SOURCE: Janice Wise/Discipleship Journal
THE SINNING SERVANT
God responds to our failures not with condemnation, but with gentle conviction.
It had been a good day! After building an altar, the prophets of Baal had laid out their sacrifice and shouted for their god to light the fire. All day they had clamored—but nothing happened.
Then Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord God, spreading his sacrifice upon it. Three times, at Elijah’s insistence, the people poured water over the offering, until the water ran down and filled the trench around the altar.
Elijah prayed, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me . . . so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1K. 18:36–37).
The people watched in amazement as the fire of the Lord fell from Heaven and burned up everything—sacrifice, wood, stones, soil, even the water in the trench. How they cried, “The LORD, he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (1K.18:39). In triumph Elijah commanded the people to help him destroy the prophets of Baal. God had been faithful once again.
Then it was time to pray for rain. Three years before, Elijah had called for a drought in the land because of the sins of the people. Now God instructed Elijah to present himself to King Ahab with the announcement that rain was coming this day.
Elijah prayed seven times, until a cloud appeared in the sky and the wind rose, bringing a heavy rain upon the drought-stricken land. In the gathering storm, Elijah ran ahead of King Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel. God had demonstrated His power and shown without a doubt that Elijah was His servant. Tired but elated, Elijah could thank God for the wonders of the day.
As he rested, a messenger came from the palace. Queen Jezebel’s words were pointed. “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 K. 19:2). She intended to kill Elijah as he had killed her prophets!
At the height of confidence and triumph the Enemy struck his blow. The Scriptures say, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (1K.19:3).
After a day’s journey into the desert, Elijah found a broom tree and sat down under it. “I have had enough, LORD,” he prayed in discouragement. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1K.19:4). Then Elijah did what we often do in times of discouragement; he lay down and fell asleep.
Discouraged—Elijah? This man of God who had that very day experienced such triumphs in his ministry? Yet here we find him full of fear, defeat, self-pity. We, too, face these enemies as we serve the Lord. And often, like Elijah, we let them control our reactions.
How does God deal with faithful servants who succumb to the attack of the Enemy? With condemnation?
No, for condemnation enlarges the already heavy load of defeat and drives us farther from our God. The Scriptures teach, “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance” (Ro. 2:4). God’s love brings us to the place of conviction. There He lifts us up and sets us once more on His path for our lives. As we look at God’s way with Elijah we can better understand the positive force of God’s conviction in our own lives.
Elijah slept on under the broom tree. Then God sent an angel—not to upbraid or punish the prophet, but to give him hot bread and fresh water. After Elijah had eaten, he lay down again.
A second time the angel of the Lord came to him. Surely this time the angel would speak to Elijah about his shameful behavior. But no—look at what the angel said: “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (1K. 19:7). Once more Elijah received nourishment and encouragement.
THE PLACE OF CONVICTION
After he had experienced God’s kindness, we might expect Elijah to quit running, but he only used the added strength to run farther away. He traveled forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, where he found a cave and spent the night.
God knows exactly where we are headed when we run, and He even helps us to get there. He shows His love to us as He leads us to the place of conviction.
I remember a childhood friend who once threatened to run away from home. Her mother responded kindly, “Oh, you don’t want to live with us anymore? Would you like me to help you pack your suitcase?” Deciding she wasn’t that eager to leave, my friend talked her problem over with her mother, who helped her become happy at home once again.
So God helped Elijah, giving him strength even to run away. When Elijah reached his hideaway God was there, too. And He had just one question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1K. 19:9).
“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty,” Elijah responded. “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1K. 19:10).
See how fear and self-pity changed Elijah’s point of view. The Israelites had just proclaimed, “The LORD—he is God!” in response to the heavenly fire that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice. They helped Elijah put to death the prophets of Baal. And it was Queen Jezebel, not the Israelites, who had threatened to kill Elijah. When we get “under the circumstances,” driven by the Enemy, we have a distorted view of our situation.
God did not point out all these fallacies in Elijah’s complaints. Instead He spoke to him as He does to us when we have lost our way. He said in effect, “Look at Me.”
God’s GENTLE WHISPER
God told Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by” (1 K. 19:11). No condemnation, no explanation. Just the positive command to look at the One who can turn our darkest night into day by His presence.
There came a powerful wind—but the Lord was not in the wind. An earthquake followed—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire—but the Lord was not in the fire.
For those who know His voice, God doesn’t speak through wind, earthquake, and fire. These are the ways He speaks to the world, to instill fear of Himself, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10). Elijah did not need to be made afraid. He just needed to be reminded of his relationship with God.
After the fire came a gentle whisper. Then Elijah, recognizing the voice of his God, went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Once more God asked the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1K.19:13).
Condemnation will hammer at us about our sin; conviction asks the question that helps us see and correct the wrong.
God asked the same question. Elijah gave the same answer. In love, God lets us speak out the self-pity and frustrations, emptying them from ourselves to Him. Again Elijah aired his complaints, ending with the plaintive, “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1K. 19:14).
God did not comment on Elijah’s twisted view of things. Instead, after allowing the prophet to express himself, God gave a positive direction. Genuine conviction always provides a bridge back to the path of God.
THE PATH BACK TO GOD
God commanded Elijah, “Go back the way you came.” Then He gave him instructions to anoint Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha (1K. 19:15–16). God was telling Elijah to get on with the work of the Kingdom. God also shared with Elijah some future events, thereby showing him that their friendship remained intact; Elijah continued to be God’s man no matter how far he had run.
Almost as an afterthought God added: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (1 K.19:18). Elijah wasn’t the only one left, and God had known it all along.
Elijah’s conviction and repentance were complete, for we read in the next part of the chapter that he immediately went and obeyed God’s command to appoint Elisha to succeed him (1K.19:19). God blessed Elijah as he obeyed. When the prophet anointed Elisha, the young man left his family to become Elijah’s attendant. Elijah never again had to feel he was the “only one.”
THE POSITIVE POWER OF CONVICTION
Conviction speaks the truth in love. It usually consists of few words, sometimes only a question. But our hearts know we are being checked in our course by the One who loves us.
James wrote, “Elijah was a man just like us” (Jas. 5:17). We who serve God have great power from Him—and shattering weaknesses of our own. The creative might of God’s conviction forms a bridge from our weaknesses to His strength. Because of this power active in our times of failure and discouragement, we can gladly say with the Apostle Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
When we suffer discouragement and self-pity we are God’s servants still. We can trust that He will restore us to His paths as we yield to the positive power of His conviction.
“I will not accuse for ever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me. . . . I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will guide him and restore comfort to him.”