Elijah and Discouragement

Through I Kings 18-19, Elijah experiences an emotional roller coaster. Elijah brings a drought to the land through God’s power, and, when he comes to see Ahab again, the king is very hostile toward Elijah. In turn, Elijah proposes a challenge: set up two alters, one to Baal and one to Jehovah, and Baal’s priests would pray for their God to consume their sacrifice in fire. Elijah would do the same. Baal’s priests cry out, dance, and cut themselves to no avail. Elijah then evokes God with a small, quiet prayer after having his alter deluged with water, and fire from God incinerates the sacrifice and alter.

The people enthusiastically turn to God, praising Him and killing the prophets of Baal. The drought ends. It is a monumental victory, but it is very short-lived. By chapter 19, Jezebel proclaims death on Elijah and promises his end within a day. Elijah flees beyond the political influence of Ahab and Jezebel, collapses by a juniper tree, and asks God to take his life.

Causes of Spiritual Discouragement

James 5 reminds us that Elijah is simply a man like you or me – subject to times of triumph and times of despair. He is no more a stranger to discouragement than any of us. We see him despairing his life, but God is there to provide the cure to Elijah’s discouragement, but how does a prophet as successful as Elijah go from such success into the depths of discouragement?

  • Emotional Stress. Elijah feels the stress and strain of trying to convert a godless nation. The king and queen are set against him. He feels alone as we might when we see those we know and love rejecting God, when we feel that our faith is rejected at every turn.
  • Exhaustion. Elijah does a great deal of traveling in I Kings 18 alone, before and after the strenuous events on Mount Carmel. He is also worn out from the constant pressure of resisting the pressures around him. Likewise, we are always over-booked and overextended. We don’t take time to be still, to pray, to feed on God’s word, and to meditate. Like Elijah, we just wear ourselves out.
  • Great Accomplishments. Think about what Elijah accomplishes by the end of I Kings 18. How does he maintain that momentum? How can he top that? Elijah feels personally responsible for keeping the tide turned, and, when he cannot maintain that success, he feels a failure. The highs in our lives can lead directly into lows when we realize the difficulty in maintaining that momentum.

How then does this discouragement manifest itself in Elijah? First, he isolates himself in I Kings 19:3-4. “I just want to be alone.” However, it is not good for us to be alone in our discouragement. Then, Elijah loses perspective in I Kings 19:10 when he expresses he is the only one seeking God in Israel. He knows otherwise, but he pushes that knowledge out of his own mind in despair. Finally, Elijah descends into self-pity, and, when we pity ourselves, we become self-centered and selfish.

Curing Discouragement

We can relate to the causes and effects of discouragement we see in Elijah’s lives. How do we move on, though? We can begin by looking at the way God brings Elijah out of his despair.

  • Get Up. In I Kings 19:5-8, the angel twice instructs Elijah to rise. Verses 11-15 record God twice giving Elijah direction to “go.” God tells the prophet to get up and take positive action. Sometimes a small shift in the right direction makes all the difference. When we are down in the depths of discouragement, the first thing we should do is get involved in positive service.
  • Grow Up. I Kings 19:11-13 records God drawing Elijah’s attention to His presence in the quiet things. He reminds Elijah to spiritually grow up and stop looking for God in his own way. Paul makes the same admonition in I Corinthians 3:1-3 when he calls for Christians to grow out of physical jealousies. Sometimes, we simply need to work to maturation.
  • Gird Up. Toward the end of I Kings 19, God reminds Elijah there is still work to be done, and he will need help to do it. We need to be able to accept help. We need our own Elisha to help us change our outlook at times. I Peter 1:13 calls on us to gird our minds for action in God’s service.

God has given us reason to trust and hope in Him. We are no strangers to discouragement and struggles, but we can always look up to Him who loves us and created us. As Romans 8:31-39 reminds us, nothing can separate us from God’s love. None can oppose us when God is with us. We can take confidence in our God and face our discouragements with the knowledge that He is with us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Making Excuses

We speak of our challenge in giving; giving monetarily, giving of our time, giving from our abilities, giving over our priorities, giving thanks. In theory, we agree that we need to give more, but we make excuses in reality. We can find reasons others need to give more of themselves, but we often find reasons to excuse ourselves from such sacrifices. We are very capable at making excuses.

