“Let the Lord Be Your Strength in Days of Discouragement”

(1 Kings 19:1-8 – Pentecost 12 – August 15, 2021)

1 Kings 19:1-8 – 1And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” 3And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” 5Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. 7And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” 8So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.

Dear Redeemed of God in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior:

Do you ever become discouraged? Maybe you have worked hard at trying to accomplish some goal that was very important to you. You tried to do the right thing, and dreamed of positive results. But just when you hoped for success, you found yourself facing failure. Discouraged, disappointed, depressed, maybe you just felt like running away from it all.

Elijah is the picture of discouragement. After all he had faithfully done as a prophet in Israel, after all the trials and tribulations he had lived through for the cause of God’s truth, after all the great works God had seemed to be accomplishing in his life and the lives of others, and the success he thought he was finally beginning to see, now it all seemed to be coming to nothing – a dismal failure, a broken dream. Discouraged, disappointed, depressed, Elijah found himself running away from it all – running deep into the wilderness, all alone, wishing to die.

But when we find ourselves so discouraged in the face of trials and tribulations, and evils on every side, like Elijah, and like God’s faithful people through the ages, we find that we are not alone. For the Lord is with us as our ever-present, all-knowing, always loving God and Savior. Yes, the very Lord who would give His life for you and me on a cross, to lift us up out of the deepest pit of hopelessness and despair – He is present with us. He is near to hear our prayers and answer with His gracious, life-renewing, faith-strengthen Word. He is here to pick us up in His never-failing promise, and lead us forth in the eternal hope and purpose He gives.

Therefore with Elijah, we learn this lesson: “Let the Lord Be Your Strength in Days of Discouragement.” For certainly, as His people: 1) Discouragement and depression can afflict us all; and yet, 2) The Lord is present with His comfort and strength.

1) Discouragement and depression can afflict us all

We know Elijah as one of the great Old Testament prophets. In a time of apostasy in Israel, when the hearts of many had turned from the true God to false gods, the Lord had sent Elijah to call them back in repentance. In the boldness of the Lord’s call and in the truth of His Word, Elijah had walked right up to King Ahab and announced God’s judgment. There would be no rain for the coming years, until Elijah said the word in the name of God.

Just before our text, God’s prophet had come to a high point in his ministry. We hear of the great showdown at Mount Caramel, where Elijah stood alone against 450 prophets of Baal. The false prophets built an altar and cried all day for Baal to rain fire from heaven on their sacrifice, but there was no answer. Then Elijah built an altar and called on the true God; and when the Lord rained fire from heaven, consuming both his sacrifice and the altar, the people fell on their faces and confessed: “The LORD, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:36-39). Then in the name of the Lord, Elijah commanded that all those false prophets who had led Israel astray be put to death.

Success! From now on, it would seem the hearts of the people of Israel would be turned to the Lord. And as Elijah had told King Ahab, in the name of the Lord he spoke the word and a great rain came upon the land. As King Ahab returned from Mt. Carmel to his royal residence, Elijah ran ahead of his chariot in the strength of the Lord – over 15 miles! It was the prophet’s victory lap; after all he had gone through, he could celebrate success in the name of the Lord.

But now what is this? As we come to our text, the weak King Ahab tells his evil and domineering wife Jezebel how Elijah had killed the false prophets.Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time’ And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die” (vs. 2-4).

After all Elijah had gone through to bring repentance and reform, it would seem the king and people would remain hardhearted. Elijah’s life work, all he had poured himself into, all he had hoped and dreamed of, had seemed to come to nothing. It would seem the enemies of God had the upper hand, succeeding in their evil plans. His life threatened, his spirit broken, he feels profound discouragement. Disappointed, he feels like running away and leaving all those problems behind. Depressed and feeling all alone in the wilderness, he actually wants to die.

And he prays: It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (vs. 4). With this prayer, Elijah may have thought of faithful prophets who served before him. How had he fared any better? Like many of them, the enemies of God sought to kill him too. What was the use in going on? But Elijah also seems burdened with a sense of personal failure. All alone, replaying all that had happened, was he getting down on himself for all that had gone wrong? Was he wrestling with guilt for having not stood as firmly as he ought in his calling; ashamed of having run away from the conflict, leaving the enemies of God feeling victorious?

Let us understand what is going on here. It is not just a man running from the threats of a woman in fear for his life. It is not just a man wrestling with his personal failures. It is a greater spiritual battle than would meet the eye. His struggle was not merely against flesh and blood. Behind the threats of Jezebel in the name of her false gods, stood Satan whom she truly served. The evil foe was fighting behind the scenes, striving to overturn God’s great plans for Israel, vying for the souls of the people. And now, as God’s faithful prophet found himself on the run from the evils of the world, all alone in the wilderness, Satan was on the attack – tempting the man of God with condemning thoughts and feelings of failure, tempting him to discouragement and depression, tempting him even to despair of hope in God’s gracious plan for him.

