True Courage: A Word for Ministry Leaders (OCBA Meeting)

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Birds flying in the wind.

I can’t help but feel bad for birds when I see them flying into the wind on a windy day.
They work so hard, flapping their wings, only to get blown back or, at best, just stay glued in the same spot in the air.
I think I feel for them because I relate to them when I think of what it often feels like in ministry.
We are pushing against the winds of culture, the winds of apathy in our people, the winds of sin in our own hearts and in those we are ministering to, the winds of politics, the winds of financial struggle, the winds of internal strife and disagreements, and SO many more winds.
And it feels like we are those birds trying to fly into the winds.
I want to spend a few minutes tonight looking at 1 Kings 19, a story you are likely familiar with.
My goal is that this account in Elijah’s life would be for us, seeking to fly into the winds, to be reminded of some truths we know to be true, but often struggle to see...
and that we would be encouraged and strengthened by them.
This message for me came out of a conference I went to a couple of years ago.
It came at the end of the Covid Pandemic, when things were really beginning to get back to normal, but the weight of what we had gone through was just
That is where Elijah is in 1 Kings 19, at least that is where he ends up.
He had just confronted 450 prophets of Baal, taking on the powerful king Ahab and his evil wife Jezabel, and he won, at least God did through him.
At the end of chapter 18, after God has brought rain for the first time in 3 years, Elijah runs to Jezreel to confront his adversaries, expecting them to cower and beg to be spared.
But that isn’t what happens.
1 kings 19:1-4
1 Kings 19:1–4 CSB
1 Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “May the gods punish me and do so severely if I don’t make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow!” 3 Then Elijah became afraid and immediately ran for his life. When he came to Beer-sheba that belonged to Judah, he left his servant there, 4 but he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my ancestors.”
Ahab goes to the Queen and, like a spineless coward, reports to her all that has happened.
Surely she will surrender
She will finally realize that she is defeated, that Yahweh is Lord, and give up.
At least Ahab will put her in her place, right?
He was there, he saw how pathetic their gods had looked, surely he would tell her enough is enough.
But that is not what happens...
Jezabel sends a messenger with a threat to kill Elijah by the next day.
There is no relenting...
No repentance...
She refuses to give in.
Elijah had had a challenging 3 years, but now he had seen victory.
Life was supposed to get better right? Easier? More victorious?
I am sure you have been in those seasons, those moments in ministry.
You have a victory or a season of victories and feel like things are really taking off, then something totally unexpected happens that crushes the excitement and the joy of the moment.
Imagine his disappointment when he received the messenger.
We don’t really have to imagine, we can read it
He fled to Beer-Sheda, a town way down south, far from Jezreel and far from Jezabel.
It was an unlikely place, and really, an unnecessary place.
He was fleeing from Jezabel, he didn’t need to run that far.
But it is telling, he was overwhelmed, dejected, and depressed.
His words are even more telling
1 Kings 19:4 CSB
4 but he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my ancestors.”
Here we find our first lesson for the journey.

Remember, the way is HARD and we are HUMAN.

