What's Holding You Back: Stress
Read 1 Kings 18:20-40 and 1 Kings 19:1-18
I have always loved these passages. For the longest time, I was always reminded of Adam when God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." I had always concentrated on the fact that Elijah felt like he was all alone. I had always concentrated on God providing Elisha when Elijah needed a friend the most. Ministry is a lonely place to be. There are many passages in the Bible that talk about how much better it is to have a friend, a companion, a helper.
It wasn't until recently when reading in 1 Kings 19 that God prompted me to look at it through the eyes of stress. Maybe that's why I always identified with it! Ministry can also be very stressful. As my dad says, I have a gift for pointing out the obvious. Here's the obvious: We have all felt stressed at some point in our life.
Stress has a way of clouding our minds. Have you ever noticed that? When we're stressed, it's hard to appreciate the good, the funny, the beautiful, and all of our many blessings. We get so caught up in our worries that we can't see God through the cloudiness, just like it's difficult to see the beautiful blue sky through the endless sea of gray clouds.
Maybe it's time to shoo away some clouds and look at Elijah's story. What can his story teach us about stress?
(Read 1 Kings 19:1-18)
Do you notice how Elijah's stress started? In verse 2, we see that Jezebel sent a threatening message to Elijah. She threatened to kill Elijah, to make him like "one of them by this time tomorrow." By saying "one of them" she refers to the prophets of Baal that Elijah had killed (18:40). What started Elijah's stress is the threat of one who was miserably weak when we compare her power to that of God's.
This threat caused Elijah to forget to trust God. Does this happen to you? A few unkind words. The hint of conflict. Do these things cause your focus to turn away from God and onto your stress and your problem? Elijah was afraid of Jezebel's threat. He was so afraid of her that he runs as far away from Jezebel as he can get, to Beersheba (about 120 miles away).
He turned a massive victory into a crippling defeat. What happens to his confidence in God? It left the building, so to speak. He just got done with an incredible showdown between God of the Israelites and the god of the prophets of Baal (18:20-40). He had just seen God show up in a big, miraculous, and powerful way. Then suddenly, he is running away from Jezebel. He asks God to take away his life because he's just done (19:4,10). He reveals his defeated heart and tells God how the Israelites have forsaken God's covenant, thrown down His altars, and killed the prophets with a sword. He tells God how he's the only one left. He seems to totally forget the incredible and miraculous event that God performed right before his very eyes. Instead, all he sees is hopelessness, defeat, and stress.
He didn't measure Jezebel's power against God's. After hearing about Jezebel's threat, Elijah immediately felt afraid. He feels afraid, he gets up and he runs for his life. He doesn't seem to remember God's victories. He doesn't remember the times when God showed up in Elijah's life. He doesn't remember God's incredible power. He doesn't even immediately consult God on the matter. He runs. A minute of his time, dedicated to God in prayer, could have saved him about 120 miles. It could have allowed him to sleep peacefully and eat without discomfort. Do we go to God when we're afraid? Do we consult Him when the future is uncomfortable, unclear, or scary? How much time and energy could we have saved by just going to God first?
Notice what God did:
God sends a messenger. I think it's important that the angel touches Elijah. For a guy who felt so alone, a simple touch would be so comforting. The angel encourages Elijah to sleep. Do you think that the angel watched over Elijah, protecting Elijah from his enemies? The angel encourages Elijah to eat. If you've ever been stressed, you'd know that eating is so hard to do while you're stressed. You'd likely have a very upset stomach if you tried to eat while stressed. I have felt that this shows the comfort of the presence of God's messenger. Elijah allowed himself to relax enough to sleep and to eat.
God invited Elijah into His Presence. First God invites Elijah to Mount Horeb (also called Mount Sinai) which is the same place that God spoke the Ten Commandments to His people. Once Elijah makes the trip, God once again invites Elijah into His presence.
God doesn't always show up like He did yesterday. He didn't show up in the fire like He did in the Big Showdown between Him and the prophets of Baal. Instead, God shows up in the low whisper. He's the peace in our chaos. I love how He showcases His power for Elijah's eyes. Could Jezebel cause a great and strong wind to tear the mountains and break the mountains into pieces? Could Jezebel cause an earthquake? Could Jezebel cause an immediate fire to show up? God's power is mightier than any human's. God's power is also used for our GOOD. Jezebel used her power for evil. When measured against God's great power, Jezebel would look devastatingly weak!!
It was in the low whisper that God gave Elijah direction. What amazes me so much about the low whisper is how gentle God was with Elijah. He revealed His great power in the form of the powerful wind, the earthquake, and the fire, yet He concludes His powerful demonstration with the gentleness of the low whisper. His gentleness doesn't stop with His presence being in the low whisper, either.
God gently deals with Elijah's loneliness by providing a friend and successor in Elisha. In fact, Elisha would be the constant reminder that Elijah WASN'T alone! God gently reveals that Elijah wasn't the only God-fearing man in the land with the knowledge of the coming successor (Elisha) and also the seven thousand in Israel who had never bowed or worshiped Baal. He gently deals with each of Elijah's complaints AND his attitude.
God is powerful enough to rock the ground beneath our feet. He's powerful enough to split the earth in two. He's powerful enough to send a blazing fire all across the land. Yet, He's gentle and small enough to care about our feelings and our needs. He cares about the misunderstandings regarding the things that make us stressed. He cares about the times when our soul is defeated. He cares about our loneliness. This is why He WANTS us to bring to Him our burdens, our anxieties, our hurts, as well as our successes, victories, and joy.