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    Ravens and the Prophet

 
by Robert Weston  

The Importance of Rest
Chapter twelve
 

 
 
  The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.
(1 Kings 18:46)
 
   
Elijah had reached the high point of his ministry. He had stood before the nation and prayed down the fire of God on the sacrifice.

 All who were present had witnessed a startling demonstration that Yahweh was more powerful than Baal, and the news soon travelled throughout the nation. Neither the people, nor the king would ever be quite the same again after the dramatic events of that day.

Unfortunately, neither would the prophet himself. Elijah had reckoned without the effect of this victory on his own character. Success is a great deal harder to handle than most of us have realised. So many strive for it, never pausing to ponder the character, as well as the effort, that will be required to sustain it. As Philip Keller points out, there are few, very few, who can live with such anointing and yet remain completely humble and dependent on the Lord.(1)

I can do no more than repeat, for my own benefit if for no one else's, that pride is a most subtle foe. It is the hallmark of our enemy, the true reflection of his heart. It may take the form of a desire to be rich and famous or perhaps to feel superior to others, but in whatever guise it assails us we must be careful. Lucifer is prepared to trade success for a foothold in our soul.

In the excitement of the moment, it was as though Elijah suddenly longed to throw off all the constraints and hardships he had been subjected to during his hidden years as an outcast. After all, now that the prophets of Baal had been defeated, why should the king not recognise his part in the proceedings? Surely even so hard-hearted a man as Ahab must have been impressed by what the Lord had done on Mount Carmel!

At such an exalted moment, Elijah found it hard to believe that God had chosen to keep him hidden from the public eye, not only because the situation called for it, but also for the good of his own soul. But as we shall be seeing, it is precisely because he did not take time to rest and recover after the huge outlay of mental and spiritual energy in the battle on Mount Carmel, that he was so vulnerable in the immediate aftermath.

Uncommanded Works
For the first time in the Scriptural account, we find Elijah acting without a specific command of the Lord. What was there really to be gained by rushing off to visit the stronghold of his enemy? Was he not simply eager to see how the queen would react when she heard the news that her beloved prophets had been overthrown?

Not everyone will agree with me on this point, but I am tempted to wonder whether Elijah did not misuse the power of the Lord, by running ahead of His anointing. Most of us have experienced moments when an almost supernatural strength seems to flow through us while we are engaged on some special project. But we should not confuse adrenalin with anointing.

Moreover, Elijah had spent a whole day without food. Might he not have responded differently in the crisis he was about to experience had he had something to eat first? Scripture has much to say about the value of fasting, but it also reveals that there is such a thing as inappropriate fasting.(2)

Fasting shows the Lord that we are willing to make sacrifices in order to reach some God-given goal. It frees the soul to enter more deeply into the spiritual conflict, and it sharpens our ability to identify with people in need. It is something most of us need to learn more about. Yet, for all the many benefits we derive from fasting, it is as well to be aware that it may also serve to open us to a higher degree of temptation, precisely because it weakens our normal defence mechanisms.(3)

Much though we are called to wrestle for the kingdom, there is also a time to rest from our labours and to enjoy complete freedom from our usual burdens.

If we are the sort of people who pick up everybody's concerns whenever we attend a meeting, then life risks becoming altogether too serious.

It is not unspiritual to take time off; indeed, we will often find that our best ideas come when we are at our most relaxed.
 

Non Burden-Bearing Times

Years ago, as an eager young Christian worker, I used to feel mildly guilty at taking a day off a week. Partly this was due to not wanting to miss out on all the Lord was doing, but also because I felt embarrassed at being able to relax at times when others were working. Today, after experiencing the blessings of countless days off, I have come to realise that these non burden-bearing times are less a luxury God indulges me with than an integral part of His purposes for my life.

Relaxation is important for the soul, especially if it be a rest towards God, rather than a rest from Him. Escapist retreats into a fantasy world hinder our spiritual development, because they create a highly-coloured expectation of what life ought to be like. Against such impossibly high and misleading standards, ordinary everyday life is bound to appear almost unbearably drab.

We have spoken earlier about our need to pay attention to the pace at which we lead our lives. So many today are experiencing at least some of the symptoms of burn-out: shallow breathing, restless nights, poor digestion and wayward thoughts. More contact time with the Lord, and consequently less with the source of our tension, may well be a key to recovery.
 



 

Piercing the Darkness

Sooner or later almost everyone who ministers for the Lord reaches a point where they feel so far down that they wonder if they will ever come up again.

Like Elijah, there is a danger of turning in on ourselves at such times, pitying our plight rather than considering the power of the Lord. Our need at such times is exactly the same as Elijah's a deeper repentance and a fresh touch from the Living Lord.

I am grateful that Scripture is so faithful in recording the 'downside' experiences of its heroes. It would be unthinkable in the Koran, for example, to depict the prophets of their God falling into error or deception. In the Bible, by contrast, great men sometimes fail spectacularly and become still more real and accessible to us through doing so.

What, for example, could be more disreputable than Abraham, who lied to his host, Moses who killed a man in a brawl, or David who murdered the husband of a woman he had decided on an impulse to take to bed? As for Peter, the less said the better denying his Lord only hours after swearing that he would never do such a thing!

It is wonderful how God fashioned leaders after His own heart out of such abysmal failures. People who have been deeply humbled walk a great deal more circumspectly in the fear of the Lord. Indeed, I sometimes think that most true success is built out of 'failure' of one kind or another.

What a comfort it is to realise that God can always pick us up one more time than we can fall. It would be hard to imagine anything further from today's propensity to discard the failures than the delightful way in which the Lord restores His servant.

Because we may find Elijah's dark days mirrored in our own experience, I believe it will be helpful for us to follow Elijah through this low point in his pilgrimage. We will stand alongside him as he wrestles with the shock of Jezebel's threat against his life, empathize as waves of condemnation and despondency assail him, and finally rejoice as he is re-commissioned for further service.

Reflections
What steps are you taking to ensure sufficient non burden-bearing times in your own life? Is there anything you can do to adjust the pace of your life? Ask the Lord to show you if there are areas where you are going beyond what He has asked you to do.

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him,
for He shields him all day long,
and the one the Lord loves
rests between His shoulders.

(Deuteronomy 33:12)
 

Selah
Lord, as we realise how badly Elijah needed rest at this time in his life, we know You do not want us to overstretch ourselves. Help us to live within our emotional means, and to take advantage of quieter times to recharge our batteries.

Help us to know that we are acceptable to You, whether or not we have accomplished all we long to do. Take from our hearts all roots of rejection, and all seeds of striving. Save us, and all Your precious servants, from the perils of perfectionism, and the turmoil of burn-out. In Jesus' name, Amen.

 
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References
1 Philip Keller's book 'Power' (Bridge Publishing) is the most readable account of Elijah's life I have come across. I would commend any of this sensitive man's outstanding writings.
2 1 Samuel 14:24-31
3 Arthur Wallis' book, 'God's Chosen Fast' (Kingsway) has become a classic on the subject.