No Better than My Fathers
But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"
I have often read the account of Elijah running from Jezebel with great interest. But today I read his statement of despair differently than I have in times past.
Elijah has been "used" by God. I mean "used" by God in a remarkable way. He walks into the court of King Ahab and declares that his presence marks the beginning of a drought, walks out, and the skies are brass for three years. He comes back knowing that Ahab has been desperately searching for him for the last few years. But he's fearless when he finally faces the king again. God's using Elijah!
There's the woman who is about to bake her last supper for her and her son. Elijah tells her to make him a meal first, and then she'll have flour and oil that won't run out. And things happen just as God had told him to tell her. God's using Elijah! The woman's son dies. Elijah prays the boy back to life! God's using Elijah!
Then, there's the showdown on Mount Carmel. Elijah's not just a prophet. He's got a bit of a showman in him. And we see as he challenges the sum of 950 false prophets in Jezebel's employ. He calls the crowd around after the false prophets fail the test. And with a sentence prayer calls down fire from heaven. God's using Elijah!
But Ahab goes home and tells Jezebel what happened. Jezebel sends the message to Elijah that he's got 24 hours before he's like the 950 prophets he just had killed. And Elijah high tails it out of town with his servant. Then leaves his servant and keeps going another day's journey into the wilderness until he falls exhausted beneath a broom tree.
And for the first time I started noticing that Elijah went from running in flight from Jezebel to finally falling in exhaustion and depression beneath a broom tree. And it made me think that Elijah's been thinking in all that journey about the fact that he left in fear. It's almost like he's beat himself up about leaving the way he did.
He says, let me die, for I am no better than my fathers!
Maybe I'm projecting too much onto the text, but I just wonder if Elijah didn't kick himself for having lost faith so easily. Maybe Elijah was beating himself up for so quickly forgetting that God had indeed used him mightily.
I don't know about Elijah, but I know about me. And there are times when I wonder, where did my faith go so quickly? After the sermon you preach where the Lord's words in your mouth bring people to the point of surrender. After the anointing service where doctors had declared that life was surely at an end for the patient, but the person revives and returns to church. After the hemorrhaging marriage and its public displays of hostility are saved as a result of your attention and counseling. After all that. And then the "legs" of your faith get knocked out from under you for simple tests. Simple stuff. Stuff that people who don't get "used" by God are able to pass with one eye closed and one hand tied behind their back.
It'll bring you to the place of abject depression and a capitulation that, I'm really no better than my fathers. I may get dressed in sacerdotal garments. I may have the theological degree. I may be regarded by many as a "man of God," but when it comes down to it, I'm the same guy who walked the streets of the City of Baltimore two generations ago.
Elijah got down. And I'm just saying that there are times when I think I can feel the feelings he felt.
Yeah, if you read further, we find notes of grace in the story. The Lord provides for us when we've given up all hope (Elijah awakens to baked cakes and a jar of water IN THE WILDERNESS.) The word of God comes to us when we are unable to find our way ("...and behold, the word of the Lord came to him" - 1 Kings 19:9). To him that has no might the Lord increases strength (1 Kings 19:8).
That's all the stuff for the sermon. But this blog entry is just to admit, confess, concede, to own the truth that people who are used by God don't always go from strength to strength. Sometimes they take unexpected dives at times when it seems they shouldn't.