This is the study guide for the eleventh installment of the Elijah Series. You can read it below, or download a pdf version to review or print. Click here to download or listen to the sermon for Part 11.
“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 wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.” (I Kings 19:3-4, NIV)
“. . . he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness” is a telling phrase as we read Elijah’s story in I Kings, chapter nineteen. The emphasis of the writer is clearly on the fact that the prophet is now alone, all alone. Collapsing under a broom tree in the middle of nowhere he hits rock bottom, praying for God to end his life.
Like me, you have probably known people whose lives have been so far from God that the only hope for change was what appeared to be their inevitable journey toward rock bottom. But are spiritual rebels the only ones who need to come to the end of themselves before God can fulfill his plans and purposes in their lives? What about those who are serving Christ and whose hearts desire to live for him?
It may sound strange to think that God would allow one of his faithful servants to enter into the dark night of the soul, experiencing loneliness, depression, and spiritual malaise, but it is, in fact, one of God’s primary ways of preparing us for greater ministry in His kingdom.
Elijah’s ministry is about to undergo significant changes. He is changing his ministry career, if you will, from prophet to professor. We will talk more about this later, but for the remaining ten years of his life Elijah will dedicate himself to forming the schools of the prophets and training others in God’s word. But before Elijah can receive this new vision and purpose from God, he must first experience the end of his current ministry. Change is never easy.
One of the most powerful experiences I have had with God happened at 3:30 AM one morning. Like Elijah, I was at the end of myself. For months I would struggle to fall asleep at night, worried about the many struggles I was facing in my ministry. Each night, like clockwork, I awoke at 3:30 and struggled to fall back asleep before rising early the next day for what appeared to be another set of hopeless ministry tasks. But this night was different.
As I lay in the bed desperately seeking to fall back asleep, the Spirit of God spoke. One word exploded at the very center of my being and echoed down the hallways of my soul – “changes.”
That’s all God said, and that was all He needed to say. That night marked a turning point in my life and ministry. I can honestly tell you that I would not be in Seoul, Korea today involved in the most exciting ministry of a lifetime, if I had not reached rock bottom. It was only when I came to the end of myself that God was able to prepare me for this unusual ministry literally on the other side of the world from my home, friends, and family.
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” was the word the first apostolic missionaries shared with new disciples. (See Acts 14:22) Entering the kingdom in this life is the same thing as experiencing all of God’s plans and purposes for us during our lives on earth. I can only tell you the truth – If you desire to serve Christ with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength you will experience hardship. But God uses our trials to shape us into the men and women He is calling us to be.
Remember James 5:17 and the truth that Elijah was just as real and human and weak and vulnerable as we are. Great servants of Christ are made as a gracious God allows us to reach rock bottom where He can make the changes in our lives that lead to our joy and fulfillment and His great glory.
It’s worth it. Don’t quit.
Think About It
- Can you describe a particularly difficult time in your life when you suffered greatly while doing God’s will? As you look back on that experience what did God teach you? What changes came about in your attitudes and ministry as a result of that experience?
- If you were unable to answer the first question and describe lessons learned and changes that took place could it be that you need to revisit that experience asking God for “eyes to see and ears to hear.”
- Remember the question that God loves to ask of all of us who desire to follow Christ – “How badly do you want me?” Ask God to fan into flame your calling and desire to serve His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.