Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 30: Elijah on Discouragement
1 Kings 18-19
August 29, 2010
· Screwtape: Undulation
Scripture reading: 1 Kings 16:29-33 (Jewel)
A history lesson
I love history. Taught well, it is simply learning great stories. I have recently been reading about the Revolution.
· But history is full of lessons – right now George Washington is teaching me to face facts, rather than ignore them.
Today we are learning from Israel’s history, particularly the discouragement Elijah faced, on the heels of best known success.
· On the way you’ll learn stuff you didn’t hear in Sunday School.
Last week we ended with Solomon. After his death, God divided Israel into two nations, Judah and Israel. Judah and Benjamin are ruled by David’s descendants and the northern nations (“Israel”) ruled by various kings, ranging from bad to worse.
Israel lives in varying degrees of apostasy, and Judah’s not much better, worshiping the gods around them, as God had warned about. In response, God sent prophets to warn them to return.
· The greatest of prophets was Elijah; he didn’t write books but was known both for fearlessly proclamation and great miracles.
He is actually reference in the NT more than any other prophets: 1) John the Baptist was called “Elijah,” 2) Moses and Elijah met up with Jesus at the Transfiguration.
Yahweh vs. Ba’al
In an attempt to get Israel’s attention, Elijah announces a major drought, which won’t end until he said so. Elijah then disappears and the rain stops – a severe mercy.
· Three years later, he shows up to confront Ahab, one of the wickedest of Israel’s kings.
1 Kings 18:17-40 17 ¶ When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals.
· Have you noticed how often we are the ones who sin, then blame others when we suffer?
19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel.
· Elijah is suggesting a showdown between Yahweh and Ba’al.
Mt. Carmel is the perfect place, it is one of the taller mountains in the area, and was frequently used as a “high place,” where idols would have been worshiped, because supposedly close to the gods (also near Phoenicia).
And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
This was the original jezebel, where we got the term from. was the queen and perhaps the wickedest woman in the Bible – she’d been aggressively pushing Ba’al worship.
· Apparently, Ahab likes these odds (950:1), so sets things up.
20 ¶ So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. 22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire-- he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
God is confronting this idol on his own terms. Ba’al was called the “Rider on the Clouds,” and was believed to bring rain and agricultural fertility.
· See the irony? They had worshiped Ba’al so he would bless their crops, and in response God says, “I don’t think so.”
Ba’al was also the storm god (makes sense, rain and storms).
Q Any guess what would be his weapon of choice?
Q Can you guess the significance of “lighting the sacrifice”?
Elijah is saying, “Your god is the storm god, let’s see if he can give you one bolt of lightning on a clear day.”
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
I love the sarcasm here, maybe your god is “busy.” The prophets were big on potty humor.
28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 30 ¶ Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” 34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
· There would be no doubt this was God, no trickery.
36 ¶ At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
No frantic ritual, just a simple prayer, about 30 words long. Elijah knew the power didn’t lie in ritual, but in God himself.
· Don’t you wish everyone prayed this way, esp. before a meal?
The prayer was for the people’s benefit. It spoke both of God’s power and concern for his people, to bring them home.
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD-- he is God! The LORD-- he is God!” 40 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
This might seem a little harsh, but the OT required that capital punishment for those who lead Israel away from God. Elijah was telling them to make a clean break from their false worship. Better they die than all Israel.
· And to finish it off, Elijah prays for rain, and it comes.
By all accounts, this has been an incredibly successful day. Israel’s heart has been turned back to God. God has demonstrated his power not once, but twice. It couldn’t have gone any better.
· This only makes the second half of the story more surprising.
1 Kings 19:1-4 ¶ Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, [About 90 miles] he left his servant there, 4 ¶ while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
· Between dismissing his servant and his death wish, it’s obvious he was tendering his resignation as God’s prophet.
A man like us
After being God’s key man in two big miracles, he is frightened by one woman. He’d just led the biggest one day revival to date, but instead of shepherding the people back, he took off.
· Is this funny or just sad?
