He was up in a cave. Our Old Testament lesson today (1 Kings 19:9-21) starts out quite unclear, but it is clear Elijah did not start out in the cave. What brought him to the cave? Well you see a bit earlier on, a couple of chapters earlier in 1 Kings we see Elijah in one of the most famous Elijah stories facing off with the prophets of baal. You know how it goes. They lost, Elijah won. Their God couldn’t bring fire to consume the sacrifice. Elijah suggested to the prophets as they were cutting themselves in agony and supplication to their non-existent god that he was in the bathroom relieving himself and too busy to answer their cries. No. Their god did not exist and when it was Elijah’s turn to bat, God took the swing and knocked it out of the park. From the sky, fire fell consuming the water soaked, moat surrounded sacrifices. Elijah’s God, your God, won the day. Elijah followed the Lord’s command and cleaned house. The prophets of Baal were put to death. Elijah’s God won. That was a bit before, but now Elijah was in a cave.
He didn’t go directly to the cave from Mount Carmel. After leaving the success of the mountain and the cleansing of the false prophets, Elijah went to the Lord in prayer and prayed for rain. You see it hadn’t rained for over three years as Elijah had warned King Ahab in an attempt to get the people to repent. It was getting a little cracked after more than three years, but Elijah prayed and God answered. It was another “in your face” answer to prayer as King Ahab saw the clouds form out of the west and become the rain they needed that baal couldn’t bring. Yet, it wasn’t this answered prayer that sent Elijah into a spiral of depression into a cave on the side of mount Horeb.
After this prayer was answered, Elijah ran over 20 miles non-stop and beat the chariots of King Ahab back to Jezreel. And no, he didn’t end up in the cave in the side of mount horeb to recover from his impromptu mini marathon. But this is where Elijah’s story takes a turn. You see Queen Jezebel had been following the successes of Elijah (the successes of God), she was all too familiar with this man who had predicted the draught three years earlier in an attempt to turn the israelites back to God and she wasn’t too happy about all the drama he had been causing. She wanted to see Elijah dead. This is where it turns for Elijah, or should we say Elijah turns, he starts to think about giving up. This is where Elijah takes a turn from the work the Lord had called him to and instead became controlled by fear. Controlled by fear he becomes enthralled with giving up.
The fear of death led him into the wilderness where he was so distraught and depressed that he sat under a broom tree and prayed to die. The Lord wasn’t having it and he came to Elijah and gave him food in the middle of the wilderness and Elijah was sustained. But on he went cowering in fear and finally after a 40 day journey ended up in the side of Mount Sinai also known as Mount Horeb. The place where Moses received the 10 commandments from God. And unfortunately for Elijah, it wasn’t the fear love and trust in God above all things we are encouraged to do in the first commandment that landed him in the cave, rather it was the fear of death and depression that was separating him from the Lord.
The opposition and oppression became overwhelming for Elijah and he was having a nervous breakdown. He was giving up.The fear of the Lord won’t send you into a nervous breakdown — it is the fear of the things of this world that will send you over the edge. The fear of the Lord will not lead you to give up the things the Lord has created you to do — it is the fear of the things of the world that will tempt you to give up what God has called you to do. The fear of the Lord will not lead you to give up or neglect your relationship with him — the fears and distractions caused by earthly things will lead you astray from Him.
Elijah was in the cave when the Lord came to him and said, “What are you doing here Elijah?” and Elijah answered, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” In other words, “I can’t keep going! They’re all against you they’re all against me! They want me to die! I’m burned out!”
God knew Elijah couldn’t keep going, but God could keep him going. So God tells Elijah to go to the mouth of the cave, he had a message for him. As Elijah stood there, a strong wind came and split rocks, the earth quaked, and fire flared. This was not God’s message for Elijah. God’s message came in the way it comes to us. It came in a small voice. It came in God’s word spoke to Elijah in a low whisper. The voice again asked Elijah, what are you doing here and Elijah answered the same way, “I can’t keep going! They’re all against you they’re all against me! They want me to die! I’m burned out!”
And the small voice of God said to Elijah, “Go.”
Not, “give up” — rather, “Go.”
Dr. Karl Menninger, a famous psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health and was answering questions from the audience. Someone asked him, “What would you advise a person to do if that person felt a nervous breakdown coming on?”
Most people thought he would say “Go, see a psychiatrist immediately” or something like that, but instead, to their astonishment, he said “Lock up your house, go around town, find someone in need, and help that person.”
Turns out that psychological advice is also some Godly advice. When we are at the point of breaking, at the point of giving up, we need to remember that God has done something for us. God has sent his perfect son to become our wretched failures so we can then become and do as the God has created us to do what he has prepared for us to do. And just like the small voice, actually the same voice from the three in one, we are told by Jesus, Go.
When we reach the point of giving up, we are likely focusing on things that aren’t needing our attention as much as God. When we reach the point of giving up, we need to listen to God’s small voice and go and do what God has created us to do.
And what has God created us to do? Many things, Jesus boils it all down for us in today’s Gospel lesson. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus encourages us to give up. It’s a different kind of giving up though than the kind Elijah was up against. Jesus talks about giving up a different way. Give up your home, give up your dead, give up your past, your surroundings and follow.
What does this look like? Are we to abandon our families and homes and surroundings? No. I will not in fact be giving up on my 3 day old son or four and seven year old daughters and amazing wife because Jesus has told me to not look back. That, friends is not what God has created us to do. In fact, God has created us to do those things but to do them as the work he has called us to do. So I will raise my three day old son, and my daughters as best I can, not for my sake but for the glory of the Lord, because he has gifted me to do that. In the same way, I will be the best husband I can be for my wife not so she will be happy, althogh that is a nice side effect, but it is because it is what God has created me to do. It is one of the “works prepared beforehand for me to walk in” To his glory. And so the list goes on from parenting, to being a spouse, to being a son, to being a brother, to being a friend, to maintaining my home, to being a citizen, being a taxpayer, being a pastor all to the glory of the lord. These are the plows I push daily. These are the plows I fail to push effectively and feel like turning away from, from giving up. These are the same plows I repent of not pushing perfectly or even at all at times. And most importantly these are the plows for which I am redeemed to push again. These are the places my words and actions and love will proclaim the kingdom of God.
So what are your plows to push? Figure that up and give everything else up. That is what Jesus is asking us to do in the Gospel today. Give up everything that gets in the way of him. You might think this sounds impossible. Well, with man it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. So let God do the impossible in your life and listen to the words of Paul from Colossians 3:17, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. When we got the name of Jesus stamped on everything we are doing, we are following him, we are proclaiming and we are fit for the kingdom of God.
We will have days like Elijah where we feel like giving up. We will have days when Satan will tempt us to give up (on God). Daily we return to the word which is still small and still not as incredible and flashy and powerful as we want it to be. But yet, through this little word, God strengthens us to carry on and to give up (on the world). Yes friends, Satan prowls, telling us to give up; but one little word can and does fell him. May God continue to speak this word to our broken ears.