|Theme: The Prayer of Discouragement|
|Focus on: Elijah|
|Reading Portion(s): 1 Kings 19|
|– Important Background Information|
|– Helps you find strength in God|
|What this article teaches you|
|Discouragement is deadly. It usually follows some great work done for God. From mountaintops of victory and elation and excitement can come valley-experiences of discouragement. Thoughts of giving up the work God had called you to do would come during these moments. All these can be caused by fear. This fear is created in your heart by the devil whose kingdom was badly shaken by your bold work for God.
In your moments of fear and discouragement God meets you. He touches you and gives you strength. When you have recovered from your initial despair He talks to you. He asks you the reason for your discouragement. He then gently points out where your reasoning has gone wrong. Then He asks you to go back the way you had come. This is because God still has work for you to do.
There is real danger in being a great prophet of the Lord. This danger is not from outside forces; but from within oneself. The prophet of the Lord may stand boldly against a multitude of evil forces gathered in opposition to him. Yet he may easily succumb to the discouragement that comes from within. Usually this kind of trials occur after some great accomplishment for God was effected through the hands of the prophet. This was the experience of Prophet Elijah; and it still often is the experience of godly men who do remarkable things for God.
On Mount Carmel Elijah had challenged the prophets of Baal and also brought fire down from heaven. This was a great moment in the life of the prophet. He had single-handedly faced the false prophets and showed to the Israelites that the Lord was God in Israel. Having got rid of these prophets he went and prayed to the Lord to sent rain. When the clouds gathered in, the power of the Lord came on Elijah and tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of King Ahab all the way to Jezreel.
Ahab came to his palace and told Jezebel, the wicked queen, all that Elijah did on Mount Carmel and how he had killed all the false prophets. This enraged Jezebel because all these false prophets had thrived because of her support. So she sent a messenger to Elijah. Her message was in the form of an oath by which she made it clear that she would not rest until by that time the next day she would make Elijah like one of the false prophets.
This threat from Jezebel to take his life frightened Elijah. So he ran for his life.
We found Elijah a little while earlier running in the power of the Lord. When he was running thus he had the strength to run ahead of the king’s chariots and horses. Then he had run towards the Jezreel, where the palace of Ahab stood. He ran with great elation because of what God had done on Mount Carmel.
Now we find Elijah running again. This time he is running away from Jezreel at the threat of Jezebel, the wicked queen. This time he is running in his own strength. Now he is running in fear. It is amazing to see this man, who had stood so boldly against the false prophets, fleeing at the threat of the queen.
We need to stop a moment to reflect on the running of this man. Are we also running? If yes, are we running in the power of the Lord or ar we running in fear? Are we running towards the place God wants us to stay and stand for His truth or are we running away from it? Both kinds of running are possible and we find that both of it can happen in the life of the same person and that too in quick succession!
So Elijah ran and reached Beersheba. This place was at the southern extremity of the land of Palestine and was under the jurisdiction of the king of Judah. It seems that he did not feel safe even here. So Elijah left his servant there and he himself went another day’s journey into the desert.
He came to a broom tree. He sat down under it and prayed. He prayed that he might die. He told God that he had had enough and that he was no better than his ancestors. So he asked God to take his life. After this prayer he laid down and fell asleep.
What a contrast! The Elijah on Mount Carmel was clothed in victory and the Elijah in the desert is now immersed in depression! His prayer when he sat under the broom tree was born out of his discouragement. He had great hopes that the people of Israel would enthrone God in their hearts after the events of Mount Carmel. But he was confronted with a threat to his life instead.
In his deep discouragement he wanted God to take his life. The reason he cited was that he was no better than his ancestors. What he meant was that however hard you may try the people would not change. This was the experience of earlier prophets too, he seemed to say. Soon his depression and physical exhaustion through running in fear overtook him completely and he fell asleep.
The thought to give up is a great weapon in the hands of the devil. When it is mixed with self-pity in the heart of a servant of God it is destructive. Here we see that Elijah was a man God had called to stand for the truth; he was not called to be a martyr for God. Yet this man was found praying to die. It is quite common for moments of great victory to be followed by bouts of depression; for the mind and the spirit cannot stay too long upon dizzying heights. More courage is required during such valley experiences of bouts of depression and discouragement than during the mountaintop experiences. It was good that Elijah fell asleep in exhaustion; or rather we find God giving him sleep instead of granting him his foolish prayer!
Now let us take a close look at how God deals with discouragement. He does not get angry with his servant. It is a great comfort to us to know that God understands us and cares for us even during moments of our great discouragement.
We find here God sending His angel to Elijah with a command to get up and eat. Elijah looked around and found a cake of bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then he laid down again. Again the angel of the Lord came. This second time also the command was the same, to get up and eat. The angel told the prophet that the journey ahead for him would be too much for him; so he had to eat this food. So he got up and ate and drank again.
Look at this passage closely. What does the angel do besides asking the prophet to get up and eat and drink? It is written that “the angel touched him!” Have we not felt the power of a gentle touch from someone when we were in discouragement. How much more comforting the angel’s touch would have been to Elijah! See, God does not stand aloof during moments of our discouragement. He sends angels to touch us!
Sleep, food and drink, and the touch of the angel had strengthened the prophet. He traveled forty days and forty nights and reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
Now God is ready to deal with Elijah. His word comes to him asking him what he was doing there? Elijah makes a small speech like a lawyer arguing his case. He told God that he was very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. He told God, as if God did not know, that the Israelites had rejected their covenant with God, broken down His altars, and had put His servants to death with the sword. Elijah also claimed that he was the only prophet left and now they were trying to kill him also.
God did not answer him directly but instead asked him to go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord. Elijah was told that the Lord was about to pass by. God did not want to answer Elijah hiding in the cave. The cave was yet another symbol of his running away from duty. That was his hiding place. God wants his servants out in the open; on mountains, out in His presence. It is then that He will answer their complaints.
The came a powerful wind tearing the mountains apart and shattering the rocks. It was followed by an earthquake and by a fire. But the Lord was not in these. Then came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. He had pulled his cloak over his face as he went out. He knew he could not look at God.
Again, we find the merciful dealings of God with His discouraged servant. Instead of manifesting Himself in the powerful forces of nature like the wind, the earthquake and the fire, God chose the gentle whisper. God knows, much more than men, that a discouraged soul needs the comfort of a gentle whisper than stern rebukes.
God asked Elijah the same question as to what he was doing there as He had asked earlier. This time also Elijah’s reply was the same. With him nothing had changed! But Elijah soon found out that God had not changed His plans either!
God asked Elijah to go back the way he came! Isn’t it amazing? He had traveled forty days and nights to reach here. He had no duty to perform there. But God in His mercy met him and asked him to go and finish the work for which He had called him. God also told him in answer to his complaint that he was not the only one left among the Israelites to serve Him; there were seven thousand in Israel who served God wholeheartedly!
Are you discouraged now after having done a great work for God? Have you already run away from your place of duty? Are you now hiding in the cave? If so, God is commanding you to come out and stand in His presence.
Can you hear His gentle whisper? It is telling you to go back the way you had come; for you have more work to do for God!