Really, it isn’t either – it is a very realistic picture of man who is deeply discouraged
See, this wasn’t just fear – he had hidden for three years and he could do it again. He was felt like he had failed – he was no more effective than his predecessors.
· He may have persuaded the people, but he hadn’t persuaded the government, so it was just a matter of time before they fall.
If I have a hard time relating to Elijah as the man of prayer or as a courageous man facing the prophets of Ba’al, I can relate to this Elijah, feeling useless, hopeless, and discouraged.
Q Does this sound familiar? Do you feel discouraged right now? useless, worn, and helpless, like there is no point?
· If you don’t now, you have before and you will again!
What has you down?
Discouragement hits us at different times for different reasons:
· Being behind in your bills, not being able to catch up, with no relief in sight.
· Children who keep on disobeying and swear at grandma’s.
· Wanting to be married, but no good, Christian guys in sight.
· Repeating the same sin over and over again.
· No specific reason, just the weight of the world.
Discouragement is one of the most miserable feelings in the worlds – no point, nothing will change. The worst part is that it feels like things will never get better.
· It helps to know that one of God’s greatest servants felt the same way we feel.
Even better, it helps to know God’s response – he doesn’t berate Elijah, call him a pathetic moron or loser, or all the other things we heard in our head.
· God was compassionate, he cared for Elijah, encouraged him, restored him.
Q So how did Elijah go from such heights to such discouragement?
But like so many things, we have to go beyond the surface issue, and look to the roots.
· I have found that discouragement loses a lot of its power when we look it in the face, dissect it, and understand it.
There are three root issues that drove Elijah’s discouragement, and all of them can contribute to our discouragement: Fear, Exhaustion, and Isolation
Elijah is initially driven by fear. He was running for his life.
Q Why did Jezebel send a warning instead of just sending troops?
If I were going to kill someone, I wouldn’t leave them a death threat on their voicemail, I would just do!
· I think she was bluffing – she was probably scared too. God had just fired lightening on a clear sky.
· Good call on her part – Elijah took off.
Here’s the thing that’s obvious to us: In light of everything God had done, Elijah’s fear was shortsighted and irrational. Elijah had tunnel vision; he on fear, not God’s power.
· Likewise, discouragement is ultimately irrational – it says that there is no way God could ever get us through this.
Q If you are discouraged: Are you being driven by fear?
Q Are you acting as if your problems are bigger than God?
Are you saying God cannot provide for you?
Are you saying that God isn’t working with your kids?
Are you saying that God doesn’t forgive and love you?
Whatever fear is driving your discouragement, stand it up alongside God and rationally ask, is this bigger than God?
Fight fear with faith
Let’s look at how God responded to Elijah’s fear: He sent Elijah to Mount Horeb. Why Horeb? You know it by its other name: Sinai.
· God took him back to where he spoke to Moses to speak to him.
1 Kings 19:11-12 11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
This is a beloved story, because on one hand it shows God’s power (wind, earthquake, and fire): God is quite able to handle any and every difficulty we face.
But in the end, God showed himself to Elijah in a “still small voice,” a gentle relationship. We need more than knowing God is powerful – we need to know he cares.
· The cross is the ultimate evidence that God cares.
Romans 8:31-32 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
So when you are discouraged, plagued by fears, let God speak to you in the same way he spoke to Elijah:
Psalm 42:11 11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
If the psalmist had to remind himself to put his most in God, should we do the same? Keep telling yourself – trust God, put you hope in him, not yourself. He will save you.
· Don’t just say this once, keep repeating it until you believe it (the psalmist repeats), fill your heart a head with it.
This won’t magically make you feel better, but it is filling your head with truth that pushes past the feelings. First you change your head, then your heart may follow.
Elijah is just plain exhausted, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Skipping back a bit, we read:
1 Kings 19:5-8 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
Elijah just seems to be emotionally exhausted, I am sure you know the feeling:
Q Have you ever gone on some retreat or camp and had a great time, feeling very close to God?
What happens when you get home? You get in a fight with your family, yell at you kids, and are just a general grouch.
Q Why do you think that happens? Is it a demonic attack? Are you just a big failure?
