I Kings 19:1-21; Acts 12:1-23; Psalm 136:1-26; Proverbs 17:14-15
Although I have read the One Year Bible almost every year for over twenty-five years, I took a break in the middle of those years to do a different kind of reading of the Bible. I decided to take a ‘long, slow’ read through the Bible, cover to cover, just moving my bookmark each day. If a passage spoke to me or intrigued me, I lingered over it. That journey took me three years, and then I returned to the OYB.
When I came to this passage in I Kings I lingered. I read it for three days, trying to understand what was happening: why was Elijah so discouraged and what was God saying to him and what was God saying to me. I was discouraged at this time, feeling unappreciated by the church we were serving, and a bit like Elijah, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty… I am the only one left” (I Kings 19:10, 14). Sounds pretty self-righteous, doesn’t it? Sometimes ministry leaves one depleted and I think that is what left Elijah vulnerable to Jezebel’s threats, and me vulnerable to self-pity.
I observed how tenderly God cared for Elijah. When Elijah ran away from Jezebel and prayed, “I have had enough, LORD,” he said, “Take my life” (vs. 4b), God doesn’t argue with him but lets him sleep and sends an angel to minister to Elijah with food, rest and then more food. That strengthened Elijah to proceed to his destination—Horeb, the mountain of God (vs. 8b). I noticed that Elijah, in his despair, focuses his energy on reaching the mountain of God. In his deep depression and trouble, he runs toward God. That speaks to me. I don’t understand all that happens to me and to those I love, but I do know from Elijah’s example that the answer is to run toward God, to put all my energy in seeking Him to find the answers to life dilemmas and trials.
When Elijah arrived at his destination, God met him and asked what he wanted. Elijah explained his complaints—legitimate complaints—and his fear that he would be killed. Then God demonstrated his power in the cyclone, the earthquake and the fire but His voice came in the gentle whisper that followed. He told Elijah to “Go back the way you came” (vs. 15) and assured him that he still had future ministry for Elijah. He then reassured Elijah that there were, in fact, seven thousand faithful followers of Yahweh in Israel. And, He gave Elijah three very specific ministry assignments. We’ll see in the days ahead that Elijah himself will fulfill only one of those assignments—anointing Elisha to succeed him as prophet—and the other two tasks will be done by Elisha.
I read this until I felt encouraged, until I understood that ministry can be very depleting, even if our ministry was nothing like the scale of Elijah’s magnificent defeat of Baal on Mt. Carmel. I understood that God knows our weaknesses and cares about our body’s needs. And I saw that God wasn’t finished with Elijah—he had ministry ahead for Elijah. From that I believed that God would bring me through the discouraging time we were in and that He would provide a meaningful life and ministry ahead. He didn’t plan for me to sit under the broom tree for the rest of my life.
And now, many years later I can look back and see how God so fully fulfilled that in our lives. He is a good God, giving us purpose in life, encouraging us along the way, showing us his power at times, but speaking in a gentle whisper to keep following him. I was encouraged by the simple words, “Go back the way you came” in vs. 15. We can retreat to the wilderness to find God, but we can’t stay there. Go back the way we came—go back to the unfruitful ministry and wait for God to change it, go back to the diapers and sick babies, to back to the ungrateful church members. And then do the next thing! Take a risk for God. Take the next assignment from God; He is not finished with you so stay in the fight.
“Thank you, Lord, that you don’t expect more from us than our physical bodies can do. You provide rest and restoration. And then You graciously entrust us with another assignment for Your Kingdom. May we each accept that assignment with joy.”
- Nell Sunukjian