This is for leaders who are exhausted, struggling, confused, desperate, and ready to just quit. The rest of you are welcome to listen in.
We love to talk about God using Elijah to defeat the prophets of Baal, hurling heavenly fire to consume the soaked sacrifice (I Kings 18:20-46). We love to end on this high note, rather than continue on to Elijah’s fearful collapse the next day:
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree (I Kings 19:1-5).
Leaders who have been in desperately difficult situations can appreciate the crushing weight of circumstances when even the best of us say, “Lord, I have had enough” and retreat into sleep.
How God deals with his prophet is instructive for every leader under extraordinary pressure. First, he provides for his physical needs in a way that allows Elijah to meet him on holy ground:
And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. There he came to a cave and lodged in it (1 Kings 19:5-9).
Next, the Lord engages Elijah by asking a tender question:
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (I Kings 19:9-10).
In my younger days, I imagined Elijah as a weak-willed whiner. Now I recognize the response of a man who is burned out. He’s tired. He’s confused. He’s desperate. Unsure about the future.
It’s likely that Elijah is in the same place where Moses spoke face to face with God and received the Ten Commandments. God demonstrates his power and his tenderness to Elijah:
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”(I Kings 19:11-13)
Even after this astounding display, Elijah remains stuck in the same narrative:
He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (I Kings 19:14).
Let’s consider what God does NOT do at this point:
- He does not zap Elijah with a lightning bolt as divine justice for disrespect.
- He does not condemn Elijah as a fool, an idiot, or failure.
- He does not say, “Oh, poor baby. Come up to heaven and rest.”
- He does not suggest Elijah get a different perspective on his situation.
- He does not say, “Stand up and be a man!”
- He does not remind Elijah that he is God and Elijah is not.
- He does not speak to Elijah’s feelings.
God gives him an assignment, a specific task to get him moving. He commands Elijah to anoint three different people, and graciously gives him an insight about the bigger picture:
And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (I Kings 19:15-18).
What about your situation?
Meet God on holy ground. Listen to his commands, and discover your strength as you obey. “I will run in the path of your commands when you enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32). Your feelings, however strong, are poor guides. We get unstuck by acting our way forward.
There is always a bigger picture. There’s always a longer timeline. There’s always information you don’t know. God always has a plan.