Elijah’s Self-Quarantine

Isolation has been hard these days. It’s easy to play the comparison game as other countries begin lifting their restrictions: easy to feel forgotten and alone, to weep. But the Lord doesn’t leave us there.

1 Kings 18 -19
Elijah has one of the greatest spiritual highs of his life. He and the false prophets have a throw-down on top of a mountain, and after they dance and wail and cut themselves for hours waiting for their idol to respond, Elijah calmly steps up to bat. After some smack talk, he repairs God’s altar. He floats the wood and sacrifice in water, and he prays serenely for God to accept the sacrifice and show the people who is the real God in Israel.
And wouldn’t ya know it, fire blasts down from heaven and incinerates not just the offering, but the altar too.
The people turn to God. Elijah takes care of the false prophets. He prays for rain and breaks a drought in the name of the Lord. AND he has the nerve to taunt the king: “better get in out of here before the rain catches up with you.”
Seems like a nice ending to the story. Tie it up with a bow. Except the story doesn’t end there. In spite of the phenomenal faith Elijah demonstrated, he runs and hides when his life is threatened. He sits melodramatically under a tree and asks the Lord to kill him, “for I am no better than my fathers.” He thinks at the end of the day he’s accomplished nothing for and with the Lord.
In his misery, he slept. An angel woke him twice to eat, and then sent him to be alone with God.
The Lord asks Elijah why he is there. He answers with a response he must’ve been turning over and over in his mind, savoring the unfairness of it: I’ve done my duty to you, Lord, but the people always turn away from you and kill your prophets—I’m the only one left and they want my life too!
The Lord doesn’t answer in the way Elijah expected. From the mouth of a cave he watches a powerful wind tear through the mountain, an earthquake shake it to its roots, and a fire singe the stones. But the Lord was not in these displays of power. When Elijah hears a low whisper he knows to cover his face and enter the awesome presence of his God. Again he repeats his complaint, with calculated memorization.
Again the Lord answers perhaps not as Elijah expected. He sends Elijah on with instructions, and at the end he says, “I will leave 7,000 of my people who haven’t bowed their knees or kissed the idols.”

Isolation has been hard these days. No matter how high and strong my faith can feel, the smallest difficulty can bring my spirit crashing down again to self-pity, doubt, and depression. It’s easy to play the comparison game as other countries or even cities begin lifting their restrictions: easy to feel forgotten and alone, to weep melodramatically under a tree. But the Lord doesn’t leave us there.
He sustains us with rest and nourishment. He leads us into his presence. When we complain he reminds us of who he is, and that his still, small voice is always near at hand if we will listen. And as if that weren’t  enough, he often reminds us that we *aren’t* in fact, alone. For Elijah it was 7,000 faithful God-followers. We aren’t as isolated as we think. God has not only preserved and sustained his people, but he has allowed them to flourish in the harshest of circumstances, to bloom under the weight of persecution or trauma or hardship.

Moral of the story? Sometimes you need to sit yourself in timeout, take a nap, and have a snack and a juice box. And when you feel better, go into the Lord’s presence. Stand in awe of his power. Hear his low whisper in your heart. And recognize that your troubles are not unique to you. We have brothers and sisters out there fighting the same fight, struggling with the same discouragement and isolation, wondering just the same if the things they’ve done with and for the Lord have made any difference. But take heart: the Lord has preserved thousands by your side, flourishing under the same adversity.