Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, July 03, 2020
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Discouragement

1 Kings 19:1-18

The events of this chapter take place the day after the most famous event of Elijah’s career as a prophet: His contest on Mt. Carmel. You know the story, I’m sure. Elijah, the prophet of God, stands alone against 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah on top of the mountain. Each calls on their god to answer with fire and burn up the sacrifice. The god who answers is the true God. Elijah is victorious. Well, truly God is victorious. And Elijah then proceeds to take all the pagan prophets down into the valley where they are executed as false prophets of false gods.

And the next day, after facing down 850 prophets, Elijah is scared of one woman. Perhaps it’s because of who she is. This is Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, the king of Israel. And she is the real power behind the throne!

Jezebel is not an Israelite. She is a Sidonian, from Sidon in Phoenicia. And those were her prophets. Ahab was already a bad king, but she brought all the worst of Phoenicia with her. She brought idol worship, cultic prostitution, which was basically sexual immorality with a religious twist, and even human sacrifice. The pagan gods Baal and Asherah demanded the sacrifice of children in order to ensure fertility and success. And those prophets were part of her hold on power. They prophesied as she wanted. They honored her as a divine figure, and so on.

She is furious, and Elijah gets scared.

I think it’s a very common experience to feel drained after “high points” in life. And the contest on Mt. Carmel is definitely a high point. But it’s normal to feel physically and emotionally and spiritually drained after such experiences. So much energy goes into the grand moments of life that we are just spent when they’re done.

Many preachers, and myself included, will tell you that Monday is the hardest day of the week. So much energy goes into Sunday that it’s easy to feel wiped out on Monday. That’s why a lot of pastors take Mondays as their day off, but I’ve never wanted to do that. On Mondays, it’s easy to lose focus, easy to feel down, easy to give up hope. It’s even easy to allow temptations to creep into our lives.

And I have to think that’s what’s happening to Elijah. On any other day, he would probably stand up to Jezebel. But not today. Not after Mt. Carmel.

Instead, he runs away. He goes all the way from the Valley of Jezreel in Israel to Beersheba, at the southern end of Judah. There he leaves his servant and goes on alone into the desert. He finds a spot in the shade and lies down. He prays to God that he might die. And then he falls asleep. Twice during the night, an angel wakes him up and tells him to eat and drink.

When we feel discouraged, we should stop and tend to the needs of our bodies. No matter how bad things are, they’ll always feel better after a night’s rest and some food. Often, in times of distress, we ignore the needs of our bodies. We are physical beings. We need food, water, and rest. It’s not selfish of us to tend to our needs. Selfishness is putting our wants above the needs of others, but it’s not selfish to tend to our needs. We just sometimes get confused about what we need versus what we want. We are no good to anyone dead. So don’t neglect your own needs. Don’t fall into the martyr complex of trying to do it all and then saying, “Oh, woe is me. I don’t have any time to eat or sleep.” It’s fine to be a martyr, not so much to have a martyr complex.

In the morning, God sends Elijah to Sinai, the same Sinai where Moses met with God after the Exodus. It’s a personal, spiritual renewal retreat, we’ll call it. He comes to a cave on the mountain and spends the night there. By the way, in the story of the Exodus, Moses hides in a cave while God’s glory passes by. I think we’re supposed to believe that this is the same cave. The experience recalls Moses on Mt. Sinai, and I think it also prefigures Moses and Elijah seeing the glory of Christ on the Mount of the Transfiguration.

God asks, “Why are you here, Elijah?” And Elijah’s answer is basically, “I’ve been so faithful to you, and no one else has. And now I’m all alone and they want to kill me, too.” I think it’s obvious that Elijah is depressed. He feels like a failure. He did his best to convince everyone that God is God. He thinks no one noticed. And when he had a chance to stand up to Jezebel, he ran away. He is lonely and discouraged.

God sends him out to stand before him. And then all these terrible, ferocious things happen: A mighty windstorm, an earthquake, a fire. They are displays of God’s power, and yet God is not in them. Instead, God comes in the gentle whisper after it’s all over. Was God with Elijah on Mt. Carmel? Yes, certainly. But God was also with him in the quiet after the battle was over. God is not just there in the spectacular moments of life, but also in the simple ones.

I remember an experience I had when I was a teenager. It’s long enough ago that I don’t really recall why I was so discouraged. But I remember how a good Christian friend stayed up late into the night to encourage me and remind me of who I am in Christ. It was a simple and quiet experience, but it has stuck with me all these years.

I think the second lesson of 1 Kings 19 is that when we feel discouraged, we should look and listen for God. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our discouragement. But we should keep our eyes and ears open. God may not be there in the way we would expect, but he is there.

The question and answer repeats. So God gives Elijah his marching orders. He is to go back and anoint three people. The first is Hazael to be the new king of Aram, a neighbor of Israel. Hazael will be the instrument by which God will punish the house of Ahab for their sins. The second is Jehu to be the new king of Israel. Jehu will complete God’s destruction of the house of Ahab and will succeed him as king. And the third is Elisha, who will be Elijah’s helper and eventual successor. Even though we may at times feel like a failure, God is not done with us yet. Elijah still has work to do.

And then God reminds him, “I have preserved 7000 people in Israel who have never bowed their knee to Baal.” In other words, “Elijah, you may feel alone. But you are not alone.”

None of us are alone. God is always with us. But more than that, God’s people are always with us. Instead of feeling like we have to do it all, we should find brothers and sisters in Christ who are doing God’s work, as well. If we feel alone, it may just be that we have neglected to find our strength in the Body of Christ.

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