Imagine you’ve just accomplished that goal you’ve been working so hard for: a promotion, graduation, better health, a new ministry — and then the question hits. You sit there, after a moment of triumph or even tragedy, wondering — “what’s next?”
Back in 1987, the Walt Disney Company turned this question into a brilliant ad. The idea went like this, ask the winning Super Bowl quarterback what was next. His scripted answer? “I’m going to Disney World”!
Walt Disney World sold America on the idea that it was the place to go in those “what next?” moments. “How could it possibly get better? It can, welcome to Disney.”
This question either haunts us or thrill us, maybe a little bit of both. Sometimes we imagine it can’t get any better, sometimes we imagine it can’t get any worse. Asking “what’s next?” from victory or defeat is evidence that no achievement, for God for ourselves for others, can make up for the joy of simply abiding with God Himself.
Elijah was a man in a “what’s next” moment. I Kings 19 finds him coming off the field of an Old Testament Super Bowl, trophy in hand. Elijah just witnessed God consume an entire water-soaked alter with fire from heaven. It was a contest that ended up being no contest, and the underdog, the one man team — Elijah’s God — had won.
“What’s next?” for Elijah in the post-game interview probably looked something like the evil King & Queen changing their tune, all of the opposing prophets would turn in their sandals and be done, and God’s people Israel would crush their idols and return to God.
But none of it happened. Instead, the Queen put a hit out for Elijah, making him a fugitive. Expectations, shattered. Now he was an enemy of the state. Elijah’s best “what’s next?” scenario evaporated; now he lives in the “what’s next?” of desperation.
The thing about desperation and depression is this: they disorient. We become disoriented inside and out. And so we run. Elijah runs, from everything. From his ministry, from his responsibilities, he’s done — so done, he’d prefer to die. (I Kings 19.4) His depression is one of the clearest pictures we have in Scripture of crippling anxiety and suicidal despair, in a man of God no less. Depression does not discriminate.
The thing about desperation and depression is this: they disorient. We become disoriented inside and out. And so we run.
So where does he go? He goes where many of us go when we’re unsure, when our expectations aren’t met, when we despair inside and out. He goes back to the beginning. Back to the place of sure things. In the past, things are always so sure.
Elijah goes back to the place where this God of consuming fire first showed himself. He stumbles his way, being fed by God himself, to the very same mountain Moses stood on, the very same mountain God showed up with thunder, lightning, and consuming fire. (I Kings 19.8; Exodus 19.16–18) If there was an explanation for this surprising turn of events in Elijah’s life, maybe he’d find it here.
God is not at work in the big things, but in all things.
God shows up, but not as Elijah expects. Again, expectations defied. God, ever attentive to the moment, and the broken man in front of him, does not meet Elijah with fire, earthquakes and wind. He was not in the fire, but in the “sound of minute stillness”. God utters “what are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19.13)
It’s as if God is saying, “and who exactly did you come to see Elijah? The God of blazing fire, of big things, of earth-shattering moments? I am more than you think I am.”
God meets Elijah’s broken frame with a tenderness the moment demanded, a still voice. Tender, because Elijah, and the rest of us, need to know our God is at work in the smallness and silence. God is not at work in the big things, but in all things. We tend to look for God in our lives by what we do, or things that happen to us. The Scriptures tell a different story, of a present God. He is both wonderfully above and intimately inside our very existence. The Psalmist writes, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” (Ps. 139.5) Such tenderness, and such truth.
God’s tenderness revives our exhaustion. God’s truth feeds our courage.
God’s tenderness is matched by his truthfulness. The truth is, God sees more from his vantage point than we do from ours. It’s precisely this combination of tenderness and truth that we need, along with Elijah. From God’s vantage point, Elijah wasn’t alone. There are 7,000 just like him — committed to God against all odds. (I Kings 19.18) The truth was God saw more, knew more, and was working more than Elijah realized. God called him forward into the future, but not without reviving him. This should be bracing, like clinging to a rope on a boat in rough seas. It’s not about us. It’s about God’s work in our world. We get to play a part.
God’s tenderness revives our exhaustion. God’s truth feeds our courage. Tender grace and bracing truth. Qualities found in Jesus, like John describes him, “full of grace and truth”. (John 1.14)
When we live courageously in step with God’s truth, let’s not call our shots, or his. Courage because of his truth, and trust because of his character. We don’t have to compromise to get the right results. Let’s gladly embrace our place in His story.
When we face exhaustion, let’s remind ourselves that God delights in reviving His people, often through His people. Elijah was not belittled, God revived him physically, emotionally, Spiritually. The same God is in your silence, in the smallness today, with tender grace and bracing truth.