Excuse Makers in the Bible

  • One of the first examples we would probably think of is Moses. In Exodus 3, God is telling Moses that he will be God’s messenger to His people. In verse 11, Moses begins finding reasons to excuse himself. Moses wants to know what makes him special, how the people will disbelieve him, and how he is a poor speaker. Finally, in chapter 4:13, Moses simply asks God to send someone else. By the time Moses finishes, God is angry with him, and Moses fails to get out of the work set before him.
  • Likewise, in Judges 6, Gideon makes some similar appeals to God. When the Lord’s angel appears to him, Gideon asks how God could be with him during this time of oppression. Then, he asks how he could save Israel and points out his lowly background. Again, he fails to turn God from appointing this task to him.
  • In I Kings 19, Elijah looks for his own death. He cites his self-perceived ineffectiveness. He claims to be all alone in his work for the Lord. He feels his work has done no good, for his efforts have availed nothing but a death warrant. God does not accept Elijah’s reasons for despair but sends him back to his work, reminding him that he is not alone so long as God is with him.
  • Acts 13 records John Mark going on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas. As they leave Crete, however, and come to the mainland, John turns back from the journey for Jerusalem. In Acts 15:36, Paul and Barnabas grow contentious over bringing John Mark on another journey because of his leaving them previously. We do not know John Mark’s reasons, but, whatever they may have been, it is evident Paul finds them unacceptable.

The Rest of the Stories

None of these excuses is where the story ends, though. We know Moses stands before Pharoah and leads God’s people out of Egypt. We know how Moses intercedes for the people time and again before God. Deuteronomy 34:10-11 eulogizes Moses by saying no other prophet is like him. Gideon, in Judges 6:25-32, begins turning Israel back to God in his own household, making a courageous stand for the Lord. Elijah gets back to work in I Kings 19 and begins to mentor Elisha. Elijah stands up to Ahab and Jezebel in I Kings 20, and he stands up to Ahaziah in II Kings 1. Finally, in Colossians 4:10, John Mark is named as one comforting Paul in confinement, and II TImothy 4:11 records Paul requesting Mark’s presence, calling him useful in the ministry.

Each of these individuals become useful and productive for God once they stop making excuses and get to work. We may say “I can’t,” or “I won’t;” we may see our reasons for not working harder for the Lord as valid and reasonable. We may feel justified in our excuses for not obeying God. We can make all the excuses in the world for our actions or inaction, but God still expects humble obedience. Excuses failed to excuse Moses, Gideon, Elijah, and John Mark from His service. Let us each put away our excuses and strengthen our resolve to work for our Lord.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Elijah & Discouragement

