When Elijah descended Mount Carmel after his great victory, he believed that the entire nation would abandon Baal and return to God. But when that didn't happen, Elijah was knocked for a loop. He should have anticipated what would happen next. But Elijah ignored the warning signs that bad days were just over the horizon.
Paul advised the Corinthians, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall" (1Cor 10:11-12). At the very moment we think we are the strongest, we are really the weakest, because that is the time when we let down our guard, making us more vulnerable.
What are the factors that can contribute to a bad day or bad season of life? Elijah's experience illustrates four critical factors.
Being Physically and Emotionally Exhausted
For three and a half years, Elijah lived on the edge. He had been hunted down as public enemy number one, had roughed it in the wilderness of Cherith, and had come close to starvation at Zarephath. From the time he left the widow's home, Elijah had been in perpetual motion-confronting Ahab, engaging in spiritual combat on Carmel, praying intently for rain, and running a half marathon from Carmel to Jezreel. But rest and relaxation did not factor high on Elijah's list of priorities. He had come to the end of his physical and emotional rope, which weakened his emotional and spiritual immune systems leading to discouragement and even depression. It is no surprise he broke emotionally when Jezebel exerted pressure on him.
The relationship between physical exhaustion and depression is indisputable. But we cannot dismiss the spiritual component either. Satan would love to use our discouragement as an entry point into our lives. Jesus described Satan as a thief who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy" everything important to us including our joy (Jn 10:10). And physical exhaustion is one of his simplest tools to accomplish that goal.
Focusing on Challenging Circumstances rather than a Powerful God
After his showdown with Elijah on Mount Carmel, Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword" (1Ki 19:1). Jezebel grew incensed. She sent a message to Elijah. "The gods will get you for this and I will get even with you! By this time tomorrow you will be dead" (v.2).
Because Elijah was physically and emotionally exhausted, when he received word of Jezebel's threat "he became afraid and arose and ran for his life" (v.3). Suddenly, Elijah became spiritually nearsighted, focusing on Jezebel's threat rather than on God's power, which he had just seen demonstrated on Mount Carmel. This happens to us as well. Once Elijah took his eyes off the God who answered by fire and obsessed over the queen who threatened his life, Elijah began to drown emotionally. But instead of calling for the Lord to save him, Elijah cried out, "O Lord, take my life!" (v.4). The only way we will ever escape the emotional oppression of real-life challenges is to shift our focus to another reality: the power of God. I am suggesting we choose to live "above the circumstances." In Elijah's mind, Jezebel's power to destroy was more powerful than God's power to defend. His emotional bow had been for so long, all it took was one threat to break him. Elijah had bravely confronted 850 false prophets but one angry person sent him running. That is what happens when we change our focus from God to our circumstances.
You can respond to seemingly impossible circumstances with either faith or fear. Perhaps right now you can only see the difficulty or your circumstances: cancer, a lost job, a prodigal child, marital troubles, or financial pressure. But alongside that realty is another reality: God's heavenly arm-though unseen-is surrounding and protecting you.
Holding on to Unrealistic Expectations
Winning is thrilling and addictive. The downside of success is that it can create the unrealistic expectation that we will succeed all the time. Elijah experienced a tremendous victory at Mount Carmel, which led him to think he was on a winning streak. After he defeated the prophets of Baal, the people cried out, "The Lord, He is God" (1Ki 18:39) and the rain fell. Elijah, the conquering hero, must have thought that he would turn all Israel back to God. But it was not to be. Jezebel's death warrant crushed Elijah's hope of a great national revival. But his hope that the entire nation would turn to God after only one demonstration of power was unrealistic.
Like Elijah, we believe sudden success establishes a new pattern of life. We mistakenly assume that a coveted promotion at work, a new romantic relationship, a successful investment, or a meaningful experience with God means we will never taste failure again. That is an unrealistic expectation that is guaranteed to lead to a bad day.
Believing You are Indispensable
Whenever we think we are responsible for the success of our marriage, the growth of our business, the wise choices of our children, or as in Elijah's case the spiritual revival of our nation, we assume a responsibility God never intended for us to shoulder. If things go well, the result can be pride-God can't pull this off without me. But if things go wrong, the result can be despondency-No one is as committed as I am.
Elijah became the victim of both pride and despondency by assuming he alone was responsible for bringing revival to Israel. After running from Jezreel to Beersheba, Elijah walked further into the wilderness, to Mount Horeb. Once Elijah reached Horeb, he found "a cave and lodged there" (1Ki 19:9). We do not know how long Elijah lived in the cave. In the cave, "the word of the Lord came to him", "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (v.9). God was not asking because He had lost track of His servant and was surprised to find him in a cave. This was a soul-searching question meant as a wake-up call for Elijah. In fact, God asked the question twice for emphasis. It is as if God were saying, "I called you to be a mighty prophet. What are you doing hiding in a mountainside hole?"
Elijah missed the point of God's probing question. So he responded twice with the same answer: "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away" (vv.10,14). Elijah's answer was true. Elijah had been zealous in carrying out his call, and the people of Israel had faithlessly forsaken God's covenant, torn down God's altars, and killed God's prophets. But how did Elijah know that he was the only faithful one left in Israel?
And why did Elijah sound surprised that Jezebel was seeking his life? After humiliating her god and killing her prophets, did he really believe she would roll out a red carpet, fall on her knees, and confess the Lored as the true God? Such a hope was unrealistic. But it also reveals an attitude of pride. Elijah believed he was indispensable because he thought he was the last faithful man in Israel. Believing you are indispensable not only results in pride but also results in despondency. In effect, Elijah was really saying to God, "Lord, I'm the only one out there fighting Your battles for You. All the other Israelites have forgotten You. And now this out-of-control woman is trying to kill me. Is this how You reward Your only faithful servant? I guess I will have to take care of myself and hide in this cave.“
God said, "I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him" (1Ki 19:18). Besides these, the Lord told Elijah He had other servants to do His bidding-some more pagan than pious.
God instructed Elijah to anoint Hazael, who came to the throne through assassination, as king over Aram(modern Syria) (1Ki 19:15). Hazael would later become the rod God used to punish Israel. The Lord also told Elijah to anoint Jehu, who was not obedient to the Lord, as king over Israel (v.16). Jehu would later become a scourge to the house of Ahab. In addition to Hazael and Jehu, God also instructed Elijah to anoint a man named Elisha, who would serve as his successor. Then Elijah found Elisha plowing the fields and called him to be his successor.
God does not need any of us to accomplish His purposes. While God does not need us, He allows us to partner with Him in fulfilling His plan. Maintaining a healthy perspective regarding our responsibility and God's responsibility will keep us from feeling indispensable and will help us not fall into despair.