Do you find yourself working for God’s kingdom, fighting an evil ruler, and so discouraged you sometimes pray for death? If so, maybe you can learn from the example of the prophet Elijah, who found himself in exactly that circumstance in 1Kings 19:
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
What can we learn from Elijah about how to care for ourselves as we fight evil?
Once Elijah gets to a safe place, the second thing he does (after praying to die!) is sleep. I’m pretty sure he slept for at least 24 hours. The text says that “suddenly” an angel woke him up, but I’ll bet he was just so exhausted it seemed like an instant.
When he woke up, and angel had prepared a hot meal for him. The angel clearly knew what Elijah needed! Find yourself an angel who can cook you a hot meal when you are exhausted and discouraged.
3. Sleep again and eat again
I don’t know about you, but it usually takes me a couple of good nights’ sleep and several hearty meals before I feel like myself. The same seems to have been true of Elijah — he slept again (overnight, I like to think), and the angel cooked him a second meal before he was ready to face the world.
“Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” You’ve got work to do. You need to be well rested and nourished.
4. Go where you expect to encounter God
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Before you go back into the fight — before you prepare to encounter evil — you need to prepare to encounter God.
For Elijah, that meant journeying through the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, the Mountain of God — a place out of a storybook: the place where God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and where God appeared to the people of Israel with the Ten Commandments. Elijah didn’t know for sure that God would meet him here, but this seemed like his best bet. He wanted to be in the place where he had the greatest chance of actually meeting God.
For you, the place where you are most likely to encounter God probably won’t be Horeb, the Mountain of God. It might be in church, or walking in the woods, or in your garden, or reading poetry, or reading the Bible. But wherever your place is, go there. And wait. And be prepared for God to meet you.
5. Get to work, doing God’s work
Here’s where the text tells about the storm and the fire and the earthquake and the still small voice, and Elijah finally meets God. And God gives him a charge.
After eating and sleeping and refreshing yourself, physically and mentally and spiritually, it’s time to get back to work. Elijah was called to anoint new kings of Israel and Arab and to appoint a successor; your charge will probably be different.
Your work on behalf of God’s kingdom may mean feeding the poor, or caring for the sick, or building up your own community. Whatever it is, you are in the best position to resist evil when you are actively in the service of good. So start by working for good in small, everyday ways, and you will be ready when you are called to serve in larger ways.
6. Know that you are not alone
Twice Elijah “informed” God that he is the only person still on God’s side; other than him, the whole country has turned to evil and idolatry. But after giving Elijah his charge, God informs Elijah that he still has “seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Elijah may feel alone, he may feel that no one is on his side, but he is wrong. He is not alone.
And you are not alone.
There are people working for God’s kingdom in large ways and small ways, in places you don’t see and wouldn’t expect. Just do your part, and know that you are part of something bigger than yourself.