This is the study guide for the twelfth installment of the Elijah Series. You can read it below, or download a pdf version(coming soon!) to review or print. Click here to download or listen to the sermon for Part 12.
When God Disappoints Us
“What are you doing here, Elijah? . . . I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (I Kings 19:9- 10, NIV)
I came very close to leaving the ministry. It was in my first full time church. I served for three years and during that time our church in Texas saw incredible growth. Large numbers of people came to Christ and the church expanded considerably. Unfortunately, the “powers to be” in this century old church felt threatened by the growth and changes and engineered a church vote based on absentee ballots, many of which came from out of town and out of state. As a result I was terminated as pastor.
A day or two after my termination I was approached by five of our ten deacons, ten or our twelve Sunday School teachers, and numerous families who urged me to join them in a new church plant. I agreed, expecting that the great work God had started would continue in this new church. It did not.
For five years I struggled with growing depression and a great deal of disappointment and anger with God. If it had not been for my angel wife, I would have left the ministry and gone back into the business world.
This experience in my life has helped me to understand what Elijah is feeling in the nineteenth chapter of I Kings as he runs and hides in the desert. He’s depressed. He’s disappointed with God. Most important, he is feeling as spiritual as a slug. Let me explain.
The fire has fallen and the rains have returned. The people of Israel acknowledged The Lord as their God. I’m sure Elijah thought that this was only the beginning of great change in the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, the only real change was that Elijah became more of a target for Jezebel’s murderous intentions than he had ever been. The result is he felt alone, abandoned, and disappointed in God.
Elijah tells God that he is no better than his fathers (See I Kings 19:4). Since the track record of Elijah’s ancestors was one of faithlessness and failure in their relationship with God, it is obvious that Elijah’s spiritual condition at this point in his life is not exactly healthy. By telling God that he is the only one left and that it is just a matter of time before he joins the other murdered prophets, Elijah is expressing his disappointment with the way things have turned out. It is obvious he is disappointed in God himself.
In our lesson for next week, I will share God’s response to Elijah, but for now I want to ask you how you respond when God disappoints. I know people, who like myself, who have experienced great disappointment in their expectations of God. Many of these have left church and are no longer active disciples of Jesus Christ. I grieve deeply for these people, because I know how they feel. I also grieve, because I know there is a way through their disappointments, if only they will engage God with their doubts, fears, and anger.
One of the primary emphases of this study of Elijah and spiritual drought has been the candid observation that much of the church today is spiritually unhealthy. Obviously, spiritually unhealthy churches lead to spiritually unhealthy disciples. Even worse, spiritually unhealthy churches also hinder, hurt, and drive new disciples away from church and often God. Are you one of those casualties? Have you left the community and fellowship of the church, because instead of building you up and encouraging you in your pursuit of God, the church actually beat you up and left you on the side of the road for dead?
I know how you feel, but I also know that what was meant for evil in your life, God means to use for good. Press through your disappointments, negative feelings, and cynicism. Seek God. Take your anger, doubts, and questions about Him and His church and tell God exactly how you feel. I promise you that God will answer and in the process you will grow in your understanding of God and His ways – you will grow in your faith.
God has something very special about Himself to reveal to you and it has the power to change your view of Christ and His church for good the good, forever.
Like I said, next week, I will share some things involved in this process as seen in Elijah’s life. For now, I want to encourage you to pray the most powerful prayer in heaven or earth – “Help!”
Ask God to help you in spite of all your feelings, disappointments, and spiritual lethargy. He will. I promise.
Think About It
- In what ways has God disappointed you? Have you openly shared with God how you feel? Take time to do that, even if all you can do is lift your eyes to heaven and whisper (or maybe, shout) “Help!”
- Does it make sense to you that if the church is experiencing spiritual drought that the result will be disappointment leading to decline in attendance? Does knowing this help you in your struggles and questions? Why or why not.
- Put yourself in the place of Elijah. Get creative and imagine what “should have happened” after the fire fell and the rains came. Do the same thing with disappointments in your life. Make a list of things that “should have happened” but did not. Lay that list before God and ask Him about it.