Tag Archives: Elijah

After the Mountain-top


I’m just returning from summer camp this year. Every year for the past ten years, I’ve gone to Texas in either June or July to participate in a camp for abused and neglected children. It’s always a mountain-top experience for me. I feel more focused, more attuned with God during the days and weeks leading up to camp and during the week of camp. My quiet times are great. I don’t struggle as much with sin. I hear God speaking to my heart clearly and unmistakably.

But after camp, I typically experience a letdown, a spiritual time of randomness. I may go for days or even weeks without spending quality time with the Lord. I fall into sinful patterns that I thought I had licked. I feel guilty and unfocused – spiritually lethargic. Why does this happen?

I think it has much to do with not having a specific goal on which to attach my spiritual disciplines. Before camp, everything is focused on getting my heart ready to minister to the kids. After camp, I lose my motivation. It’s not that I believe the spiritual disciplines are only worth doing in preparation for an event, but I just find it easier to do them when I’ve got my eyes on a goal. I have more energy to do them. I have more delight in doing them.

Another reason coming off the mountain is so difficult is because I put every ounce of energy into the mountaintop. When it’s over, I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained. I think my spirit is still full of energy, but it gets trumped by my lack of resources in other areas. After camp, I go into a bit of a walking coma until my resources are replenished.

I think this pattern is mirrored in Scripture:

  • Moses spent a month and a half communing with God on Mount Sinai and getting the ten commandments on stone tablets, but when he descended the mountain to rejoin the Israelites, he found that his brother had opened an idol-worshiping night club.
  • Elijah showed up the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah in an old-fashioned show-down on top of Mount Carmel.  Then, he accurately predicted the weather (the greatest miracle in all the Bible), but he didn’t get much time to celebrate.  Jezebel took out a contract on his life, and Elijah became so discouraged that he prayed God would end his meteorologist career.

  • Jesus peeled back His humanity to reveal a glimpse of His glory to Peter, James and John on a mountain.  They had to be stoked coming back down.  They had been arguing with the others about who was the greatest, and now it looked like Jesus had tipped His hat in their direction.  But when they reached the bottom, everything was chaos.  The disciples had been trying unsuccessfully to cast a demon out of a boy, and Jesus had to step in to clean up their mess.  Goodbye spiritual high.  Hello real world!

The time on the mountain is a blessing.  God allows us to participate in His work, and He teaches us many things while we are with Him there.  It’s easy to completely spend ourselves in the experience, but it’s unwise, because when we are done on the mountain, we have to return to the valley.  God teaches us on top of the mountain and then tests us in the valley.  He wants to know if we can use what we’ve learned.

In the valley, God’s tests move what He’s taught us from our heads to our hearts.  When the lessons are only in our heads, the Enemy will come and try to snatch them away (like the bird in the Parable of the Sower).  But through the testing, God can plant them deeply in our hearts, where they will grow and produce an abundant harvest.  If we anticipate the Enemy’s attempt to steal our seeds and save some fight for this test, we will be much better prepared to leave the mountain-top.

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Man-na?


The Israelites had been miraculously freed from their captivity in Egypt, but their food ran out in the desert, and they were feeling a little grumpy. “If we were still in Egypt, we would have food to eat! Did you bring us out here to die?” they demanded from Moses. Moses, in turn, complained to God, “What am I going to do with these people you gave me?”

God agreed to send the Israelites bread (a.k.a., “manna”) from heaven each day, and He made good on His promise for 40 years while the they wandered through the desert. (Lesson #1: Be careful what you ask for. There’s only so much you can make from one ingredient breakfast, lunch and dinner. When manna got old, they learned to make manna-cotti, manna-lla wafers, and salad with manna-goes, but it was a few years before the first MannacDonalds.)

But when the Israelites first saw the bread, they had no idea what it was. They asked each other, “Man-na?” (Hence, the name.) Translated, the question is, “What is it?” Even though God had told them that He was sending them bread… Even though He had told them when it was coming, they still were surprised by its arrival.

Fast forward almost fifteen hundred years. Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water. The Jews met him on the other side of the lake, and their appetite for miracles had been whetted. “Show us a miracle!” they demanded. “Moses gave our forefathers manna in the desert.”

Jesus replied, “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever.” Of course, he was speaking spiritually, not physically, but they didn’t get it. They thought Jesus was a prophet, maybe Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist returned from the dead. They were offended that He would say that they should eat His flesh, and many of them turned away.

In a very real sense, they were still saying, “Man-na?” “What is this?”  Even though God had told them that He was sending them a Savior… Even though He had told them whose family line He would come from…  Even though He had told them when and where and how, they still were surprised by His arrival.

