When it is all too much
1 Kings 19:1-18
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.’
3 Elijah was afraid[a] and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself 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.’ 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ 6 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.
7 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.’ 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he travelled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
10 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.’
11 The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
14 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.’
15 The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.
Sometimes it all gets a bit too much.
This is that time for Elijah, God’s prophet in challenging times.
Elijah has gone from the highest high to the deepest depths. Life can be like that.
Just before this difficult moment in the wilderness under the broom tree, Elijah was up there high on Mt Carmel sleighing the prophets of Ba’al. He saw the Lord create a great victory by fire that burned up the sacrifices, the altar and the ground on which the 400 impotent Baal prophets and Elijah stood. God’s victory over false gods is complete. All 400 are slain.
But now, in the flash of a blade, Elijah is despondent, depressed and suicidal. What has happened?
Two things. Queen Jezebel is not happy. She has renewed her vow to kill Elijah and anyone else like him who worships the one true God. Elijah is full of fear (v3). Fair enough!
But even more. Elijah has reached the heights. Like an Olympian winning a gold after years of effort, surely the career Is all downhill from here?
Devastating reality: After all that power and success he finds that he is still a scared, tired and hunted man.
“I am no better than all the imperfect, weak, suffering prophets before me who suffered as I am suffering” he laments. He is not special after all. He is feeling decidedly ‘un-special’. Is this familiar to you?
We have a fearful, exhausted person who is lost in deep despondency about his life, his achievements. These are the ingredients of those dark thoughts now driving him.
Elijah sends his servant away. That means, he is relinquishing his calling. “I’m out” and I am heading out into the desert to die”.
He asks God to take his life. God doesn’t. God gives Elijah life when he feels dead.
How? By all means available.
First, a messenger (and angel). But the angel does not say, “Fear not”, or “Repent”, or “I have good news for you”, or “Do you want to talk about it?”. The angel does one thing most needed in the moment. The angel cooks! Baked bread. Water. More sleep.
After cooking comes the angel’s touch. Like a friend with a hand on your shoulder: no words. Just assurance of presence.
God does not say, Elijah needs to “pray more”, “believe more”. “be more positive”. “confess that sin”. “study that bible”. God mends the mind and the spirit with food, rest, presence, time …
Often we don’t allow this treatment. We rush to ‘fix’ ourselves.
- Being more pious or moral: there is some sin of which you need to repent and then live clean. Or, you have not got enough faith in God. You need to pray more and study the bible for the answers.
- Science: Take a pill. Get the chemicals right.
- Psychology – It’s all in your head. Discover the problems within and fix them.
Now all these things are definitely God’s instruments; his gifts. Sometimes we do need to get the chemicals right and the mind right or to repent, but often you just need some descent sleep, some space to rest, to create, to listen, to see God’s creation…..
See how the Lord uses ALL MEANS here, not just one. We can trust him for that.
So, Elijah is rested and well fed. Only now it is time for revealing of the truth in the human heart under all of this.
The Lord directs Elijah to the holy mountain of Moses – Sinai. Elijah arrives…
What are you doing here, Elijah?”, asks the Lord.
Good question. When God asks a question of you, he does not need the information about you. You do.
‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.’
Can you hear it? Can you hear yourself when you are like this?
Everything has become ‘all about me’, for Elijah.
“God, I am the only GOOD one, the hard-working one, the faithful one, the right one”.
“‘They’ are the bad ones, the unfaithful ones, the wrong ones”.
“They are out get me; bring me down. I am the ONLY one you can work through. I am the SAVIOUR and they don’t get it!”
What is he really saying? “God, you are the PROBLEM”. I am doing all of this hard work. I am the only chance you have got to fix this thing.
Thankfully, the Lord continues his care….
I will let you close, Elijah. Tornado, earthquake, and then fire up on that mountain. Elijah has seen all that. There is no indication that this impresses him.
Then famously, the moment of true communion comes in the opposite way – still small voice – gentle whisper. Elijah immediately senses the holy moment. This is God here with me for real.
Why in this ‘unpowerful’ or ‘not-specky’ way?
Because Elijah is way too optimistic about himself and his abilities and way too pessimistic about the Lord’s promises.
“Elijah, you think your plan is the only plan. It isn’t. You think that I have not got a plan that I am enacting in this challenging time. I am”.
You’re desponded not because they are out to get you or because you are not as special as you thought or because you are isolated or tired, you are despondent because your plan is not working and your ego is dented.
You are over-relying on your own ability and under-relying on mine for your life and career and direction.
Good news though: Your plan does not have to work because I have always had a plan and still do. Now,
‘Go back the way you came, … anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 … anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and Elisha … to succeed you as prophet. … 18 I … reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.
Friends, not only does the Lord have a plan, he also has a people. Sorry to say, you are NOT the only one faithful, hard working one. You never are. God has a whole community. Here, the Lord assures Elijah that there are 7000 others in this life of faith with Elijah.
The Lord even shows that he has a suitable successor – Elisha. Even more, the Lord has unexpected people in his plan – how about a pagan king, Hazael!?
Friend, God has cared for you by all means – even the giving of his Son into death and then for resurrected joy.
With this Bread for Living, you don’t need to be over-optimistic about your plan for living or overly-pessimistic about Jesus’ people or Jesus’ presence and power and plan for your career, pursuits and plans.
You can trust that you are more sinful than you can ever know and more accepted and loved than you could ever deserve.
Your sin is nailed to a cross as Jesus still small voice whispers forsakenness and prays for your forgiveness. You hear your name spoken by Jesus rising in astounding grace.
And that is what gives Elijah and you more clarity, more confidence, more joy in the life you are living in God – The Voice.
It is not the holy miracles or the fiery blissful moment or the holy tornado blowing him off his feet in raw power. It is the Voice. It is the voice of God that makes all the rest make sense and cuts through his own hubris and the noise of his own feelings and attitudes of heart.
When it all gets too much you have enough by any means of God.
To cut through and be heard, if you pray for as great show of light and power from him, he will probably turn up at 3.00am in the dark in a whisper.
If you pray that God would give you some miraculous touch of grace in a show of mighty wind or storm, he will probably speak to the most on Tuesday morning during your morning coffee while reading the paper!
If you want God to speak to you in that gentle whispering voice, he will probably turn up in the disruptive word of truth about you from someone you don’t like – not very gentle!
But Jesus makes two things clear today for the overly optimistic or overly pessimistic
44 ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:44)
If it is all going great, or all a bit too much, He is raising you up by many means.
When it all gets too much his Voice is enough.