“I can’t do this anymore!” Do you guess that Elijah might have said those words, or felt that way? That sure seems to be a fair rendition of what he says in 1Kings 19:4, “I have had enough LORD…”
Can you blame him? In the past years he’d spent time in the Kerith Ravine, in exile, watching the brook dry up, waiting for the ravens to come and feed him. I can’t imagine that experience was fun, exciting, satisfying.
Then God sent him outside of Israel, to the widow at Zarephath, in the middle of Baal country! (Zarephath was very close to the hometown of wicked Queen Jezebel.) While God worked through him to keep the widow and her household alive, we don’t get the impression he was able to do much more. (Remember, Ahab is searching for him, to kill him. Elijah likely had to lay pretty low.) Was he bored? Frustrated? Antsy? Sad? Discouraged? All of the above?
But then there was the amazing confrontation at Mt. Carmel! God showed oh-so-clearly that he was the true God, sending fire from heaven! The people shouted, “The LORD – he is God! The LORD – he is God!” (1Ki 18:39) The false prophets were put to death! God brought rain, just as he’d promised! Surely, this was the time, right?! Surely, this was the time when the people would turn to the true God! Surely this was the time when even Ahab and Jezebel would repent. After all, Ahab had been there! Surely he couldn’t/wouldn’t deny what he’d seen, what he’d experienced, right?!?
We can only imagine how discouraging it must have been for Elijah to hear Jezebel’s message: “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.” (1Ki 19:2)
Are you kidding?!? If the Mt. Carmel event didn’t “work,” what could possibly work?! I can hardly imagine Elijah’s frustration, or perhaps a sense of helplessness, or just flat-out despair. “I can’t do this anymore!”
Like a house of cards whose bottom collapses, so Elijah seems to fall apart. He travels to Beersheba and then leaves his servant behind. He heads into the wilderness, lays down under a broom tree, and begs God to take his life. “‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.'” He’d worked so hard! So long! And what had he accomplished? It looked as if he’d accomplished absolutely nothing!
Can we empathize? “God, I’ve tried so hard to be patient. I’ve tried so hard to reach out to that person. I’ve tried so hard to be a faithful pastor, but so often people don’t seem to notice, or I even get complaints, or maybe even worse, I get no response at all. I’ve tried so hard to be the kind of husband you want me to be, but I still make a mess out of it so often. I’ve tried so hard to raise my kids, but they just don’t seem to take proper steps forward.”
Or perhaps we look at readings such as the New Testament reading for Sunday: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph 4:31-32) We try. We try to not be bitter, to not get angry. We try to be kind, compassionate, forgiving. And? And we end up failing over and over again. Forget trying to be a faithful pastor; I’m struggling to be a faithful Christian!
So perhaps we throw up our hands in despair like Elijah did. What’s the point? We can’t do this! We can’t be what God wants us to be, can’t do what God wants us to do!
So what does God do with his frustrated, despairing prophet? He sends an angel to him, and he feeds him. “Get up! Eat!” the angel says. Elijah eats, then lays down and goes back to sleep again. “Get up! Eat!” the angel says again. And why? The angel explains: “…for the journey is too much for you.” 😊 Can you imagine? Elijah’s frustrated, hurting, despairing, and God basically says, “You have something else which you need to do and it, too, is way too big!”
God then allows Elijah to travel 40 days and nights, and he arrives at Mt. Horeb. Why did God want him there? Perhaps it’s because of what God had done for the Israelites there. It was at that place where God had established his covenant with the Israelites. There Moses had sacrificed those bulls and sprinkled half the blood on the altar, half the blood on the people, in a symbolic way reminding the people that God had connected himself to his people in a wonderful bond of love.
Elijah was one of those people. When God had bonded himself to those people, God had united himself to Elijah, too. Perhaps allowing Elijah to travel there was God’s way of reminding him, “Elijah, you’re my child. Elijah, you’re my son. Elijah, I love you. Elijah, I’m connected to you!”
And so God has done for you and for me, and in an even more remarkable way. God united himself to you – not with the blood of bulls, but with the blood of Jesus. At the cross God “says” to you, “You’re my son, dear pastor. I love you. I’ve forgiven you. I’ve opened up the gates of heaven for you, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the day when you join me there.” Can you imagine? The Almighty God has connected himself to you! To me! And what’s he promised to do for us? Why, he’s promised to love us, to guide us, to protect us, to make all things work together for our good, to strengthen us, to never test us above what we’re able to bear, etc!
So what about all those things which are so frustrating, which seem so impossible, so hopeless? Is God on your side? Of course he’s on your side! And how powerful is your God? Why, he’s all-powerful. So can you do it? Yes, you can!
Or maybe we could put it a bit more accurately; you can’t; but your GOD – he CAN! And, he can and will strengthen you to deal with it, to grow through it, to endure it, to help others through it, to guide you out of it if that’s appropriate, whatever might be best for you, your God will do, and you WILL be able to make it. You can! You will, because God will encourage you just as he encouraged and strengthened Elijah!
Of course, you know what happens next: God sends Elijah right back to where he’d just been, to that same seemingly impossible situation. He sends Elijah back with some specific things to accomplish: to anoint Elisha, to anoint a couple of future kings. (Elisha actually did those anointings.)
And God then gave him one more piece of good news – there were still 7,000 people in Israel who were faithful to God. Elijah didn’t know, Elijah couldn’t see – but God could, and God did, and what looked hopeless and helpless to Elijah – well, God knew different. So Elijah could – and did – go back, and he was fine. He could. He did. Because God was with him.
God is with you, too, pastor. He’ll never leave you. And so yes, you can.