For He Is Present
Open Your Bible
1 Kings 18:17-46, 1 Kings 19:1-16, Psalm 56:1-4, 1 Peter 3:13-17
Three years ago, my husband and I planted a church together, which means that half the life of our church has been spent in a pandemic. During that time, God has been undoubtedly faithful. Our church has grown and flourished, sometimes impossibly so, and we have marveled at His goodness again and again.
At the same time, we have faced a relentless flood of hard decisions, difficult conversations, and rejection. Despite all the good, we have felt anxiety, heartache, isolation, and pain, which is why I have returned to our reading in 1 Kings 19 a lot this year. For me, I see no better emotional portrait of a leader under stress.
In this chapter, we encounter Elijah at his lowest. Although he has witnessed the miraculous power of God firsthand, here he is crushed in spirit. Jezebel is seeking his life, and he cries out to God in fear, despair, and a large helping of self-pity. Elijah is understandably distraught, but one thing worth noting about his lament is the slight inaccuracy. On the one hand, it makes sense that Elijah would feel alone. On the other hand, Elijah seems to think he is the only Israelite to remain faithful, which we know from 19:16 is simply not true. What this tells us, then, is that Elijah’s isolation is not simply caused by his circumstances, but his self-righteousness as well.
This is one of the surprising consequences of fear and anxiety. In our weariness and discouragement, we sometimes feed ourselves a narrative of martyrdom, that we are the only righteous ones left. That is exactly what is happening here, and yet God’s response is not to correct him. God knows full well that there are other faithful people, but God doesn’t get into any of those details, because He knows that isn’t really the issue. Instead, God extends a simple invitation: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the LORD’s presence.”
Once there, God searches Elijah’s thoughts and emotions, and steadies him with His presence. By the end of the encounter, Elijah is revived and ready to lead once again.
For anyone who has ever led in ministry—or simply stepped out in obedience to God—this story is a necessary gut check. While fear is a normal part of walking in faith, fear is also a liar. It bends reality ever so slightly, and one of its most common distortions is a perception of isolation that is fueled by self-righteousness. When we believe no one’s call is as hard as ours, or when we assume all other leaders are compromising but us, or when we bemoan that we alone are faithful, we are tumbling into an unreality of our own making.
When we do this, we have two options: to indulge the distortion without questioning it, or present it to God for Him to search. One feeds our pride, while the other restores our souls.