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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Dealing with Discouragement 1 Kings 19

We all face discouragement: circumstances change, jobs, people, even ourselves, —we get overwhelmed, can’t seem to see a “way out” and just want to to push the button and say, “ok, I quit, I’ve had enough!”  Learning how to deal with these feelings is a major step in our growth as a Christian and walking daily with the Lord.  After a quick review of an event in the life of Elijah, we will look at some specific ways God dealt with the prophet that can help us with discouragement when it comes our way.

The prophet comes on the scene in chapter 17 as he proclaims God’s declaration of no rain, which would last for 3½ years. King Ahab, Israel’s monarch of the northern tribes had fostered idolatry across the kingdom. In God’s timing to end the drought, the prophet is commanded to confront the king and challenge those that are responsible for turning the people’s hearts against God. 

Directed by God, Elijah calls for a public challenge between Yaweh and Baal, the Canaanite storm god and bringer of rain. The prophets of Baal were to offer their sacrifice and Elijah his; the god who answered by fire would prove himself to be truly God. For several hours the prophets of Baal cried out with all their might and by all possible means, but no fire came. Elijah even made fun of them. Then when it was Elijah’s turn, he repaired the altar built for the sacrifice which the other prophets had tried to destroy it in their frenzies. Water was then poured over the entire sacrifice 3 different times.  Elijah prayed and fire fell consuming everything so that nothing is left. The people erupted in praise declaring the Yaweh was God alone and then the 450 prophets of Baal were killed. 

Ahab told his wife, Jezebel, that the prophet had killed all of the prophets of Baal, the god she worshiped, but nothing of what God had done. She vowed to have Elijah killed, so he fled for his life, going as far south as the southern edge of the kingdom of Judah, out of Ahab’s rule. He leaves his servant there and goes a day’s journey into the desert. Convinced his life and ministry have been fruitless, he tells God, “It’s enough! Everything I’ve done is worthless!” 

In chapter 19 we see the same prophet who called down fire from heaven so discouraged, he is ready to die. What happened? I’m sure there is much more, but I would like to make a few suggestions to show how God worked in Elijah’s life to bring change and restoration. Let’s trace what happened:

1. The prophet was physically exhausted. In 18:45-46 we read that Ahab rode back to town after the showdown on Mt. Carmel, but that Elijah ran and beat him there. Sometimes we keep pushing to go own, whether because the situation is so dire we just can’t stop or that we just because we have developed habits of burning the candle at both ends. Regardless, our bodies will begin to send warnings. For Elijah, his strength to focus was lost.

2. He lost his focus on God and focused on his fear of Jezebel because of his weakened condition.  He began to make poor choices. He left his servant in Beersheba, perhaps for the servant’s protection from the queen, but in doing so he lost companionship, encouragement, and any sounding board that might have helped him think differently.

3. God continued to watch out and direct His prophet. Elijah was alone, depressed, exhausted, discouraged and finally collapsed into a long sleep. God provided food [not unlike what he had been eating with the widow for 3½ years], and fell asleep again. God’s angel woke the prophet again and instructed him to eat otherwise the journey would be too much for him. Elijah then traveled 40 days [200 miles] to Mt. Horeb without eating, reminiscent of Moses receiving the law after 40 days of fasting in the same place. Elijah then found a cave in which to rest.

4. God began to help him change his thinking.  God asked him: “What are you doing here?” That sounds odd, since God was the one who led him there, so there must have been more to the question. Elijah’s answer seemed almost rehearsed, perhaps a thoughts and words that played a continual loop in his mind: “I’ve been obedient, but it hasn’t made any difference and they are trying to kill me.”  His physical condition and circumstances had led to distorted thought patterns. He had forgotten the great victory God had just given and the people’s declaration that only Yahweh was God. Instead of Jezebel, now an nebulous group called “they” were out to kill him.

5. God responded in a way that Elijah was not expecting. Rather than respond to the prophet’s commentary, God sent him out to the mouth of the cave where God would pass by, again, like Moses. There was a powerful wind, but God didn’t speak, an earthquake, but no voice, and a raging fire; still God did not speak. All three of these could have been understood as things God would use to display His power and might, but God didn’t choose to speak through them. Instead, after all three, there was a period of silence and the prophet heard a still small whisper. Sometimes God speaks in ways that we are not expecting.  We need to listen carefully in the times of silence.

6. God repeated the same question. To get a better grasp of the situation, it might be helpful for us to repeat the question, but change the emphasis on the words:

— What are you doing here, Elijah? 

     Hiding in a cave? Running away? Am I not the one who protects?

— What are you doing here, Elijah?  

     You are my prophet, my voice, your life and mission are wrapped up in my will for you.

Unfortunately, Elijah was stuck in his distorted thoughts. He responded with the exact same words as before as if God didn’t hear it the first time.

7. God shared His truth about the situation. God sent him back to anoint two foreign kings and a replacement to take his place as prophet, but just as important, God shared His truth and reality of the situation that Elijah did not know: there were 7000 in Israel who were faithful and had not bowed down to Baal. Rather than chastising the prophet, God helped him see God’s truth and called him to obedient service once more.  When we get stuck in distorted thoughts, we need to go back and ask ourselves, “What is the truth of God in this situation?” and be obedient. God’s command showed the prophet that God still had work for him to do and that his work would not be in vain; it wasn’t all left up to Elijah, but God to carry on His will.

Ministry and life in general are challenging; relationships, jobs, illness, and a host of other issues can lead us down a path toward becoming discouraged. However, we don’t have to stay there; there is hope. 

Hope in our God that is ever watching over us, even when we are down. 

Hope that His plan is perfect, even when we can’t see the way. 

Hope in seeing the truth of God in difficult situations and being obedient to His will.