God understands. God cares. God responds.
Let’s pick up the story of Elijah’s Day of Despair (or Dark Night of the Soul, if you like) in 1 Kings 19 from where we left it in the previous post…
And so, he [Elijah] gave up. He had nothing left. No hope. No energy. No faith. No courage. No reason to live. He was spent. He collapsed under a tree and cried out to God with his last ounce of bitter strength, “I’m DONE! If you care for me in the slightest, God, kill me now and put me out of my misery!!!”
Perhaps you can relate. You have collapsed in exhaustion and despair under that same tree and wailed at God in that same voice. You know how helpless and hopeless he felt. Read on, I have a message of real Hope for you today.
God’s immediate response to Elijah was one of understanding, compassion, and provision. He didn’t ignore him. He didn’t berate him for his weakness. He didn’t strike him dead for his lack of faith. He blessed his servant with rest. And He blessed His servant with fresh food and fresh water.
God understands our limitations and our weakness. He made us. He does not punish us for being worn out and discouraged. However, He will allow us to run out of gas if we begin facing life with the notion that we can handle it all on our own power. God’s loving response to Elijah was to let him “crash” and get some much-needed sleep, interrupted only by a heavenly waiter serving up fresh baked bread and cold, clear water. As a father, there is a good chance I would have begun with a lecture, had that been my son throwing in the towel: “Are you kidding me, Elijah?!! Have you already forgotten what I just did on Mt. Carmel? Do you really think I can’t handle one dastardly royal couple, after what I did to all those prophets of Baal? Come on, son! Get your head in the game. What’s the matter with you?!!” It’s a good thing God handles weakness better than I do. A very good thing.
And after his stay at God’s Bed and Breakfast, Elijah is invited to another mountaintop for a visit with The Almighty. Here on the mountain of God, Elijah is given the three rich gifts of perspective, work, and relationship. God gently reminds him that He is in charge, that He has not abandoned Elijah, and that he is not so alone (or all-important) as he thinks he is. He blesses him with a new mission – more work to do. Now, you may not see how giving a weary man more work to do could be a blessing. What happened to that rest and refreshment? To put it simply, we humans are at our healthiest in mind, body, spirit, and relationship when we are actively working on something meaningful. Yes, we need to take time for rest and refreshment, and we American Christians are suffering greatly for our rejection of God’s command to honor the sabbath day and keep it holy. But when rest and refreshment moves beyond retreat and turns to escape and avoidance, life turns ugly in a hurry.
Relationship. “It is not good for a man to be alone.” God’s comment on the human race is as true today as it was in the garden with Adam and on the mountaintop with Elijah. Solitude is one thing, and can be deeply refreshing. But feeling like you are a lone target with no one who cares, understands, or has the willingness to stand with you? Hell on earth! So God informs Elijah that he is actually part of a band of 7,000 rebels faithful to the LORD, and takes it a huge step further. Guess what, Elijah?… You don’t have to do this whole lone prophet thing any longer! Elijah, meet Elisha, your new best friend and partner in ministry.
Does God respond this way to each of us when we are downtrodden and despairing? Yes and no. Yes, He always responds with understanding, compassion, and provision. No, we don’t all get a stay at God’s Bed and Breakfast. Or catch a ride on the hottest wheels of all time, for that matter. But when we admit we cannot face life any longer out of our own strength, and fall on God’s mercy, He will lift us up and give us just what we need to continue the journey.