10 Then the people of Judah began to complain, “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.” 11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”
Last time we saw the external causes of doubt and discouragement and now we come to the:
- Internal causes
Verse 10 says, “The workers are getting tired.” There is a lesson for us here and that is that when you are physically drained, it is very easy to get down and become discouraged. The workers became fatigued and discouraged when the wall was built to half its height. Many times when we start a new project the first half goes quickly because we’re excited about accomplishing the goal. But it’s not just how we begin that matters but how we finish. Fatigue causes many to falter and give into feelings of failure. These same people who against all odds had worked with enthusiasm and built the wall to half its height were now ready to throw in the towel. Fatigue will always cause you to see the glass as half empty, were faithfulness will cause you to focus on the finish. In 1 Kings 18 we are told about the prophet Elijah who courageously confronted and challenged the prophets of Baal to a divine contest to see whose God is real and whose was just man made religion. Elijah’s God, Yahweh, wins the battle as fire falls from heaven to consume the sacrifice. Now one would think that chapter 19 would start with shouts of celebration but the opposite is true, instead of shouts of praise we find the prophet pouting and protesting. Elijah runs into the wilderness, and in the story that follows, we see that even the great prophets of God had their bad days. We find Elijah depressed and despondent. He has been trying to get the northern Kingdom of Israel to stop worshiping idols and return to the worship of Yahweh, but it has been an uphill battle, especially with Baal worship having the official sanction of the royal court. Even when he thought he had proved Yahweh’s superiority without question on Mt. Carmel and disposed of all the prophets of Baal, the culture did not immediately change. People still worshiped Baal, led by their wicked Queen. So, Elijah does what any good pastor would do under such circumstances. He runs off into the desert, sits under a solitary broom tree and says, “I want to die. Take my life, Lord!” he cries. And then he lies down and sleeps. Elijah is exhausted and like every depressed person, he hides from the world in sleep. The truth about God’s call is that it is not something that just goes away. Many of us are good with claiming God’s call when the circumstances are favorable but when things get tough we want out. But you can’t run from it, as Jonah discovered, and you can’t sleep it away, either. Elijah’s sleep is interrupted by an angel, who brings him food and drink to build up his strength for the journey ahead. Several times he is awoken with food before he begins his forty day journey to Horeb, the mountain of God. This passage refers to the mountain as Mt. Horeb but most know it better by its other name Mt. Sinai. Like Moses before him, Elijah also goes up on the mountain to meet with God. It takes him 40 days to get here and numbers in the Bible are often symbols that point to something significant. The number 40 is sometimes seen as a symbol for a time of struggle. Jesus fasts for 40 days before his temptation in the wilderness, Israel wanders 40 years in the wilderness, Noah is cooped up in a boat for 40 days and 40 nights. Elijah ends up in a cave on the same mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments and the Lord asks him “What are you doing here Elijah?” Now Elijah was not just discouraged he was depressed, his depression has not gone away in 40 days. He replies “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” In other words, I’ve done my job, God, not only have I been faithful but I have been fanatical and done everything I can to wipe out the worship of Baal from your people, but it hasn’t worked. I’m the only one left who worships you, and now they’re trying to kill me.” Elijah is told to come out his dark cave and stand on the mountain, this is where God in his grace deals directly with his servant. In the next verses, we are meant to remember the days of Moses on the mountain. When Moses brought Israel to Sinai, the mountain quaked and burned and smoked and blew. It’s the same mountain, but God’s approach is very different this time because the situation is different. Elijah’s whole life has been represented in the quaking and the fire and the wind. But suddenly it is quiet, so still that it’s quietly deafening because even the noises that are supposed to be there are not there and you know something is up. Elijah is asked the same question again to which his answer is the same.
Even being in the very presence of God has not lifted his dejected spirit. Now I don’t know what you would expect from God in such a situation, but I think I would have expected a bit more understanding than Elijah gets. There’s no “There, there, Elijah everything will be ok, I know you’ve had it rough so why don’t you head down to the Nile for a well-earned vacation.” No instead God doesn’t even acknowledge Elijah’s feelings but tells him to go back anoint a couple of new kings and get a successor for himself. God also confronts Elijah’s feelings with some startling facts, by the way, Elijah you are not the only one left who worships me, there are still 7,000 others. Meeting God on the mountain is not just a warm-fuzzy feeling, no our relationship with God is purpose-driven. When we surrender our lives to Him we are signing up for work. Look serving God is hard, unfortunately, we have glamorized God’s work so much that when things get tough many Christians are tempted to question their call. I have heard many Christians say if this is what it’s like then I’m out. Really what did you expect? We are storming the gates of hell, of course, it is going to be hard? Also, the role of the prophet is especially difficult. Prophets don’t just tell the future, they speak for God. They confront sin and point out the places where people are falling short. As Elijah found out, it’s the kind of calling that can get you killed. This little story about Elijah, a prophet so great that people in the New Testament thought Jesus must be Elijah returned to earth, gives us a perfect picture of life in God’s service. As you look at the life of God’s servants one thing becomes abundantly clear, life in God’s service is not necessarily safe. Both Moses and Elijah had to confront kings, and as a result, both Moses and Elijah had targets on their backs and prices on their heads. But when Elijah wears out with the work, God feeds him. God provides the nourishment that will be needed for the journey. Your spiritual successes may feel good but they will not sustain only God can. Many of us are trying to live off of our mountaintop calling fire down from heaven experiences, but they will not fuel and protect us from fatigue only the Father can. Notice that God doesn’t coddle Elijah and insists that Elijah sees the truth about his situation. He’s not the only faithful one out there, and there is someone else able to do his work. We can learn from this starting with the truth that God doesn’t buy our self-importance. We are not the only ones out there doing the Lord’s work, and God has somebody else ready to step in when we’re done. We need to team together because lone ranger ministry leads to rung out, miserable ministers. If you come before God like Elijah does, worn out because the workload is too heavy, you can expect the answer that Elijah gets. “There are plenty more faithful out there, go get yourself an assistant.” After telling Elijah that, God sends him right back into the fray. Go anoint a couple more kings. Well, you can be sure that the kings that already were in power were not going to be pleased with Elijah anointing new ones. This was not going to make Ahab and Jezebel any less likely to want to kill him. But that’s his job, and Elijah goes and does it. We don’t see any more depressed incidents after this. Time was not the answer to his depression truth was. Elijah has his focus back because what he needed was the reminder that it wasn’t about him, it’s about God and God’s work. We need to be on our guard against the foe of fatigue. Fatigue will cause us to listen to our feelings instead of the Father. We need rest so that we can serve from a position of health instead of hopelessness. The whole purpose of becoming rested and healthy is so that we can be back about God’s business. The angel does not say to Elijah, eat so you’ll feel better but so that you will have strength for the journey. When the angel has cared for Elijah, God shows up with another task…sending him right back into the danger he was running from. It was the same with Moses, it was the same with Jesus. After the angels nourished and strengthened him at the end of his temptations in the wilderness, he went out to begin three grueling years of ministry. After the angels sustained him in the Garden of Gethsemane, he went out to face the Cross. Faith is not for the faint of heart and we need to guard against fatigue in our lives. Are you running on empty trying to sustain yourself with your successes instead of God’s Spirit? As a good friend constantly reminded me, self-care is not selfish. Take time to sit with God and soak up His strength, for only He will sustain you.