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Sunday, September 20, 2015

on cake

'I have had enough, Lord' he said. 1 Kings 19:4 (NIV)
He lay down under the tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said, “Wake up and eat.” He looked around and saw a loaf of bread and a jar of water near his head. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The Lord's angel returned and woke him up a second time, saying, “Get up and eat, or the trip will be too much for you.” Elijah got up, ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to walk forty days to Sinai, the holy mountain. There he went into a cave to spend the night.
Suddenly the Lord spoke to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
10 He answered, “Lord God Almighty, I have always served you—you alone. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left—and they are trying to kill me!”
11 “Go out and stand before me on top of the mountain,” the Lord said to him. Then the Lord passed by and sent a furious wind that split the hills and shattered the rocks—but the Lord was not in the wind. The wind stopped blowing, and then there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake there was a fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the soft whisper of a voice.
13 When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
14 He answered, “Lord God Almighty, I have always served you—you alone. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left—and they are trying to kill me.”
15 The Lord said, “Return to the wilderness near Damascus, then enter the city and anoint Hazael as king of Syria; 16 anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Anyone who escapes being put to death by Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and anyone who escapes Jehu will be killed by Elisha. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand people alive in Israel—all those who are loyal to me and have not bowed to Baal or kissed his idol.”
~
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, and sat down under it and prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, Lord', he said, 'Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors'. Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
This was just the culminating event in a life for God that had been physically, mentally and spiritually demanding almost to the limit of human endurance. Elijah had had enough, as he said, and God treated him gently. There were some tasks still to be done, but God's resources were at hand. Food and water strengthened Elijah' body. A vision of the Lord himself renewed his spirit. He learnt that Elisha was to take over his work as prophet. So he was encouraged and enabled to do the rest of what God had for him to do. And he was taken up to heaven in a blaze of glory.
The experience of this great man of God was not unique. It would scarcely be said that his depression was any more than a natural reaction to a prolonged stressful experience. But it did get him down. And God gave him the help that he needed -- just as our Lord found strength from his Father after the temptation in the wilderness and when he agonised in Gethsemane. The same Lord is with us to understand and help when things get us down, when we have had enough.

'... and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19:12
Does life ever overwhelm you? So many things can happen -- good things, bad things, all kinds of things -- that they knock you flat. Do you wonder when they will stop -- when the tumult will cease? Can medicine never be the quiet life?
Elijah was one of the great men of God, but things got him down sometimes. When Jezebel put him on her death list he packed up completely. Rather paradoxically he asked God to let him die. God treated him gently and strengthened him. He wandered off, but was obviously still unhappy. He came to Horeb, the mount of God, took refuge in a cave and had another attack of the miseries, pouring out his heart to the Lord in a stream of self-pity.
This time God was not so gentle. Elijah really got the treatment: 'And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake and, after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire...'
God was showing his power. Elijah apparently needed to be made aware of it. The demonstration must have been terrifying, but Elijah had to learn the hard way. The demonstration had, however, been made, and the message was getting through. Elijah was ready for something different, and something different came: 'after the fire a still small voice'. Another translation says: 'a voice of stillness'. And in the stillness he was again able to tell his troubles.
Somehow the atmosphere is now different. Perhaps in the stillness Elijah is now listening, really listening. God shows him the way ahead. Communication is restored. Confidence is restored.
The story is worth pondering. Sometimes we think we have had enough, whether it is sheer physical exhaustion, deadness of heart, discouragement, even a sense of spiritual abandonment. God may then treat us gently, and we at least pretend to take the healing with gratitude. But we may not be really listening. Self-pity can cause severe deafness. And God may have to give us the treatment, as he did to Elijah.
The experience can be rough and tough and tumultuous.
'Where is the god of love?' we then ask, unheeding of the fact that Love is shouting at us. When we are ready to listen, then -- only then -- comes the still small voice, the voice of stillness. And in the stillness God reaches us.

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