I have been more than grateful for the impact that the Lost And Found
series has had on people's lives at Good Shepherd.
People are finding themselves deep inside Elijah's story, and as a result they are also discovering the kind of practical healing that the prophet himself received.
Nowhere was that more true than yesterday's message, "Lost Hope."
It's a message, as you will see, in which Elijah longs for the same kind of celebration that Jim Valvano ran around the court looking for in 1983. Yet instead of laudatory hugs, Elijah gets his second fatwa
in only three chapters.
How he loses his hope -- and finds it again -- is the subject of the rest of the message. It lands at one of my favorite bottom lines ever: God won't do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.
Isn’t it true that there are times when we’ve had enough? Our parents said that to us, didn’t they? We’d push all their buttons, we were persistently disobedient and out it came: “I’ve HAD ENOUGH of you young man!” Or “I’ve HAD ENOUGH of your lip, young lady!” And that phrase sunk into us so deeply – whether or not it was the prelude to some kind of , um, corporal punishment – that to our horror we have heard ourselves saying the same thing to our kids when they push our buttons. The very thing we promised we’d never be, we’ve become. I’ve HAD ENOUGH! We get frustrated with, angry at, people & situations & politicians & preachers and we collectively have HAD ENOUGH.
But you know not all of that energy is directed externally. Sometimes the thing we’ve had enough of is us. Issues and struggles. Some of you reach that place where you’ve had enough of your marriage. Or you’ve had enough of that chronic pain in your back. You’ve had enough of losing your temper. You’ve had enough of being single. You’ve had enough of compulsive, self-destructive behavior. Yeah, there’s a whole lot of people I know who’ve HAD ENOUGH and the target is us.
And saddest of all are the people who have had enough of life itself. The obstacles are so steep and the burdens are so heavey that you’ve had enough of living. You lose any hope that I could possibly get any better. The marriage won’t heal, the kids won’t be functional, the body won’t respond, the eviction notice arrived, and you just see no way out. Where today is so dark that there is no way tomorrow can have any light at all. Some of you have been there, some of you are headed there, and others are there right now. Why you came to church. Did you know that kind of hopelessness moves about 765K ppl a year to attempt suicide and 30K to succeed? So sad.
Which is really nothing new. That place of hopelessness and even that death wish is exactly where we find Elijah in I K 19: He’s had enough – enough of life, enough of opposition, he’s lost hope and he wants to die. Here’s the deal: it’s about 750 BC, the children of Israel are divided into two, Elijah is a prophet to the Northern half, called Israel, and Israel has been over-run with worship of a certain idol called Baal. When Elijah came on the scene, he predicted a drought, it happened, he survived a fatwa by fleeing, then he returns home and stages a contest between the idol Baal and the living God on Mt. Carmel, which is Baal’s home court. And Elijah wins a victory for the Lord! Dramatic, decisive, definitive. So in the aftermath of that great moment, he’s like Jim Valvano running around looking for someone to hug (check the first 15 seconds of this clip)
expecting to be carried down the mountain on the shoulders of his adoring fans. Total euphoria that demands a hero’s welcome.
Except that’s not what happens. Look at 19:1:
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.
Can you imagine that conversation? Ahab has his tail between his legs, he is Jay Pritchett to Jezebel’s Gloria (AV w/ knife?) and it really is no contest. Jezebel, whose name means “Where is Baal”; SAY IT WITH A DEEP SOUTHERN ACCENT AND YOU'LL SEE WHAT I MEAN; comes up with her own way of “celebrating” Elijah’s win:
2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “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.”
Ugh. He expects praise, anticipates a parade, and he receives a death threat. His second fatwa in 3 chapters! So look at 19:3a:
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.
I love the irony: he runs for his life . . . the same life he is shortly going to ask to be taken from him.
So look next at 19:3b-4:
When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.
And there it is. I’VE HAD ENOUGH, LORD!! I’m not gonna take it anymore! Isn’t it true that many of us are more vulnerable after prosperity than we are in the middle of adversity? When we fly high we fall hard. I know it’s that way for me. I remember that time after Easter – record attendance, big head, euphoric celebration – I checked my mail and there was every preacher’s worst nightmare: AN ANONYMOUS LETTER. It wasn’t kicking me when I was down; it was sabotaging me when I was up! Yeah all around, be the most watchful and attentive after success because that’s when you become complacent, self-reliant, and even cocky. Elijah’s expectations were so high and the disappointment so great that he saw no way tomorrow could have any light in it at all. So he’d HAD ENOUGH.
Which leads to the worst prayer in the bible:
“Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
Wow. The “had enough” pile on top of each other, the weight becomes unbearable, and Elijah wants to end it all. And although it is the worst prayer in the bible, I’m really glad it’s here. Because I know some of you have prayed it. Or you are praying it. Hope is gone because the marriage is over, the job market is closed, the voices are still in your head, the pain is relentless, so it seems there is no way out except to get out. Take my life. Do it now. Instantly. Painlessly. Fix it, take it, do it. I’m tired of being responsible for it.
