When I was younger, I was really into sports. I enjoyed playing a variety of sports and did well at most of them. However, there was one field where I did very well and that was in track and field. I even held records for some of the throwing disciplines.
One of the things about athletics is you need to put a lot of effort into training. We used to run laps and laps around the track, trying to build up stamina and wind. I always found that very hard. You see, my primary disciplines were throwing events and short sprints. I didn’t have the stamina to run 5km or 10km nor did I want to!
At the end of the year at our Jr. High, we had a school fundraiser where students were given the day off to participate in a 30km walkathon. Now students had the option of walking it or running because the school day was over when you completed it.
As an athlete, and someone who would enjoy some extra time off, I decided to run it one year. A group of us started off blazing a trail ahead of the other 600 students. However, after a short time, the group began to thin out. One by one the group began dropping back. In the end, only 8 finished with a significant time to spare… I was not one of them!
In many ways, this reminds me of how as Christians, we can start our journey with God filled with passion and zeal, but in a relatively short time, find ourselves falling back. As I thought about it, the story of Elijah the prophet came to mind.
Elijah was a great prophet for God in the Old Testament. You can find his story in 1 Kings. After an epic spiritual battle with the prophets of Baal, Elijah told the king that there was rain approaching. It was a beautiful clear day. Elijah prayed and prayed and eventually a small hand shaped cloud appeared.
As the rains came, the king got into his chariot to go back home. There was so much rain, his chariot got bogged down and Elijah sprinted on past him. When Ahab the king reached his palace, his wife, after discovering her prophets were defeated, wanted the prophet dead.
How did Elijah react with the news? Considering he had just won an epic battle over 850 prophets and outran a chariot, you’d think he would be pretty pumped and ready to face whatever challenge was ahead. Sadly, the opposite was true.
For Elijah, he faultered and became depressed. Firstly, Elijah lost perspective. He allowed the threat to take away his joy and energy. He allowed it to magnify in his mind and stopped thinking clearly. I think we can do that sometimes as well. When we face challenges that require a great deal of time and energy, it is easy for us to lose our focus as well.
Secondly, Elijah isolated himself. One of the most common things that happens when we are disappointed or depressed is we tend to turtle and push others away. As followers of Christ, one of our most powerful assets we have is the community of faith God gives us. Elijah needed support and encouragement but in his shame and sadness, all he wanted to do was have a pity party by himself and whine to God.
Thirdly, Elijah let his guard down. In sports one of the most difficult things to do is repeat as a champion. After winning, it is easy to “relax” and when we do that we can lose our focus and edge. With Elijah, I think he was probably one a serious energy rush. Think about what he had accomplished. In spite of that, when the death threats were made, he lost confidence in God and doubts crept in. Fortunately for Elijah, God stepped in and provided the supports and admonishment to get him back on his feet.
Lastly, Elijah forgot God. After whining and complaining and saying he was the last of the prophets, God has a little chat with him. Look at what God said to him in 1 Kings 19:11-13, “And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks 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. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?””
What are you doing here? How did you end up in this state? Why have you allowed these circumstances to sap all the joy out of your life? Remember that I am here for you. I will never leave you or forsake you. Maybe God has said that to you in the times where you felt like it was you versus the world?
I think we need to remember that the race of life isn’t won by sprinting. It is a marathon in which we face challenges that will test us but in the end, those challenges will help to transform us into the men and women of God He is making us to be.
Romans 5:2-5 says this, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
And therein lies the purpose and the promise of God. He is at work in us, “training” us into the men and women who will accomplish His purposes through the power of His Spirit. May we remember that so when the tough times come, and they will, we won’t lose our focus, our family, let our guards, and especially God.