“I just can’t cope. It’s too much! I’ve had enough. I give up!” Have you ever felt like that? That is exactly how Elijah felt. It should have been the best day of his life. The God who answers by fire had just won the decisive victory over the prophets of the pagan false god Baal. The false prophets had been executed. God was calling His chosen people back to their covenant with Him. The three and a half years of drought was over and God had sent rain, all in answer to Elijah’s prayers.
So Elijah should have been on top of the world, over the moon, celebrating. Instead we find the prophet sick as a parrot, depressed, in despair, running for his life and giving up hope. Because like all God’s prophets, like everybody in the Bible, Elijah was just as human as you and me. Elijah was just as susceptible to discouragement and even depression as we are. So here in 1 Kings 19, right after the conflict with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, we find Elijah ready to give up, just as of any of us might! We’re going to look at Elijah’s problems and then at God’s solutions, and if anything here fits with your life or mine as it is at the moment, then God will help us too when we get to the point of saying, “I’ve had enough, I just can’t cope!”
1 Kings 19:1 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.
Ahab the King of Israel had married Jezebel who was daughter of the King of the Sidonians and she led him into worshipping the false god Baal. More than that, Jezebel and Ahab were systematically murdering all the prophets of the one true God. No wonder that when Jezebel sent a messenger threatening to kill Elijah, he was afraid and ran for his life. Sometimes the pressures piling against us can be so great that we just want to run away and hide!
After the contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel Elijah was worn out. He was physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted. Christians are not free from the limitations of our human bodies, even when we are doing the Lord’s work. In today’s language therapists might well say that Elijah was suffering from “burn out”. When somebody works all-out towards some goal, gives everything then can, then when the task is completed whether it ends in failure or success a person can end up absolutely exhausted. They can lose energy and motivation and even interest in life, and that is the point Elijah had arrived at.
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 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.” 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
He prayed that he might die. “Take my life.” “I might as well be dead.” There were reasons why Elijah felt that way. After all he had done, after all he had given, the results were disappointment after disappointment. The Israelites had NOT turned back to God. And Jezebel was STILL out to kill him. After the “high” of Mount Carmel, there was nothing to show for it. Just – nothing. It must have seemed as if all his effort, all his courage, all his faith had been wasted. I am sure Elijah felt a sense of anti-climax. He must have felt as though he had failed. We can all experience that feeling – even if we haven’t actually failed, if an outcome is not what we were expecting or hoping for. Feelings of failure are perfectly natural, perfectly human.
Jezebel and Ahab had been murdering all the Lord’s prophets. So Elijah complains,
10… “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.”
I am the only one left! That had certainly been true on Mount Carmel, all along against 450 of the prophets of Baal. I am the only one left. We can all feel like that sometime, all alone, abandoned, even if it isn’t actually the case. Sometimes we try to tackle our problems all by ourselves, when actually there are other people around who would be able to help, if only we would let them.
So Elijah descends into SELF PITY
“I might as well be dead.” It’s all too much Lord! Sometimes our situations may appear to be too much, too hard, too painful. We just can’t cope. We can’t see any way out. We can’t see any way forward. It’s all too much! But although our problems may be too much for us, no problems are too much for God!
Elijah faced all kinds of problems: exhaustion, fear, loneliness, disappointment, self-pity. All the classic symptoms of what today we call stress. Elijah the stressed-out, worn out, burned out prophet. But let’s turn and see God’s solutions for Elijah’s situation, which can be God’s solutions for us too.
STEP BACK FROM THE PROBLEMS
Sometimes we are just too close to a situation. We can’t see the wood for the trees. Too often people will just battle on regardless as things get worse and worse. The starting point is to take a step back and recognise there is a problem, and if at all practical make time to sort things out. So God takes Elijah out of the situation, out into the desert.
SLEEP, FOOD and DRINK
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.” 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.
EVERY problem can be partly resolved by a proper diet and some good nights’ sleep. We all need the right balance of physical, mental and spiritual activities to flourish. Skipping meals, or eating lunch at your desk, is not a healthy lifestyle. Drinking lots of coffee or energy drinks to make up for lack of sleep is a recipe for disaster. We talked a few weeks ago about God and Rest, the Biblical principle of taking one day in seven to be physically, mentally and spiritually refreshed. Especially when everyday life is stressful, it is so important to take a break now and then. Take a holiday! Ideally get away from it all for at least a couple of weeks! Life will look a lot better and problems a lot smaller.
Of course sometimes poor sleep patterns or unhealthy eating habits can be symptoms of an underlying illness which can be physiological or can be psychological. If a person is struggling with feelings of discouragement or depression or despair it is always important to visit the doctor and see if there is a medical cause. All kinds of illnesses can drag us down and leave us feeling so bad that we can’t think straight.
A VISIT TO MOUNT SINAI
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.
And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Horeb was another name for Mount Sinai, the place where God had given the 10 Commandments and the nation of Israel had been formed. When we are feeling far away from God it can be good to make our way back to where we have met God in the past, where we have felt close to God in the good times. Back to a place where we know God can be found. That’s why it is important in the dark times not to neglect personal Bible Study and prayer, or Worship or Home Groups. It is good for each of us to have special places for prayer, where we find it easy to pray. Obviously it can also be helpful to talk to the Minister, or to a good Christian friend.
ENCOUNTER WITH GOD
For most people facing most problems, the answer to their needs and fears and anxieties is to be found within God Himself. Doctors and counsellors and psychiatrists have their place, but God our Father is the Great Physician and Jesus the Great Healer and the Holy Spirit the Great Comforter. God has the answers – if only we will turn to Him. Elijah’s encounter with God had four elements to it.
1 Seeing God’s Power
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. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
We serve the ALL MIGHTY God. Nothing is impossible for God. No problem is too great for Him to overcome!
2 Hearing God’s voice
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.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
We all need to hear God’s words of love and care and encouragement, especially in the difficult times. We need God’s words of guidance and practical advice.
15 The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus.
3 Knowing God cares for us.
Tell my people I love them. Tell my people I care.
When they feel far away from me, Tell my people I’m there.
4 Knowing that God can and will help us!
We need to claim God’s promises of help and strength and grace. We can look to the experiences of the apostle Paul for encouragement.
2 Corinthians 12 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Philippians 4 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Whatever problems we face, God CAN help us. And God WILL help us!
SHARING THE LOAD
If you have worries, if you have fears, if you are struggling or feeling discouraged or depressed – then TELL SOMEBODY. God gives Elijah somebody to share the load with – a sidekick, Elisha.
16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.
We may feel we are all alone, but we do not need to be alone. In fact, Elijah wasn’t the only one left. And there wasn’t just Elisha either.
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.”
We may feel we are facing our problems by ourselves, but there are others who can help. If you ever need to, you can talk to your minister. Or you can talk to Christian friends. You are not alone! We can all help and support one other, just by listening and praying for each other.
Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
Often we will find that other people have gone through the same kinds of struggles as we may be facing and so their experiences can help us.
2 Corinthians 13 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
Elijah was one worn out, stressed out, burned out prophet. But God cared about Elijah. About the opposition he faced and his fears and his loneliness and his self-pity. And God had the answers to Elijah’s problems: step back from the situation, sleep and food and drink, a visit to Mount Sinai where God could be found, sharing the load, but supremely an encounter with the Living God Himself.
We may have needs ourselves. We certainly all have friends who are facing all kinds of problems. We can come to God and find His strength and His healing and His peace!