Down But Not Out

It’s understandable to be down these days. The inability to enjoy regular fellowship with other believers, combined with other stifling restrictions, either self-imposed or government-mandated, is enough to discourage the most cheerful saint. Add to that the sorry state of world affairs and the constant toxic negativity of the news media, and you have a recipe for personal disaster. If we’re not careful, we may soon find ourselves despairing under the juniper tree like Elijah.

If you are down, although it may be justifiable, you don’t have to stay there. Neither did Elijah. The Lord wanted him to know that although he was down, he was not out. He was given a work to do, and as long as that work wasn’t finished, neither was he.

The lessons from 1 Kings 19 are plentiful, but a few in particular may help us in our service for the Lord when we’re down. One needed reminder may be that God’s work needs God’s direction. When we seek to do God’s work without His guidance, the only direction in front of us is down. Elijah had been divinely directed each step of the way. “The word of the Lord” came to him repeatedly (1Ki 17:2,8; 18:1). But when Jezebel threatened to kill him, rather than waiting for the word of the Lord, he fled in fear, until at last, he found himself despairing of life itself. How easy it is to lose our patience when the heat is on and act without divine guidance. We can’t do God’s work without His Word. Ultimately, God, in His grace, spoke to Elijah again, informing him that he still had kings to anoint and a successor to appoint. God was not done with him yet, but he could have avoided the juniper tree altogether.

Elijah would also learn that God’s workers need each other. In running away, he left his servant behind (19:3), a companion whose support may have lifted him up. We can’t make it by ourselves in the Christian life. We need both the Lord’s direction and His people’s encouragement. Elijah complained that he was no better than his ancestors (v4). Whatever made him think he might be better? His duty was not to compete with yesterday’s servants, but to complete today’s assignment. It’s easy to get down when we begin to compare ourselves with other servants of God, whether from the past or the present. But we all have different abilities and unique opportunities, and we serve in our day, not in a day gone by. As God’s workers, we all need each another.

Another helpful lesson when we’re down is to discover that God’s work awaits final evaluation. Elijah thought he had failed in his service, declaring that he was the only faithful one remaining among the Israelites (vv10,14). God had to remind him that 7,000 of his fellow countrymen refused to bow their knees to Baal (v18). Elijah’s math was wrong. Only the Lord can properly evaluate the success of our service. God alone knows whether we have failed or succeeded. The final review will make everything clear, and the feature of our service most valuable to Him is faithfulness to His Word. Until our lives are completed, our service isn’t. And even if you’re down, you’re not out.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10 ESV).