FROM A WARRIOR PRAYER TO A SORRIER PRAYER (THEN BACK AGAIN)
INTRODUCTION: When I went through the Lord's Prayer a couple of weeks ago in regards to Jesus telling us to not pray as the pagans do I mentioned the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. There was an alter sacrifice and the prophets of Baal keep chanting the same phrase over and over for long hours, "Oh, Baal, answer us" but nothing happened. Then, Elijah offered up a short prayer and God consumed the sacrifice. Today we'll look at that prayer and the contrasting prayer that followed; finishing on a strong note.
1) The warrior prayer.
1st Kings 18:36-40, "At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there."
So Elijah prays a powerful prayer. He himself is convinced that God is the one and only and he wanted his people to be convinced. Elijah showed a lot of courage and faith in taking on the prophets of Baal. He put himself in a vulnerable position. He proposed a challenge to see whose god was really God. And especially after Elijah teased and taunted the prophets of Baal, telling them to shout louder since their god might be asleep, he put himself in a position to be utterly humiliated if God didn't come through. But God did come through.
Shortly after this Elijah prayed again and God ended the three-year drought that had been going on. Elijah was a man of prayer who saw God do great things. As James 5:17-18 attests to. "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."
This was what God was doing through Elijah. This is what was happening in Elijah's prayer life. Elijah's prayer on Mount Carmel showed his confidence in God's ability. He wanted his people to become just as convinced as he was. So you would think Elijah's experiences would only serve to boost his confidence in God even more. However, soon after this charismatic and confident prayer, followed by the dramatic display of God's power, we see a sad shift in Elijah's next prayer.
2) The sorrier prayer.
1st Kings 19:1-5a, "Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “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.”
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep."
We might ask, 'how could this happen'? How could Elijah be so confident in one prayer and completely despondent in the next? Elijah had plenty of experiences to convince him of God's power. In the beginning of chapter 17, Elijah declared there would be a severe drought for a few years. Then God tells him to go hide in the Kerith Ravine and he would take care of him by commissioning ravens to bring him food.
Then, when the brook that he drank from dried up God sent him to the widow's house where Elijah performed the miracle of a continuous supply of oil and flour. And after that he saw God use him to bring the widow's son back to life.
But during the three years Elijah was gone King Ahab's wife Jezebel was killing off the Lord's prophets. But Obadiah had taken 100 prophets and hidden them in two caves. God told Elijah to go back and present himself to King Ahab. And even when Obadiah makes it clear to Elijah that Ahab has been looking for him to kill him he still tells Obadiah to go tell Ahab he is here. And when Ahab shows up angry Elijah doesn't back down but instead issues a challenge for the prophets of Baal to assemble and he and them would have a showdown to determine whose god was really God.
Fast forward to Elijah running for his life because of Jezebel's threat. His life was in danger before but he faced it so what's the problem now that Jezebel is the one making the threats? You would think Elijah would've responded by saying, "you go back and tell that witch it's the other way around-she's the one who better be concerned for her life-not me."
I think one reason is because it's Jezebel herself. It was understood that she wore the pants in the kingdom. When King Ahab made a threat it wasn't as severe as when his wife made it. I also believe Elijah was disappointed, thinking the powerful display at Mount Carmel would've had a greater impact on the king's court but after Jezebel's threat he realized that wasn't the case.
In fleeing for his life he became increasingly despondent and brought to the point of such despair that he figured what's the use of trying anymore-I've failed miserably-I don't want to go on living anymore. Elijah became so convinced that he was as good as dead he pleads with God to take him out before she got to him.
Have you ever experienced an emotional crash after a spiritual high? How often do we have an incredible experience in the Lord followed up with a vicious attack from Satan? How often do we accomplish something great for the Lord and Satan is right there to try to steal our joy?
This is what's happening between Jezebel and Elijah. Elijah has the miraculous success on Mount Carmel and Satan is ticked off. So, he works through his girl Jezebel to get Elijah running scared. And now we're at the point where Elijah wants to die which is exactly what Satan wants. Take out the threat; remove the problem. But God had other plans.
3) Wake up and get movin'!
1st Kings 19: 5b-10, "All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank.
Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
So after Elijah falls asleep he gets woken by an angel and eats and drinks some supernaturally induced bread and water and travels 40 days and nights. There he encounters the Lord who asks what Elijah is doing there. He admits he's running away because people are trying to kill him. I thought it was interesting that he left out the fact that he's running because Jezebel threatened him. Why? Perhaps because God would challenge him why he didn't trust him; especially after what Elijah had already seen the Lord do.
But I can almost hear the frustration in Elijah's voice. "I've been zealous but no one else has; I'm the only one left and they're trying to kill me too. I'm done with all this!" Have you ever been in that place where it seems like what you're doing is not working and you just want to give up? “God, I don’t know why I keep trying to be honest at work. Everyone else cheats and steals, leaves work early and still gets paid for a full day and they're getting away with it. And they think I'm foolish for not doing it too. It's really getting to me.”
Or how about, “God, I’m doing my best to serve you, but the problems keep coming my way, and now I don’t even know how I’m going to pay this bill. I've been tithing but it doesn't seem to be doing me any good. I feel like giving up.” Or, “God, I started that new group at church and no one is showing up. And even when they did I never got any positive feedback. I’m so discouraged; I just want to quit!”
Elijah believed he was the only prophet of the Lord left. We'll see in a few minutes that his perception was a little off but have you ever felt that way-like you're the only one. " I'm the only one who's got it this bad." Or, "I'm the only one who cares around here. I'm the only one who ever does anything around here."