It’s a common phrase: “I am just so discouraged.” None of us are strangers to discouragement in our lives. The problem is when that discouragement leads to despair and depressions, leading us into a cycle where we grow content in our malcontent. Elijah, in I Kings 19:1-19, experiences a despair with which we may be able to relate. These events come after Elijah’s triumph with God over the Baal priests upon Mt. Carmel, and he immediately finds himself running for his life. In the context of this great event, the king and queen of his land turn against him and seek to end his life.
Elijah has had enough. He calls for his own death, but an angel visits him, bidding him to eat. The angel strengthens him, and he travels to Mt. Horeb where he pleads his case to Jehovah God. He voices his despair, and God reveals Himself to His prophet in the quiet stillness of the mountain. This quiet God reassures Elijah that he is not alone. God is with Him and seven thousand remain unfaithful to Baal. From here, Elijah finds Elisha and returns to his work. When discouraged, we can look to this story. We can see how discouragement works its way into Elijah’s life, and take heart that we too can overcome despair.
Causes of Discouragement
Elijah feels the strain of trying to positively influence and ungodly nation. He feels the strain of being outnumbered by his opponent. He feels the stress of national leaders turned against him. He feels alone as we do at times. We grow distraught over the influence we think we don’t have. We feel the strain of those who we feel should be more faithful. We sometimes feel all have turned against us. Like Elijah, our emotional stress can pull us down.
Remember, in I Kings 18, Elijah is outrunning a murderous king in a chariot. He later runs from Jezebel and runs a day’s journey into the wilderness. He collapses when he can go no further. His physical exhaustion brings him to despair. We are always running. We are always wearing ourselves out. We overcommit and run ourselves into the ground, and we can no longer give our best to our families or our God. Even Jesus would take time from His ministry for meditation and reflection. He takes time to be still, to pray, and to focus on God.
Great success can also lead to great despair. Remember how Elijah overcomes the priests of Ball in I Kings 18, how the people shout praises to Jehovah after that triumph. He seems to feel a personal obligation to maintain that momentum, but, too often, when we reach a plateau, there is no direction left but down. We seek rewards, promotions, and recognition, but these same accolades can pull us down again once they are absent.
The Results of Discouragement
Because of his experiences, Elijah personally isolates himself, even leaving his personal servant behind. He was facing his discouragement alone. Too often, we do the same. We don’t want others to talk to us, encourage us, or try to help us. In Genesis 2:18, God states, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are created as social creatures, and it does us no good to isolate ourselves when down.
In I Kings 19, Elijah loses perspective as a result of his depression. More than once, Elijah cries to God that he is the only one. Proverbs 23:7 claims that the thoughts of our hearts define us. Judas experiences a similar progression of despair after betraying Jesus, and, in Matthew 27:3, Judas repents of his betrayal. His story, though, ends in suicide. Judas is unable to overcome the distraught his actions bring about. We cannot allow such discouragement to so distort our perspective.
Discouragement can also lead us to focus solely on ourselves. Philippians 2 encourages us to liken our minds to Christ, who focused on others before self. Elijah centers his despair around himself. Much later, Jonah will demonstrate an unhealthy fixation
Cures for Discouragement
In I Kings 19:5, God tells Elijah to get up. He encourages Elijah and us to take positive action. A small move in the right direction can turn things around. Just taking that action can set us again on the right path. Get up, take a shower, have lunch with someone, go to a Bible study. The smallest nudge can help us regain momentum.
Additionally, God pushes Elijah to mature. God demonstrates to him that great things do not always come from cataclysmic events. God is not in the storm or in the earthquake here. God reminds Elijah where to focus and in whom his hope should be placed. In I Corinthians 3, Paul chides the congregation to whom the letter is addressed, for being spiritually immature. Hebrews 5 makes a similar statement, reminding us that there is a reasonable time in which we should be spiritually growing up. Spiritually maturity helps us overcome discouragement.
Finally, God tells Elijah to equip himself, to get to work. God gives Elijah those to help and those who would help Him. There are times when we need to change our minds. Romans 12 encourages us to transform ourselves, starting with our minds. We may need to admit we need help, and we may find encouragement in encouraging others. Elijah would mentor Elisha as we can help others draw closer to God. I Peter 1:13 tells us to prepare our minds for action, setting our minds on God’s grace.
Conclusion
Discouragement is a part of life. We will be disappointed. We will feel upset at times. This life cannot fulfill our every hope and need. People will let us down. Leaders will let us down. We will let ourselves down. We look to something better, though. God gives us reason to hope and trust in Him. Romans 8:31 reminds us that God can deliver us against any power of this world. Verse 35 asks who can separate us from God, and Paul concludes that nothing can come between us and the love of our Father. We may be faced with despair, but we have hope in Him who delivers us from this world.

It’s a common phrase: “I am just so discouraged.” None of us are strangers to discouragement in our lives. The problem is when that discouragement leads to despair and depressions, leading us into a cycle where we grow content in our malcontent. Elijah, in I Kings 19:1-19, experiences a despair with which we may be able to relate. These events come after Elijah’s triumph with God over the Baal priests upon Mt. Carmel, and he immediately finds himself running for his life. In the context of this great event, the king and queen of his land turn against him and seek to end his life.

Elijah has had enough. He calls for his own death, but an angel visits him, bidding him to eat. The angel strengthens him, and he travels to Mt. Horeb where he pleads his case to Jehovah God. He voices his despair, and God reveals Himself to His prophet in the quiet stillness of the mountain. This quiet God reassures Elijah that he is not alone. God is with Him and seven thousand remain unfaithful to Baal. From here, Elijah finds Elisha and returns to his work. When discouraged, we can look to this story. We can see how discouragement works its way into Elijah’s life, and take heart that we too can overcome despair.

Causes of Discouragement

Elijah feels the strain of trying to positively influence and ungodly nation. He feels the strain of being outnumbered by his opponent. He feels the stress of national leaders turned against him. He feels alone as we do at times. We grow distraught over the influence we think we don’t have. We feel the strain of those who we feel should be more faithful. We sometimes feel all have turned against us. Like Elijah, our emotional stress can pull us down.

