Under the Broom Tree

What are you doing here?” – 1 Kings 19:9 (NIV)

“I have had enough, LORD,” Elijah whined as he dropped under the broom tree, “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4).

What was it that reduced a powerful man of God to a sniveling wimp cowering in the caves of the Mid-Eastern wilderness? He’d just come off an astounding victory against 850 false prophets in a daylong mountaintop duel, then ran 16 miles, on supernatural strength, preceding the thundercloud that would end a three-and-a-half-year drought.

Why, after such a dazzling display of God’s power, was he ready to throw in the mantle?

An evil queen threatened to kill him.

So why didn’t he trust God to take care of this situation, as he had all the other times?

Because Elijah was human. Because he was discouraged and depressed. The Mount Carmel victory wasn’t a shutout. Queen Jezebel, although she lost all her prophet puppets, still spewed evil from the throne. The source of the nation’s corruption was still alive and threatening.

Discouragement and depression can weaken the strongest—even those who count on God to provide victory against a world of sin. Elijah was in the midst of an effective, powerful ministry when he fled.

Perhaps he thought the Mount Carmel episode would put an end to the depravity that blighted Israel. Perhaps he thought he’d finally “arrived”—and was, by his own words, “better than my ancestors.” Perhaps he forgot that the miracles wrought and the triumphs won were not achieved through his own power. He was but a conduit of El Shaddai.

What he didn’t see was that his ministry wasn’t an end in itself—it was a link in a chain.

God, in His mercy and compassion, was gentle with his overwrought servant. First He sent an angel to nourish Elijah’s worn-out body. Then, after Elijah plodded hundreds of wilderness miles on foot, after 40 days and 40 nights with no food, as he huddled in a dark, damp cave on Mount Horeb, God asked him a simple question: “What are you doing here?”

The omniscient God didn’t ask because He needed an answer. When God asks a question, it’s because He wants to point something out to us.

Elijah had abandoned the ministry field and was in full retreat. Rather than chastise the discouraged prophet, God reminded him that, contrary to what he thought, he was not alone: seven thousand Israelites remained faithful.

“Go back,” God commanded Elijah. Then He gave him a vision for the future: two others would provide political leadership in the next generation, and Elijah would be given an assistant, a prophet-in-training to take over when the time came to pass on the mantle of ministry.

I, too, can get so discouraged at times I want to quit— quit teaching Bible study, quit writing, quit the ministries God has called me to. I don’t see the results I expect for all my efforts, and it seems I’m expending precious time and energy for nothing.

Ministry is a heavy mantle, and God has called us all to be His ministers in one way or another (Matthew 25:35–40; 28:18–20). Times of deep discouragement and despair will come, and our wilderness caves invite us to retreat in self-imposed solitary confinement.

But the One who called us will not leave us there alone. He will nourish us, comfort us, encourage us, and, when we are ready, send us back to the ministry He has called us to.

Thank You, Lord, for the wilderness experiences that remind me that You and You alone are the source of the power I need to serve You. Amen.

Read and reflect on 1 Kings 19.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

The Deathbed Perspective, Part 2: Running the Race

Read and reflect on 2 Timothy 4:6–8; Hebrews 12:1–3.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)

Last week, I began a three-part series called “The Deathbed Perspective.”

The apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the young pastor Timothy from a deathbed perspective. He was in his last days on earth and penned the words we’re focusing on in this series: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

But those aren’t just words to die by—they’re words to live by.

This week we’re going to look at the second part of that verse: I have finished the race.

I’ve always admired runners for their coordination and grace, which I never possessed, even when I was young and much lighter. Although I don’t run, I do understand what Paul is referring to and why he compares living the life of faith to running a race.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews best describes how to run this race in chapter 12, verses 1–3.

First, throw off everything that hinders, or, as the New Living Translation phrases it, “strip off everything that slows us down.” Ever try to run with a pack on your back? Or with clunky boots instead of running shoes?

Sin hinders. Sin trips us up midstride. Unforgiveness, holding grudges, anger, jealousy, envy, resentment, pride, being judgmental . . . the list goes on. Each unconfessed sin is like a rock in a pack on your back. So confess it to God, ask forgiveness, ask Him to pluck from your heart and mind, and fling it off!

Second, run with perseverance. Remember, the race we run is not a sprint—it’s a marathon. To persevere, we need fortitude—strength, courage, resilience, stamina, grit, determination, and endurance. At the start of a race, these qualities are in abundant supply, but as we run, they dwindle.

When the race of life is getting too much for me, I’ve learned I can slow my pace or stop and rest a while. Sometimes we need that time to lie down in green pastures, beside quiet waters to restore our souls (Psalm 23:2, 3). Replenishing that which was spent in the run is a good idea, too. Runners feed their bodies carbohydrates to give them energy. Spiritually, we feed ourselves on God’s Word—His promises—and reminders of how He’s come through for us in the past.

The third way we persist in the race is to keep our eyes on the finish line: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

While I’ve never run a race, I have hiked a mile up a mountain and another mile back down (neither was easy, believe me). Toward the end, every muscle in my body screamed with fatigue. Every pore oozed sweat. I just wanted my husband to pick me up and carry me the rest of the way.

I finished the hike by putting one aching foot in front of the other and imagining my reward when I got back to the camper—a long, hot shower; clean clothes; and a soft seat by the campfire (with a good book).

For the joy at His finish line—the salvation of our souls—Jesus endured the cross and was given a throne of honor in heaven. I haven’t endured such shame and pain as He did. Few in this life of faith will.

But the joy we have waiting for us at the finish line, is “exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

So keep your eyes on the prize, pilgrim, put one foot in front of the other. Someday you’ll reach the finish line and rejoice.

Dear God, give me the strength, courage, and fortitude I need to run the race of life. Amen.

NOTE: Next week, we’ll look at the third part of that verse: “I have kept the faith.”

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Images courtesy of Pixabay.