Fearless and Afraid
These past few days I have been reading the story of the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He seems to be one of those spiritual superheroes who stands far above all of us. Yet this is what the Bible says about him: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:17–18).
If indeed Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, what was it that made him such a spiritual giant? We find the answer in the events recorded in 1 Kings 17–19.
Elijah didn’t have an easy ministry in the days of King Ahab and Jezebel. In fact, he was on their “most wanted list” and had to spend much of his time in hiding to save his life. The message God gave him for Ahab and Israel was not prosperity and blessing, but rebuke and severe judgment for their idolatry and wickedness. It surely wasn't easy for him to preach to a hostile audience and not get any applause or appreciation for his sermon. Yet Elijah never altered his message to please people.
He saw incredible miracles in his ministry. Just in these three chapters alone, we read how according to Elijah’s word, it didn't rain for three years, and how it only rained again when he said it would; how ravens brought him food during the drought; how the flour and oil in the house of the widow of Zarephath didn't run out and how her dead son came back to life when Elijah prayed; how on Mount Carmel God answered Elijah’s prayer with fire; and how he even outran, on foot, Ahab’s chariot.
He was bold and fearless one day, and afraid the next. On Mount Carmel, Elijah boldly stood alone for God against King Ahab, 400 prophets of Baal and the people of Israel. He challenged them to a contest that proved to everyone that the Lord was God. And he killed all the prophets of Baal. However, the very next day when he received Jezebel’s death threats, Elijah was so afraid that he ran for his life into the wilderness.
He even wanted to quit the ministry and die. Elijah’s expectations may have been a national repentance after the Mount Carmel victory. Instead, Ahab, Jezebel and the people resumed their idol worship, and Jezebel did her best to hunt him down. Elijah got so depressed and discouraged that he prayed, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).
How did God respond to His fearful and discouraged servant? God in His grace remembered that Elijah was human. The Bible tells us, “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).
God sent an angel to bring the weary prophet food, so he could go on a long journey to the mountain of God. There God met with Elijah in a gentle way. He let him pour out his heart and patiently listened to all his complaints and discouragements. He didn't interrupt him, condemn him for his weakness, preach a 10-point sermon at him or rebuke him for his wish to die.
Then what did God do? He simply allowed Elijah to be in His presence, and ultimately, He sent him out with new ministry assignments. The time Elijah spent in the presence of God renewed his strength, and he was able to resume his ministry.
God’s presence always restores us; that’s why it is so important that we come to Him daily. Please read 1 Chronicles 16:11, 27 and Isaiah 40:29–31.
What do we learn from Elijah’s story?
To have a nature like ours means: Elijah was not born a super human. His fear, weakness and discouragement prove it. He was a fragile vessel of clay, just like we are. That means all the boldness, power, glory and miracles we see in his life and ministry were of God and not of himself (see 2 Corinthians 4:7).
What, then, made him a spiritual giant? Each time this clay vessel trusted God and prayed in faith, God stood by His Word, empowered His servant, answered his prayers and performed miracles. It was Elijah’s faith in his God that made all the difference. Elijah believed and acted on what God said, with full assurance that God would do what He said He would do.
God still acts on faith! As Christians, we have Jesus as our example, God’s Word for our instruction and the Holy Spirit to empower us. However, God is still looking for that “Hebrews 11:1” kind of faith to act on our behalf and to fulfill His promises. Without faith we cannot please Him, nor can we expect to receive anything He promised in His Word (see Hebrews 11:6 and James 1:6–7).
My dear sister, God recorded Elijah’s story of weakness and faith for us, so we will know what incredible things God can do with even the most fragile vessels of clay—when we believe.
God is our example for how to deal with Christians who are discouraged and weary. Deal with them gently with grace. Listen patiently and with compassion. Let there be no condemnation or 10-point sermon. Take them with you into God’s presence and help them to wait upon the Lord until their strength is renewed.
I am grateful to God that you love the Lord and seek to serve Him with all your heart.
Your sister in Christ,
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