The sacrifice of spiritual power
1Kings 19: Exhausted, he fell asleep.
Personally, if all I had from Elijah’s story was his confrontation with Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal I think I’d be impressed with him but he wouldn’t be one of my favorites in the Bible. In fact, he just might scare me a bit as a bigger-than-life prayer warrior and miracle worker. It’s his humanity that draws me to him. This man prays down fire, out-runs chariots, and then, in fear, runs for his life out to the loneliness of the desert. It’s here that he collapses in the shade of a bush and gives notice to God that he’s ready to die. While I’m in awe of his power on Mount Carmel I just feel sorry for him out here past Beersheba, alone in the desert. As I look at him here I see that he isn’t some kind of superman at all. He’s an ordinary man who trusts God with all his heart and, in so doing, gets way out of his comfort zone! Doing all that stuff takes all his energy. Now, with nothing left, he first runs, then cries out to God that he’s had enough. It’s when I see that doing all these impressive things is terribly hard for this man that I more fully appreciate what he does.
Take Away: Spiritual giants are, in the end, ordinary people with an extraordinary trust in the Lord.
Praying to exhaustion
1Kings 19: When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life.
It’s been a banner day for Elijah, the man of God. First, he challenges the prophets of Baal to a “god-contest” and wins a decisive victory when, as a result of his prayer, fire falls from heaven. The people are now convinced that “the Lord is God.” Then, he turns his attention to the three-year drought. He prevails in prayer and, as a result, the rain comes in a great storm. Finally, empowered by the Spirit of God, Elijah outruns the chariot of Ahab, racing down the mountain into the city. Tell you what, I call that a good day’s work! Ahab arrives home in the midst of the welcome storm, but the news for his Baal-worshipping, God-hating wife Jezebel isn’t good. All because of Elijah Baal has been defeated and his prophets executed. Jezebel never hesitates; she sends word to Elijah that he’ll be next. In a surprising twist, her words terrify Elijah! This is the guy who prayed down fire on the altar and rain from the sky. This is the guy who saw to the execution of hundreds of false prophets. Now, because of the threats of one woman he runs for his life. I’d expect Elijah to just pray down a bit more fire and take care of this wicked woman then and there. Why on earth is Elijah scared witless by Jezebel? I think the answer is that he’s simply out of gas. Intense praying, especially intercession requires of us all our energy. Sometimes prayer is pictured as a tranquil respite from the pressures of life, and, happily, sometimes it is. Still, that’s not always the case. Sometimes prayer is the hardest work we’ll ever do. Such prayer is worth doing in spite of its emotional, spiritual, and even physical price. In this, we’re soldiers in the army of God who have an active, demanding assignment.
Take Away: Prayer can be the most rewarding, exhausting work we’ll ever do.
Be quiet and eat your manna
Numbers 11: I’ll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them.
There’s a problem with the manna. It still tastes fine and supplies, apparently, the recommended daily dietary needs. However, manna for breakfast, lunch, and supper seven days a week is boring. In Egypt they had meat, cucumbers and melons, onions and garlic. In the wilderness they have manna, manna, and more manna. In their dietary frustration they complain to God’s, man, Moses and for him this is the breaking moment. He’s angry with the people and he’s angry with God. In fact, he declares, if this is the way it has to be he would just as soon be dead. Moses has been burning the candle at both ends and now the fire has met in the middle. People, like Moses, who have performed admirably through the most difficult circumstances, hit the wall and suddenly some minor problem causes them to crash. Know what? I think it’s Moses’ own fault. His father-in-law, Jethro, told him he couldn’t do it all alone back in Exodus 18 and a plan was set up at that time. After that Moses spent time on the mountain with God, the terrible golden calf incident and some other things happened. I don’t know this for sure, but it looks like the plan Jethro suggested has dropped by the way and Moses is back to being “the guy” for everything. If this is true the result is predictable: Moses finds himself drowning in responsibility. Leaders need to remember that no matter how skillfully they organize things in the beginning and no matter how high the quality of leadership that’s brought on board, that they must continue to hold the plan in shape. Otherwise, things will unravel, and, over time everything will once again be propped up against them.
Take Away: Skillful leadership includes recognizing, training, and empowering others. It also includes the providing of constant maintenance.
Heading for the hills
Jeremiah 9: At times I wish I had a…backwoods cabin.
One thing that draws me to Jeremiah is his transparency. He tells us, not only what God’s saying, but also how Jeremiah feels about things. Those feelings range from compassion to anger and from hope to despair. At one point he says he’s “heartsick” over the sins of his people and wonders if there’s a “balm in Gilead” that can be used to heal their brokenness. He wishes he had the physical ability to weep the rivers of tears because of his sadness over their sin and the coming judgment. Then, he switches to anger. They’re worthless people, not worth his effort. He wishes he could just get away from them and let happen what’s going to happen. As I say, Jeremiah is a study in transparency and his feelings run the full range of human emotion. I’m not wired the same as Jeremiah. I don’t dip so low and I don’t soar as high. Still, I can identify with him to some extent. The truth is that, like Jeremiah, I can be filled with loving compassion for someone and be frustrated to death with them at the same time. His desire to step away from these people for a while and head for the hills isn’t off the mark at all. Even the best of people can only carry burdens for so long before a break is needed; a chance to reevaluate and get a fresh grip on things. That “backwoods cabin” experience might actually be the “balm in Gilead” that will not only help Jeremiah bring healing to these broken people, but will also bring healing to his spirit as well.
Take Away: We must guard against getting so people-focused that we fail to be God-focused.