God is with us

Right now, for many, these are lonely times.  There is lack of physical interaction.  It is for a really good reason, but we were made for community.  So it makes it extra difficult to find our way when our view of community has changed so drastically and at such a rapid pace.  What most of us imagined as a few weeks of change has become a version of new normality.  Lunch with friends is not so easy to plan.  Vacations are revamped, if happening at all.  It can feel like we have been swallowed up in the chaos of it all.  Air hugs and distance fist bumps just aren’t the same.  But it is where we are.  So what do we do when times feel so lonely and everyone feels so distant?  What happens when we look around and see despair?

Elijah found himself in a really challenging place in his life.  Our struggles do not compare to his, except to say that God’s Word for him can really ring true to us in our situation.  I think the life that God speaks to Elijah also bring us life if we listen…if we truly hear.

To give you a brief background, Elijah was a mighty prophet for God.  He was willing to do what God had told him.  He had stood before 450 prophets of Baal, confident in the work that God could do.  God had shown up, in a miraculous way.  He had been strong, he had been faithful, he had conquered his fears and God had honored that.  Baal had been defeated and the prophets had been destroyed.  God was triumphant…and that was the side that Elijah was on – it is always helpful to be on the winning side.  That would mean he would be willing to go up against anyone or anything…why not?  God had shown up once, surely God would show up again.  But Elijah found himself in a place of despair…fearfulness…loneliness…helplessness.  Elijah felt abandoned even despite all that had just happened.  And it wasn’t because Elijah lacked faith.  It wasn’t because Elijah was a wimp or he wasn’t being used by God.  Elijah found himself here even with his strong faith.  Sometimes we find ourselves here and it isn’t our faith that is lacking either.

1 Kings 19:9-18
19:9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19:10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
19:11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
19:12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
19:13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19:14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
19:15 Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
19:16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
19:17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.
19:18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

What are you doing here, Elijah?  Remember, God doesn’t ask questions because he doesn’t know.  It isn’t as if God has no clue what Elijah is doing.  He knows.  But he needs to hear why Elijah thinks he is there.  What does Elijah think of his situation?   How is he processing what is going on around him?  And Elijah repeats his perspective, twice.  This was how he felt.  This is where he was.  This was his view of his life and he was being destroyed by it.  We hear his plea, his cry, his heartfelt fear. This was where he was.

Elijah felt alone.  He felt as though all was against him and he was left alone.  God provided him with an encounter.  He provided him with answers in the silence.  He showed him majestic wonders.  He moved him, literally with the elements.  He spoke to him as he sat.  He spoke to his situation, right where he was.

We might think that this would do it for Elijah.  We might think this would be the renewal he needed, the boost to continue to move forward.  We might would imagine this would lift his spirits so he would be ready to face anything ahead.  But it wasn’t.  Even after his encounter with God, he still felt all alone.  That did not change him like you might would think it would.  God does not give up on him, though.  He does not leave him alone in his despair.  This speaks to God’s compassion for Elijah.  He doesn’t berate him for not being comforted.  He doesn’t tell him he is on his own now.  He doesn’t scold him or tell him to stop his complaining.  God doesn’t give up on him and I love this.

He, instead, lets him know that there is support, there are others, God has not abandoned him nor the others.  His mission is not complete.  There are others that are in the same situation.  There is a community.  This is not the end for Elijah or the Israelites.  I hear God tell Elijah to pick up your head and see your tribe.  Lift your eyes to the hills, that is where your help comes from.  Lift up your heart, for God has provided all you need.  This is not the end, you are not alone.

It is not easy to hear you are not alone when you feel so alone.  Even when circumstances tell you differently…even when God tells you differently.  It can be challenging when you feel pressed to continue going.  So many times, we can find ourselves just wanting to hide out.  We feel alone.  This scripture reminds us that God is not only with us, he provides those along the journey to accompany us.  We may not realize it.  We may not easily see them.  But God provides others.

I believe that God reminds us that he is with us.  What does it mean to have God with you?  It means that no matter what you face in life, he does not abandon you.  It means that when you feel like you can’t go on, he helps to nurture you and bring you along.  It means that when you can’t take another step, he provides rest and renewal so you can continue the journey.

I also believe that God tells us to lift up our heads, there are sights we have missed.  Lift up our eyes to the hills, God’s help is here.  Lift up our hearts, we have others with us on this journey.  You are not alone because there are others that travel this journey too.  You have a tribe.  You have people that love and support you on this difficult road.  You do not face this alone.  Look up, my friends, your tribe awaits.  Your tribe can consist of family and friends…people you haven’t even had a chance to meet yet.  It can be your church and your community.  Your tribe also consists of professionals that help you along the way.  Sometimes when we feel all alone, we need help that mental health can offer.  There is no shame in that – only grace.  God has given women and men gifts to help guide and direct us to a better mental place.  It often is that prayer and faith lead us to these gifted people that can help us with therapy and medication.  And there is nothing wrong with that…actually there is so much right with it.

Today, church, know that you are not alone.  Whether you are hearing this on your phone, your computer, or in person…you are not alone.  Whether you are hearing this alone or with someone else, you are not alone.  God is with us.  God will not leave us.  We are not abandoned.  Lift up your heads, church.  Lift us your eyes, friends.  Lift up your hearts – for God has provided what you need.  May God be with us all as we seek him and find those with us on this journey.

Amen.

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