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Monday
Jan012018

When The Godly Are Discouraged

1 Kings 19:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 31, 2017.

Here we are on the last day of 2017 facing the New Year.  Some of you may be excited and chomping at the bit, but chances are, there are many who are discouraged from what has happened in the past.  This is a normal experience for all human beings.  However, for believers in Jesus there is an added weight upon their shoulders and that is the call of God upon our lives.  Yes, Jesus said his burden in light and I believe that.  However, we must be honest about discouragement if we are going to overcome it. 

So part of my encouragement today is to remind you that, if you are discouraged, you are in good company.  All the godly men and women from every generation have felt this very same discouragement from time to time.  Now I am not saying that discouragement is a good thing, only that it is a normal thing.  Let’s be honest many times we get even more discouraged because we think that we shouldn’t be discouraged at all.  We can build up an inner cycle of despising ourselves, trying harder, being discouraged again, and despising ourselves. 

Today we will look at a time in the life of Elijah, the powerful prophet of God.  Here we will see that he too was discouraged, and even on the heels of a great success.  May God help us to lay our discouragements before Him and receive the strength and courage that we need to rise up and live for Him.

There is resistance to the move of God

Chapter 19 of 1 Kings opens up in the city of Jezreel.  Take time to remind yourselves of what had just happened up on the top of Mt. Carmel with fire coming down from heaven on Elijah’s sacrifice.  When Elijah enters Jezreel, he clearly believes that God is putting down Baal worship in Israel and lifting up the righteous.  Perhaps he even believes King Ahab, who witnessed the powerful display of Yahweh over the top of the impotence of Baal, will finally repent and start serving Yahweh, the God of Israel.  However, this sense of victory does not last long.  Yes, God is doing something in Israel.  He is on the move, but not everyone likes it.

Just as Elijah had been a strong leader towards serving the One, True God of Israel, so Jezebel is a strong leader for evil and worshipping Baal.  In contrast to these two individuals, King Ahab appears to be a weak leader who is like a deer in the headlights, frozen and not sure what to do.  He hadn’t been strong in worshipping Yahweh in his past, which eventually led to an alliance with Sidon and marriage to the daughter of the king of Sidon.  This opened the door to the worship of Baal.  It starts with building a temple for his wife to worship her god, and then little by little she convinces Ahab that Baal is a greater god.  At some point Ahab follows her lead and promotes Baal worship for all Israel, while hunting down and killing the prophets of the God of Israel.  There are always many different leaders in a nation that are vying for one direction or another.  We do not always have such clear contrast between a godly leader that fully leads in God’s directions versus an evil leader that fully leads in Satan’s direction.  That said, we have similar resistance to what God is trying to do in our country.  Like Jezebel, they are not impressed by the Word of God and the power of God that is displayed in His people.  They will continue to resist and fight against what God is trying to do.  Jezebel knows that this is about more than religion and whose god is stronger.  This is about power over a nation and Elijah is messing with her power over Ahab and the rest of Israel.  In the face of clear proof of just who is God, she becomes extremely brazen and seems not to flinch.  More than likely Jezebel is actually an atheist that uses religion as a cover and a means for power.  Even though Baal failed on Mt. Carmel, she doesn’t care.  She is going to use her position to protect her power.  Thus we see her threaten Elijah’s life.

Many have questioned why Jezebel would send word to Elijah that she was going to kill him within the next 24 hours.  Why not just do it?  Some suggest that she knew that Elijah’s new found popularity would not take his execution lightly.  It could backfire on her.  Perhaps the threat is an attempt to get Elijah to go back into the wilderness, as was his mode of operating so far.  His presence is meddling and will only force the issue.  She knows that if she can get him to leave, then she can start the damage control and spin everything back to her and Baal.  His leaving will also take the confidence out of those who saw the powerful work of Elijah, but don’t really know the God of Israel.  The absence of his strong faith will leave them alone with their weak faith.  This is a possibility and is definitely filled with speculation.  Regardless, Jezebel tells Elijah that she is going to have him killed. 

