by Emily Conrad
I am familiar with discouragement. Just ask my friends.
Actually, please don’t. Just take my word for it that I have a tidy little list of things that aren’t going my way, and at times, it overwhelms me. The list says I am inadequate, alone, left to fend for myself in a world beyond my power to control.
In this kind of desperation, I want to run to God, but what will He say to me?
Something about my upbringing or my perfectionist heart insists that He will tell me to buck up, get back to work, do more, and do it with a better attitude. Having faith and living for eternity, when merged with my German stoicism and good girl mentality, translates to a kind of faith that insists I fake it until I make it.
I tend to think there’s Biblical basis for this belief even as I’m a desperate for a different response from the One I’m told is my Father, the Lover of my Soul, my Redeemer.
In a time like this, I remembered that a prophet once ran through the wilderness to meet with God in the midst of discouragement. I didn’t remember which prophet it was, or where to find the account of his journey, so I paged through the Old Testament to find out what happened, how this off-course, desperate prophet was received by his God.
The prophet is Elijah, and immediately, I was forced to admit my life is nowhere near as dramatic as his. My highs don’t involve successfully asking God to send down fire from heaven. My lows don’t involve queens threatening my life. I’ve never made my bed in the desert and asked to die in my discouragement. But this is where we find Elijah in 1 Kings 19, on his way to meet with God.
After asking to die, Elijah lies down and sleeps. He’s woken by an angel who says, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” (1 Kings 19:7b, ESV)
The journey is too great for you.
I nod along. It’s too great for me, too. I long to join Elijah on this run to God, but still, I don’t know how an exhausted, discouraged servant will be received.
Elijah has a death wish anyway, so maybe this isn’t a concern for him. Or maybe he knows something about God that I sometimes doubt. Either way, he completes the journey and arrives at Mount Horeb (aka Mount Sinai, where God met with Moses).
God greets him with a question. “Why are you here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9c, NET)
God had provided the nourishment Elijah had needed to complete this journey, so Elijah’s presence is clearly no surprise to Him. Not that anything ever is a surprise to God, which means God knew full well why Elijah had come. So, in asking this question this way, God did two things that give me hope:
He gave Elijah the opportunity to pour it all out.
He subtly reminded his servant that He knows him by name.
As I read this, I feel God doing the same for me. For you.
Why have you come, beloved? Tell me all about it.
Elijah rattles off his list of worries. You can read it in verse 10, but it goes something like this: I love You, and I hate to see You disrespected, but that’s all the people around me do. They tear down and kill. I’m alone, and I’m afraid.
God doesn’t interrupt. Instead, after listening, He responds in the most extraordinary way. He passes by. This is the beautiful passage where we hear of winds tearing the mountains and an earthquake shaking the ground and a fire appearing—but God isn’t in the wind or the quaking or the fire. God is in the whisper that follows.
In this context, I imagine God repeating His question in the most tender whisper, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Emily, why have you come?
Elijah repeats his list. Did he miss the wonder of the God of the universe calling him by name? Did God passing by, revealing Himself in such amazing ways, not knock all the fear and worry and self-pity right out of this guy?
Apparently not, and I can’t claim I would’ve behaved any differently. I think of the list of my concerns that I’ve repeated to friends, practically word for word each time. And I’ve repeated it to God, too. Does He have patience for this kind of thing, or is He ready to kick us out?
Praise God, He lavishes mercy and grace on His children.
After hearing that list through again, God gives Elijah instructions. Yes, those instructions do send Elijah back to work, but they also provide guidance to call a new prophet who would assist Elijah. And a reminder that Elijah isn’t alone. There are thousands who have been faithful.
Can you imagine the relief? God met Elijah’s great needs along this journey that was too much for him. God met with Elijah, who ran to Him. God listened. God appeared. God gave direction. God gave help.
Join me in running, won’t you? Our Father will not refuse us. We can head for the spiritual hills knowing we will not be sent away empty. We are invited to get away and meet with our God. We are His children, whom He loves.
We cannot muscle right attitudes into existence by maintaining a stiff upper lip. This is not a fake it until you make it kind of religion. This is a relationship where we bring our struggles to our God and allow Him to do the impossible in our hearts. He alone can take us from our lists of worries to renewed faith in His goodness and power.
Why have you come, Emily?
The journey is too great for me. But You, God, are greater. Renew my perspective. Give me direction. Change my heart to match Yours.