Proverbs 3: 5-6
1 Kings 19:1-18
Fear is a powerful emotion. Think of it as one piece of a puzzle. Discouragement, depression and exhaustion are other puzzle pieces. When you put the four together, they either don’t fit or don’t make a pretty picture. It’s incomplete. Imagine trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you don’t have the pattern as a guide. Sometimes the events of our lives feel like random puzzle pieces that don’t seem to fit together at all. We’ve all been in those dark places where we don’t understand what is going on and we want it to end. We might have even prayed for death. That’s exactly what Elijah did.
In 1 Kings 19: 1-18, Elijah is caught up in the trap of relying on his own faulty understanding. He can’t make any sense of his baffling puzzle pieces. Depression and self-pity are overwhelming him. Elijah, I’m right there with you. I totally understand. In his human frailty, Elijah prays for death. Ironic, don’t you think? He had just experienced major spiritual victory in confronting King Ahab and Queen Jezebel about their idolatry worship and brought fire down on Mount Carmel. The queen is livid and issues Elijah a death warrant. He runs, terrified and exhausted. He feels like the only faithful human left on Earth. His tummy growls and his throat is dry. I can relate. Been there. Felt that.
How does the living, sovereign God respond to Elijah? He listens to Elijah’s “oh woe is me” pity party. He commands the ravens to bring Elijah water and bread. He tells the prophet to take a nap. When Elijah is physically refreshed with food and water, God tells him to travels 40 days and 40 nights until he reaches Horab, the mountain of God. Once there, Elijah enters into a cave. But God does not give him a calm, quiet night. He sends a fierce wind, an earthquake and then fire. For the grand finale, God gently whispers. When he realizes he is being summoned, Elijah stands at the mouth of the cave and God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” In other words, I have a purpose for you now. It’s time to move on to your next assignment.
God listens. God protects. God is gracious and compassionate. God provides nourishment. God provides rest. God reveals Himself and provides clarity for the next right step. God does the same thing for us today in so many ways that we don’t always recognize.
God is so good. He gently takes our misguided prayers and transforms them into what we actually need, rather than what we think we want. God expects our prayers, and the more we seek him with sincere, pure hearts, the more he shapes our desires into his own. The more our desires conform to his, the more answers to prayer we see. It’s a long process, but this, my friend, is part of spiritual maturity.
It’s not wrong to pray for our desires, but our desires need to align with God’s will and purposes. For example, maybe Elijah desperately wants King Ahab and Queen Jezebel to turn from their evil ways and follow the Lord, but he does not pray for that because he knows that was not part of God’s sovereign plan. He knows that God wants him to confront, not comfort. God himself gives King Ahab several opportunities to repent, but he knew the choice that Ahab would make. Yes, Ahab used his free will to choose other gods. God answered Elijah’s prayer to bring fire down on Mount Carmel because God chose to reveal himself to the Israelites as a living, active God compared to their dead idols.
Praying to ease physical or emotional suffering is not necessarily wrong, and God acknowledges Elijah’s plea, but he does not answer it. Sometimes pain is the very thing God uses to purify us, grow us up, and prepare us to be effective servants for him.
If you’re like me, you tend to waste precious emotional energy trying to understand challenging circumstances or frustrating people in order to “fix them” or move forward, rather than acknowledging the difficulty in prayer and trusting the Lord. I struggle to make sense of my own puzzle pieces of life that don’t seem to fit. But a few days ago, I sensed the Lord whispering to my heart, “Stop relying on your own understanding. Kick analyzing and overthinking to the curb. Put that energy into consistent prayer.” When I shared this experience with a friend during our Bible study, she pointed out, “wanting to know and understand everything can become an idol. You want to know more than God.” Ouch. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6, NIV)
But why does prayer seem overwhelming sometimes? Because we’re afraid we won’t get what we want or feel unworthy of God’s blessings. In our small-minded sinful nature, we rarely understand a situation the way God understands it. We rarely see the whole picture. Okay. Let me rephrase that. We never see the whole picture. We’re trying to put a jig-saw puzzle together without knowing what the picture is. Impossible. God in his graciousness does not reveal the bigger picture to us because we couldn’t handle it if he did.
That’s what trust is for.
Oh Father God, forgive me for wanting to understand all troubling circumstances and trying to fix them on my own. I want to desire your presence and your ways. I want to learn to acknowledge you in ALL of my ways so that you will make my path straight. You will do the same for me that you did for Elijah and I thank and praise you for that! In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.