As the faithful people of God, we will be tempted in a similar way; for we are in the same spiritual battle. In calling us to take up our cross and follow Him, the Lord Jesus called us to fight the good fight of faith. There will be times when this requires standing firm and speaking His truth in the face of the world’s scorn. Like Elijah, we may say and do all the right things. But with the evil one working behind the scenes twisting the truth, we may be falsely accused and threatened. We may lose friends and feel all alone. Is it any wonder if we feel discouraged and even depressed, in a world where evil seems to have the upper hand and we cannot yet see how God will work it all out? Haven’t we felt like running away at times, leaving it all behind?

Like the faithful people of God through history, discouragement and depression can afflict us all at various levels. Maybe once there seemed to be so much ahead of you in life. As you followed the Lord’s will, it seemed He was leading you in a victory march, powerfully working His plan in your life. But maybe you have been disappointed when hopes and dreams faded into broken plans and promises. You used to run with such spirit and strength, pursuing great goals; but now you find yourself weighed down with afflictions of body and mind. Are ongoing trials and tribulations of life leaving you burnt out and depressed, feeling like it is difficult to go on?

When we find ourselves seeing life through dark lenses of discouragement and depression, it is easy to withdraw to a place of loneliness. And there, Satan will engage us in spiritual battle. He will shoot fiery accusations and threats. He will point to the ways we have not stood firmly in serving God and confessing our faith, but have fled for our lives. He will point to the ways we have not been there to serve others, but have withdrawn to ourselves. He will lay on us a burden of guilt and shame, tempting us even to despair of hope in God’s gracious plan for us.

2) The Lord is present with His comfort and strength

But when we find ourselves so discouraged in the face of trial and tribulation, fighting a spiritual battle with conflicts on the outside and conflicts within (2 Corinthians 7:5), like Elijah, we find that we are not alone. For the Lord is with us as our ever-present and always loving God and Savior. He is present with His comfort and strength.

As Elijah prayed from depths of woe, the Lord sent His angel as a messenger of His grace. It was not with words of condemnation, but of comfort. It was not to take his life, but to strengthen it. And it says: Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God” (vs. 5-8).

The journey was too much for Elijah; he could not fight this spiritual battle alone. But the Lord provided the food and drink he needed for the way. Lifted up and refreshed by the grace of God in the means He provided, Elijah went forth strengthened in faith to face the challenges ahead. Even now, God was working His gracious plan in Elijah’s life; and through his faithful service, God would continue to work in all things for the good of His Kingdom and His people.

Ultimately, the Lord would work out His gracious purpose for us by coming in our flesh as our Savior. The Lord Himself would win the battle against Satan and redeem us as His people. As Elijah was sustained in the wilderness for 40 days by the food God provided, our thoughts are drawn to Jesus who, during His temptation in the wilderness, was sustained 40 days by the bread of God alone – doing the will of His Father (John 4:34) to fulfill all righteousness for us.

Like Elijah and all the faithful of God through the ages, we are saved, not because we have stood firmly in the face of every trial and temptation, but because Jesus did for us. As He battled face to face with the evil one, as He came face-to-face with evil powers of this world, He stood firmly as our Savior. For us, Jesus resisted every temptation of the devil. For us, He took up His cross, despised and rejected by men. For us, He bore all our sins and failures, guilt and shame. And out of the deepest depths woe of His suffering and death, He rose in the victory and joy of our salvation. Our living Savior has conquered the prince of darkness and brought us into His Kingdom of light by faith. He has conquered sin and given us His blood-bought forgiveness and peace. He has conquered death and given us eternal life in His heavenly glory.

And as He was there for Elijah, and as He has been there for His faithful in every age, our Lord and Savior is present to comfort and strengthen us today. As we call on Him in the midst of discouragement and depression, we have His promise in Psalm 34:17-19: The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”

We cannot fight the spiritual battle alone. But the Lord commands His angels as ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14), to surround and protect us from unseen evils. Like Elijah, the journey is too great for us. But the Lord is present to give our souls the rest and strength we need for the way. He is present today with heavenly food and drink in His Word and Sacraments, refreshing our souls by His cleansing forgiveness, restoring us by His Spirit, renewing our faith and joy in His salvation.

Like Elijah, lifted up by the grace of God through the means He provides, we can go forth, strengthened for the journey, strengthened to face the challenges ahead. We can go forth and share the victory of our Lord with others as His Kingdom is coming and His will is being done. And we can be here for each other in this journey; no one need be left alone in the wilderness. We are messengers of His grace, here to comfort and strengthen each other, as we see the day of our Lord approaching (Hebrews 10:25). And at last, He who sent His angels to bring Elijah to heaven in a chariot of fire, will send His angels to bear us safely home on wings of His love.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.