1 Kings 19:4-16
4But 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.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He 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. 7The 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.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
9At 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?” 10He 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.” 11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He 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.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
There was an older woman who lived by herself and found herself to be growing more and more lonely as she got older. So one day she decided to go to the pet store and buy a parrot so that she could have a conversation partner in her home. But when the lady got the parrot home, the parrot just started to curse and swear. The old lady wasn’t going to take this ‘foul’ language, so she put the parrot in the freezer for two minutes.
After the bird had served its penalty, the lady told him, “If you don’t clean up your language, I’ll put you right back in there, this time for 5 minutes.” So the parrot agreed to watch his mouth.
The very next day the parrot was at it again, cursing and swearing, complaining about the food he had to eat. So being true to her word, the old lady grabbed the parrot and put him back in the freezer for five minutes. After the time had passed the woman pulled the bird out, frost forming on his beak. And she told him again, “If you don’t clean up your language, I’m going to put you right back in there.” This time the parrot seemed scared and he promised to clean up his language.
Months passed and the parrot kept his promise and cleaned up his language. The old lady asked him one day what it was that made him change his ways. The parrot replied, “Well I knew you were serious when I asked the turkey what he had said to be put in there and he didn’t reply.”
Loneliness is something that we all deal with from time to time, isn’t it? We were created to be relational beings, to live in communion with one another. But sometimes we find ourselves separated from other people and that can be difficult. Today we are going to look at the life of Elijah and see that God does not intend for us to be alone, though sometimes he does call us to moments of solitude to connect with him.
Our text for today picks up soon after Elijah’s confrontation with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah that we looked at last week. Elijah stood strong against these other prophets, outnumbered 850 to one. He has his victory over these prophets, but when all of the excitement (and bloodshed) is over, Elijah finds himself right back where he began: by himself. He wanders for a day into the wilderness and he sat himself down under a tree. He has no friends, he has no family, he doesn’t even have a pet to keep him company. He is alone.
And I am sure that there are a number of factors that are playing into his emotions, one of them being loneliness. And as Elijah sits there by himself under a single broom tree, Elijah asks God to take his life. This man who has stood up against the king and against these 850 other prophets and had a convincing victory is so depressed that he wants to die.
But God wasn’t done with Elijah, there was still work for him to do. So God provided food and drink for Elijah so that he could make a forty-day journey to Mt. Horeb, which is also known as Mt. Sinai. And as Elijah is taking shelter in a cave at Mt. Horeb, the word of the Lord comes to him and asked him, What are you doing here? And Elijah replies in verse 10, “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.”
Whoa, right there, that says something to me. Elijah knows that his life is in jeopardy. He knows that people in high places are seeking after him to kill him. So if he really wants to die, why is he running away? I would say that Elijah didn’t want to die. What Elijah wanted was a different life. What Elijah wanted was friends, people he could count on, talk to, share with, break bread with. It wasn’t that Elijah wanted to die, he just didn’t want to keep on living in the same way that he had been living. The lonely life of a prophet is good for no one’s soul.
Is there anyone out there that gets lonely from time to time? You don’t have to raise your hand, because I am sure that we all do. I know I get lonely. In Genesis God says, It is not good for man to be alone. So what does God do? God creates a friend for Adam.
Now some people will take this passage and twist it a bit and make it into something that it is not meant to say. I get pretty frustrated when I hear someone talk about how we are not “complete” until we find a mate, a husband or a wife. For some parents, marrying off their daughter seems to be the ultimate goal. It is not good for a person to be alone, I agree 100%. But this does not mean that a person needs to be married to be complete.
We look at people in the Bible such as the apostle Paul. Paul says that he is glad that he is single because…it frees him up to do more ministry! If Paul was married with a wife and three kids, he wouldn’t have been able to travel all around telling about his encounter with the risen Jesus Christ. No, he would have had to stay put, working at his job as a tentmaker, paying the mortgage, putting food on the table because women did not often work outside of the house in the first century. This is why Paul encourages people that are unmarried to stay that way in 1 Corinthians 7. So when someone says about needing to be married to be complete, I look at the people in the Bible that we know were single: Paul, Jeremiah, and Jesus, for example. I say that if you are single, you are in good company!
I had some single friends in Seminary and they shared with me the hurt that they had experienced being single in the church. And the hurt that they experienced was not that they felt incomplete. The hurt that they felt was coming from church people that were always trying to “fix” this perceived problem; people wanting to set them up with other individuals. And these were well-intending people, but my friends were quite comfortable being single and they realized the opportunities that singleness presented them in serving the Lord.
My sister-in-law is twenty seven years old and single. She doesn’t seem to be interested in getting married any time soon. Stacy is in her first year of medical residency in family practice in Omaha, Nebraska. She really doesn’t know where she wants to work when she finishes up her residency, but she wants to have a flexible schedule because she has always wanted to be able to work on medical mission teams to third world countries. Two weeks, month-long, whatever length trips to Guatemala, remote parts of Africa, or even working locally in free clinics. These are the things that appeal to Stacy. Near or far, high or low, she wants to be able to travel and help other people with the gift that she has been given.
If Stacy would have gotten married in her early 20’s like her sister did, these opportunities would probably not be available to her. Paul was a single man and being a single man freed him up from home responsibilities and allowed him to serve God in ways that some of us could never do. The same is true for Stacy.
Does Stacy get lonely? Absolutely. But loneliness is not a good reason to get married. God said that it is not good for a person to be alone, but God never said that every person must get married to avoid being alone. We need friends, relatives, loved ones that can fill that emptiness.
