Finding Hope and Purpose in God’s Presence
By Erik Bennett, November 18, 2016
About six months ago, I left my ministry as a pastor, due to a change in a doctrinal position, and the transition to no longer working in ministry has been difficult. The stress of looking for a job and dwindling finances brought a lot of anxiety in my life. The worst part of it all was I felt lost. I didn’t know, and I still don’t know, what God has next for me. Even after I eventually found a job working as a furniture salesperson, I still struggle with finding purpose and fulfillment.
Not long ago I attended a Bible study where the teacher spoke on 1 Kings 19:1-18. This passage describes Elijah becoming overwhelmed by fear and despair because he was alone and Jezebel was trying to kill him. Elijah reached the end of himself, and in his despair, he asked God to take his life. The passage paints the picture of the inner struggles of this great man of God and how God met him in his despair and renewed the broken prophet.
Unfortunately, the person teaching the lesson kept focusing on Elijah’s lack of faith. It reminded me of counsel I’ve heard Christians give, and l have given many times, to people struggling. While the message, “you just need more faith” often contains a portion of truth, it can ring shallow because it lacks compassion and empathy for the person suffering.
We sometimes judge people in their struggles, but before we question people’s faith, we should examine how God handles Elijah’s despair. In the passage, God does not criticize Elijah, but instead we see Him drawing near, revealing more of Himself, and renewing the spirit of the prophet. God’s compassion and empathy for Elijah is an encouragement for those suffering and an example for Christians as they come alongside the hurting.
God Refreshed Elijah
Elijah reached the end of his strength, and the pain he suffered was real. He had just spent three and a half years living in hiding, only to find that after a miraculous display of God’s power on Mount Carmel, he was still alone. His life was in danger, and he thought he had no one to stand with him against Ahab and Jezebel. He was physically and emotionally spent, so much so that he asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:1-4).
When Elijah hit rock bottom, God sent Elijah a meal. God knew what Elijah needed most at that point in his life was food and rest. God did not criticize or pass judgment on Elijah’s weakness, but instead God sent an angel to feed Elijah and tell him God wanted to meet with him at Mount Horeb (i.e. Mount Sinai).
God Revealed Himself to Elijah
The meal brought by the angel gave Elijah the strength he needed for the journey to meet with God. Once he arrived at the mountain, God greeted him with the question, “What are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:9). God’s question was not so much a criticism of Elijah, as it was a vehicle to invite Elijah to voice his concern and reveal the pain in his heart. God already knew Elijah felt alone and could not see past his fear, but it was important for Elijah to know that God was trustworthy with his struggles and big enough to handle his problems.
Through this interaction, God wanted to reveal Himself in a deeper way to the prophet so that Elijah would know Him more and trust Him greater. God grabbed Elijah’s attention by bringing a strong wind that broke the rocks to pieces, He brought an earthquake that shook the ground beneath Elijah’s feet, and He brought a fire that reminded the prophet of the presence of God, yet the LORD was not in any of these awe-inspiring events.
It was through the sound of a low whisper that God revealed Himself to Elijah. God was teaching Elijah that He was present not only in the miraculous, but also in the mundane. He was with Elijah when He sent fire to burn up the altar on Mount Carmel, and He was also with Elijah when Elijah lay in despair under the broom tree. Even when Elijah could not see or hear, God was present and He was at work. It was through Elijah’s pain that his ears were opened, so he could hear God’s voice in the sound of a low whisper.
God Revealed His Plan to Elijah
As the meeting on the mountain drew to an end, God revealed His plan to Elijah. First, He told Elijah to go back home. Elijah needed to know that God was not done with him yet. Second, He gave Elijah a mission to anoint three men who would change the situation that brought such despair in Elijah’s life. There would be a new king over Syria, a new king over Israel to replace Ahab, and a new prophet to replace Elijah. Third, God told Elijah that there were 7,000 people who had not bowed to Baal. Elijah was not alone; there were 7,000 others to stand with him.
God showed Elijah that the things that brought such fear and despair in Elijah’s life were not a problem for God. God knew the struggles Elijah encountered, and He already had a plan in place to bring comfort and relief to aid the prophet in his journey. Instead of judgmental criticism for his weakness, Elijah found hope and purpose in the presence of God.
It is easy for us to think of the personal struggles of Elijah as a lack of faith that sidetracked him from his mission as a prophet. However, the passage does not indicate God viewed Elijah’s weaknesses with a critical, judgmental attitude. God responds to the prophet’s desperate prayer by showing empathy and compassion, and the broken prophet is restored as he meets with God and understands God’s plan.
How God dealt with Elijah’s pain is a great comfort for me in the struggles I am facing now in my life. It is not easy, but I am learning that I need to allow God to work through my fears and heal my anxieties. While I want my struggles to be over and my life to feel it is back on track again, I need to remember that it is my pain that helps open my ears to hear God’s still small voice.