Many of us thought that if we were faithful, we wouldn't have to face the truly hard times, but when the bottom falls out, you'll learn what you really love, what you really believe. You'll find out what your real treasure is when the disappointments come.
In disappointments and discouragements, we're tempted to forget that God is God and that God is good. And it doesn't matter how long you've been teaching this to the people of God, you are still liable to not believing that.
In these times, we are tempted to succumb to idolatry because we are tempted to think there is a greater treasure that has been withheld or taken away from us, a greater treasure than what God has or can be given to us.
We want to live in 1 Kings 18, not 1 Kings 19. In 1 Kings 18 is where God demonstrates his power through Elijah. That's where you want to be in ministry. You don't want to be in 1 Kings 19, but you get there. It's a total textual shock. I"ve read it countless times, and I still get there.
What are your greatest losses in life? Your unsatisfied and unsatisfiable longings? Your hopes and treasures that you've never obtained or you've had taken away from you? Your greatest dreams?
We all have them. The question is, "What do we do with them?" Because how we respond there may be the most important thing we do in life.
I wonder what you've hoped for after you ask why and have no answer. Good things that you've longed for. Holy things that you've longed for. Right things that you've longed for. And you've never been given them.
I wonder if God has ever drawn close and held your greatest treasure up before your eyes and said, "You can't have it." And then done it again and said, "You still can't have it."
No one but Moses himself had this kind of ministry of power that Elijah had, and yet he knew what it was like to walk right up to the end of this life and have his hopes utterly dashed, to have his every dream lost, but he also can testify to you of the ruthless, compassionate, pursuing grace of God with which he relentlessly goes after his ministers for His everlasting glory and their joy.
Even people who believe in the soverignty of God can fail to believe that the Lord is God. Elijah has just been the facilitator of a spectacular display of the power of God on Mount Carmel. He has outrun a chariot, and a messenger arrives. And the messenger brings a message from the woman who has killed the prophets of the Lord in the Northern Kingdom, and she says, "You think I'm impressed by what you did yesterday, by the killing of my prophets, the prophets of Ba'al, the god who I worship? By this time tomorrow, you'll join them."
You're just not expecting Elijah's response. You expect him to tell the messenger, "You remember that fire from heaven thing I did yesterday? You tell her I'll be right here. Just who exactly is she bringing to me?" But that's not what happens. He is afraid and runs for his life. What's your name? "El-i-jah" My god is Yah.
This is where modern commentators psychoanalyze Elijah as manic-depressive. But that's missing the point of the text. Elijah is afraid. He has had his world fall down around him. This is not a craven fear. This is a craven fear. Because what did Elijah want? V. 10 - I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts... and I, even I, am only left. (Also in v.14.) Elijah longed for that encounter on Mount Carmel to bring about revival in Israel, and he thought God was going to do it there in spectacular fashion and in the very wake of that he gets a message saying you're going to be dead this time tomorrow, and he realizes that it's not going to happen the way he wanted.
Elijah cares more about his message than most of us. There's no way a man who did not care about his message to be disappointed like that. When it doesn't materialize, his world almost comes to an end.
You're faithfully ministering in the church, and you don't see the conversions like you want to. Or you're faithfully ministering in your church and you see the false prophets gathering their hundreds and thousands, and you have 65 people who can't get along. Or you have conversions and success, but you've been praying for 25 years for your son to know Jesus. Or you love Jesus and your wife loves Jesus, but you say to God, "I just wish you liked me."
I don't know what your discouragement is, but when it comes, you learn what you love, what you believe, where your treasure is, and what your ultimate satisfaction is. That's what happens with Elijah.
Even people who fight against idolatry can succumb to it. THe expression of Elijahs discouragment is this flight in fear. THe source of his discouragement, though is he forgot his name and he forgot his message. This is a theological crisis.
When God comes to Elijah at Horeb, first he comes in a whirlwind. This is an EF-6. The mountain is dissolving, but God is not in it. ANd then and earthquake and fire, but God is not in them. What is the picture? This is what Elijah wants, a spectacular ending of the worship of the Ba'als, but that is not God's plan. God did not purpose to answer the cries of Elijah's heart that He would operate spectacularly, with a yes. God is in the whisper.
