“And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheeba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God” (1 Kings 19:3-8).
This story is for the weary. For those who labor tirelessly and feel the need for rest.
Ever been there? Well, maybe not, but there were days this week when it took everything I had to get out of bed and drag myself to my chair to pray early in the morning. And let’s not talk about the energy it took to carry out my daily work, home, and church duties. There have been exceptional challenges, with little to no relief in sight, so as I sat in the prayer chair early in the morning, too physically and emotionally drained to even speak, asking God to read my heart because the words would not even form, I felt useless and despondent, and was reminded of Elijah. Mighty, powerful, confident Elijah, who had raised a boy from the dead, called down fire from heaven, and prayed effectively for rain after a three year drought. Elijah, who had seen the miraculous, yet somehow, felt the same way I did. He was aware of the target on his life, ran for his life, and reached a point where he felt that he couldn’t go on. He collapsed under a tree and told God that enough was enough. Even after experiencing God’s power move through his prayers, he simply could not go on. In that moment, I realized that even the strongest of us, if truth be told, can expect moments where we feel we must collapse, where we surrender to the battle and simply cannot go on. It becomes too much for us. No wonder Jesus invites us to bring all of our burdens to Him so that we can find rest (Matt 11:28). And for the rest of the day, anytime anyone asked how I was doing, all I could say was, “I am resting under the tree.” Yes, I got some funny looks, but who cares. It’s what I was doing.
I couldn’t help but wonder, how did I get to this place? As a Christian, aren’t I supposed to be superwoman or something – never growing weary, always abounding in the work of the Lord? I mean, I know none of us are perfect, but for all the discussion about leaders and how they are supposed to fearlessly, courageously, and mightily lead the way, never showing weakness, and for all the ways that people will call you a leader without knowing how you really feel unable to fulfill their expectations, I just had to wonder – am I doing something wrong? Like Elijah, I could see where I had been used recently to make a difference in the lives of others, but I also felt that it is enough with me now. No longer could I just pick myself up and keep going as good leaders are supposed to do. I began to cringe at the word “leader” because I could barely lead myself out of my bed. For all their talk of what they perceive me to be, what do they see that I don’t see, or am I a master deceiver and don’t even know it? Because lately, I have felt like everything but a mighty woman of God…
As I pondered under that metaphorical tree, waiting for my angels to minister to me, there are a few lessons from Elijah’s life that I pray will encourage you as they did me.
- Persecution is inevitable. The reason that Elijah faced the battles he faced was not through any wrongdoing on his part, but was because of right doing. Elijah had decided to worship the Lord in spite of who the people around him were worshipping. He stood up and allowed God to use him. And so, Queen Jezebel, upset that he had disrupted popular opinion and her influence on the people, vowed to take his life. This is just as we are told in 1 Peter 4:12, to think it not strange when fiery trials come upon you, or in John 14, when Jesus tells us that in this world we will have trouble but to be of good cheer because He has already overcome it all. We can expect a target on our backs as we disrupt the plan of the god of this world.
- Comparison will fail you. To be recognized, one of Elijah’s complaints was that he was looking at the world around him. He stated that he was no better than his fathers, and was afraid due to his lack of acceptance by others. While it is good to see how we can improve on the legacy left before us, it is for the glory of God, not for the approval of others. Our main standard should be in regards to obedience to God, not comparing our performance to that of others, even of those who have gone before us or who stand before us now.
- Some battles you will face alone. Sometimes this is by choice, and sometimes it is not. Elijah left his servant in town and went away to the wilderness. Jesus often went away, to the wilderness or to mountaintops, leaving His disciples behind, for solitary time with God. So we must know there are times when we must convene with God in solitude. Elijah also later complained that he was left standing all alone – and in the moments when, like Elijah, we become discouraged at being all alone in a big, unforgiving, world that does not fear God, we must remember that Jesus was left all alone too. Sometimes you will have to leave people behind, sometimes people pass away, and sometimes they will abandon you. Though we must be void of human contact at times, these are the times that God is closest to us.
- It is ok to rest. I really had to get over the idea that I wasn’t allowed to be tired. As someone asked me, “Why wouldn’t you be? Aren’t you tired after running a marathon? Or after studying for a major test? Or after completing a major project? So why is this any different?” It is ok to be tired. It is ok to rest. Otherwise, why would we be so often invited into God’s presence, or into the arms of Jesus, for rest? So, find your place of rest. Rest in the shade of deep roots. Go to the living water, the place where you will be replenished even in the midst of dry, barren land. The place where roots grow deep, drawing up what is needed from the well so that HIs life will continue on through you.
- Get in God’s presence. You don’t have to figure out the next steps. Collapse in that place. Elijah collapsed, and He didn’t have to do anything but to simply be in God’s presence. He didn’t even have to fix any food…the angel of the Lord took care of every need. It is God who is compassionate and will meet us in our place of need, who is in charge of every need in our lives, especially when we feel cannot carry on. Hey good soldier, you do not have to carry the burden, even of caring for yourself, all alone.
- Put your eyes back on Jesus. One of the concerns surrounding Elijah in these moments is that he put more emphasis on the circumstances facing Him than on God who was fighting for Him. It is easy to look at all of the circumstances surrounding us…the demands placed on us everywhere we go, feeling all alone as we endure, but we easily forget one thing…in everything we endure, we have someone who has already endured the same, died, and ascended to heaven so that we would no longer be defeated. Anytime we are tempted to focus on our circumstances, becoming overwhelmed by the weight of them, we are to “consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb 12:3).
- God won’t let you quit. Even if the embers appear cold, they still burn within. After doing some research on the type of tree Elijah rested under, I discovered that not only do its roots run deep in order to draw up moisture in the midst of the desert, it also makes for excellent firewood. The wood from the broom tree is almost like charcoal that is extremely difficult to put out. Even if a broom tree fire appears to be out externally, it still burns intensely within. And the same is true with us. After Elijah rested, God spoke to Him, reawakened the fire that unknowingly never died within him, and pushed Him forward to the next mission for His glory. We must find time to rest in God’s presence, allowing Him to rekindle the fire that continues to burn within, even when our flesh attempts to tell us that we are extinguished.
As I rested under that tree, I was reminded of Hebrews 4, which says that there is a rest for the people of God and that we labor only to cease from our own works and rest in the completed work of Christ. We labor, not in our own attempt to be good in the sight of others, or even in our own eyes, but only in the power of His grace. I was reminded of David, who often felt so discouraged by the persecution facing him (he cried and ran for his life as well), yet he continued to run to the stronghold of the name of the Lord, his refuge, and was strengthened and saved. I was reminded of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1, who knew the power of God’s comfort in the midst of adversity, and who says that while he also despaired of life itself, he did not hide his persecutions nor the fact that through them his trust in God was being increased. And of course, there’s the woman at the well in John 4 who found all that she needed, living water, in the most unexpected and unconventional place. And so, my brothers and sisters, as you labor, when you feel weary, lay it all down, and rest. When you feel inadequate, rest. When you feel persecuted, rest. It is in collapsing into His rest that we will be made whole and complete, recognizing that we no longer attempt to move forward in our own strength, but only in the power of His Spirit that lives within us. Get under the tree, and take your rest.