Last night my family and I went out into the country to see the super-moon lunar eclipse. It was so fascinating to observe through our binoculars the differences between the phases of the moon and the shapes created by the lunar eclipse. We also watched more and more stars become visible closer to the moon as the sky darkened. As I watched the moon's face be slowly shadowed by the earth, it reminded me of Elijah and the times in my life when it seemed like God wasn't there. Have you ever felt like you couldn't tell if God was still there?
Slam DunkWhen have been some times you felt especially close to God? When have you known without a doubt that God is with you? Maybe at Vacation Bible School, at camp, or a church retreat? Some other time? Elijah was a prophet of the Lord God Almighty who lived about 845-870 B.C. God worked many miracles through Elijah which are recorded in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. (By the way, did you know that Kings and Chronicles record the same period of history? 1 and 2 Kings is from man's perspective. 1 and 2 Chronicles is what God thinks of all these things.) One of the most famous things that happened to Elijah happened on Mt. Carmel. If you don't remember what happened, read it here in 1 Kings 18:16-46. Elijah had just had a showdown with 450 prophets of a false god named Baal. They had tried all day to get their god to light a fire and burn the sacrifice they made to him. Then it was Elijah's turn. He prayed once and God not only set fire to wet wood and a dripping sacrifice, but it also completely dried the soaked ground and moat that had been created around the altar. Wow! The people now had no doubt who was the one true God, but Elijah wasn't done. There had been no rain in the land for seven years because Elijah had prayed and asked God for a drought. God answered as punishment for the sin of the people. Immediately following the contest with the false prophets of Baal, Elijah prayed and asked God to send the rain. He must have had great faith that it would come, because he sent his helper to check for a cloud. When it didn't show up the first time, Elijah kept praying. On the third try, God answered his prayers with a tiny cloud. Elijah had faith that this would be God's powerful answer to his prayer. He was so confident that he sent a messenger to the king to tell him a heavy rain was coming. God did just that and sent a torrential rain. Wow! Two great acts of God proving that He was the one true God. Elijah should have been on what some people call a "spiritual high" with his strong faith. You know what, just the opposite was true.
Where is God?
Instead of feeling closer to God, Elijah got scared. He was so discouraged, depressed, and scared that he asked God to kill him. God took care of him and brought Elijah to a special mountain where God had met with people before. In this place God asked Elijah what was wrong. God already knew, but He wanted to hear it from Elijah. Look back at what Elijah said. Then God did something not recorded in any other part of Scripture. He sent lots of big, mighty things, but God's voice was not in those things. Instead, God spoke to Elijah in a small, quiet whisper. Look at what Elijah said next. Where have we heard that before? Elijah had just seen God move in big powerful ways on Mt. Carmel. Then he'd seen how God was in the little things as well. God had met all of his needs when he was worn out and traveling and even protected him from the evil queen Jezebel who was trying to kill him. Did Elijah remember any of that? How do you know?
Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done. He told her how Elijah had killed all the prophets of Baal with his sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a message to Elijah. She said, “You can be sure that I will kill you, just as I killed the other prophets. I’ll do it by this time tomorrow. If I don’t, may the gods punish me greatly.”3 Elijah was afraid. So he ran for his life. He came to Beersheba in Judah. He left his servant there. 4 Then he traveled for one day into the desert. He came to a small bush. He sat down under it. He prayed that he would die. “Lord, I’ve had enough,” he said. “Take my life. I’m no better than my people of long ago.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush. And he fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him. The angel said, “Get up and eat.” 6 Elijah looked around. Near his head he saw some bread. It had been baked over hot coals. A jar of water was also there. So Elijah ate and drank. Then he lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came to him a second time. He touched him and said, “Get up and eat. Your journey will be long and hard.” 8 So he got up. He ate and drank. The food gave him new strength. He traveled for 40 days and 40 nights. He kept going until he arrived at Horeb. It was the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. A message came to Elijah from the Lord. He said, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” 10 He replied, “Lord God who rules over all, I’ve been very committed to you. The Israelites have turned their backs on your covenant. They have torn down your altars. They’ve put your prophets to death with their swords. I’m the only one left. And they are trying to kill me.” 11 The Lord said, “Go out. Stand on the mountain in front of me. I am going to pass by.” As the Lord approached, a very powerful wind tore the mountains apart. It broke up the rocks. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake a fire came. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. And after the fire there was only a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his coat over his face. He went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. Then a voice said to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” 14 He replied, “Lord God who rules over all, I’ve been very committed to you. The Israelites have turned their backs on your covenant. They have torn down your altars. They’ve put your prophets to death with their swords. I’m the only one left. And they are trying to kill me.” 15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came. Go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also anoint Jehu as king over Israel. He is the son of Nimshi. And anoint Elisha from Abel Meholah as the next prophet after you. He is the son of Shaphat. 17 Jehu will put to death anyone who escapes Hazael’s sword. And Elisha will put to death anyone who escapes Jehu’s sword. 18 But I will keep 7,000 people in Israel for myself. They have not bowed down to Baal. And they have not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:1-19 (NIRV)
Faith, Not FeelingsSometimes we, like Elijah, forget how big and powerful God is. We forget the ways we have seen God love us, take care of us, answer prayers, and work in our lives. We become so focused on our own problems that we forget that God is still with us. God is still in charge and in control. The same God who does big, powerful, flashy miracles is also with us when we feel very alone. He is still quietly with us, whispering to us. Sometimes we are just too focused on our own problems to hear.
"Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1 (NIRV)The moon was still there during the lunar eclipse, even though it was harder to see. In the same way, God is always with us, always at work, and always keeps His promises, even when we can't see or feel it. Our faith in Jesus Christ should not change with our feelings. Sometimes we feel close to God and sometimes we don't. God never changes. Our faith is rooted in His promises which never change, not in how close we feel to God.
"Remember those earlier days after you received the light. You remained strong in a great battle that was full of suffering. Sometimes people spoke badly about you in front of others. Sometimes you were treated badly. At other times you stood side by side with people being treated like this. You suffered along with people in prison. When your property was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew that God had given you better and more lasting things. So don’t throw away your bold faith. It will bring you rich rewards. You need to be faithful. Then you will do what God wants. You will receive what he has promised." Hebrews 11:32-36 (NIRV)Never forget that God has promised to always be with you. It doesn't matter what you feel. God promised, so He will do it.
"Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run from you? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I lie down in the grave, you are there. If I rise with the sun in the east and settle in the west beyond the sea, even there you would guide me. With your right hand you would hold me.
I could say, “The darkness will hide me. Let the light around me turn into night.” But even the darkness is not dark to you. The night is as light as the day; darkness and light are the same to you."
Psalm 139:7-12 (NCV)