Remember, in I Kings 18, Elijah is outrunning a murderous king in a chariot. He later runs from Jezebel and runs a day’s journey into the wilderness. He collapses when he can go no further. His physical exhaustion brings him to despair. We are always running. We are always wearing ourselves out. We over-commit and run ourselves into the ground, and we can no longer give our best to our families or our God. Even Jesus would take time from His ministry for meditation and reflection. He takes time to be still, to pray, and to focus on God.

Great success can also lead to great despair. Remember how Elijah overcomes the priests of Ball in I Kings 18, how the people shout praises to Jehovah after that triumph. He seems to feel a personal obligation to maintain that momentum, but, too often, when we reach a plateau, there is no direction left but down. We seek rewards, promotions, and recognition, but these same accolades can pull us down again once they are absent.

The Results of Discouragement

Because of his experiences, Elijah personally isolates himself, even leaving his personal servant behind. He was facing his discouragement alone. Too often, we do the same. We don’t want others to talk to us, encourage us, or try to help us. In Genesis 2:18, God states, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are created as social creatures, and it does us no good to isolate ourselves when down.

In I Kings 19, Elijah loses perspective as a result of his depression. More than once, Elijah cries to God that he is the only one. Proverbs 23:7 claims that the thoughts of our hearts define us. Judas experiences a similar progression of despair after betraying Jesus, and, in Matthew 27:3, Judas repents of his betrayal. His story, though, ends in suicide. Judas is unable to overcome the distraught his actions bring about. We cannot allow such discouragement to so distort our perspective.

Discouragement can also lead us to focus solely on ourselves. Philippians 2 encourages us to liken our minds to Christ, who focused on others before self. Elijah centers his despair around himself. Much later, Jonah will demonstrate an unhealthy fixation

Cures for Discouragement

In I Kings 19:5, God tells Elijah to get up. He encourages Elijah and us to take positive action. A small move in the right direction can turn things around. Just taking that action can set us again on the right path. Get up, take a shower, have lunch with someone, go to a Bible study. The smallest nudge can help us regain momentum.

Additionally, God pushes Elijah to mature. God demonstrates to him that great things do not always come from cataclysmic events. God is not in the storm or in the earthquake here. God reminds Elijah where to focus and in whom his hope should be placed. In I Corinthians 3, Paul chides the congregation to whom the letter is addressed, for being spiritually immature. Hebrews 5 makes a similar statement, reminding us that there is a reasonable time in which we should be spiritually growing up. Spiritually maturity helps us overcome discouragement.

Finally, God tells Elijah to equip himself, to get to work. God gives Elijah those to help and those who would help Him. There are times when we need to change our minds. Romans 12 encourages us to transform ourselves, starting with our minds. We may need to admit we need help, and we may find encouragement in encouraging others. Elijah would mentor Elisha as we can help others draw closer to God. I Peter 1:13 tells us to prepare our minds for action, setting our minds on God’s grace.

Conclusion

Discouragement is a part of life. We will be disappointed. We will feel upset at times. This life cannot fulfill our every hope and need. People will let us down. Leaders will let us down. We will let ourselves down. We look to something better, though. God gives us reason to hope and trust in Him. Romans 8:31 reminds us that God can deliver us against any power of this world. Verse 35 asks who can separate us from God, and Paul concludes that nothing can come between us and the love of our Father. We may be faced with despair, but we have hope in Him who delivers us from this world.

lesson by Tim Smelser

A Blessing in Prayer

Sometimes we want to reach out and seek some confirmation that God is indeed still here. In the Old and New Testament, God interacts directly with people and individuals, but there has been a silence for the past couple thousand years. Like the saints in Revelation, we want some evidence that God still is in control, that He does care. One way we can reach out to God is in prayer.

In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul writes that we should rejoice in the Lord, putting off things that are out of our control through our prayers to God. Paul advocates that a life of prayer results in an inner peace that is unmatched by anything else. I Thessalonians 5:16-18 and Hebrews 4:14-16 both assure us we have a God who does understand, who wants us to come to Him. Also, I Peter 5:6-7 calls upon us to cast our cares upon our God who cares for us.

