Elijah’s 4 steps to victory over exhaustion
“How could he bail on his faith?”
I listened to the Bible study participants discuss the prophet Elijah’s flight of fear after his showdown with Baal’s prophets on Mt. Carmel.
“I can’t believe he ran away. After that huge victory? I guess no one’s perfect…”
While they discussed Elijah’s failure, the weariness I sensed from the ancient prophet mingled with my own as I contemplated his desperate flight from a different perspective:
Fear. Disillusion. Depression.
When applied to a seasoned leader, those words bring one thing to my mind: Fatigue.
Consider this: After the triumph on Mt. Carmel, the renowned prophet ran in fear. Why? This was not Elijah’s first tangle with Ahab and Jezebel, nor the first time he had invited death for delivering a divine indictment.
Elijah believed victory was secure. After God’s spectacular display and purging of Baal’s prophets, after Elijah’s discourse with Ahab and the restoration of rain, Elijah may have thought, “At last! Revival will fall on Israel as surely as the newly released rain, cleansing the land and restoring the people to their God.”
Imagine his discouragement upon arrival in Samaria to encounter the same old opposition. Wasn't the battle over? Hadn’t the people pledged allegiance to the one true God and killed Baal’s prophets? But even as the promised rain soaked the stones outside the place walls, the enemy appeared as powerful as ever, poised to take him out.
And Elijah folded and fled.
When it seems fatigue has won
Maybe after the great victory, Elijah didn’t have any juice left. Perhaps years of hardship, rejection, and failure to bring revival had taken their toll. Or maybe it was simply the weight of sustained, unresolved conflict. And he was tired. Bone tired.
Listen what the NIV text note says about Elijah’s flight:
“Elijah concluded that his work was fruitless and consequently that life was not worth living. He had lost his confidence in the triumph of the kingdom of God and was withdrawing from the arena of conflict.”
Has your ministry work ever felt fruitless? Have years of sustained conflict left you weary and discouraged? Have you ever felt so defeated you just wanted to quit?
Fatigue and exhaustion can do that. I have been there and have discovered four things Elijah did right—amidst failure—that can strengthen us in our struggle.
1. Elijah ran toward God.
Elijah sought solace in God's presence. When Elijah set out across the desert, he headed straight for Mt. Horeb, the “mountain of God.” In his fear and discouragement, the great prophet ran to his Father’s arms like a young child in distress.
How did God respond? God let him come. He didn’t try to turn him around or get him “back on track.” Nor did he pepper him with pep talks or verses about victory and trust.
2. Elijah accepted the refreshment God offered.
Elijah could have withdrawn in anger or bitterness and given up on God. Instead, he allowed God’s angel to minister to him as he lay faithless and gutless on the desert sand.
How did God respond? God sent help, without a word of recrimination or correction or a syllable of instruction. God provided what Elijah needed most: a gentle touch, food, water, and rest. Instead of filling Elijah’s ears with “encouragement,” he graciously filled his belly for the unscripted trek to Mt. Horeb.
3. Elijah kept his heart tuned to God.
Elijah didn’t “take a break” from God. He kept his heart open; he heard God’s voice despite his depression.
How did God respond? When God engaged Elijah, he didn’t present an apologetic for his point of view and sovereign plan; he simply provided himself. His heart. His voice. His presence.
4. Elijah was honest with God.
Instead of making excuses, Elijah answered God’s gentle probing with raw honesty and shared exactly how he felt—disillusioned, discouraged and sorry for himself.
How did God respond? God met Elijah heart to heart and gently coaxed out the root of the prophet’s pain. In compassion, God lightened Elijah's ministry load, provided a companion and apprentice to succeed him, and pointed him toward a future hope which strengthened him to finish strong.
A familiar quote sums up Elijah’s experience: “Success is never final and failure is never fatal. It’s the courage to go on that counts.”
What about you? Do you need to take time alone with God to rest? Never underestimate the power of fatigue to cloud your vision, clog your joy, and cripple your ministry efforts.
What example from Elijah’s story could God use to strengthen your leadership for a strong finish?
NIV study Bible. (1985). Barker, K. L. (Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, (I Kings 19:4 notes from NIV Study Bible)
Website: Article title: “Success Is Never Final and Failure Never Fatal. It’s Courage That Counts,” Date of last update on website: August 2, 2014, Quote Investigator: Exploring the Origins of Quotations, https://www.quoteinvestigator.com/2013/09/03/success-final/ (Accessed on March 19, 2018)
Photo source: istock
Bethany Macklin is a writer, speaker and ministry leader who has served more than 25 years in Christian leadership. She has served as a regional leadership trainer for Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) and as Women’s Ministry Director of a thriving church in Northern California. She writes Bible studies on God’s attributes for area churches and has written for Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family, Today’s Christian Woman and other online outlets. As a blogger, she paints a Biblical portrait of God through words that encourage anchored faith and Biblical thinking.
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