Now, resistance to what God is doing is not always so drastic.  It can be something as simple as a person being cynical, always putting the motivations of others in the worse possible light, and passive aggressively claiming the problem is all with the other side.  However it appears, resistance to what God is doing is always present in one form or another.  As Christians, it is important that we learn to fight against the very, human nature to be a sheep in the flock following the herd.  Just as shepherd use dogs to herd the sheep, so power players use problems in society to herd the majority towards a particular solution.  Also called the Hegelian dialectic, this tendency to avoid problems by looking for the easy solution, or most accessible solution, is a weakness within the race of humanity.  We must refuse to be a manipulated people by the leaders in our nation (whether liberal or conservative).  This does not mean that we should purposefully embrace “problematic things” in order to thwart the manipulators.  Often, this is part of the manipulation.  Instead of trying to be smarter and “out-fox” our manipulators, we must look to God as the leader from whom we take our cues.

Elijah flees for his life

In verses 3-4, we see that Elijah doesn’t take long to flee Jezreel.  We are told that Elijah flees to Beersheba in the southern border of the Kingdom of Judah.  In fact he leaves his servant in Beersheba and travels a day into the wilderness.  Clearly, Elijah is trying to put as much distance and political opposition in between him and Jezebel.  Here is a link to a map that will help visualize this trek.  Jezreel is in between the Kishon River and the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee.  Beeersheba is labeled and is around 115 miles from Jezreel (depending on his route).  Later he is going to journey to Mt. Horeb (which is another name for Mt. Sinai).  There is a dispute regarding the location of Mt. Sinai.  Some believe it is in the Sinai Peninsula and others believe it is on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula.  Regardless to which is correct, God will tell Elijah to go to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai, which is another 200 plus miles south of Beersheba either way.

This brings up the question regarding persecution that has been an important one for the godly throughout all of history.  Is it wrong to run from persecution and threats?  We can be quick to say that a truly spiritual person would stand without fear in the face of the wicked.  Yet, the Scriptures reveal an answer that is more complicated than that.  The apostles of Jesus would go from one city to another depending on the resistance and persecution that they received there.  Jesus even told his disciples that if people did not receive them positively, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on.  We see the Apostle Paul sneaking out of a city at night by being let out of the city wall through a window.  Jesus himself purposefully avoided Jerusalem throughout much of his ministry because it “wasn’t his time, yet.”    All of the apostles followed the example of Jesus.  As long as they believed God wanted them to keep spreading the gospel, they ran from persecution.  But when they knew it was God’s will for them to stand and give witness before the wicked, even to the point of death, they bravely stopped running.  Jesus marched into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested and crucified.  Yet, this was God’s plan.  Paul sailed from Asia Minor and walked into Jerusalem knowing that he would be arrested taken to Rome and eventually martyred.  Yet, he knew it was God’s will at that point in time.  The key is to recognize that the agenda is not set by man (whether the wicked or the righteous).  The agenda is set by God.  The question cannot be answered by a church official declaring the truth for all the godly at all times.  The question can only be answered by a believer who has taken the time to seek the face of God and hear from Him what He is asking of them.  When God says run, then run.  When God says stand still and see the deliverance of the Lord, then stand still.  But sometimes He says to stand still and lay down your life for me.  So the right question to ask is this, “Is God telling me to run or stand.”  We don’t see in the text any sense that Elijah has prayed about this.   In fact, when he gets to the wilderness south of Beersheba he cries out to God.

His prayer is in verse 4 and several things stick out.  He has had enough and asks God to take his life.  Yes, he could have died by staying in Jezreel, but clearly he would rather die at the hands of a merciful God than at the hands of wicked Jezebel.  Secondly, he reasons that he is no better than his fathers,  that is a failure.  Just as the fathers of Israel had failed to stop the country falling into Baal worship under wicked leadership, Elijah feels like a failure too.  He went into Jezreel thinking that the tide was turning and Israel would turn back to Yahweh.  But Jezebel’s threat awakened him to the reality that it wasn’t going to happen, at least as long as Ahab and her were on the throne.

On one hand we can see that this is not one of his famous prayers of faith.  In fact, God is going to deny his request.  On the other hand, have you ever felt this way?  “God I want to die because I am such a failure!”  Maybe it wasn’t that drastic.  Maybe it was simply, “I quit because I am such a failure.”  It is not up to us when we die or when we should quit.  In fact it is not up to us whether we are a failure or not.  Elijah feels like a failure because he failed to turn Israel back to Yahweh.  But that is his expectation and definition.  The real question is what is God’s expectation and definition.  Now there are times when we think we have failed because it is difficult and not going in the direction we hope.  However, there are times when we truly have failed.  In either case, God hears our prayer and will not abandon us, even if they are prayers that lack great faith. 

