Thursday, May 20, 2010

Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility

So far this year I've read the following books from Charles Swindoll's Great Lives Series and this is what I've learned from each:

1. I am created for a purpose (David);
2. God will work that purpose in His time frame (Esther);
3. God will work in ways that may be painful, but He will teach me to live in the pain, through the pain and beyond it and can work in me a tender heart as a result of it (Joseph); and
4. God honors faithful obedience (Moses).

Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility is one of the shorter books in this series, weighing in at only 175 pages. However, it packs a punch in a rather surprising manner.

Whenever I think of Elijah, I think of him standing on a mountaintop, taunting the priests of Baal into ridiculousness. Elijah is victorious and triumphant in my mind; he is a leader of the pack!

I typically do not think of Elijah as one who was removed by God from society for a period of years in order to be alone. I think of Elijah as a powerful and amazing man....not as one who sat by a brook being fed by ravens in quiet solitude.

I have to say that it's becoming more difficult for me to want to pick up the next book in this series and parts of me want to stop and not continue. However, I said I was going to read this series this year because I knew it would be beneficial. Beneficial, as you know, is not always fun and exciting. It was with some trepidation and feet dragging that I picked up Elijah this month. And it's with even more foot dragging and trepidation that I'm sitting down to write up my thoughts on it! But that's part of the exercise and I can't squeak by and pretend I forgot.

Elijah had just delivered a message to the king when we find him. The message Elijah had to deliver was not so popular. What was it, you ask? "No rain." There would be no rain in the land until Elijah said so. If I were a king, and some prophet of the Lord came up to me and told me I was wicked and therefore there would be no rain in the land for some time, I'd be a bit, well, ticked off. As you can imagine, the king in this story is not exactly a happy camper. But Elijah is doing as he has been told by God - he is speaking truth to a wicked king. He is delivering punishment to a people who have turned their back on God. Immediately after fulfilling this duty - God calls him aside and tells him to go live by a brook where he will find nourishment from the water and from the birds of the air (who will be delivering his meals to him as needed.)

Now imagine you are Elijah. You've just done what the Lord has called you to do - and that's probably a hard thing. Now what? Are you looking for the pat on the back? The words of affirmation? Those warm fuzzies we all love to receive at the end of a job well done? Instead of God exalting Elijah for his obedience in delivering a hard message, God removes him from society and sends him out for some time of solitude and soul searching. It's not expected. In fact it is unexpected! But that's the way God is. You're walking along, being as obedient as you can, and suddenly you find yourself in a position you never imagined yourself to be in. In a lot of ways - you are alone. Alone with God. And since you can't see Him with your physical eyes and you can't hear Him with your ears you've gotta be wondering what's going on.

Swindoll writes:

"While there is certainly nothing wrong with being a leader or fulfilling the role of spokesman for God, how easy it is to become addicted to the public forum, or to feel that we are indispensable to God's plan. How easy to neglect, ignore or overlook those occasions when we need to pull back, regroup, rethink, and renew our souls. (Chapter 2, page 28)
As a first born, let me tell you that this is NOT the message I wanted to be hearing. I don't like to be told, for lack of a better phrase, to "sit down and shut up." That's a really unpleasant message in and of itself. To be alone? To be quiet? To just listen and learn what God would have for me in the stillness? That's a really hard place for me to be.

"Yet even as His servant is passing through the heat of the refiner's fire, God has not forgotten him. Remember, Elijah is "inscribed on the palm of His hands" (Isaiah 49:16)
God knows where he is. "Then the word of the Lord came to him" (1 Kings 17:8). God knows where we are. Sometimes we forget this. Sometimes we even feel that God has forgotten us. He hasn't. God knows exactly where we are. So when you are afflicted with those forsaken feelings, when you're on the verge of throwing a pity party, thanks to those despairing thoughts, go back to the Word of God. In the heat of the crucible, seek out passages such as Isaiah 41:10:

"Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."

In these and a multitude of other great promises, God says, "I know where you are." What comfort!" (Chapter 3, page 46)
What comfort indeed!