I’ve watched this pattern enough that I have seen a very simple and natural ebb and flow: Whatever goes up, must come down.
· Our human limitations don’t allow sustained energy.
This is not some demonic attack, you’re not a failure. Emotional exhaustion always follows the highs. Likewise, exhaustion followed Elijah’s big victory.
· When we’re exhausted we get discouraged, it doesn’t need a reason – sometimes discouragement is a “low battery warning.”
So when things are going great and you are on a spiritual high, there are a couple of important things to remember:
1. Exhaustion will come – so be ready. The enemy also knows it will come, so be ready for attacks and safeguard yourself.
· After a great victory, we are in danger of a great fall.
· BTW: Haven’t covered demonic attacks, only because not in this passage...
2. Exhaustion will end – just laugh at yourself, knowing you will soon feel better.
Our physical condition is perhaps the most undervalued causes of spiritual weakness. We are an odd mixture of flesh and spirit, and we don’t realize how much our body affects our spirit:
· Hunger makes us prone to being grumpy, pain makes us prone to anger, and exhaustion makes us prone to discouragement.
When you are feeling discouraged (or depressed, or inexplicably angry, or any unusual temptation), immediately ask if there is a physical cause.
Remember that God took care of Elijah’s physical needs. Sometime rest and nourishment is what he needed more than anything else.
· When our kids our grumpy, we make them take a nap, maybe we need one too!
· “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap!” Or a snack, or a jog...
If you’re feeling discouraged, look at your physical condition:
Are you overwhelmed and over worked – chasing kids all day can take a toll!
Are you taking care of your body – exercise and diet?
Are you getting enough rest – sleep and a Sabbath?
Do you need to talk to a doctor?
Finally, there is a spiritual element to discouragement – feeling distant from God. Distance from God can have three different causes, but they all have the same solution:
1. It can be our fault – through neglect or sin.
2. It can be the enemy – a spiritual attack.
3. It can be God – “Law of Undulation,” God pulling away to strengthen the bond.
What’s the solution? Pull closer to God, whether you can feel him or not. Read your Bible, pray, worship, sermon podcasts.
This won’t magically fix discouragement, but it will ensure that God can use your times of discouragement for growth.
Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. Screwtape Letters, VIII
· The enemy fears you pursuing God when don’t feel him more than when you do feel him.
Elijah’s discouragement was driven by fear and exhaustion, and finally, it was caused by isolation:
1 Kings 19:13-18 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 15 The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet....18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel-- all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Maybe you are the only Christian at your job or school. Imagine if you thought you were the only Christian in the country!
· God reminds Elijah he is not alone, and he provides him with a protégé and assistant – pulls him out of isolation.
The connection between isolation and discouragement may not be intuitive, but it is very real – isolation is a breeding ground for discouragement.
· Illustration: Athlete’s Foot grows in warm, moist shoes.
When we’re isolated, all sorts of bad stuff starts growing: Discouragement, self-pity, sulking, and messed-up thinking.
When you are discouraged, you need to seek out the community, not avoid it, even though everything in you wants to avoid it.
· People who are choking frequently hide, then choke to death – they needed to stay around people who can help them.
You need to hang around trusted friend to encourage you, lift your spirit, and remind you of truth:
· God is bigger than your problems.
· He cares for you an loves you.
· You are pushing yourself too hard, etc.
My guys’ group understands sometimes we need to kick each other in the rear, and other times we need to pick each other up.
God’s got better plans
This story ends with Elijah obeying God and returning to ministry, with new hope and surrounded by the right people. He continues in powerful ministry for many more years.
· And his prayer that God kill him? God never did answer that,
· Literally: God brought to heaven without death.
Again, everyone here is currently facing discouragement or will in the future. I have given you several tools to face it, too many to repeat now.
· Make sure you go to community group to discuss and integrate this stuff – they can help apply this stuff in your situation.
Q But I want to leave you with one question: Will lean into God, or stumble around on your own strength?
Discouragement can paralyze us, keep us from moving forward, and rob us of the rich future God has for us, or it can cause us know him in a deeper, richer, more real way than ever before.
Q & A