Modern-Day Elijahs V: Time for a Spiritual Retreat

Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [1 Kings 19:1–13. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.]

Having won a mighty battle for the soul of his nation, Elijah had to fight a battle in his own soul. The servant of God must always remember that, if Satan cannot defeat you through the things around you, he will try to conquer you from within. The man who could call fire and rain down from heaven would find himself ready to surrender when Jezebel uttered a verbal threat.

Elijah had taken his stand for God, and God proved that He is greater than the idols the Israelites had been worshipping. On matters of faith conviction, though, some people will not surrender. Jezebel was one such woman. Even if everybody else acknowledged Yahweh as the only true God, she would continue to worship Ba’al.

Even in the face of defeat, Jezebel would not yield: Not to her husband, not to Elijah, and not to a God she refused to worship. She refused to recognize the limits of her authority. No other queen in the Bible was as  bold as her, as quick to usurp the king’s authority. The king was supposed to submit to God, and the queen was supposed to let the king do his job.

In the face of Jezebel’s threats, Elijah was tempted to despair. He was ready to quit, and to give up on life itself. “Now, O Lord, take my life.” He was almost ready to commit suicide, but thankfully he left his life and death in the hands of God. Elijah was ready to quit, but God was not done with him yet.

One might expect God to be angry at a believer—especially a mature believer who should “know better”—for wanting to die, but God chose mercy over wrath. Instead of answering his prayer, God allowed Elijah to take a nap. Then, He sent an angel with food. “Elijah, I understand. You are frightened. You are stressed out. You are tired. You are hungry. But, you’re not finished. Eat and get some rest. I want to meet with you on the same mountain where I first met with Moses (Exodus 3:1) and gave him the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:2).”

The journey was long, so God gave Elijah two supernatural meals, since the prophet would go 40 days without food. Elijah faced a turning point in his ministry. Just as Israel had needed a miraculous revelation of God’s power a few days earlier, now Elijah needed a miraculous sign of God’s mercy and provision now.

Elijah also needed a new perspective on God. Up until this time, his ministry had focused on God’s total power over the world. This is a God who can hold back rain as long as He chooses. He is a God who can feed those whom He chooses. He can send fire from heaven whenever He desires. But, Elijah was discouraged. That all-powerful God seemed too overwhelming. So, when God appeared to Elijah on the mountain, He did not come in the mighty, rushing wind storm; or the earthquake; or the fire. Instead, He came in a gentle whisper, a still small voice. It was  the sound a loving parent makes when comforting a crying baby who wakes up terrified in the middle of the night.

Elijah had served long enough. He had been busy doing God’s work, being the man God used to reveal Himself to Israel. He may have reached a point where he worked in his own strength. It was no longer a calling; it had degenerated into a mundane job: one with little or no wages, no apparent benefits, but plenty of hostility and disappointment. Elijah needed time away from the action so that he could bring his needs before the Lord. He needed to acknowledge how this ministry has worn him out. He needed a chance to admit his doubts, his frustrations, and his fears. As God’s top spokesman, he felt that he could not let other people know what was running through his mind. But, God knew already. He gave Elijah an opportunity to bare his soul.

This journey into the wilderness was Elijah’s opportunity to stop ministering to others, and to allow God to take care of him. He needed a fresh dose of God’s power in his life. To continue as God’s prophet, he needed to recover.

The modern-day man or woman of God needs that renewal also. Some of us (particularly myself) can be very task- and goal-oriented. We feel like we have to stay busy, and if we stop being busy, we get restless or (even worse) we feel like failures. However, God wants us to come aside and get some rest. In the midst of our busyness, let us not forget to spend time simply enjoying a relationship with the God who loves us and wants to bless us. How can we do that?

  • Schedule regular Sabbath-rest times. God commands His people to take a Sabbath-day’s rest every week (Exodus 20:8–11). He never told us to stop. Jesus merely told us that the Sabbath is meant for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). God created the Sabbath to be a blessing to His people.
  • Spend some time daily in prayer and Bible reading. Let this be a time when God speaks to you. As much as you may be tempted to read your prayer list to God, remember that your first priority is to receive direction, encouragement, strength, guidance, etc., from Him.
  • Set aside time for personal retreats. In addition to some corporate ministry retreats I attend annually (one or two with the members of an order in which I am a brother, and a church men’s retreat), I will usually have one or two solitary retreats a year: 24 hours where I am alone with God. I can come back with new perspective and insight into His will for my life.

Take that time to hear the still, small voice of God whispering to you. The greatest prophet in the Old Testament needed it. So do you.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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