Summary: The most amazing thing is that Elijah was the greatest of all the prophets and had the most effective ministry and yet, he reaches a point where the burdens and challenges become too much for him
The Wilderness Experience
I Kings 19:1-5, 11b-12
Today’s Scripture is about Elijah the Prophet. He ministered from 873 BC to 832 BC in response to actions of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah’s ministry was closely linked to Ahab and Jezebel who was the daughter of the King of Sidon. Ahab entered into an alliance with the King of Sidon by marring his daughter, Jezebel. Now the people of Siden were Phoenecians and worshipped the pagan god Ba’al who was responsible for the rain. When Ahab married Jezebel, she brought her religion with her and started to impose that on the people of Israel. I Kings 16 describes Ahab’s reign like this: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab…did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.” I Kings 16:30-33
Jezebel brought 450 propehts of Ba’al with her and built a temple to Ba’al where they started to make sacrifices to Him. Then she started systematically to kill the prophets of Yahweh. And Ahab willingly went along with this, doing nothing to stop this. It is in the midst of these circumstances that God raised Elijah up as a prophet. Now Elijah’s name literally means “Yahweh is my God.” His focus was to make evident that Yahweh is the only God and that Ba’al is no god at all. The pinnacle of Elijah’s ministry was a showdown between himself and 450 Ba’al prophets. The challenge was to see whose God would act when called upon and only Yahweh did. At the end, a battle ensued and all 450 prophets were killed. Upon hearing this, Jezebel put a price out on Elijah’s head and promised to kill Elijah within 24 hours. Elijah flees to Beersheba in the wilderness to save his own life. At this point, Elijah wants to give up. He’s not only afraid for his life but he is exhausted and downtrodden. He had just single handedly defeated and killed 450 prophets of Ba’al. You would think he would be on top of the world. Instead, with a price on his head, he’s at the end of his rope.
He sits down under a broom tree and asks God to die. “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” Can you relate? Every one of us at some point in our life may not have prayed to die but you may well have wanted to give up in your life. I know what that’s like. There have been times I have wanted to give up in ministry, times when I have wanted to throw in the towel when people are attacking me, spreading malicious lies, fighting me at every turn and the problems and challenges seem insurmountable. I’m not alone. Fifty percent of pastors will not survive in ministry longer than 5 years. Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year. Have you been there when you wanted to give up? The most amazing thing is that Elijah was the greatest of all the prophets and had the most effective ministry and yet, he reaches a point where the burdens and challenges become too much for him.
First, God ministers to us physically. What often happens when we’re in the wilderness is that we get so tired and worn down that we fail to take care of ourselves and our bodies. We don’t get enough sleep and we don’t eat healthy. The angel comes to Elijah and ministers to him by letting him sleep. Sleep is important, especially when you’re exhausted. James Bryan Smith writes, “The number one enemy of spiritual formation today is exhaustion. We are living beyond our means…physically. And as a result, one of the primary activities of human life is being neglected, sleep.” In the 1850’s, the average American slept 9.5 hours. By 1950, that had dropped to 8 hours and today the average American gets only 7 hours of sleep a night. James Bryan Smith continues, “Neglecting our bodies…impedes our spiritual growth…If our bodies are not sufficiently rested, our energies will be diminished and our ability to pray, read the Bible, enter solitude or memorize Scripture will be diminished.” So the first thing that God allows Elijah to do is rest so that then he can begin to minister to him.