1 Kings 19:1-10
Elijah Flees from Jezebel Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.
Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
How many of you are afraid of spiders?
Now, think for a second about why you're afraid of spiders. Perhaps you've never given this much thought—all you know is that any eight-legged creature deserves instant death, after giving a piercing scream. But if you stop and think about it for a minute, you can realize that the number of people who die every year of spider is 4. That's right—4. You're ten times less likely to die from a spider bite than you are from a fireworks accident. But how many people walk into the fireworks store and start screaming? In Britain, 20 people die every year from falling out of bed. But how many of us peer over the edge of the bed in abject horror every morning? None of us.
The thing is, fear isn't rational. I'm not afraid of heights because I had a really bad childhood experience where my parents threw me over the edge of a building. I'm afraid of heights because falling from them seems pretty scary. Most people who are afraid of spiders don't spend a lot of time thinking about why they're afraid of them—they just know that they're nasty and should all be killed with lots of fire.
Our fears don't make sense. If we sat down and reasoned them out, we'd come to the conclusion that we have nothing to fear. Maybe Frank Roosevelt was on to something.
But we're not alone in our fears. Consider Elijah. Here he is, coming off one of the most dramatic events in the Bible. A duel is set up between Elijah and the 450 false prophets of Baal, and God responds to Elijah's prayer in dramatic fashion—all of Israel is there to witness God's response, and Elijah then kills the 450 false prophets, as the law demands. Surely, Elijah can sense the presence of God with him and feels like nothing in the world can stop him, right? Surely, this man of God who has seen God work miracle after miracle and intervene in dramatic ways has nothing to fear, right?
Not exactly. When Ahab sent Jezebel word that Elijah had just disposed of 450 of her prophets, Jezebel was less than pleased. In fact, she sent Elijah a message indicating that within 24 hours, Elijah would be as dead as one of those prophets.
Did Elijah laugh in the face of her threat, confidant in the God who has protected Elijah in the face of every threat? Was Elijah emboldened by God's power to stand and face Jezebel?
Nope. He fled for his life, the text says, because he was afraid. He even left his servant behind and went a day into the wilderness, where he sat down under a tree and asked God to take his life. He was so afraid that he preferred death to life. And this from the guy who had just dramatically killed 450 prophets after triumphing in a duel before the entire nation of Israel!
But fear isn't rational. We all know that. Anyone who has ever been afraid could say that fear isn't rational. It grips us and shakes us and rattles our bones. We're afraid, not because we've logically reasoned out that fear is the best response—we're afraid because once fear grips us it is so hard to release ourselves from its icy clasp. Fear isn't rational.
Fear causes two things in our minds to happen. The first is that we begin to overestimate the strength of our opponents. Take spiders, for instance. Tiny little critters, most of which cannot harm us, all of which have very long odds of doing permanent harm to us. But we overestimate their power. We are afraid of them because we believe they are more powerful than they truly are. It's like the fear of shark attacks—the ones that happen are so public, we attribute more power to them than they deserve, and once they have a foothold in our mind, their influence only grows. We overestimate the power of that which we fear.
Secondly, we underestimate our own resources, our own strength, in the face of fear. We don't believe that we can overcome. We become so paralyzed by fear we're certain that there is no way out in the face of the danger before us. We're so afraid of heights that we don't believe anything will ever allow us to overcome this fear. We think that we will always be afraid.
The way that this works in our spiritual life is that we underestimate the power of God. We overestimate the power of fear and evil in the world, and we underestimate God's power and strength. We forget that the God who created the universe has promised that nothing shall ever separate us from him. We forget that the God who conquered death has promised that those who believe in him will not die, but live. We become so overwhelmed by fear that we forget God's power and sovereignty.
So let's talk about the things we fear today. Most of us don't have an evil queen threatening to take our lives because we just killed her favorite prophets. If you do, there's an app for that.
But we've got some real fears.
Let's talk about job security, the loss of income. That's scary.
How about the global economy, threatening income that you're depending on to live. Anybody worry about that?
Does anyone worry about not having enough money to make the next house payment or car payment and having no reserves?
What about health problems—how many are worried about lab results? How many have a lump that terrifies them, but you're too worried about what it might be to have it checked out?
Fear is real, folks. I don't have to tell you that. You know what fears you have. Fears about the future. Fears about the present. Fears about the known. Fears about the unknown. Fears about global problems and fears about household problems. We had to pick up an Epi-pen on Wednesday because Caleb has a nut allergy. Trust me—this world is a scary, scary place.
So what to do, then?
Well, one option is, like Elijah, to go find a solitary tree in the wilderness, sit down, and ask God to take your life. Certainly takes fear out of the equation. But notice, friends, that Elijah's story doesn't end there. Most of the Old Testament prophets experience this deep depression. None of them have their request to God for death granted. God sees beyond our present state, beyond our paralysis of fear, into a future filled with hope.
Fear paralyzes the way we think. Fear makes us believe that the way life is now is the way life always will be. Elijah believed that he would be hounded by Jezebel for the rest of his life. If you have financial instability, you think it will always be this way. If you're afraid of dying, you don't believe things will ever change. Fear does this to us—it traps us in the prison of our minds and convinces us that things will never change.
But God does new things. We worship a God of new beginnings, who picks up the prophet who wishes for death and points him in a new direction. He gives him something to do, somewhere to go, and sends him on his way, to face the world and serve the church. God doesn't let you sit and stew in your fear—he puts you to work, giving you a vision for a new future.
Notice the 2 things God does for Elijah, and I think the same two options are available for us.
The first is that God feeds Elijah. Now, he has an angel point him toward miraculous hot cakes. Perhaps you consider Krispy Kreme the modern day equivalent of that. Otherwise, I’d recommend that you spend some time in God’s Word. When we talk about fear, we discover plenty of Scriptural resources to remind us that we actually have nothing to fear. We find in 1 John that perfect love casts out fear, and 2 Timothy tells us that God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love & self-discipline. The Bible reminds us, time and time again, that God is bigger than our fears and has conquered them all. It is a reminder to us that we need not fear, though the mountains fall down around us, for God is with us and has promised to abide with us in the deepest valleys of life. Whatever we fear cannot kill us.
Secondly, God sends Elijah out. He doesn’t let him lie around and dwell in fear. He sends him out with a mission, on a journey. He gives Elijah something to do. In the same way, when we are afraid, we need to let God send us out. Let God send us out into the world, to love and serve others, and then our mind becomes occupied with service, with love and care, rather than our own fears. We have the chance to focus on others, rather than ourselves, and as we busy ourselves with reaching out to others, we stop thinking about ourselves, our own fears.
Friends, God has conquered sin and death. He will triumph in the end. He has promised that those who believe will dwell in him for eternity. Let’s focus on that, and let our fears fade away to a place where they cannot harm us, cannot occupy our minds and hold us captive. Let’s focus on the love of God, a love that held Jesus to the cross so that we might be a people of hope, rather than fear.
Let us pray