Monday, April 16, 2012

April 15, 2012 - Ancient Stories and Timeless Truths: You Are Never Alone


I Kings 19:9-13



Of all the memories we have, some of the most powerful ones are the times when we have found encouragement that demonstrate we are not alone in this life.  In August of 1981 I moved to Louisville to attend seminary, and prior to my moving to Louisville I had been to Kentucky once.  I had never been to the seminary, didn’t know where the campus was located, and set off on my journey without any directions.

But worse than not knowing how to find the campus, I had no place to live.  Two weeks before I moved I received a letter saying I was bumped from campus housing because they were overbooked.  I thought I would just show up and hope for the best. At 24 years old it seemed like an adventure to me so I decided I would get in my car and head to Louisville.  The problem was, the closer I got to Louisville, the worse that decision began to look.  It began to look less like an adventure and more like a foolish decision. 

I arrived in Louisville in the middle of the evening, thinking there would be a big sign somewhere that said seminary, this way. I pulled off the interstate somewhere downtown – this was way before Mapquest and GPS systems – and was lost pretty quickly.  After a number of wrong turns and stopping to ask for directions several times I managed to find Lexington Road and the campus.  I will never forget stepping out of my car, looking around at totally strange surroundings, with all my belongings in my car (and not taking up much room in my car), and wondering what in the world had possessed me to arrive with no idea of where I was going to spend that first night.

I wandered around until I found the housing office and walked in with the hope that by some miracle there would be a place for me.  There was, unfortunately no place for me in the dorm or in any of the other seminary housing.

That was a very discouraging moment, and I started reconsidering the wisdom of coming to seminary under such circumstances.

This morning, continuing with our series Ancient Stories and Timeless Truths, we will study an event from the life of Elijah.  This is an event that takes place shortly after Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.  What’s fascinating about today’s story is that Elijah – who seemed so strong and confident on Mount Carmel – is now very discouraged and feeling as though he is totally alone.

This is the same Elijah who called out King Ahab and challenged the king and the nation of Israel to forsake the false gods and to return to the worship of the true God.  But when Ahab’s wife – the notorious Jezebel – heard of what Elijah had done she sent this word to him – by this time tomorrow you will be a dead man (19:2).  Evidently Ahab and hundreds of priests of Baal and the nation of Israel did not strike fear into Elijah – but Jezebel did.  Elijah was very afraid and ran for his life (19:3).  He flees to the wilderness, sits down under a tree, and in an absolute pit of despair tells God O Lord take my life (19:4).

Those are the words of a man who believes he is alone in the world.  He tells God I alone am left (19:10).  Elijah goes to sleep in that place and is awakened by an angel who provides him with food and water.

Elijah then goes into the wilderness, to Mount Horeb, for forty days and forty nights (19:8).  Elijah is able to travel into the wilderness and on to Mount Horeb, staying in a cave, not simply because he has been given something to eat and drink, but because of the knowledge that he is not alone.

This is the confirmation that everyone needs in life – you are not alone.  You are never alone.  As much as we need physical sustenance for our survival, we really need the spiritual encouragement of knowing we are not alone.

How often have you felt alone?  I’m not going to ask if you have felt alone, because I assume everyone knows that feeling – how often have you felt alone?  It’s a difficult time, isn’t it?  Perhaps you have moved to a new home and town and you remember the feeling of knowing no one.  Perhaps you moved to a new school and you remember walking in that first day when you didn’t know anyone. 

Elijah continues on his journey and arrives at Mount Horeb, and is in a cave, and we are told that the Lord was passing by! (19:11 – note the exclamation point).  The idea of God passing by is a way of signifying something very important was about to take place and that Elijah would be in the very presence of God.  Then a wind that was so strong that the rocks were being broken blows through, but God was not in the powerful wind.  After the wind comes an earthquake that shakes the mountain, but God is not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake comes a fire, but God was not in the fire.  After the fire comes a sound like a gentle blowing, and in that blowing was the still, small voice of God.

Elijah walks out of the cave where he was hiding and God says What are you doing here, Elijah? (19:14).  Elijah proceeds to tell God about how he had been very zealous for him, how God’s people had forsaken worship and gone after false gods, and how the prophets had been killed, that he alone was left, and his life was in danger (19:14).  I’m not sure why Elijah told God all of this; it’s not like God didn’t already know.  Elijah is venting to God, and God gives him a task and sends him on his way, but not before correcting Elijah about an important point – that is, he is not alone.  God tells Elijah there are 7,000 people in Israel that have not gone after false gods (19:18).  I don’t know how many people had gone after the false gods, but 7,000 people is no small number.  Elijah, God was saying, you are not alone.

Remember this –
1.  You are not alone, because God has brought people into your life to love you.  My life has been so blessed by a multitude of friends.  God has brought into my life so many people who are so important to me, and when I feel alone one of the first things I do is remember that I am never alone.  God has placed people in your life to minister to you and to love you.  You are not alone.

2.  You are not alone because God never leaves you.  I don’t think a week ever passes that I don’t hear someone express their gratitude for the knowledge that God is always with them.  This is a truth that people express in hospital rooms and funeral homes and in counseling sessions and in countless other difficult situations.  And it is absolutely true.  God is always with you, and this is one of the great truths of Scripture.

3.  God wants to encourage you, but he also wants you to avoid being trapped in the discouragement of feeling alone.  Notice that God made sure Elijah had a task and that he encouraged Elijah to fulfill that task.  One of the greatest threats of loneliness and discouragement is the danger of withdrawing into our own lives and that withdrawal leads only to further isolation and more loneliness.  When you feel alone, step into the life of someone else.

4.  Others know what you are experiencing.  One of the great advantages of being involved with other people is the knowledge they have traveled the same roads we travel in life.  Many times I have sat with someone who could encourage me because they have experienced what I may be experiencing, and their understanding and what they have learned is so incredibly helpful.

After sitting for a while in the housing office at seminary wondering what to do, I got up and started to leave.  As I was walking out of the office one of the staff members said Wait a minute, there’s a note here for you.  They handed me a handwritten note and I had no idea who would have left a note for me; to my knowledge I didn’t know anybody on campus, but it turned out that a friend of mine and his wife were there on campus.  He was also a new student and they had arrived earlier in the summer as she had a job in one of the offices on campus, had seen my name on the list of those who had lost their housing, and had left a note telling me they were going to give me a place to stay until I could get settled. 

I can’t tell you what a huge relief that was.  Going from feeling very alone to great relief was a wonderful moment, and it was a powerful confirmation to me of God’s provision.

God doesn’t generally come in very dramatic ways, but he does come to us.  It may not be in a way as dramatic as a strong wind, or an earthquake, or a fire, but he does come to us.  It is often with the "still, small voice" that he comes to us, or perhaps in the form of a friend or loved one, who offers love and encouragement to us.  But he always comes to us, and we are never alone.  May we pray.


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