That was my inspiring, faith-filled answer when a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while recently asked, “How are you?”
“I feel blah and I don’t know why,” I told her. “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
I explained to her how I’d just come off of a very busy season of writing and ministry where I’ve watched God move and work in ways that I’ve never experienced before.
So what is wrong with me? I wondered out loud.
“I don’t think anything is wrong with you. I think you’ve been doing a lot of pouring out and you need to fill up.”
She’s right. I need rest. But as I’ve been talking to God about this over the last few days, He’s revealing that my case of the “blahs” is more than just physical exhaustion.
It goes far deeper than needing a good, long nap.
God led me to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19.
Elijah had just won an incredible victory against King Ahab and the prophets of Baal.
It’s a powerful story you have to read. But, in short, Baal’s prophets pleaded and begged for their god to show his power. Nothing happened. Then Elijah prayed to God and “immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven.” (1 Kings 18:38)
Elijah must have been sure that Ahab’s wicked wife Queen Jezebel would hear about it and immediately acknowledge that his God was the true God. She would certainly quit trying to terrorize him and the prophets of God.
“So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: ‘May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you …'” (1 Kings 19:2)
No sweat, right? Elijah had just witnessed God send fire down from heaven! You’d think he’d say something like, “Oh yeah, lady? We’ll see about that.”
“Elijah was afraid and fled for his life.” (1 Kings 19:3)
Yep, he ran away like a scared little girl. What?
Now before we’re too hard on poor Elijah, let’s be honest. So much of what was at the root of his discouragement is common to all of us (please tell me it’s not just me!):
Elijah had obeyed and served God for years under extreme circumstances. He thought that this incredible victory would change everything. Jezebel would see the error of her ways. All of his years of hard work and sacrifice would finally reap dividends!
Instead, nothing changed. In fact, things just got harder. The marvelous outcome he expected didn’t materialize. He just hit a new wall of opposition.
In his commentary, Adam Clarke says, “He probably thought that the miracle … would have been the means of effecting the conversion of the whole court and of the country, but, finding himself mistaken, he is greatly discouraged.”
I can relate. In my family and ministry, I’ve worked hard through some very difficult circumstances. At times, I’ve seen what I think is the “breakthrough.”
Now things are going to turn around. It’s a brand new day, baby!
But then, the “victory” seems to just be eclipsed by a new threat, obstacle or opposition. Or all the changes I thought were going to happen as a result of the victory don’t materialize.
Like Elijah, I think my momentary triumph must have meant nothing. All my hard work didn’t accomplish a thing.
Initially disappointed with God, Elijah then began to consider that maybe he was the problem: “Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kings 19:4) He was imperfect and unworthy just like all his family who had come before him.
Oh boy, could Elijah and I have a talk about this one. A child making bad choices? Surely it’s my fault. Husband discontent? I should be able to make him happy! Ministry seem to be difficult and limited? I must be doing something wrong.
Both Elijah and I forget that the God who sent fire down from heaven isn’t limited by our mistakes. He doesn’t expect us to be responsible for anyone else’s happiness. He isn’t derailed by our limitations.
Still doubt it? King David, the apostle Paul, Samson and a few others in the Bible might disagree.
Loss of Perspective.
When we’re tired and disappointed, everything looks dark. Elijah says in despair, “I have had enough, Lord.”
Okay, Elijah has just witnessed the greatest miracle of his ministry. But, sure. This seems like the perfect time to give up. Throw in the towel. God probably used up all His power. Nothing left to confront new obstacles.
Seems so silly when Elijah does it.
But it’s perfectly reasonable when after a year of incredible spiritual blessing and revelation, I forget what God’s done for me. It’s completely rational when I flee like a scared little girl when I come up against opposition.
Like Elijah, my perspective is terribly off. No matter how real and intense they seem, our emotions are not our truth.
God doesn’t leave us in our disillusionment. He’s just too good for that. Elijah had a powerful victory over his enemies, but God wanted to give him perhaps an even sweeter one: He wanted to show Elijah how to have victory over his tortured emotions.
Here’s some lessons we can learn to gain victory over discouragement:
If I were God, I’d want to slap me and Elijah upside the head. We’d both deserve it. I’m so grateful that God doesn’t give us what we deserve.
“… as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “‘Get up and eat!’ He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.'” (1 Kings 19:5-6)
Later, the angel comes to him again: “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.” (1 Kings 19:7)
God is so practical and compassionate. He met Elijah’s physical needs. Allowed him to rest. He gave him time to recover. No lecture about his lack of faith. No scolding him to get over his silly self and pull himself up by his bootstraps.
Instead, He let Elijah take a nap and brought him takeout.
God then invites Elijah to release his anxieties and worries to him. He simply asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9)
Elijah’s fear and disappointment spills out: “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” (1 Kings 19:10)
Fear, self-pity, cries of injustice … we’re invited to bring them all to Him. Believe me, I have.
“God knew what the depressed and discouraged Elijah needed. He needed a personal encounter with God.”* God knew Elijah needed to know He saw Him in his distress.
“‘Go out and stand before me on the mountain,’” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain … but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)
We only often look for God to show us big manifestations of His power. He certainly does that. But God also wanted to Elijah to experience the personal, transforming power of His still, small voice. He needed rest and to get still before Him to hear and receive it.
If God’s voice could transform Elijah’s depressed, discouraged heart, God could also use it to change others’ hearts as well. God has many ways to reach accomplish His purposes. He doesn’t suddenly run out of ideas when a little fire fails to get the desired result. And the result may not be at all what we envisioned.
We can know it will be better.
Then, God gives Elijah a new assignment: “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram.” (1 Kings 19:15)
He mercifully refreshed Elijah. He heard his heart. He spoke to him personally. And then He said, “Now it’s time to move on. I have more work for you to do. Quit wallowing, Elijah. Start walking.”
God wants to encourage your weary heart today, too, friend. He wants to turn your tortured emotions into renewed passion.
Rest up. Release your doubts and fears to Him. Receive His comfort. Then refocus your efforts and start walking. I’ll meet you on the road. He has more for us.
Victory is ours.