One of the most challenging things about my job is that I may go all day long without seeing or talking to another human being. When Sonya comes home after work in the evening, she will often ask me, Did you talk to anyone today? And sometimes I have to think long and hard about that. Sometimes I remember, Yes, I spoke with a telemarketer on the phone for awhile. (Telemarketers hate me because they will call and talk with me for about 10 minutes until they find out that I have absolutely no intention of buying whatever they are selling. I just like to hear the sound of another person’s voice sometimes.) It is so amazing to her that I can go all day without speaking to another human being!
But I am thankful that the church does not require that I spend all of my day in the office at the church. I know of one church that the pastor is expected to be in his office for 40 hours each week. I would go nuts. Thankfully I can go and sit at a coffee shop and at least be among other people. And a part of my job includes going out and visiting with other people, seeing them in the nursing homes and at their private homes. And yes, sometimes it is a challenge to go into the nursing homes but I know what it is like to be lonely, and I don’t want people to have to endure that. Especially during difficult times.
Last Monday, a man from our congregation had a simple out-patient surgical procedure done to remove one of his toes. He is going through a lot right now; he is confused and suffering. But on top of all of this, he is alone. He hasn’t had any family around since his wife died a number of years ago. No siblings, no children. Really, he has nobody but the people of this church. And I am thankful for the way that Danny and Frances have cared for him over the last couple of months.
So when this man needed surgery, he was going through all of this alone. And for a man who is already confused, this was surely scary. I am glad that he did not have to go through it alone.
But there are times when being alone is a good thing. In verses 11-13 from our scripture this morning, we find that Elijah is at Mt. Horeb where he is to meet God. And as he stands there at the opening of the cave, a great wind passes by. This wind was splitting mountains and breaking rocks into pieces. But we are told that the Lord was not in the wind. Following the wind came an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but again, the Lord was not in the fire. Where did Elijah meet the Lord? V. 12-13, “And after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah.’” God met Elijah in the silence.
Solitude, silence. The Bible tells us that there are times when it is good to be alone. If we look at the life of Jesus, we see him slipping off alone from time to time. Before he began his public ministry, Jesus went out into the wilderness, into the silence, by himself to fast and pray. He often snuck away from his disciples and those who were following him so that he might have some time alone with God.
Silence and solitude are great things. I know that I am personally hardwired to want noise in my life. When I walk into my house or sit down in my car or work in the office, the first thing that I do is I turn on the radio. I never drive anywhere without music or talk radio going on in the background. If I am working outside I strap my iPod to my arm, put the headphones on, and jam out to something, anything, just to make the silence go away. But sometimes, silence is a good thing.
When you read the Bible or pray, it is good to not have anything else going on to distract you. That is why some people have prayer closets and this is why some people go on spiritual retreats to secluded places where there isn’t another living human being within sight. This is why some religious people have joined monasteries and convents and take a vow of silence. Jesus modeled for us that sometimes you just need to get away from all of the hustle and the bustle and the noise to focus on hearing God’s voice. But Jesus also models for us that this is never meant to last forever. God calls us to join with other people, to fellowship with one another and serve him together.
Getting back to our scripture for this morning, we find that God meets this depressed, lonely Elijah in the silence. And after Elijah explains to God what he is doing there (as if God didn’t already know), God does something about Elijah’s condition. He gives him something that will help with his loneliness. God gives Elijah a job, or three jobs to be precise. Go to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint Hazael as king of Aram, anoint Jehu as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha as your successor as God’s prophet (vv. 15-16).
Now anointing these two people as kings isn’t going to take very long. The longest part of the task is going to be in finding these people. Then you pray over them, pour some oil on their heads, and you leave. There is no long-term commitment from Elijah needed here. But this third part, this anointing of Elisha, this does not end when the oil has flowed from the horn and onto Elisha’s head. What God has called Elijah to do is on-going mentoring, teaching Elisha how to be a prophet of the one true God.
Now that God has given Elijah work to do, Elijah can feel like he is serving a purpose. His life has meaning because he is serving God. And through his service to God he has gained a partner, a companion, and a friend. Loneliness will no longer be a problem for Elijah. And if we look forward in the life of Elijah, we can see that even when Elijah was uncertain of his future, when he was about to be taken up into heaven on a chariot of fire, Elisha was the kind of friend that would stand beside his mentor. Elisha says, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” (2 Kings 2:2)
My friends, I know that I am not the only one here that gets lonely from time to time. And while, yes, I do believe that God calls us into solitude for periods of time to spend time with him, I do not believe that God intended us to be alone all of our days. And I believe that one of the best things that we can do to overcome loneliness and the sense of worthlessness that sometimes comes with it is to serve the Lord.
Volunteer at the Valley Mission, serving food to the homeless, cleaning the facilities, whatever you can do will be appreciated. Visit the homebound people that you know would love to have company. Or even better yet, move in with them and care for them. You can benefit financially by sharing living expenses and you both gain a conversation partner. Go to the nursing homes and talk to people you know and meet some people that you don’t know. If you can’t leave your home, call an old friend. Knit sweaters for the homeless. Serve the Lord by loving other people and that loneliness will start to disappear.
It is not good for a person to be alone. Marriage, children, family life…these things don’t make a person complete. What makes a person complete is a relationship with God, serving Him and loving others. The next time you find yourself being lonely, and we all get lonely, perhaps this is God calling you to something. Perhaps God is calling you to be a blessing to others.