God sends Elijah to Syria. This is going to happen through a Syrian, a pagan, and not through your ministry but the ministry of another, Elisha. It's almost like Moses at the end of Deuteronomy. God shows him the Promised Land but says you're not coming in.
When you hear that voice, you know it's from God. When you hear the voice that says, "You ought to have everything you want." That voice comes with a hiss.
One of my finest students I've ever taught in my 25 years, his son is born, the doctors call him in and say, "It's cystic fibrosis." When his son is six he says, "Daddy is something wrong with me? Am I sick?" And he has to sit down and tell his son, "Son, you're not going to live as long as other boys. And there's nothing I can do to help you. But your heavenly Father, God, has a purpose in this. And Jesus, your savior, only lived 33 years and accomplished more than anyone else." He wrote me a letter about this and talked about how his son loves the Scriptures and he wrote, "I'd rather have him born again than well."
God weans the affections of His people from everything except Himself, not their good desires, not their bad desires, nothing but Him.
God will not let you preach a message that you have not believed and experienced yourself. Here is God ruthlessly pursuing His servant into the wilderness because he wouldn't let His idolatry stand.
You say, "He just wanted God to be exalted." But he had a particular way he wanted that to be done.
When your Savior was sweating drops of blood in the garden and says, "Not my will but your will be done." Do you realize he's fighting idolatry there? And God loves Elijah too much not to bring that message home.
And you know what God does? He puts Elijah on the shelf. This is effectively the end of his ministry. He doesn't finish well.
And you say, "Lord, you are hard to your servants." When he comes up to Elijah in the wilderness, he says, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" That's supposed to be a rebuke. The Lord is not looking for information. He's saying, "How did you get from here to there? You forgot your name. You forgot your ministry."
Even in the wilderness when Elijah can't eat, God sends an angel to cook Elijah a hot breakfast and prod him into eating it. And when God comes to Elijah, he comes to display His glory. As far as we can tell, Elijah doesn't even come out until he hears the still, small whisper. And what does he do? He wraps his cloak around his face. God is saying, "I'm going to show you my glory," in a scene reminiscent of Moses, but Elijah doesn't want to see the glory of God. All he wants to do is die.
And then the Lord puts him on a shelf. This is it. This is the end of Elijah's ministry. He is sent on these errands, which as far as we know he never does until 2 Kings 2.
Even when it looks like God is being hard on His servants, you can be assured that his provision is staggeringly loving and good.
Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah's blessing. What's up with the whole, "If you see me when I depart..." thing.
Elijah goes up by a whirlwind into Heaven. You don't think God knew the greatest desire of Elijah's heart? You think He leaves His soldiers on the battlefield? A call goes out from Heaven, "You go down and bring him home, and you bring him home by fire and by whirlwind?"
And why does Elisha have to see that? Because he has to give testimony to the inspired author of 2 Kings.
And you think God doesn't care about his servants.
This is not the last time you see Elijah in the Bible. Turn with me to Luke 9.
Elijah would not go out and look on the Lord's glory, but one day a call goes out from God, "Elijah, I want you to go down on a mountain again."
And that's how God works. He gets at our most fundamental idolatry, and He ruthlessly crushes it and goes after our greatest treasures and leaves us with nothing but Himself so we go limping on in our lives so that we learn "My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness." Don't underestimate his committment to His glory and your good. He is working for your joy and your good, even when you cannot perceive it and have ceased to ask for anything anymore.
I want to ask Elijah what the Lord said to him after his return to glory after his return from the Mount of Transfiguration, because there we see the Lord give him more than he could ask or think. When he thought that the Lord had taken away everything he had ever wanted. And I just want to ask him, "What was that conversation like.
That's the God you preach. That's the God we proclaim. DOn't think that He will use you as His servant and leave you to writhe in your disappointments, because he has a plan for your everlasting joy in your declaration of the Gospel that gives everlasting joy to all in the nations why by faith embrace him.
The Lord does not treat his servant's lives as cheap.