Elijah has fled the situation, but at least he is doing the right thing.  He is fleeing man in order to seek God.  A retreat can be good if we use it to refocus ourselves on God and seek His will.  It can be good if we regroup our thoughts and let God give us the courage to go back into the fray with His directions.  It is not how perfect our prayers our, but whether or not our heart looks to man (others or ourselves) or to God.

God still cares

In verses 5-8 the scene shows us that God cares about Elijah.  He doesn’t treat Elijah like He is a Marine drill sergeant.  Instead, God first sends an angel to minister to Elijah’s physical needs.  Though the passage doesn’t specify that this is an angel (messenger) from heaven, it seems the most logical explanation of what the writer intends.  Twice an angel wakes Elijah up out of a stress-induced sleep and makes him eat bread and drink water.  There is also an emotional side to this care as well.  In times of great stress and discouragement, we tend to isolate ourselves and pull away from others.  However, we still need physical care and touch in those times.  Discouraged people are horrible at taking care of themselves, which adds to their stress.  God sees Elijah’s condition and sends an angel to minister to him.  You are not alone.  God sees your situation.  Here, eat some bread and drink some water.  The angel tells him that he has a long journey ahead of him (apparently to Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai).  We don’t have to have a heavenly angel, though a part of us may desire that.  As fellow believers, we need to be listening to God enough that we can hear Him telling us to be such an angel (human messenger in this case) for one another.  We can be so focused on our own problems that we don’t see those in our life that God wants to use us to encourage.  Great encouragement can be found in looking beyond your own problems and seeing the problems of others.  In the end, discouraged people need to know that God still cares for them, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The angel says something very powerful in verse 7.  He says, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”  Now there is a literal level in which it is true that going 200 miles to Mt. Horeb without food would be too great a journey for anyone.  In fact even the two meals themselves are not enough in the natural.  Yet, the journey to Horeb is also a metaphor for the call of God on Elijah’s life to be a prophet of the Lord in Israel.  When God puts a call on our life, He always calls us to something that is too great for us (alone or in our flesh).  The journey is always too great for us.  Our flesh is always excited about the call of God at the beginning.  Alright God, let’s do this, we say.  But eventually, down the road, our flesh will grow weary and we will be tempted to complain, rebel, or simply give up in to discouragement.  This will happen whether is something small like being a faithful spouse and raising a family, or something as great as being a prophet to a nation, or a political leader. 

The key in this passage is that God has a particular provision for Elijah.  The angel gives Elijah important information, go to Mt. Horeb.  The angel also gives him bread and water.  All of these things are themselves part of the metaphor of the journey.  If we attempt it on our own and with our own natural provisions (information=wisdom and bread/water=strength), we will always find ourselves in such a moment as Elijah does.  In fact, I think even knowing this is the case cannot spare us.  We are just too practiced in leaning on our natural abilities and provisions to do the will of God.  All godly people will experience such moments and generally at multiple times throughout your life.  It is a necessary growing pain in which we learn to let go of dependence on what we can do and to lean into dependence upon what God is doing.  God has made provision for us and we must depend upon it.  That provision comes in the Truth/Information of God’s Word in the Bible.  But, it also comes to us through spiritual bread and water that God supplies.  Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14, “Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  The water of Jesus is the Truth about God and what He is doing.  To us it feels like He is slacking or even nonexistent at times.  But, the truth is that God loves us very much and has moved heaven and earth to make it possible for us to be with Him.  Like refreshing water to a thirsty man, this truth sets us free from the manipulations of the world and the manipulations of our own fleshly desires.  Jesus also said a couple of chapters later in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Drinking the water of Christ and eating the bread of life is the same thing.  It is a day by day, moment by moment, believing Jesus, trusting him.  When we are discouraged, we are tempted to give up hope and faith.  But, if we will cry out to God, He will give us provision for our journey.  We can do all things…through Christ who strengthens us (spiritually).

I encourage you to let go of the expectations of what you think should or is going to happen.  Simply be faithful to do what God has given you to do.  Be a faithful spouse, not because it is becoming everything you dream.  Be a faithful parent, not because your kids are perfect.  Rather, do it because God has called you to do it and will reward you for your faithfulness.  Trust Him and see what marvels He will do that you had no clue were in His plan.

Godly Discouraged