Elijah is given a hard time in this passage.
In some ways I get it. He is a bit whiny. He does run away after God has proven how powerful He is.
But I think preachers and commentators give him too hard of a time here.
hundreds of years later, the apostle James helps us understand this whole section a bit more clearly I think.
James 5:17–18 CSB
17 Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.
What’s his point? Elijah was a flesh and blood human just like us.
Yeah he stood up to the most powerful couple of his time and “prayed” for no rain to come.
Yes he obeyed God in the wilderness and at the widow’s house.
And yes he went head to head with the prophets of Baal, showing them how weak and worthless their god was.
Sure his story is pretty incredible, but don’t ever forget, he was a man JUST LIKE US.
And just like us, Elijah had a breaking point.
3 years of trusting God to provide every day.
3 years of waiting for God to speak and make His next move.
All the while knowing that Jezabel seemed to be winning, seemed to be dominating God and His people.
And then when he thinks the tables have finally turned and the battle is finely won, he is punched in the face with a death threat.
I think there is something embedded deep in our minds and hearts when we read this chapter as if Elijah is weak, whiny, and faithless here.
I think Russell Moore captures what is embedded in us in his book on Elijah:
When it comes to courage, Mount Carmel is not the hinge point of the Elijah story, but a prelude to something else. The way of courage, as defined by the gospel, is not the pagan virtue of steeliness and fearlessness, much less our ambient culture’s picture of winning and displaying, or strength and swagger. Getting the climax point of the Elijah story right is important because, if we don’t, we will follow him somewhere other than where he ultimately was led: to the crucified glory of Jesus Christ. Without this piece of the story, we will conclude that Elijah was the picture of courage we think we need and that we pretend to have.
1 Kings 19 is follows 1 Kings 18 for the same reason that the great and faithful Noah, right after he gets off the ark is found drunk and naked by his son.
It is there for the same reason we are told about Abraham risking the safety and purity of his wife in order to protect himself from Pharaoh in Egypt.
It is the same reason David, the man after God’s heart, the greatest King in Israel is also remembered as the one who took advantage of a married woman and murdered her husband to cover up his sin.
It is the same reason not one disciple stays by Jesus as He is brought to the cross, not even Peter.
What we see in 1 Kings 19 is Elijah coming to terms with the reality of his limits as a “human just like us.”
If you were here last week, we talked about how challenging it is to live as a follower of Jesus in our world.
It really is like swimming up stream or like a bird flying against the wind.
If we are going to stand up and live faithfully in this world, the first thing we have to come to terms with is that the life we are called to live is not an easy life and we can’t do it by ourselves.
Like Elijah, we must come to terms with our humanity and our desperate need for God’s help.
1 Kings 19:5–9 CSB
5 Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. Suddenly, an angel touched him. The angel told him, “Get up and eat.” 6 Then he looked, and there at his head was a loaf of bread baked over hot stones, and a jug of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 Then the angel of the Lord returned for a second time and touched him. He said, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” 8 So he got up, ate, and drank. Then on the strength from that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 He entered a cave there and spent the night. Suddenly, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Remember, we are WEAK and NEEDY, but God is our REFUGE and STRENGTH.

This passage is often used as a framework for caring for someone who is dealing with burnout or depression.
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely important principles here that are easily and helpfully applied to those situations in our lives.
We need to sleep, eat, and work through our emotions.
But the context of this passage isn’t just the practical lessons on self-care or caring for those who are struggling.
What happens here I think further shows the need for having sympathy and empathy for Elijah in this account.
Some read the words of the angel in verse 5 as a rebuke, “Hey Elijah, stop being lazy, get up and eat you bum!”
But perhaps the angel wakes up Elijah because he needed to eat, just like we wake up our sick kids at night in order to get them to drink some fluids so they don’t get dehydrated.
Plus the moment he wakes up there was bread and water right there waiting for him.
He didn’t have to go out and forage or kill in order to eat.
God provided for him.
I have also heard preachers scold Elijah for falling back to sleep, as some rebellious shunning of the angels command to get up.
But the next time the angel comes is at another meal time, perhaps because God let him sleep because he needed to rest.
Elijah had been faithfully following the Lord’s commands for 3 years and it had not been an easy road, perhaps this was God’s graciousness to let him sleep.
Then when he wakes up a second time and eats, God sends him on a long journey, to a place every Jewish boy would have been quite familiar with, mount Horeb, the very same mountain where Moses met the Lord.
There is something deeply comforting about this passage when you consider the simplicity of what happens.
God feeds the weary Elijah, lets him sleep, and then sends him to a place where He can meet with him.
Every one of us go through seasons of struggle, where life seems to be too much, where worries and problems seem to stack up on us like weights on our backs, too heavy for us to carry.
And in these seasons we often struggle to see how God is helping us, where God is providing for us, and to what God is leading us.
Rather, our response is most often to worry more, do everything we can think of to try and figure out or fix our problems ourselves, and/or to curse God for not doing what we think He ought to do.
Perhaps what we need to do more than anything in season like this is to STOP, EAT some food, take a nap, and, most importantly, watch and listen for the Lord.
Elijah didn’t run to Beer-sheba to find the Lord, but to save his butt.
But when he Got there, the Lord was already there to meet him.
And He is here to meet you too friends.
Not with judgement and scorn, but with kindness and care.
Matthew 11:28–30 CSB
28 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
To faithfully follow Jesus we must come to terms with our neediness and, like David, run to the one who is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46:1 ESV
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
1 Kings 19:10–18 CSB
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Armies, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life.” 11 Then he said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.” At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Armies,” he replied, “but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you are to anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 You are to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Then Jehu will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Jehu. 18 But I will leave seven thousand in Israel—every knee that has not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Remember, God CARES, God HEARS, and God HELPS.

