It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was already poised to throw in the towel.
Ever been there? When you’re feeling discouraged or frustrated at a certain circumstance and you’ve just had it? “That’s it, God. This task in front of me is impossible.”
Whether it’s working on a dead-end project, being criticized for something you volunteered to do or figuring out how to tactfully respond to an infuriating email—we all reach the end of ourselves at one time or another.
In 1 Kings 19, we read of a “throw in the towel” kind of day for Elijah the prophet.
Let me to set the scene.
Elijah had just come off of a mountain top experience with God—literally. He’d been the man tapped for the job of showing that Baal was no match for the incomparable and unmistakable power of God. It’s a straight-out-of-Hollywood kind of story featuring some amusing taunts and a spectacular show down. (Seriously, you really ought to read the story if you haven’t lately.)
But as is so often the case in life, Elijah rapidly descended from the mountaintop to a pit of despair. When Jezebel (the villain in this story) caught wind of what happened, she set out to kill the prophet.
And that’s where it all fell apart:
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, 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.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. (1 Kings 19:1-5)
Pretty bleak, right? But the events that follow reveal such a beautiful, tender response from our heavenly father. God didn’t chastise or reject Elijah in his darkest moment. No, He cared for Elijah intimately, providing him with sustenance and love when this broken leader needed it the most.
There are four things that are particularly striking to me about this story about Elijah’s restoration.
1. God’s first response in caring for Elijah was to provide him with nourishment and rest.
“All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again” (1 Kings 19:6).
Are you, like Elijah, running on empty? One of the first steps to getting out of the pit is to recognize that “our bodies are a temple” (1 Corinthians 6:19) that must be well cared for in order to be used effectively.
Have you neglected your physical well-being? Are you getting enough rest? Is your body being nourished properly? Are you carving out time for exercise?
Our spiritual is affected by our physical. We cannot serve from empty vessels.
2. Elijah mistakenly assumed he was all alone.
Elijah said, “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.” (vs. 10)
While it’s true that the vast majority of the Israelites had rejected God’s covenant, Elijah was incorrect in claiming he was the “only one left.” In fact, there were more than 7,000 others who had remained faithful. He wasn’t alone, after all.
Are you suffering from lonely man’s complex?
One of the devil’s greatest tools for keeping us in the pit is to convince us that we’re all alone. The reality is that you’ve probably got more people on your side than you realize at the moment. Look around you, and be encouraged. You are NOT alone.
3. God was found in the whisper.
God revealed Himself to Elijah—just not in the way he might have expected.
“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. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (vs. 11-12)
God wasn’t in the wind. He wasn’t in the fire. He wasn’t in the earthquake. God was in the whisper.
Are you looking for big miraculous signs that God sees you and hears your needs? If so, you will likely miss the evidence of His presence that’s all around you. The Life Application Study Bible (2011) commentary explains of this passage, “God often speaks through the gentle and obvious rather than the spectacular and unusual.”
4. God reminded Elijah that his mission wasn’t over.
When Elijah was hiding in fear, God asked him twice: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (vs. 9, 13). In these words, I can almost hear God’s gentle prompting to His beloved.
There are moments when my exhausted four-year-old “throws in the towel” in the form of big tears and outrageous tantrums. On my better moments—when I haven’t hit that point myself—I remember to hug him and get eyeball to eyeball after his initial wave of emotion passes. “Are we done with this now?” I ask him. “Let’s pull it together and move on.”
I believe that’s basically what God was saying here to Elijah. It was time to get back to work; his mission wasn’t over.
Likewise, one of the best ways to get past the feeling of emptiness is to dig in, take your attention off of your sorrows, and redirect your attention to the others God has called you to serve. He’s not through with you yet.