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Encouragement in the Wilderness

wildernessencouragement

I love getting mail: the sense of anticipation as I fight to open my ancient front door, the loud scratch of metal against metal as I lift the lid of the mailbox and then slowly reach to my left to open my rusty, black box.

I enjoy seeing what has come. Sometimes the box contains only bills (sigh) or junk mail, and sometimes an occasional greeting card or colorful gardening magazine declaring, “You too can grow prize-winning hydrangeas!” Whatever may come, I always seem to have a hope that there is something special just for me. On occasion, there is an unusual or even life-changing item.

Lately, the life circumstances of those around me and some situations in my life have reminded me of a certain day back in the early 90’s when a unique and anonymous piece of mail was delivered.  Little did I know that this nondescript, white envelope would plant a seed in the garden of my life.

I cannot remember my exact thoughts, but I do recall noting the lack of return address and the unfamiliar handwriting. I am sure there was some excitement as I turned the envelope over and inserted my finger under the flap to open it. Inside was a small piece of shiny paper, probably cut from someone’s devotional. The message said, “May God grant you the courage of Elijah.”  As a new believer in Jesus, I wondered, “Why Elijah? What did he do?”

Over time I learned that Elijah was a prophet who first appears in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings. In chapter 18 God called him to confront the false religion of King Ahab and his infamous wife Jezebel.  Elijah demonstrated great faith and was used by God to confront the false prophets of Baal and to destroy them. As a young believer, I devoured the true stories that were written about him. I began to pray that God would make me like Elijah and build courage in me. Of course, I had no idea what that would entail.

Over time I found myself interested in how people become involved in false religions and what it takes to extricate them. It can be a time-consuming and difficult process. The Enemy hates it when people become disciples of Jesus. Satan hates Him, His followers, and does everything he can think of to keep people in bondage. Any person who likes to help people overcome false beliefs and teach biblical truths will be confronted by evil forces.

Elijah faced many challenges as a prophet of God. In 1 Kings 19 after the destruction of the 450 false prophets of Baal, Jezebel curses Elijah and vows to have him killed. This causes great fear in Elijah and in 1 Kings 19:3-4 we read, “Then [Elijah] was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree.  And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough, now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

We would think that after his great victory over the false prophets, Elijah would have experienced joy and celebration. Instead, we find him terrified, depressed, and wanting to die.  This is a common occurrence in the life of God’s people. I have experienced some of the worst depressive states after great times of spiritual growth or victory. Once, after a deep time of intercessory prayer, I was so depressed and overcome with fear that I could not do anything for three days.  I stayed on the living room floor thinking, Surely I am going to die. I see this with my friends and family as well. After a powerful, public testimony, one believer fell into depression and doubt with physical and mental anguish. A wife, after years of prayer, fasting, and intercession for her family, saw a victory only to watch a family member sink deep into despair and rage against God. One teen showed great promise in being a teacher and exhorter of people, and then suddenly she fell victim to deep fear and anxiety.  What is this that happens to us?

Maybe we take wounds in our spiritual bodies, and the pain manifests itself physically and mentally. Or perhaps God is forging the ungodly parts away. If this is the case, may we be ready and say, like the Travis Cotrell lyrics, “Do it, Lord, Do it!"  I think Job said it best in verse 23:10, “The Lord knows the way that I take and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

After a while, God sent an angel to minister to Elijah, and the angel gave him food and water. Elijah was then able to travel forty days and nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. I love that God interacts with Elijah and asks, "What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9) God does not need to ask Elijah. He already knows what is happening. Yet God lovingly talks with him.

We see Him ask Elijah a second time, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13b) For a second time Elijah explains himself, and then God gives him instructions. I love that God meets His prophet right in the mess. Even when Elijah runs aways depressed and scared, his Father cares for him. God does not make fun of him, nor does He scoff or punish him.  God tenderly provides care and direction. He gives him great encouragement while Elijah is still in the wilderness. Elijah hears, receives, and obeys. Elijah is strengthened and sent back to work.

The Lord has done this in my life over and over again. The lives of God’s children are full of highs and lows. God is with us in both. God allows uncomfortable situations for His purposes. I love that the prophet Isaiah writes, “Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save nor his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1).

God is aware of your struggle and knows exactly where you are. Your situation does not surprise Him in the least.

My prayer for you, Beloved, is this: Father, I ask in the name of Jesus that You would meet the one reading this with Your fervent love, power, and provision.  I pray that in their deepest, darkest moment of despair You would, just as You did for Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13, be with them as the wind rages, the earth quakes, and the fire burns. Please speak to them and enable them to hear Your still, small voice.