I recently introduced a new, short series of posts on how to regain your footing when you are faced with these thoughts, ”I’ve had enough. I’m ready to quit!” We’re using the story of Elijah, who utters those words to God, immediately following his most triumphant victory as a prophet. This post focuses on finding God’s word.
In our language, Elijah was suffering from burnout. Elijah made it back to health through embracing these three mentalities:
- Rest to Restore
- Receive God’s Word
- Respond in Faith
To be blunt, you need a Word from God. So how do you put yourself in a place to find it? It began with rest – not just slowing down, but resting to be restored. It continues by beginning a journey to find God’s word.
God’s Word: The Journey is the Destination
“So he (Elijah) got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.” -1 Kings 19:8
There are two aspects of receiving God’s word.
- The journey to find it.
- Know what you’re looking for.
Too often, we skip over the value of the journey. I’m sure you’ve heard (and possibly used) the phrase, “The journey is the destination.” When it comes to hearing God’s Word, there is some truth in that phrase, so don’t skip over the length of time it took Elijah to travel to the mountain of God — Mt. Sinai. Elijah traveled 40 days and nights.
The number ‘40’ is used 146 times throughout scripture. Here are a few of those times:
- Noah was on the ark for one year, but it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, flooding the earth.
- Moses spent his first 40 years in Egypt, then the next 40 years in exile and the final 40 years setting his people free and wandering the wilderness.
- Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to receive the commandments of God. He spent 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain.
- After being spit out of the great fish, Jonah preached 40 days in the city of Nineveh.
- Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights before he was tempted by Satan.
In scripture, the number 40 is generally a reference to temptation, trial or waiting. Usually this waiting takes place in the wilderness. Not only is the length of the journey important to note, but so is the location the journey takes Elijah through.
The Wilderness is Sacred
I have a vivid memory of standing at my kitchen window in the Spring of 2009. It was the early days of the Great Recession, and my family and business were victims of that financial reset. We had bet big on a conference we put on for photographers that January. We wrote the contract with the hotel in early 2008 when everything was still booming. We didn’t foresee the crash coming later that year.
The recession did come, and we lost money…a lot of money. Bankruptcy was a possibility. That spring of 2009, I stood at my kitchen window feeling completely alone. I knew the potential facing me.
I was in the wilderness.
The wilderness is crushing. It’s a very scary place to be – not just because of the difficulty of traversing it, but because the isolation the wilderness brings with it. I found myself with questions, so many questions. While just months before, I had all the answers to what life was throwing at me, now I had none. Not only did I not have answers, I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to who did have answers. I felt alone.
You never want to enter the wilderness. It is crushing, scary and isolating.
Yet, you shouldn’t avoid the wilderness either. Too often we skip this step. We rest and recover (to a point), and then jump right back into action. But do we know where we are going? Do we know what we are actually doing? The journey through the wilderness takes us to God’s Word, but it’s more than that.
The wilderness itself is sacred.
The Destination is Transformation
It is in the wilderness where we find God. The process of journeying through the wilderness with God shapes and forms you to be more like Jesus. This is true of my journey through the wilderness of 2009 and 2010. I never want to go back to that time, but I am thankful for it. It shaped me. I am more like Jesus because the crush of the wilderness. It happened to Elijah. It happened to me. It’s what happened to Moses too.
As I stated above, Moses spent 40 years in Egypt (a spiritual wilderness), another 40 years in exile (a physical wilderness) tending sheep and being restored. Then after God sent him back to Egypt, Moses spent the final 40 years of his life wandering the wilderness outside the Promised Land. If the journey is the destination, then the destination is transformation.
Transformed from Nobody to Somebody
This is how the great 19th century preacher, D.L. Moody put it:
“Moses spent forty years in the king’s palace thinking that he was somebody; then he lived forty years in the wilderness finding out that without GOD he was a nobody; finally he spent forty more years discovering how a nobody with GOD can be a somebody.” –D. L. Moody
Moses was transformed into the most humble man to ever walk the earth (Numbers 12:3). It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen in the palaces of Egypt. The transformation from pride to humility happened over years of wilderness living.
In my last post, I shared how to be restored, we need to recognize our identity is found in Jesus. We are first a child of God, and then a father, mother, preacher, teacher, doctor, lawyer, man, woman, husband, wife. The journey in the wilderness also forms our identity. We recognize our NEED for God, who allows us to be more than we could ever be on our own.
The search for God’s Word includes a journey of transformation, but it also means finding what you are looking for.
What are you looking for?
Elijah makes his 40 day journey through the wilderness to Mt Sinai. He finds himself in a cave where God asks him this question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” No response is recorded in scripture, but it’s a fascinating question isn’t it?
Why are you here? What are you looking for?
You may not know it, but you are looking for God’s word. Elijah doesn’t answer, but God’s word is what he is looking for. Finding God’s word is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. Like the journey, God’s word transforms us. It gives us purpose. It heals us. It is the Spirit of God alive and at work in us.
You need God’s Word.
On Mount Sinai, an interesting experience happens to Elijah. God repeats what happened weeks before on Mount Carmel where Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal. On Mount Carmel it was a firestorm that consumed the sacrifice and a windstorm that blew in a massive rain at the end of a three year drought. Now, on Mount Sinai, God again sends a windstorm followed by an earthquake and then a firestorm.
Elijah couldn’t put words to it, but he was looking for a fresh word from God. Elijah thought he would find what he wanted in a mighty act of God. What he found was God moved in the wind, rain and fire, but God’s presence wasn’t in any of them.
Elijah finally finds it in God’s still, quiet voice. It’s where the Spirit of God rests. Many times we want power from God – the fire, the wind, the shaking. We think that is how God speaks and moves. Those things are powerful, but it doesn’t mean God’s presence will be in them.
It’s a small, quiet voice that shapes us, gives us purpose, provides direction. It’s what Elijah was looking for. It’s why Elijah was on the mountain.
Now that God has Elijah’s full attention, God again asks, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Elijah repeats the complaint that sent him on this journey:
“I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” -1 Kings 19:14 NLT
Let me interpret: “I thought I was somebody. I’m by myself…alone. Who am I? I’m a nobody.”
God’s Word: Truth + Command
In response, God finally speaks his word to Elijah. This response has two parts:
“Then the Lord told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.” -1 Kings 19:15-16 NLT
“Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha! Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” -1 Kings 19:17-18 NLT
God is molding Elijah into a somebody. Yes, Elijah defeated the prophets. Elijah even raised a boy from the dead (1 Kings 17). But God still has more to do, and his plans includes Elijah — this is the command. And Elijah has been alone, but he didn’t need to be — that is the truth.
God’s word to you will be the same. He will give you things to do (a command), but he will also show you how things really are and will be (the truth). When I was in the wilderness in 2009, I heard God speak to me in that still, quiet voice. He spoke the truth to me – I was not a failure; I could find freedom from the chains of the debt I found myself in. He also gave me things to do. He gave me a vision to start a blog, to lead people through what God was showing me – in life, business and family.
God was molding me into someone who was a somebody – not because of my success, but because of God’s presence in my life.
The Test: Respond with Obedience
After resting and waiting, Elijah receives a call. Elijah finds a new purpose.
The real test to mark Elijah’s restoration and transformation is to see what he will do with the word spoken to him. It was my test in 2009, and it will be your test too. It will define your move from nobody to somebody.
You’ve been restored (you’ve experienced God’s grace + found your identity as a child of God). You’ve received God’s word (you’ve journeyed and been transformed through the wilderness + and you found what you were looking for – God’s word). The final part will be our final post…
Now it is time to respond with obedience.