Soldiers Need Their Furloughs

Spiritual giants don’t get discouraged. And if you believe that, you’d better read your Bible again. Start with 1 Kings 17-19 and the story of Elijah, one of the biggest spiritual giants ever, so revered that even today, the Passover Seder sets an extra place at the table as an invitation to him. Elijah was a performer of miracles: he multiplied food and raised the dead long before Jesus, and at least twice called fire down from Heaven. The first such incident is the most famous Bible story about Elijah. Having prophesied the long drought God sent as punishment for Israel’s Baal worship, he returned in the third year–everyone now seriously desperate for rain–and challenged 850 royally sponsored prophets of false gods to come up to Mount Carmel and see whose God really had the power. The culmination of that contest–God’s fire descending with a heat that evaporated water, the slaughter of the false prophets, and the arrival of the long-awaited rain–ranked among the top ten dramatic scenes of all time.

What receives less attention in many Sunday school classes is the sequel to that scene. Still in the afterglow of his triumph, Elijah got word that Queen Jezebel, notorious sponsor of Baal worship and persecutor of God’s prophets, had put out a contract on his life for ordering her prophets killed. And the great man’s mood did a 180-degree reversal: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors’” (1 Kings 19:3-4).

The spiritual giant had lost his nerve, his perspective, even his will to live. What had happened?

The problem was not so much that Elijah fled to the wilderness, but the attitude in which he did it. Aside from the question of his physical safety, he needed time to rest, to rebuild the energy he had spent in spiritual battle, to spend time with God and prepare for his next assignment. Had he devoted his thoughts during that time to praising God’s power and meditating on what the Lord had done, his courage and faith would have grown with every step. Instead, he dwelt on Jezebel’s threat and let it consume his mind, until he had convinced himself that the whole world was against him and all his work had been for nothing.

Perhaps Elijah even waited too long to head out for a time of solitude. Someone has said that it doesn’t pay to wait until the start of the battle to sharpen your weapons. Should Elijah have left for his desert time immediately after the rain, before he learned that the enemy was after him in earnest? Was he, perhaps, emotionally caught up in his triumph, even crediting himself for it and forgetting Who really sent the fire, too absorbed in self-congratulation to hear God saying that now was the time for a break?

We don’t know. But we do know that Elijah was hardly the first or the last servant of God to get so caught up in high-energy work that his strength gave out and brought him down with a crash before he realized what was happening. Many a survivor of severe clinical depression tells a similar story (and nearly all of us have experienced it on some scale): “I was insanely busy, but since I was ‘doing it all for God,’ I never doubted He would provide the strength to continue. People even said the results were miraculous. Then suddenly, one more bit of pressure came out of nowhere, and I just snapped. All my energy evaporated; my vision of anything good in life went blank. I could barely get out of bed for weeks. I wanted to die.”

As with many a dangerous illness, we often don’t feel any symptoms from spiritual energy depletion (especially if we’re distracted by “things to do”) until we’re already in major trouble. Few people can judge accurately for themselves how much they’re reasonably capable of. That’s why parents make their children go to bed before midnight. That’s why doctors, military leaders, and many an employer insist that those under their authority take time off when they feel they can still do more. That’s why God instituted the Sabbath.

Resting before you get tired isn’t simply a nice idea. It’s a law God built into the universe.

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  1. Jerrie

     /  April 18, 2012

    Today, I reread your message. I focused on noting the things the Lord has done. Thank you for being used by God to encourage us even when you have no idea how or when your words are used. So, I have listed sixteen things in a matter of a minute that the Lord has done.


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