“Man-na?” It’s the single, most important question any of us will ever answer in regard to Jesus. What do we make of Him? Is He prophet, philosopher, teacher, nice-guy? Or is He God? Will we be satisfied with His miracles, or will we not be satisfied until we have a relationship with the Miracle-Maker? We can’t just choose not to deal with the question. Not dealing with it is an answer in itself. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Nothing else can satisfy our spiritual hunger.

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Some Time Later, the Brook Dried Up


I’m feeling very sad today. It’s evening, and I’ve just finished teaching my last workshop as an independent consultant. I’ve taken a job working with a ministry in another country, and the unfamiliarity of my new surroundings is making this transition even more difficult for me.

To make it worse, in a about an hour, I’m having one last dinner with a man who has become my dear friend over the years. We’ve shared many dinners together after facilitating programs in places like Nigeria and Russia and South Dakota, where no one speaks your language, so you have no one to talk to but each other. I don’t do goodbyes well. This is hard.

I think I understand a little about how Elijah felt.

One sentence after he’s introduced to us in 1 Kings 17, God tells Elijah to hide from King Ahab in the Kerith Ravine. (He had to hide, because he had just told Ahab that there would be no rain in Israel until he (Elijah) said so. And Ahab was a bad dude. He had lots of ways to make you say so if he wanted you to.)

During the time of his exile, Elijah drank from the brook in the ravine, and the ravens brought him bread and meat every morning and evening. Probably wasn’t the best (or most sanitary) stuff he had eaten, but it beat starving. We don’t know how long God had Elijah down there, but verse 7 tells us that “some time later, the brook dried up…” It was Elijah’s own fault – he had called off all the rain – and now he had to find someplace else to live.

My brook has just dried up. I got into consulting three years ago, and at the time, it felt like we (my wife and I) were doing something really bold for God. I had quit my job of fifteen years on faith. We believed that God was telling us to go, and we went. In the beginning, there were no clients, and there were no savings to draw from. We stepped out into thin air.

And God, who is wonderfully faithful, provided for us during the coming years. I didn’t always make great money, but I made good money and we got by. We didn’t have health insurance, but our family stayed healthy. I travelled a lot, but I also had lots of time at home. It was nice, and it became very comfortable.

But then the brook dried up.

For five months this year, I had no work at all. I enjoyed being home and being the involved father, but no money was coming in. For a long time, I stood looking at the dry brook waiting for it to start flowing again. I prayed that God would give it back to me. I prayed that He would show me another brook where I could camp. I prayed that He would just give me my own water tower so that I didn’t have to worry about whether or not the brook flowed. His answer was apparently, “no.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a brook dry up on you. It happens when God’s provision stops coming from a particular direction. He was supplying your needs in one way, but then He stopped. He doesn’t always tell you why, but He’s giving you a signal. “It’s time to move on. I’ve got something new for you to do.”

Losing your brook can be particularly frustrating. You were comfortable. Things were just beginning to work well. You were getting good at doing what you were doing. You were making plans to build a house near your brook so that you could stay there forever. Then…surprise! He took it away.

I won’t assume that I know the ways of God. He does some things for unsearchable reasons that only He knows. But I think I understand why He sometimes takes our brooks away.

It’s precisely because we are comfortable that God dries up our brook. When we get comfortable, we are no longer growing or having an impact on our environment. By drying up the brook, He gets us up off our blessed assurance and forces us to search out His provision in another place.

When Elijah’s brook dried up, God didn’t send him to a new brook; He had something different in mind. God sent Elijah to Zarephath to rescue a widow and her son from starvation. Some time later, the son died and Elijah interceded to bring him back to life. Some time after that, Elijah glorified God on Mount Carmel by calling fire down from heaven whent he prophets of Baal could not. Then, he prayed and ended the drought. Still later, he annointed several kings and selected Elisha to follow after him.

What if Elijah had never left the brook? What if he had kicked the dirt and moaned to God about how much he liked and deserved the brook? Think of all the miracles he would have missed doing on God’s behalf. Think of what would have happened to the widow and her son. Think of the victory that wouldn’t have been won against Ahab’s prophets or of the mantle that wouldn’t have been passed to Elisha, who had double the annointing of Elijah on his ministry.

It doesn’t do us much good to complain when God dries up our brook. It’s okay to be sad, but the sooner we get up and get moving, the sooner He can show us what else He has in mind for us to do. I can almost guarantee it won’t be more of the same. God only fed one prophet at the side of a brook, and He only did that for a time. Be prepared that God might be doing something totally new in your life, and trust that He knows exactly what He’s doing.

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