hardships that seem unending … exhaustion. Added to that, Elijah thought no one else stood with him in his zeal for the Lord. Feeling alone and weary, discouragement overwhelmed him. He needed renewed hope and vision, and that is just what God had planned for him. It began by meeting his need with rest and food and continued by sending him on a 40 day journey; a time of waiting for the presence of the Lord at Mt. Horeb.
If you have experienced discouragement, you know waiting is the last thing you want to do. But being still in our most painful circumstances allows us to hear the prompting of the Lord. Restoration comes in quietness; just as it did for Elijah. At Mt. Horeb he experienced the power of tumultuous winds, earthquakes and fire that shook the mountain, but God was not in them. It was a gentle whisper that ministered to his soul. “What are you doing here Elijah?” The Almighty chose to reveal Himself in stillness and Elijah responded by pouring out his heart. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken 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 … Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel ~ all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal.” 1 Kings 19 (NIV)
It’s easy to feel alone if we look at the world around us. But the world around us is not greater than the God who is with us. He is the One who reminds us we are in the company of a great cloud of witnesses from ages past and a great fellowship of believers now.
God had given Elijah what he so desperately needed, an understanding that things are not always as they seem. Sustained by those encouraging words, the Lord instructed him to return to Israel and anoint specific men who would defend and carry on God’s truth. And Jezebel? She never succeeded with the death threat, but was herself killed and devoured by dogs.
What a story of encouragement for the disheartened! We live in a time when various threats abound and many feel discouraged Maybe that’s you. Hope seems more like a word than a promise. The circumstances are frightening, the battle seems lonely and you are exhausted. Sit down weary friend. God knows where you are and what you’ve been through. Wait … wait … wait in His presence and He will meet you with a gentle reminder of truth that will rejuvenate your soul.
We are not alone. God understands our frailty and frustration. He sees what we cannot. The Lord is not asking us to walk this life in our own strength and understanding. He is whispering for us to trust in His.