Another arrow pierces the heart. I don’t have any fancy words today. The fact is, it just really hurts. We have watched the world convulse this year. There has been fear, violence, suspicion, sickness, anger – and that all feels so distant when compared to this heaving of the heart.
I know we’ve all been there. Walked through that intangible grief of watching a life implode. We’ve watched the one we respected and honored from a distance fall in a flame of tabloid fanfare. We’ve seen that dear soul we’ve poured everything into, sometimes it’s your own child, brother or sister… imploding their life with a string of bad decisions. Walked alongside someone as a sister or brother, fought great battles together, until the day when you discover you no longer follow the same Lord. You’ve walked in the fire together, and suddenly they are walking in a fire of a different sort. The heart cries out – not another one?
What do you do when you stand in the smoldering ruins and wonder who is left standing with you?
There’s this story I keep being drawn to – it’s a sub-plot, if you will. Almost an afterthought in the shadow of a larger story. But this quiet little afterthought is shouting loud in my heart right now. I need to put these words right here, if only for my own sake. If only to remind myself of what is true when emotions threaten to reign.
We know about Elijah. The guy who saw a boy come back to life as a result of his prayers and participated in innumerable miracles with God. This Elijah who prayed fire down from heaven in an ultimate showdown between good and evil. This same Elijah – the one who seems so bold and fearless; the one with no reason to doubt God; riding high on the winds of victory – what does he do in the wave of this greatest victory? Well, he runs for his life – afraid. I have always been intrigued by this part of the story, because it feels so… human. So real. So much like something I would do.
Elijah finds a cave and hides in it. And here I sit, in the cave with Elijah, emotions all amuck. Feeling confused, sad, heartbroken – alone.
And God says, “What are you doing here?” Elijah replies with all his pent up evidence against God – “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.” (1 Kings 19)
Do you sometimes feel like you’re the only one left? The only one who really cares in a world gone mad? Sometimes the hits come so close together and the waves of loss build up until you’re crushed by the grief. And you just feel alone. Sitting in a cave with Elijah and me – issuing your complaint against the God of the Universe. That’s where we all have to start – letting yourself face the emotions that threaten to consume. All the anger. The sorrow. The confusion. The questions – all of it.
I’m glad it doesn’t scare God. It doesn’t make Him turn His back in disgust. It doesn’t make Him lose patience with you or even make Him join you in feeling like giving up. Here is what He is actually doing in this sacred moment.
He is revealing Himself to you. Open your eyes and look – you will still see Him. Right here. In this place. But you have to stick your head out of the cave. “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19:11).
He is revealing Himself to you. Open your eyes and look – you will STILL see Him. Right here. In this place. But you have to stick your head out of the cave
Go out and look for Him! And He will show up. But not as you expect. Be very careful not to only look for Him only in fire and earthquakes – He shakes our world in a much more subtle, life altering way. He whispers His presence. What could be more intimate than that?
So let’s start there. Take that one step out of the cave, and watch for His presence. Wait for His whisper. Hold your breath in between the sobs, and let His gentle whisper find it’s way into your soul.
But hold on – the story isn’t over! It may feel like that is all, because it is already so rich, so real. Right here – in this holy whisper – this is just the beginning of our healing! This next part is the flower in the ashes that has held my attention for this last chapter of my life. The part I just can’t seem to get over. Two things happen next in Elijah’s confrontation with God that will define the rest of his life.
- He is given His next step. God lets Elijah have his moment of grief, but He doesn’t let him camp there. After the whisper, Elijah complains one more time about being the only one left, despite his zealousness for God. And God’s response this time is to simply tell him to what to do next. “The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.” (v. 15) There’s more work to be done – get out of the cave and do the next thing.
There’s more work to be done – get out of the cave and do the next thing
And finally – almost as an afterthought – is the crescendo to the entire conversation. Elijah’s complaint against God centers on himself – I have been zealous for the Lord God Almighty…the Israelites have abandoned you… I am the only one left (v. 10 & 14) Do you feel that some days? Just watch the news cycle. Hop on to facebook or twitter and watch the vitriol swirl. Do you sometimes feel like the only one who still cares? Who still longs for truth and beauty and grace and kindness and for Jesus to be lifted high?
- God sends Elijah on his way to do the next thing. And then He says, “oh, by the way, Elijah. You’re not alone! “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (v 18). You may think you’re the only one left, Elijah, but there are 7,000 others out there! I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. God has His people spread throughout His land, and just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not strong. Does this breathe courage and strength into your heart like it does mine?
So where does leave me on this beautiful summer morning when the darkness licks at the edges of my soul? It gives me the courage to stick my head out of my cave and listen with bated breath for His whisper. To see His glory. To let His truth be louder than all the taunts leveraged against me in my own head. To let Jesus be bigger and more real than any disappointment or heartbreak.
It opens my ears to listen to His next step. Who needs a voice of encouragement today? Who has God brought into my life today? What is He asking of me? Take my eyes off my own self pity, my own disappointment, those who have let me down, and simply do the next thing. Because we are not alone! God has His people scattered throughout this beautiful world, and we can lock arms with those who are still faithful and walk boldly forward. Elijah’s next step after his encounter with God was to find Elisha. I just smile at this – how very good of God to bring him a brother during this vulnerable time in his life. Someone to walk with him, encourage him, breathe that life back into him. Someone to carry on after Elijah was gone.
Lock arms with those who are still in sync with you and Jesus. Let Jesus figure out how to handle those who break away. Walk boldly on into the next adventure, take on the next challenge, quiet the accusing mocking voices in your heart, and hear this clarion call: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He 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 sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1)
I’m glad there are people like Elijah in the Bible. I’m glad I got to sit in his cave with him some this morning – I needed this reminder.