“Painful Moments”Dr. C. Von Reynolds 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a Year C: Second Sunday after Pentecost.
Is there something in your life that you are running away from or would like to escape? Is there something in your past that is troubling you and you’d do anything to get away from it? Perhaps there’s something that has happened to you recently which makes you want to just disappear.
During my Junior High School years (those years when friends make lasting impressions on your life, and when you desperately desire to impress your friends), I really wanted to be a good baseball player, but I never was good at it.
As I would stand in right field (a position that I discovered where fewer pop flies are hit), I would get nervous when a ball would finally come my way. I’ll never forget one hot spring afternoon in May when the teachers let us students out to play because the classroom was too hot to learn.
During that afternoon ballgame, a pop fly was headed for me in right field. The whole game depended on this play and I had to catch the ball. My peers were screaming for me to catch the ball. As the ball came closer to me, all I could think was, “I have to catch it!” When that crucial moment came when the ball is supposed to fall into the glove, I knew that I had it. But I didn’t. I missed the catch!
As insults were hurled at me, I felt shame and hate for myself and wanted to die on the spot, as if this were the defining moment of my life. But I didn’t die and life continued on. At that moment for a young adolescent, life seemed more painful than death. We have all endured painful moments in our lives, terrible times when life doesn’t seem to be worth it all.
Elijah the Tishbite, one of God’s prophets of Israel, or as King Ahab called him, “you troubler of Israel” (18:17), had one of those painful moments in his life. Do you remember the story of Elijah prophesying to King Ahab that there would be no rain for several years? (17:1). And there was a two-year drought, just as God had revealed through Elijah. The scripture informs the reader that God withheld the rain because the people were bowing down to the fertility god of Canaan, known as Baal.
Prior to his painful moment, Elijah was riding on a spiritual high. Elijah had a showdown with 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The prophets of Baal placed a bull sacrifice on dry wood and called forth their false god, Baal, to bring down fire upon the altar. They danced, shouted, and cut themselves, begging for fire to consume the sacrifice, but nothing happened.
Elijah, on the other hand, demonstrated his confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by pouring water all over the sacrifice and the wood, digging a trench around the altar and filling it with water. Then Elijah prayed for God to consume the sacrifice.
God never misses even a pop fly, for He sent fire down from heaven and burned the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and licked up all the water in the trench. Then Elijah closed the deal by commanding all the prophets of Baal to be killed. Shortly after, the rains came as an exclamation point to the victory!
The painful moment for Elijah came when Jezebel, King Ahab’s sinister wife, heard the prophets of her god, Baal, were slaughtered at Elijah’s command, and sent Elijah the message: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (19:2). The scripture reveals that “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (19:3). How could it be that Elijah, who had just won the Prophet Super Bowl Championship be afraid of one evil woman?
For edification, Elijah was not the only prophet who had a painful moment. Moses complained to God, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:14-15). Jeremiah cried to the Lord, “I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7c).
Elijah was physically and mentally drained by the experience of spiritual warfare. While on Mount Carmel, Elijah focused on God (1 Kings 18:36-37). But later, his fear caused him to look at things strangely different. Jezebel deflated Elijah’s spirit and stole his joy.
As a pastor, I recall having zippy-do-dah moments about the great spirit of the church, and then just one person comes and shares a negative criticism, usually right before worship service, or one person sends an anonymous letter, and suddenly the joy is gone.
Elijah chose, out of fear, to run for his life (19:3). Elijah wanted to avoid a battle with Jezebel because he feared her. Most of us avoid confrontation whenever possible, but there are times when confrontation is inevitable. Running away is not the solution most of the time.
Aaron Tippen sings, “…you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. You’ve got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string. Never compromise what’s right and uphold your family name. You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” (Aaron Tippin, RCA Nashville, 1/29/1991)
Elijah isolated himself. “When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert” (19:3-4). When experiencing a painful moment, isolation is rarely advised. The vicious cycle of depression leads to more isolation which leads to more depression. Seeking out the supportive presence of significant others is always recommended in painful moments.
Elijah compared himself to others. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (v. 4). My grandfather was a beloved pastor of a southern mill village church that thrived in the heyday of the cotton mills. He enjoyed 24 years of service to those wonderful Christians, but the Lord moved him to another church.
A few years later, I overheard some of his former church members compare their new pastor to my grandfather, “He’s not Preacher Spillers! We miss Preacher Spillers so much!” I thought to myself, “Of course your new pastor isn’t my grandfather and stop trying to compare the two!” God makes us all unique with different gifts and abilities. Comparing yourself to another can be a very discouraging activity and dishonors the One who created us so uniquely!
Elijah pointed blame at others. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword” (19:10). Elijah blamed the faithless Israelites for causing his painful moment. But in all that blame, Elijah probably blamed himself the most for the Israelites failure to remain faithful to God.
Pastors of churches, big and small, each carry enough guilt for the whole world, guilt that God never intended for us to carry. What did I do or what did I not do to cause someone to leave the church? We can only be responsible for the choices we make!
Elijah took pity on himself. “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” Poor Elijah thought the whole world was against him when the threat came from only one person! I find it amazing how one threatening voice can make it sound like a room full of threats. Exaggerating the negative is a danger that we all must avoid.
God delivered Elijah from himself. The angel of the Lord had to tell Elijah twice to “Get up and eat” (19:5,7). When we are going through our painful moment, it is important that we take care of ourselves physically. Eating healthy, exercising, taking vacations, and laughing are all good antidotes for depressive mood.
Elijah surrendered to God’s sovereignty. Sitting under a broom tree, Elijah prayed that he might die, “I have had enough, Lord” (19:4). There comes a point in time in every person’s life when he or she has no where else to turn but to God.
During Jesus’ ministry, some of His followers began to walk away. Looking at His twelve Jesus asked, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?” Then Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66-68).
God spoke to Elijah, but it wasn’t in the howling of the wind, or in the shaking of the earthquake, or in the heat of the blaze; rather, it was in a gentle whisper (19:11-12). When you have your painful moment, just remember to take the word of God, go (don’t run away) somewhere away from others, and let God speak to you and fill you with His healing Spirit.
As God begins to heal your spirit, He will instruct you on what to do next. By the way, His instruction usually involves a two-letter word: GO! My experience has taught me that after going through a painful moment in life, trusting God to guide you through it, He will teach you what you will need to know in facing the next challenge that will have another painful moment for you to grow through!
About the writer:
Dr. C. Von Reynolds is the pastor of Reedy Fork Baptist Church in Seneca, SC. Rev. Reynolds completed his bachelor’s degree at Furman University and earned the Master of Divinity and the Doctor of Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Gloria, are the proud parents of three children and the grandparents of two grandsons.
Scripture and Music:
1 Kings 19:1-15
Psalm 42 and 43
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee
In Christ There Is No East or West
As a Hart Longs (Emma Lou Diemer)
There Is A Balm in Gilead (William Dawson)
And A Mighty Wind (Mendelssohn from Elijah)
My God Is A Rock (Shaw/Parker)
Be Not Afraid (Mendelssohn from Elijah) (Craig Courtney)
Go Not Far From Me, O God (Zingarelli)
It Is Enough (Mendelssohn from Elijah)
His Gentle Look
I Heard About A Man
Through It All
He s Got the Whole World in His Hands