God asks Elijah a question that He already knew the answer to. He knows why Elijah is there, but He wants to give Elijah an opportunity speak.
Elijah’s words are honest, he has been zealous for the Lord, but it seems like it has all been for nought. Now he is facing, what seems to him as sure death.
He doesn’t answer the question really, if there really even is a good answer to the question, but at least he is honest.
Then God does something that He has done before, He calls Elijah to come out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord just like Moses had done many years before. (Exodus 19:20)
This whole next section is intended to be a reflection of God’s meeting with Moses in Exodus as He is giving Moses the law and the Mosaic covenant.
Interestingly, that is exactly what Elijah was pointing to in his answer to God’s question.
He is saying, “the people have not kept your commandments Lord. I have done all I can do, but it seems they are too far gone. Jezabel is too strong. We have lost, the covenant is broken.”
Maybe Elijah is looking for a new plan or is just looking to get out of what he sees as a sinking ship.
But God has something to say.
Before Elijah ever gets out of the cave, God brings a mighty wind, an earthquake, and a fire. But in each of these dramatic events it is said “the Lord was not in them.”
And then, when things had calmed down, a soft whisper came to Elijah, calling him out of the cave.
Why a whisper?
Because Elijah, like us, need to know that God doesn’t always work in ways we expect Him to work
He doesn’t always operate in the spectacular.
And His most powerful act is speaking, even if it is a quiet voice.
This whisper isn’t a mystical thing, it is a confirmation.
God was telling Elijah to stop looking for something spectacular and just stay faithful.
This account mirrors the Moses account not because God was about to make a new plan, but because God wasn’t done with the first one.
Sure the people had rebelled, Jezabel wasn’t giving in, and Elijah had been threatened, but God is the one in control.
He can bring wind, earthquakes, and fires, but He can also speak quietly to know willing to listen.
He asks Elijah the same question and gets the same response, but I think both were likely in different tones.
“Ok Elijah, what are you doing here?”
“God I have done all you have told me to do and yet look where we are today. I don’t know how to go on.”
And then the Lord does something He does so often in the bible and so often in our lives.
He tells Elijah to go home and get back to work. Get back on the horse and ride.
“When you get home Elijah, there will be things in place for this journey to continue.”
Though it seemed like things were hopeless, God’s plans had not been thwarted.
Through it seemed like Jezabel and Baal had won, God was not finished.
We will often get to the point that we are ready to give in and give up, and it is in those moments, those season where what we need more than anything is to not look for an easier way, but to run toward our God who is always faithful, who is our refuge in our struggles, and who is and will forever be in control of all things, even when it seems He is not.
Brother, REMEMBER, when the ROAD gets tough and you feel like those birds flying into the wind:
The way is HARD and you are HUMAN- you are not God.
We are WEAK and NEEDY, but God is our REFUGE and STRENGTH- so run toward Him.
God CARES about you, He HEARS you, and He HELPS you- so pray earnestly, seek diligently, and rest contentedly.
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