Road and Cave moments: How God uses failure and running. I Kings 19

So, the youth pastor I work with is going out of town for the weekend and I’m on the schedule to speak.  This is what God has put on my heart, now since I’m speaking to 6th – 12th graders, I’ll stick to the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid) and will probably summarize most of it, but the main points I’ll be hitting.   This has been on my heart for awhile, it’s a very personal message for me.   Moments like the one Elijah is experiencing in the story are very real to me, especially recently.  Give me some feedback.

Opening

“19 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, he left his servant there, 4 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.”

Don’t you hate when people start messages like this?  There’s no context to why and what happened to make Elijah so afraid.   SO, let’s do a quick back story and explain and maybe understand why Elijah is so afraid.   Israel, at this time, had had a civil war and split, Southern Two tribes made up Judah, Northern 10 were called Israel.   Judah, for the most part followed God, Israel, didn’t.   At the time of the story, Israel is ruled by a man named Ahab, married to Jezebel, and they were considered two of the most evil people in the Bible.  In fact, Jezebel had gone as far as having those that worshipped God killed.   God had told Elijah to inform Ahab that due to Israel being disobedient, God would withhold the rain.   Three years go by, water is becoming scarce, there’s a drought in the land and starvation is rampant.   God instructed Elijah to challenge Ahab’s prophets and priests of BAAL to a challenge, Ahab accepted.  The challenge was to build an altar, place a sacrifice on the altar and whosoever GOD was real, would light the fire.   Long story short, GOD lit Elijah’s sacrifice up.   Even after he drenched it with water, enough so that it filled a trench he had dug around the altar.  In fact, the fire of God was so hot it consumed the water, the altar and the sacrifice.   GOD was true to his word, HE brought the rain, but it took a little bit of time to be honest.  Elijah experienced a bit of anxiety prior to the rain coming, but when it did, He had a huge victory

Now, you would think that after experiencing a victory like that, your faith belief, and trust in GOD would be affirmed and you’d feel pretty close to invincible since GOD had proven so powerful.  So, why did Elijah run?  I think there are three big reasons, there are probably more, but we’ll focus on these.

  • Fear of past circumstances:  Jezebel had proven her cruelty and ruthlessness in killing every prophet of GOD she could find, and persecuting every average person that trusted in GOD.
  • Perception:  This one is a killer, our perceptions of a situation often dictate our response to it.   When we get wrapped up in a situation or feelings and feel overwhelmed by it, then our perception about it becomes skewed and we react and most times, over react to it.
  • Loneliness:  Elijah felt isolated.   When we feel like no one is there, no one believes in us, then Satan has succeeded in isolating us.   Being alone isn’t bad, being lonely isn’t bad, it’s when we our perception of it becomes overwhelming and causes us to draw away from others, then it becomes dangerous.

So, here we are, Elijah is on the run, he’s broken, and wants to die.   He’s not suicidal, but he feels like he just wants it all to stop, and if he does die, who really cares.   He had just seen God do a great work, and now, now he’s broken, all in the space of probably a week.   How often does this happen to us?   We go to Camp/ministry trips/conferences and get fired up for God, get that mountaintop experience and then come home and then WHAM!!!  Life hits us, perceptions become skewed and next thing you know, our faith is on life support, our walk is limping and maybe we’ve dug a hole and think it’s a foxhole but in reality, it’s a mud bog and we’re just wallowing in it.   It’s interesting how GOD reacts in this situation, when we do this.   You would think GOD would be angry and show up and big GOD moment would occur and prove to us how stupid we are for behaving like this.   Doesn’t happen.   Let’s see what He did:

  • 5 Then he lay down under the bush 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 some 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. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.

Do you see what happened there?   God fed him, HE refreshed him.   Whether it was an actual angel or someone God sent to him for that moment is irrelevant, God didn’t stop him or accuse him or throw guilt at him.   God give him what he needed to get through that moment.  He then gave what he would need to continue his run, because God had an appointment with him set up.   God will do that, in our moments of anxiety or just plain rebellion, God provides us with what we need.   We probably take it for granted, and don’t acknowledge it, but God is working in the situation we may have run away, but God hasn’t and HE will continue to look after us.

So, Elijah has been on the road for almost a month and a half.  I can imagine what’s going through his mind, I know I’ve been in situations like that before.   Where, after a big victory or big GOD moment the next thing you know life happens and you face a crisis (a lot of times of my own making) and you turn or fall or run.    I can imagine the thoughts and feelings going through Elijah right now, because a lot of times, I’ve felt this same way:

  • Guilt:  Why am I doing this?  What am I doing?  How could I be doing this?   Guilt is a killer.   You’ve made the decision to run and hide, and you know you’re wrong for doing it, but now you’ve done it and how do you stop?
  • Failure:  He’s failed God by running, he’s failed the people he was responsible for ministering to, he’s failed himself.   Failure isn’t a bad thing, it’s our reaction to the failure that affects us.   Failure is a challenge, but a lot of time we react to it negatively and let it consume us and overwhelm us
  • loneliness:   When we isolate ourselves we have time to think and those thoughts have a tendency to overwhelm us.
  • desperation:  How do I stop this?  How do I simply do this?  When will it end?  Why am I so alone?   There are many more questions that go through your mind in situations like this.

