|'Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah,|
that Ahab said to him,
Is that you, O troubler of Israel?"
1 Kings: 18:17
O troubler of Israel!! I so love that title for the great prophet of God, Elijah! I will not go into the details of this story of the battle between a pagan king and a prophet of God, but, if you are not familiar with it, read chapters 18 and 19 of 1 Kings to see what unfolds. It is a fascinating story of human nature on display in all of it's brokenness and the God of all Kindness and Mercy.
My purpose right now is to draw some striking similarities to our lives, our struggles, our disappointments, and how God, in His lovingkindness ministers to us in the midst of them. I'm quite sure there are many theological riches to be gleaned from these passages, but, for me, I just want to pull out some of the jewels I see that feed my soul with their beauty.
Elijah, following a spectacular victory over the enemy of God, responds to the threats of the madwoman, Jezebel, to murder him within a day, by running for his life and hiding under a tree and, finally, retreats to a cave to nurse his emotional wounds. He is all alone with his thoughts and they are not good. He decides that he is so miserable that he would like to die and asks God to let him do so. He thinks that no-one has followed him, that his ministry has been a colossal waste of time - after all, he "is the only one left." He is exhausted, worn out, lonely, more than ready to give up. To use our language, he's reached the end of his rope, he's had it, he's "done"!
"So he said, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts,
for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down
Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone
am left, and they seek to take my life. 1 Kings 19:10
Well, he does have a point! I mean, I can relate! Here he has been laboring and fighting the evil King Ahab and the prophets of Baal, he has pulled off a fantastic victory (or, rather, God has pulled it off!) and what does he get for it? The evil Jezebel is planning to kill him. It's just too much for Elijah. Of course, we know how the story turns out, so we can stand above it all and wag our finger at Elijah for his lack of faith. But, if I am really honest with myself, I am all too sure, I would have done the same. In fact, I have! But, what I want to pull out of this story is the beautiful way that God receives Elijah, and loves him back to sanity and to ministry! God doesn't beat him up for being so short on faith. He listens. He understands. He loves him through to recovery. I absolutely love that picture of our God...
God reaches out to Elijah in the cave. He sees him hiding in the dark. He knows he's afraid. He knows he's exhausted. He knows, Elijah. He knows exactly what Elijah needs and supplies his every need. Elijah has lost his way. He has come through a battle with great victory, but all he can hear is the sound of terror, threatening his life. He hears her screaming her deadly threat. He hears Ahab demeaning and mocking him. He cannot hear God. The other voices are too loud in his head.
God comes to him in exactly this state and in this "god-forsaken" place. But the truth is, there is no such thing. God will visit His child wherever he is in need. In prison, in a deep, dark pit, in a dark, cold, isolated cave, in a divorce court, in a hospital room where death seems to be having its way...There is no place God does not go to rescue his lost child. Or we might say, His depressed child. His suicidal child. His terrified child. His desperately lonely child. Elijah was all of those things. Hiding in the cave, very likely trembling in the cold. Hungry, lost, depressed, despairing, wanting to die.
In this state, God moves in on Elijah. He speaks to him lovingly. He calls him to come out of the place he is hiding. He asks him, as if He doesn't know, "What are you doing here, Elijha?"
Then He lovingly directs Him to come out of the cave and into the Presence of the Lord. As the story goes, Elijah goes and looks for God in the storm, but, God isn't in the storm, He looks for Him in the fire, but, God isn't in the fire. It is in the stillness, the quiet, that Elijah finally is able to hear God's "still, small voice!" And it is in the Comforting and Reassuring Presence of the Lord that Elijah rediscovers who he is and who God is. As God comforts Him and reminds him of his calling, Elijah begins to recover and come back to his place in the Lord's arms. God visits him with His Presence. And in His Presence, every need is met. In His Presence, is fullness of joy...
God corrects Elijah's distorted vision of himself ("I alone am left..." 1 Kings 19:10). He calls him out of the darkness of the cave, of his deadly thoughts, and into His arms, into His Presence, and into His calling on Elijah's life. I love this. God doesn't stand outside the cave, wagging His finger, bemoaning what a mess Elijah is, and, that, after God had fed him and sent His angels to minister to him! He understands how lost Elijah feels. He comes right to where Elijah is and meets him there. He doesn't "preach" to him, telling him when he gets his act together, then, maybe, God will consider a visit. No, He visits him there, right smack dab in the middle of the mess and the misery.
I find enormous encouragement in this beautiful story of God's love for his imperfect, sinning servant. He doesn't require perfection. He requires honesty. And certainly, Elijah was that and then some!
I love this story because it is such a beautiful picture of The Lord's love for his servant. He knows Elijah from years of the two of them walking together and talking things over. Yes, Elijah has served the Lord. But it was the Lord, Himself, who called Elijah and who then enabled him to do what God asked of him. But, God doesn't just use Elijah to do His bidding. No, this is a picture of a God who knows his servant, in all of his weaknesses and loves him through and through. God knows Elijah's deepest need, even when Elijah doesn't or isn't able to think clearly enough to remember. Elijah needs the Lord, Himself. Desperately. He cannot go on any longer without a visitation from the Lord that he loves. That's you and me. We may have food on the table and a beautiful home with every physical need met, and still be in despair. We need Him. More than anything else, we need Him...
My hope and prayer for you is that you will find Him right there with you, wherever you go to hide from the storms and the raging fires in your life. May you find Him in the still small voice that is calling you to come out and return to the One Who Loves You more than you know. He is right there. In the middle of the mess...