Effective Prayers

There are times when we draw near to God, perhaps in times of difficulty or stress. Jesus teachers His disciples to pray on various occasions. He goes to God several times during His ministry, and if He needed that reassurance during His work, then we do as well. Elijah’s prayer on Mount Carmel in I Kings 18:37, Hezekiah’s prayer when besieged by Assyrians, Daniel’s prayer in the den of lions – in each of these examples, the supplicant looks for assurance and deliverance from God.

In Genesis 18:24, Abraham begins to petition God on behalf of Sodom, and God acquiesces to Abraham’s requests to seek fewer and fewer righteous in the city. Exodus 32:8 records God growing angry with Israel to the point of destroying the people, and Moses interceded on their behalf. In II Kings 20, Hezekiah pleads for a longer life, and God grants his an additional fifteen years. In each of these cases, prayer changes God’s mind.

In Luke 18:1, Jesus tells a parable regarding prayer, speaking of an unjust judge who relents to the requests of a widow. Jesus rhetorically asks his audience how much more God will care about their petitions than this worldly judge. James 5:15 uses the illustration of Elijah praying that it will not rain. Not only did it not rain for three years, but it was his prayer that brought rain back. Verse 16 reminds us that Elijah was no different than us. God answered prayers before, and He continues to do so.

Conclusion

We demonstrate faith and confidence in our God and His plan for salvation. Why, then, do we find prayer so hard? Is it that we are afraid He has no time for us, or do we have difficulties making time for Him? Jesus led a life of prayer, and we should do the same. We have to pray in humility and pray in faith, but, like our Savior, we also have to acknowledge that God’s will may not always be our own.

Prayer to God is a sacred privilege. It is our avenue to His throne, and it is our reassurance that God is in control. Let us never take such a blessing for granted.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Small Things

Where do I fit into the work of the church? I might look at what others are contributing and think, “I can’t do that,” “I don’t have the resources of that person,” and I might talk myself out doing what I can after comparing myself to others. We might be unable to see where there is room for the individual contributions each of us can make.

In this lesson, we’re going to look at four individuals who might have been considered insignificant but had great impacts for God’s cause.

Small Examples of Significance

Luke 19 introduces us to Zacchaeus. He is a small man in stature and in the eyes of those around him. He is a tax collector – a profession despised in all times and all cultures. Still, this man desires to see Jesus, and Jesus agrees to come to his house, causing dissension among others around Him. Zacchaeus simply welcomed Jesus into his home – showing hospitality. The end result of these actions are repentance and salvation.

Mark 12:38 leads up to the introduction of a poor widow who has no recorded name in the Scriptures. We know nothing of her outside this one simple act of self-sacrifice. While the wealthy make great shows of their vast contribution, this widow makes the greatest sacrifice – giving out of her need. Her status and monetary contribution are small, but her spiritual sacrifice is great.

I Kings 19 records Elijah fleeing to Sinai after Jezebel places a bounty on his life. After forty days and nights on Sinai, feeling himself a little man, accomplishing nothing, God appears to Elijah. A strong wind rips rocks off the mountain. An earthquake shakes the land. A great fire appears, but God is in none of these. Instead, God appears as a whisper, greatness wrapped in smallness.

Finally, II Kings 5 introduces us to a Syrian commander named Naaman. He is described as a great man who is unfortunately beset with leprosy, and he has a humble maiden who serves his wife. She’s a nobody, but her advice leads to Naaman’s cure – a cure that requires him to humbly obey Elisha’s word. These small factors lead Naaman to proclaim his knowledge of God.

Our Own Greatness in Smallness

What does God expect of us? Does he expect us to move mountains with every act, or is He looking for the small contributions we can make? Matthew 25:31 begins depicting a scene of the judgment, and Christ lists small acts of service as what His followers have done for His cause. They have shown generosity, kindness, and mercy to those around them in the small things they could do.

We should not begrudge those who can accomplish more, but we should recognize that God smiles upon those small things we can do as well. Andrew, in John 1, simply goes and gets his brother Peter to see Jesus – a small act with great consequences. Paul frequently mentions those who encourage him in his letters. Barnabas is recognized for the encouragement he is to others.

There are a lot of little things we can do, and these can add up to something bigger. Elisha, the poor widow, Naaman’s servant, and Zacchaeus all serve as illustrations of how small actions can have big consequences in our work for the Lord.

lesson by Tim Smelser