And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs 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 broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” 1 Kings 19:1-4
Switching between chapters 18 and 19 of 1 Kings always used to give me a form of mental whiplash. How could Elijah go from participating in God’s great victory on Mount Carmel one day to fearing for his life and fleeing into the wilderness the next? How could he go from such a victory straight to fear and despair?
I’ve obviously never had God work through me the way He worked through Elijah, but now as I think back on some of my most memorable moments with God, or more specifically the days after those moments, I think I begin to understand.
I’m thinking of the times when He answers a prayer I’ve been offering for years without any sign of a response, and He suddenly grants my request in the exact manner I’d always envisioned. I’m thinking of those occasions where a dozen random decisions and sufferings and seemingly unrelated events all converge to produce an amazing and unexpected result that never could have happened had I been spared even one of those trials. I’m thinking of occasions where I’m witnessing to someone and I can see in their eyes that the Holy Spirit is at that very moment invading their heart and He was allowing me to be a small part of the process. It’s those occasions where I don’t have to have faith that God is right there with me; I can practically hear and see and touch Him. Those moments put me on a spiritual high of sorts that I’ve never found a worldly equivalent of. It’s a God-given euphoria.
The problem is that when a high is reached, a low inevitably follows. If I have a day where I think I’ve never felt so close to God, I can be sure that I’ll soon have a day when He’s never felt more distant. My euphoria is soon followed by a spiritual fatigue and despair.
I think this is what happened to Elijah. He’d just been a part of an incredible victory for God. God had worked through him to reveal a false god for who he really was. He had just revealed the greatest false priests in the nation for the fools they really were. He had just witnessed God send His power down from Heaven and set water ablaze. Elijah’s day of victory on the mountain must have put Him in an emotional state we can’t even imagine.
Then the next day dawned, and it was an ordinary day. God was still as fully there as He had been the day before, but it didn’t feel the same. In comparison, it felt like God was on the other side of the world. Elijah hears of a threat to his life by the queen. He forgets to call on God. He doubts God will protect him. He puts together his own plan for survival. He flees to the wilderness where the queen’s soldiers are unlikely to follow.
Maybe Elijah forgot what I always forget when God feels far away. It’s not God who has retreated, but me. He’s still right there, but my expectations and desires for how I want Him to manifest Himself in that moment are blinding me to how He’s actually chosen to do so. By dwelling on the past, I miss His work in the present and I doubt His faithfulness in the future. In those moments of despair, recalling the silliness of Elijah in chapter 19 is a great way of leading me back to God.