There are certain things my spirit won’t seem to let me move on from until I put pen to paper (or in this case, fingers to keyboard). I have been chewing on this subject since December, and here I am still ruminating over it.
I can’t shake this deeply moving story in the Bible about God caring for the needs of the prophet Elijah in the desert. I keep going back to it, hanging on every word again and again. There is something so honest and raw that resonates with my heart.
I find myself in a season of great joy, but also of exhaustion. I can list off dozens of things I have to be thankful for, but I am tired. Like a juggler carefully balancing and timing each ball as it comes down and gets tossed back up, the slightest hiccup and I feel like the balls are crashing down all around me. Throw me a sick kid, a conflict at work, or my husband working a few late nights and suddenly I feel I’m struggling to keep up with the demands of life. My body is worn and I’ve found myself telling the Lord, “I have had enough. This is all too much. The visions and dreams, the task to be a reflection of you, the responsibilities you’ve placed in my lap– some days it just all feels too hard. Can I just quit?”
Then I find myself rereading this story of Elijah.
It’s found in the Old Testament of the Bible, in 1 Kings 19. It was a dark time in Israel’s history, well after the God-fearing King David reigned. The Promised Land of the Israelites had split into 2 nations, Israel to the North and Judah to the South. As a prophet, Elijah was a man appointed by God to speak on His behalf, speaking both the good and bad messages God had for the people. And Elijah finds himself having to speak to the kingdom of Israel, who had turned their hearts from God. Israel is ruled by the evil King Ahab and his neurotic wife, Queen Jezebel, who worshiped the pagan fertility god, Baal. Following Yahweh God wouldn’t exactly have been popular at this point in time.
When we find our friend Elijah in the desert in chapter 19, he is exhausted from just finishing a battle with the prophets of Baal. (Read 1 Kings 18 for this epic battle on Mount Carmel) Despite the fact that Elijah won on God’s behalf, Elijah is discouraged and depressed and fleeing for his life from the crazed Jezebel who now wants his head. He escapes to the desert, sits down under a tree and prays to the Lord that he might die. This chosen, anointed man of God says, “I have had enough, Lord…Take my life.” Then he lays down and falls asleep.
But something happens. An angel touches him and tells him to eat. Next to him is a jar of cool water and the smell of freshly baked bread wafting towards him. He eats and drinks and falls back asleep.
No lecture. Just food and drink and rest.
Then the angel comes back and tells him to eat again, noting how Elijah will need his strength for the rest of the journey. God still has more for him to do. The scriptures say Elijah was “strengthened by that food.” God still had more for him to do, but he knew Elijah’s limitations and provided for those needs.
But wait! The story gets even better. Strengthened, Elijah journeys for 40 days to Mount Horeb (the same place Moses met with God and received the 10 Commandments all those years ago). And here, God meets with Elijah. God asks him what he is doing and Elijah pours out his heart. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty,” he tells God. “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
Can’t you just hear the aching in his lament? “I have passionately and obediently followed you, God! Then why has it all gone so wrong?!”
Yet in his place of weariness, God meets with Elijah. He comes to talk with Elijah in the midst of his distress. He knows Elijah is tired and weary, and provides for his physical and emotional needs. Then afterwards, God tells him to go back the way he came. He has more work for Elijah to do!
God could have had the angel say that initially. The angel could have tapped Elijah on the shoulder from his nap in the desert and said “Ahem, God wants you to go back. You still have prophets and kings to appoint. Let’s hop to it, man.” But he didn’t! God knew the physical exhaustion Elijah was in and He knew the weary state of his soul. So He fed him, and gave him rest, and provided encouragement through His presence, and then finally let Elijah know he had more to do.
Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel like you’re pouring yourself out day after day, week after week, month after month, only to reach a place of complete fatigue? You don’t have to be a prophet to experience this, or its modern equivalent of a pastor – or even in ministry for that matter. You could be a physician who attentively sees dozens of clients each day. Or a social worker who is overworked and under-encouraged. Ask any parent and I’m sure they can tell you the exhaustion that comes with caring for the needs of their children around the clock. You could be facing on-going relational stress or a health condition that is draining both physically and emotionally. Maybe you’ve worked diligently for a company over 10 years only to get passed by time and time again for that promotion. Or perhaps you are just physically exhausted from an overbooked calendar and the duties of running children from place to place, activity to activity. And you reach this point where you say to God, “Lord, I have had enough! I have nothing left to give.”
God sees us.
God created us. He knows the limitations of our physical and emotional bodies.
So what’s the answer when we have nothing left to give? God shows up. If we pay attention, He sends us places of rest; moments of quiet encouragement with Him. In the story when God meets with Elijah, He is not in the wind or the fire. God shows up in the whisper. Though one has to quiet herself to hear a whisper; one has to be listening.
I can’t tell you how many times I have reached my threshold, called out to God and said, “Excuse me, can all of this be done now? I have nothing left to give.” And then He’ll show up in some unexpected way. A friend will send an encouraging text. The grandparents will ask to take our kids, suddenly providing an afternoon of needed rest. My husband will do the dishes, creating space for me to enjoy a book. A worship song that is like salve to my soul plays on the radio.
I’ve found these moments of refreshment or encouragement come just when I need them, but typically not in surplus. Like the Israelites who survived in the desert on manna supplied to them daily, God seems to provide just what I need to keep pressing on another day or week at a time.
Some days life can be hard. We get tired and worn down from life’s pressures and responsibilities. But how comforting to know we have a God who cares and knows we need places of rest and moments of encouragement.
Like Elijah, God has more for us to do. He wants us to finish the race strong. He wants us to carry out the good work until the day of restoration. The daily grind of life can wear on us. But if we pay attention, we’ll find God’s gifts to restore our soul are all around us.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Enjoy this beautiful song by Kari Jobe, a go-to for me this past season. ❤