That’s you. And that was Elijah. Except look what happens in 19:5b-6:
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
Hey: MAJOR UPGRADE from having ravens deliver your food! I’ll take an messenger of God over a scavenger of carrion anyday! And in case you missed it the first time, the same thing happens in 19:7-8a:
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank.
And the repetition is the key. The answer to this painfully large prayer is massively small: bread, water, and a bed. Elijah wants a snap answer, a quick fix, and God grants the start of a slow process – bread, water, bed. As if recovering hope can never be a matter of great leaps, but always involve small steps.
But it’s the double command: Get up and eat (19:5, 7) that I love the most. You notice what God’s representative does? Puts the burden back on Elijah God sent the provision but Elijah has to act on it to receive it. It’s not like the messenger put an IV line in and E will receive nourishment whether he wants it or not. He had to act. He had to own. He wanted to be totally passive – wanted God to do something instantaneous for him. Either kill him or make him all better in a snap. But instead God gives a task, a massively small task: Get up & eat. I’m sending bread, water, and a bed but you gotta get up and take advantage of what I’m providing. And so you know what the repeated command tells me, all of you who’ve lost hope and want God to send a quick, thorough fix? God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.
He’ll only give you what you are willing to “own.” If he had delivered (or killed!) a thoroughly passive Elijah from the season of hopelessness, the same situation would have recurred again. Elijah had to assume some responsibility for his own healing, even if it was as small as getting up, eating, and then doing it again! for the healing to endure. The recovery of hope is not one great leap, it’s many small steps, but you have to take them. God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.
Elijah prays for this instantaneous deliverance and God in reply starts a process. Do the next right, healthy thing, Elijah. I’ll provide the tools, you take the steps. I could do it all for you but that would not grow you. I want to do it with you. It’s the concept of Toxic Charity applied to how God relates to us! God is not going to restore hope for Elijah; he will restore it with him. God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.
You know why I really believe this? Because some people here have lost all hope . . . and you like it that way. Some folks don’t WANT to get well. They like the notoriety, the attention, the helplessness. It’s a learned state and they’ve learned it well. They nurse their own helplessness; it’s like their security blanket. Some people are not happy unless they are unhappy – and if they find themselves temporarily happy – or hopeful – they will conjure up a way to revert to unhappiness & hopelessness. You know people like this. You might have been raised by someone like this. But you just realized in a flash that, “that’s me!” You’re not happy unless you’re unhappy; you’re not well unless you’re sick. And that’s why God’s not delivering you from it. Because you aren’t partnering with him! You’re whimpering before him! God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.
Our recovery friends talk about “spiritual bypass.” Where people walk into AA or a pastor’s office and want a ZAP and all of a sudden no more alcohol cravings. Alcoholism healed and hope restored. Now I have seen that happen. Like once. Compared to a million people I know who need to walk all the steps. God needs to invite you to ownership, into a process, one in which you take massively small steps, each one full of meaning while appearing insignificant. It’s a bit like what we say around here when it comes to pastoral counseling of people: it can’t mean more to you (counselor) than it does to them. I love what Thomas Edison said about the light bulb: I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2,000 step process. Finding the hope you’ve lost will likely be the same. Not 1 step. Maybe not even 12. Maybe as many as 2000. Partnering with God, not passive before him. God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.
I’ve told many of you before of how I went through a season where I wanted either a) leave ministry and work in landscaping (genius at an edger!) or b) get a job at a small church w/ less responsibility. Pretty heavily settled despair. You know how I was delivered from it? When I kept getting up in the morning, coming to work, preparing sermons, and visiting people. No quick fix. Just a thousand small, not very glamorous steps. And a couple of years later I was like “Oh! I don’t feel like crap anymore!” What will that look like for you? How will you move to a with God instead of for you? Is it the appointment with that therapist? Is it following through on your intention to go to a fitness center? Because you know the health of your body is completely connected to the health of your spirit. Is it quitting smoking? And how much of a blessing will that be to your finances?! Is it simply getting up, going to work, and realizing that in the middle of all these little things that a right, God brings healing and hope? I know one thing it can be, easily, this week: use the Daily Readings. They are about hope this week. Follow them. It’s not glamorous. It is beautiful. God is giving you bread, water, and bed. Get up & eat. God won’t do FOR you what he needs to do WITH you.
Because look at where Elijah ends up in 19:8:
8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
He ends up at Horeb, also known to most as Sinai, the mountain of God. Look where his journey has taken him: from Carmel the home of Baal to Horeb the mountain of the Lord. Home of the Ten Commandments, home of Moses, summer home of Charlton Heston. But that’s what happens, isn’t it? When you’re not passively demanding God do things for you, but taking ownership of your own journey, he works with you and brings you not only into hope but back to home. And you just can’t get enough of that.