Elijah's frustrated and defeated words may have been fueled by some physical factors. You may be familiar with the acronym used as a warning that we're in the danger zone-HALT: hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Elijah was all of these. He was angry over the whole situation. He was lonely thinking he was the only one left. He was tired because right after his prayer he fell asleep. And he was hungry since the angel woke him up to eat and since he's been traveling for 40 days he may have been a little hungry at this point.
Have you ever experienced emotional despair when you were suffering from these symptoms? “God I’m really struggling in my life. No matter what I do no one seems to notice. It's getting much harder to get up each day and face the world with a positive attitude. No one cares about me. I’m lonely. I’m afraid. I just don't know how much longer I can deal with this.” Elijah was frustrated and he didn't want to go on anymore. But God had a plan to turn Elijah's attitude around.
4) Renewed sense of purpose.
1st Kings 19:11-18, "The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
God showing himself to Elijah in a quiet whisper tells me that perhaps he was thinking of God one-dimensionally. Perhaps he was focused only on the fire and earthquake power of God and not thinking so much on the whisper power of God. However, he did recognize it when it happened so that was good.
But if Elijah was expecting God to always provide the explosive, Mount Carmel experience he was shown differently on this other mountain. After this we see the Lord asking Elijah again why he was here. I'm thinking Elijah should've provided a different answer this time but he repeats what he said the first time. But even though the words were the same I'm thinking this time his tone was more subdued.
And God doesn't respond with, "Wrong answer; you're not getting it". Instead God responds by giving Elijah instructions to follow. But not just any instructions-instructions that told Elijah that his work wasn't finished. And God also revealed to Elijah that he was wrong-he wasn't the only one left-in fact there were 7,000 people on the side of God so Elijah was far from alone.
There are times where we might feel like we're alone in the battle. Satan wants to convince us it's a losing battle so our despair and discouragement would grow to the point of not wanting to go on fighting any more. He wants us to think it's not worth it; that our efforts aren't doing any good. Satan wants us to become so frustrated and despondent that we want to die.
But God comes and ministers to us in his own special way. But we have to be ready to hear him. Sometimes in our despair we ask God for an explosive-in your face- sign to convince us to continue on but God speaks in a whisper instead. And if we're not careful we'll miss it. And we can become too focused on the noise outside. If we're focused on the outside fires, earthquakes and explosions we might miss the whisper of God.
But, when we're in tune with it we'll recognize it like Elijah did. It's not the loudest voice from without that should get the most attention it's the still, small voice of God from within that should overpower all the others. Often times this requires us to go to a quiet place. We need to drown out all the outside noise and be still and listen.
In the days before widespread refrigeration, when ice blocks were distributed to people's homes to keep their food cool, there were large warehouses in which ice was stored, packed in hay. One of the men working there had a very fine pocket watch, which fell out of his pocket and ended up lost in the hay. Several of the men searched for half an hour, but could never find it. They gave up and went to lunch.
When the men came back from lunch, a young man stood at the door holding the pocket watch. "How in the world did you find it?" said its owner. "Easy. I waited until everyone left and it was quiet. Then I laid down in the hay and listened for the ticking. The sound led me right to it."
When we get quiet before God and focus on listening for it we can hear the still small voice of the Lord speaking to us. And if we listen to God's whisper he will tell us he still has work for us to do. He will tell us we are not alone. He will tell us it is worth it. Get up and go back. God was telling Elijah that he still had work for him to do. And part of that work was to train his successor, Elisha. So, Elijah, the once despondent, ready to die prophet leaves to perform the work of God. Elijah was ready to give up but God encouraged him by showing him he wasn't alone and there is still much to do.
And I like that God didn't chastise Elijah for running scared and wanting to die. When God asked him two times what he was doing there I don't think it was a rebuke as much as it was intended for a self-examination and confession. God will do that with us too. "What are you doing here" may be something God asks us on a regular basis when we're not where we should be; whether literally or just spiritually. Hopefully we will see in that question the folly of our decisions and go back to doing what we need to be doing.
That's how God was with Elijah, that's how he is with us and that's how we can be with others. We need to help and encourage others by lovingly revealing how their perspective is out of whack and showing them they still have a purpose and God wants them to get back to work.
Elijah continued in the strength of the Lord and got his groove back. In chapter 21 he confronted King Ahab and prophesied judgment against him and his wife Jezebel. Then in 2nd Kings 1 he prophesied judgment against King Ahaziah and when the king sent a captain and 50 men to get Elijah he called down fire from heaven and the captain and his men perished in the flames. The king sent another captain and 50 men and the same thing happened. Apparently the evil king was not to be denied because he sent out a third company of men. This time the captain had some sense about him and acknowledged Elijah and asked for mercy.
Elijah overcame his frustration and depression by listening to the Lord and getting back to work. That's how it will work for us. During a lecture on mental health someone once asked the famous psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Menninger how to overcome discouragement. He replied, "Don’t focus on yourself, get involved in the lives of other people."
Depression can happen when we're focused on ourselves-our fears, our frustrations and what we feel we should have. And that self-focus can develop into self-pity. And the best way to overcome it is to get outside of ourselves. Elijah did that and he went forward in the power of the Lord.
In 2nd Kings chapter 2 we see the miraculous departure of Elijah when he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Ironically, the one who once prayed to die ended up not dying at all. Sometimes we might find ourselves in a place of hopelessness where we are battle weary and we want to give up the fight. Sometimes we might see ourselves going from warrior to sorrier.
That's a pretty good indicator that we need to go to the mountain to be alone with God. We need to go to where we will hear that whisper. We need to go to where we can become encouraged and recharged so we will be ready to get back into the ring and be a warrior again.
Poem: "When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, When the funds are low, and the debts are high, and you want to smile, but you have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twist and turns, As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about, When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow, You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out, the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
and you never can tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit, It’s when things seem worst, that you must not quit."