For three years, God provided for Elijah in the safety of the widow’s home, while Israel suffered a horrible drought.
Finally, God told Elijah to confront Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah demanded that Ahab call together 850 false prophets, to face him on Mount Carmel, with all Israel watching.
The 850 false prophets were unable to convince their god to start a fire on their altar, no matter how long they raved. Elijah prayed a simple prayer, and the fire of God consumed the offering and everything around it. Elijah had proven that the God of Israel was real, and the people put to death the 850 false prophets. On the same day the rains returned to bless Israel. What a huge victory!
But it didn’t feel that way to Elijah. Jezebel promised to kill Elijah. In fear, he ran south to Beersheba. He went on alone another day into the wilderness. He had done everything he could do, and it felt like it had come to little. He saw no hope to have an impact on the future. He prayed to die.
An angel ministered to Elijah and gave him sustenance. Elijah commenced on a 40-day journey on the strength of that food, and finally came to Horeb (likely Sinai) the mountain of God.
There, God Himself finally spoke to Elijah. God asked him a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Hadn’t God seen what had happened, and heard Jezebel’s death threats? Of course He had—He sent the fire! Hadn’t God heard Elijah’s despondent prayers? Of course He had—He sent the angels! But Elijah needed to directly consider the question—to confront the reasons for his fear, his depression, his running away. Elijah answered in 1 Kings 19:10:
I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life to take it away.
God surrounded Elijah with wonderous signs: a strong wind, an earthquake, a fire. Finally, God’s own voice came in a gentle blowing. Once again God asked the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah repeated his hopeless answer.
God told him to go back to work, north to Damascus, to continue pronouncing judgments upon wicked Israel. He would anoint a new king in Aram, and a new dynasty in Israel. He would anoint a new prophet named Elisha who would eventually take his place. But God also comforted him with the surprising fact that there were still 7,000 people in Israel who were loyal to God. Elijah would continue to minister to them.
This gracious meeting provided the purpose that Elijah needed, and he returned to his work. He ministered in Israel until 2 Kings 2, probably another twelve years, when a flaming chariot whisked him into heaven.
What Are You Doing Here?
Christians will, from time to time, experience disappointment from fellow Christians, discouragement with the way of the world, or just health problems or other obstacles that drain away hope and energy. And, from time to time Christians will respond by holing up alone, taking their name off work lists and class rotations, withdrawing from the life of the congregation and the family.
God has every right to admonish: “What are you doing here, spinning your wheels in a despondent funk?” We will rest in the fair and happy land by and by, but not until the Lord is done with us! Any flagging in diligence, any letting up on the gas pedal, is less than our Lord demanded of us (Luke 9:62). We are saved by today’s faith, not yesterday’s (Ezekiel 33:12-16). The slave does not get a break in the middle of the day (Luke 17:7-10)! It is our duty to be faithful until death (Revelation 2:10).
Nevertheless, we are not machines. We are not impervious to disappointment. We are not always able to keep up a constant enthusiasm. And God knows our frame (Psalm 103:14). The story of Elijah demonstrates that God extends the blessing of a break. But if you’re going to be a Christian-on-pause, here are three Biblical pointers:
1.) Use a pause to run toward God, not away from God. Take a break from people who disappoint (Luke 5:16, 6:12, Mark 6:31), not a break from God who never disappoints. Reconnect with God in some equivalent of a silent wilderness.
2.) It’s a breather, not throwing in the towel. Even the best QBs will sit out an occasional play. Be sure your break is a brief and selfless act designed to help you become more able to fulfill your duties.
3.) Don’t condition your return to the Lord’s work on someone else’s performance. What if Paul had quit his missionary journeys because he was frustrated with Mark? What if Paul had given up because all deserted him in his hour of need (2 Timothy 4:16-18)? There is no pouting in Christ; only rededication to service. –John Guzzetta