During the next few minutes I want very much to give you a word of hope, a word of encouragement. For this task you might suspect that I would refer to an expert on the subject, a model who could exemplify for us perfect hope.
However, I choose instead one who knew hopelessness, one whose journey toward hope first led through the valley of despair. This individual was so acquainted with despair that he prayed for his own death saying, “It is enough, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers” (
The voice behind that desperate prayer belong to Elijah the prophet. He uttered those words as he sat under a broom tree in the middle of the wilderness. His spirit had plunged to the depths of the valley.
Only a day earlier he had been on a mountain peak — Mount Carmel to be precise. There he had demonstrated the power of Yahweh through many marvelous acts and killed the prophets of Baal. But these prophets happened to be the personal property of Queen Jezebel. When she got word from King Ahab about what Elijah had done, she was furious. She sent a messenger to Elijah saying, in effect, that she would have Elijah’s hide by sunset the next day.
Elijah didn’t waste any time waiting to see if Jezebel really meant it or not. He did not slow down until he was deep in the wilderness and well outside Jezebel’s jurisdiction. The wilderness, however, wasn’t just geographic; it was emotional and spiritual as well. For it is there that we find Elijah under the broom tree praying, “It is enough, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers” (
At this point Elijah learned a valuable lesson; a lesson that he probably did not recognize until later when he looked back on his wilderness experience. The lesson: God’s sustaining strength is adequate for the moment of need. Look at
And he lay down and slept under a broom tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.” And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
Here Elijah received the nourishment, the sustenance, from God that he needed for his task.
Isn’t that how it is with much of life? When we anticipate a crisis we ask, “How will I ever have the strength to face it?” And when we look back upon a tragic, difficult event in our lives we think, “Where did I ever find the strength to get through that?”
Yet somehow, in the midst of the crisis the strength is there. This is certainly true physically. Often in the news we hear of some great feat of heroism like someone lifting a car off of a child.
I recall one day in fifth grade when a group of boys were pushing a piano down the hall for the music teacher. The boys decided to see how fast they could push the piano. Suddenly, the piano tipped over and landed on the foot of one of the boys. An onlooking teacher raced to the scene and in a brief surge of power and strength lifted the piano. Now, she couldn’t have done that before or afterward. However, she found sufficient strength in the moment of crisis.
Elijah helps us to see that this same truth applies spiritually. The angel told him to arise and eat — that is, to receive sufficient strength from God for the needs at hand.
I heard of a missionary who certainly knew this to be the case. She was traveling by boat from the United States to China. The longer she traveled, the more anxious she became. Half way across the ocean she had reached the depths of despair. One night as she lay trying to sleep, she prayed that God would reveal something definite to either encourage her or make her turn back.
That night she had a dream. In the dream she found herself in the middle of an ocean standing on a lone 2×4. As she stood, vulnerable and helpless, God said, “March forward to China.” “But God,” she said, “how can I? I am supported only by this 2×4.” “Go forward to China!” “But God …” “Have faith and go forward!”
With that she chose to take a step of faith. When she did, just before her foot touched the water, another 2×4 arose out of the ocean depths giving her a place to stand. Again and again, all the way to China, she took a step of faith one step at a time. She awoke the next morning a new woman and went on to do the work to which God had called her.
That, for me, is a word of hope. For it suggests that whatever I might face in life I can know that God stands before me to be with me in the future as well as the present. He goes before us just like the pillar of fire in the wilderness went before the people of Israel. Hope for Elijah, hope for that missionary I alluded to earlier, hope for you and me is in the ancient truth: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” God’s sustaining strength is adequate for the moment of need.
However, there is still another dimension of hope found in the account of Elijah. Namely, God is a God who weeps with us over the brokenness of life and then calls us to join Him in the work of putting those broken pieces back together. Let’s return to the text for a living example of this truth.
After Elijah ate the food provided by God through the angel, he “fled forty days and nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” He was still terrified and discouraged. The first sign of hope from God had not been enough, so he hid in a cave. When the Lord asked Elijah why he was there he began to lament, saying, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” Elijah repeats this same lament in
What Elijah apparently did not realize was that the tragedies over which he lamented were of even greater concern to God. When he wept, God wept with him. God is a God who suffers with us in the midst of tragedy.
Happily, however, God does not stop there. He weeps with us. He suffers with us. But He also gathers up the broken pieces which result from the suffering and calls us to join Him in the work of putting those pieces back together. Such was the case with Elijah. After Elijah had his cry, God put him back on his feet and sent him on his way to anoint a new king over Israel and to anoint Elisha to be prophet in his place.
We see it in Elijah, we see it in Moses, we see it in Lazarus, we see it in numerous other biblical characters and we see it most clearly in the cross-resurrection event: God is a God who suffers with us. He weeps with us over the brokenness and then calls us to join Him in putting the broken pieces back together again.
John Claypool tells a story about a young boy who made a vase in kindergarten for his parents. Christmas was approaching so the teacher helped the little one to wrap the package in bright wrapping paper to give his mom and dad.
The day before the Christmas holidays arrived, mom and dad came to school to take their child home. With pride and joy the boy walked out of the building with his parents toward the car. However, as he came down the steps the child, in his great excitement, tripped. The package flew into the air and came crashing down upon the ground. When he realized what had happened, the little boy began to cry uncontrollably. His father, wanting to appease him, said, “It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry. It’s okay.”
The mother, having more insight than the father at this moment, looked at the dad and said, “Oh no, you are wrong. It does matter. It matters a great deal.” With that she gathered the child into her arms and began to cry with him. Then, after they had had their cry, the mother said, “Okay. Let’s pick up the broken pieces and see what we can do to put it back together.”
That is precisely what God did for Elijah and it is what God does for and with us. He weeps with us in the midst of tragedy and then calls us to join Him in putting the broken pieces back together again.
Will you, this day, take that journey into hope with Elijah? His journey led him to a broom tree where he discovered that God’s strength is adequate for the moment of need. Then his journey led to a cave and a mountain where God suffered with Elijah in the pain and tragedy, then invited this prophet to join Him in putting the brokenness of life together again.
That, for me, is the essence of hope! Such hope is available to us all in the One who was crucified and raised to life eternal, Christ Jesus, our Lord.