When we’re alone in our situations and crises, the thoughts can be overwhelming and unbearable.   Our perceptions overwhelm us and we have a tendency to tune out God and the ones around us that love us and care and we isolate ourselves.   Elijah was probably at this point when he gets to the cave on the mountain.   All of us have our cave moments, it’s the point when we’re literally at the end of ourselves.  We feel we have nothing and nowhere left to go, and THAT’s when GOD meets us.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. 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.”

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.”

Elijah feels he has to put this all into context for GOD, justify his actions, justify why it was necessary for him to run. How often do we do this?  We try to put our struggle into context FOR GOD!  Or we try to justify or explain it TO GOD!   I love how God meets us.   He doesn’t come in rampaging and saying we shouldn’t have run, or give us the disapproving instructor look and speech, HE simply asked a question:  “What are you doing?”   Elijah’s response?  Well, it was emotional vomit basically, we throw up what his perceptions were telling him:

  • I’ve been serving God, no one cares
  • I’m alone
  • they’re trying to kill me
  • What’s probably left unsaid, and God knows the unsaid, is that Elijah is probably feeling like God doesn’t care or isn’t doing anything about it.

God’s response:  Look for me.   In those cave moments, God lets us throw up and vomit out all the crap we’ve been holding in.   Then he simply says, look for me, wait for it, and listen.

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. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

We look for the big GOD moments to overwhelm us and bring us to our knees, that’s the lesson God was trying to teach Elijah.   It’s not the “earth shaking” , it’s not the “powerful tornado like” presence” or the “fire of God” moments that God speaks to us in.   Most definitely, God uses moments like these to change us, the big Camp moments, the service projects, the revivals and conferences, they all have their uses, but what really changes us is more personal. It’s the whisper of God.  It’s God coming next to us and embracing us and saying “I’m here, let’s talk, I love you, you shouldn’t have run, but it’s ok, let’s start from here”.

“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, 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.”

After the comfort of the whisper, is the question, not accusing, not condemning, just a question: “what are you doing?”  Again, Elijah spews forth his reasoning.  This time God’s response is different, he gives him a mission:

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. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.

God’s mission:

  • Go back.   Start from the place you are and go back to your mission that I put you on originally.  A lot of times we think we have to start over, or because we’ve run or fallen or whatever we term it, we have sacrificed and lost our credibility.   God simply says GO BACK the way you came.
  • Anoint others.   He was to be an influence to three men, One was to be King of Aram, one was to be King of Israel, and the last would be his successor.   He was to have influence on three men, two that would be used as God’s tool of correction against Ahab and Jezebel and Israel as a whole, and the last would be the man that would take Elijah’s mission to the next level.  God is calling us to be an influence on the people around us.   God is calling us to be a mentor.  Who are you influencing and how?   Who is God calling you to be an influence to?
  • He wasn’t alone.   God had reserved 7000 people that still worshipped and loved God.   We aren’t alone.   Even in our moments of desperate, soul aching loneliness, or moments when we just feel like we’re directionless, we aren’t alone. Look around, at one point or another, each of us has felt, or is feeling like that, many of us may be feeling that right now. Bottom Line:  God surrounds us with people that are there for us, IF WE JUST LOOK AROUND AND RAISE OUR HAND AND SAY “HELP”.   If we let our pride get in the way, or let the fear and skewed perception overwhelm us, then we’re left  standing in a cave with God asking us: “what are you doing?”

Conclusion

These moments on the road and in the cave teach us and mold us.  God doesn’t waste an experience, “Road” and “cave” moments are useful tools for GOD, they don’t catch HIM by surprise, granted, it’s our choice to react the way they did, but God knew, He understands, and He wants and is going to use those moments IF we allow it.    Elijah had a choice.  He could have stayed and accepted Jezebel’s challenge and possibly GOD would have had a bigger victory, but he didn’t.  That maybe God’s consequence for Elijah’s run, the constant unknown of “what might have been”, or “what could have been” if he hadn’t of ran.    God presented him with another opportunity, and he took it.   If you read further, Elijah was used by GOD to change not only his nation, but the region around Israel, but again, it was Elijah’s choice.  God told him to GO BACK, and he did.   What’s God calling you to go back to?  Who is God pointing you to influence?   Most of all though, YOU’RE NOT ALONE.

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