I know I would not voluntarily step into a quiet place with God, by halting life in order to listen. My tendency is to GO, GO, GO, GO, GO, GO!!!! To know that Elijah was pulled aside from life and put in a position to be in a right relationship with God, I was overwhelmed. I was reading this book and realizing what God was doing to Elijah and I laid my head down on my arm and just sobbed. For as much as I did not want to read this book this month - for fear of how I would be convicted - I needed it like I need fresh, cool water (from a well that never runs dry!)

Anyone ever afraid of opening up scripture because you fear you'll be convicted to change? Then you discover the blessing that comes from the word, sustaining you with life giving words and examples of men and women of the faith? That's me this month - expecting the discipline, and finding the love.

I've felt a pressure to "hurry up!" in a few areas and reading about Elijah was a comfort in feeling God's hand on my family saying, "No rush. We're here now. Take it slow."

Swindoll writes that there are four lessons and principles worth pondering in Elijah's life which are as follows:

Number one: God's leading is often surprising; don't analyze it.
Number two: The beginning days are often the hardest days; don't quit.
Number three: God's promises often hinge on obedience; don't ignore your part.
Number four: God's provisions are often just enough; don't fail to thank Him.
(from pages 52-53)

Swindoll goes on to remind the Christian that trials are "temporary" but God has us go through them periodically all throughout life in order to draw us closer to Himself. The trial may be downright painful to just uncomfortable in spots. But God's goal in it is to make us to know Him more fully.

We want pain to END and be OVER with and done with so we can move on in a happy life. But God can't use us unless He wounds us. If we aren't wounded, then we don't understand why we need a Savior.

The words to an old hymn which Swindoll quotes:

"The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design,
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."

Oh but it isn't fun. And it's quiet. And it's scary.

The following song came to mind as I was thinking over these things. This particular song used to be a favorite of mine but I had forgotten all about it. The song has rather special meaning to me because I had it burned to a CD to have playing (in my ear with headphones!) when I was giving birth to Bookworm1. I didn't know what the experience would be like and I wanted this message playing loud and clear so that I would focus on truth during an "unknown" of quiet solitude (that wasn't exactly quiet in the end.)

Finding myself in another "unknown" moment in time, I think it suits again and I offer it here for you in case you are need of some encouragement in your period of waiting, and in your 'alone time' with God.

If I were to summarize what I think I gleaned the most from reading about Elijah's life it would be this:

Solitude is good. Times of quiet reflection and communion with God are healthy and healing. Without them, it's impossible to move forward in a mature walk with God.

I'll take the mature walk, thanks! Even if it means sitting down and shutting up for awhile. If God wants to do a work in me through a time of silence, I'll go there with Him. It is the very least I could possibly do. Furthermore, I'll take my time and try to make it His. Step-by-step, day-by-day -- wherever He leads, I will follow.


Barbara H. said...

You're right, when we think of Elijah, it is usually the "big moments," like facing down the prophets of Baal that come to mind rather than those quiet years at the brook. I'm the personality that would much prefer the quiet solitude, thinking, praying, reading, communing, and whatever else he was doing. :-) So for me the harder lesson would be being willing to step out and let God use you in ways you would not have sought out and wouldn't naturally gravitate to. I guess the bottom line is being willing for that either way, either direction.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that I think just the opposite about Elijah. As someone who has struggled mightily with depression in the past, I can so relate to Elijah when he lay down under that tree and didn't want to get up. And he was ministered to with plenty of rest and food and was restored. It's a good reminder for when life gets overwhelming.

How many books are in the series? Did you get them all in a pack or one by one? I am really enjoying your take on the series and I am getting ready to start Joseph. said...

Enjoying your book reviews...reminding me of books from the past that I enjoyed or intended to read...these are among them. I remember hearing Swindoll on the radio when he was writing these. He is now in my city and I have never gone to hear him in person...I need to do that.

Mama Sky said...

I thought of my brother a lot while reading your post, Isaiah 41:10 is going to be his Bible verse today.

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