Elijah in a cave

ELIJAH:        The Lord appears to him on the mountain

Reading: I Kings 19: 9b-18

I quite like exploring caves… but I’m always a bit relieved when I come back out into the daylight!

On holiday if you take a trip down a mine, they invariably switch out the lights for a short time to give an idea of what it was like for the miners

Caves are usually safe places… hard rock… only one entrance… easy to defend… easy to disappear into the darkness

  • But they can also be prisons!

Sometimes, we all feel like hiding in a cave… escape from the pressures of life… get away from awkward people… be alone… have time to think…

  • But life in a cave is not the ‘final solution’… when we emerge from it, the problems are still there… nothing has changed externally, though something may have changed “inside me” to help me cope better with the circumstances

We would worry if someone chose to live permanently in a cave… not a cave in the side of a mountain… but a self-imposed “cave”…distant, emotionally detached, out of reach…

  • Fearful of facing the world outside… preferring the apparent safety of ‘being in our bubble’ to the rough-and-tumble of daily living…
  • A bunker mentality… safe and secure… keeping people and situations at arm’s length…
  • It happens to all of us from time to time when life proves too demanding… but were it to become a permanent condition, we would have major problems!

But what if the number one prophet of God in Israel were to hide away in a cave… and stay there!

  • The man who overthrew the false prophets… confronted King Ahab …took charge of the rain on God’s behalf…
  • The man who had been so mightily used by the Lord to fulfil His purposes … Elijah… had run for his life after Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him within 24 hours
  • This same Elijah … the mightiest of the prophets… was now skulking in a cave

Hey, let’s not be too smug about Elijah’s behaviour… What would you have done?

  • But there he was… knees knocking… dispirited and depressed … ready to quit

Life can feel that way, can’t it? So much bad news

  • Christians are being marginalised
  • Laws are being enacted that ignore biblical truth
  • Secularists and atheists seem to be winning the day
  • Church numbers appear to be shrinking
  • Even people in church can be apathetic and leave everything to the faithful few…
  • Meanwhile, out there, the majority of the population get on with their lives without reference to God, church, the Bible or concerns about their eternal welfare

Doesn’t it sometimes make you feel like hiding away in a cave!

Then the word of the Lord comes: “What are you doing here, Elijah?

  • It’s interesting that God uses Elijah’s name… He is always interested in us as individuals and calls each one of us by name…  Have you responded?
  • I wonder what tone of voice God used… and which word He emphasised?

Is God speaking to you today? What is He asking?

  • That you trust Him to save you from sin?
  • That you step out in faith?
  • That you become a more approachable, kind person?
  • That you stop being selfish and put others first?
  • That you read the Bible and pray more regularly?

Elijah gives his reply in verse 10…

  • He starts by reminding God of his zeal for the Lord… as if God didn’t know!

I have heard people say, and sometimes thought it myself…“I have done my best to serve the Lord, so why is life so difficult for me when others, who seem to care far less, have a much easier time of things?

  • And Elijah seems to be saying: “Why is this happening to me?”

Then Elijah lists his concerns

  • The people have rejected God’s covenant
  • They had torn down the altars
  • They had murdered the prophets of God
  • And now Elijah is the only one left… and his life is threatened, too

Like Custer’s last stand…

What Elijah said to God was largely true… but not entirely

  • When we are depressed and discouraged, everything seems wrong…
  • We can only see the negative side of life… we can’t focus on the blessings that God gives us… or trust Him for the future
  • So we might expect that God would give Elijah a piece of His mind… tell him to snap out of it… give him a good old clip around the ear!

But God doesn’t work that way… Elijah was a man after God’s own heart… God knew that about Elijah… and He knows if it is true for you and me

  • He always seeks to draw us to Himself and set our feet upon the Rock

God is more interested in our motives than in our actions…

  • Paul says in I Corinthians 13 that even if we give our bodies to be burned for the cause of Christ, it achieves precisely nothing if it not motivated by a heart of love
  • If we act from sincere motives and for God’s glory, our decisions and actions will be honoured by the Lord

In our service for the Lord, we can work hard (good!) and show commitment (great!)…

  • We can sing the hymns with gusto… pray fervently… preach like Billy Graham… and pour out our lives sacrificially…
  • Oh, that more of us were that keen!!
  • But if our motives are misplaced… if we rely on our own strength… if we forget to give God the glory… if we imagine for one moment that we are ‘doing God a favour’… the end product will be disappointing…
  • Wood, hay and stubble”… lots of effort but little to show for it

The Lord then gives His response to Elijah…through the powerful wind… the earthquake…the fire…but the Lord did not use any of these phenomena

  • He could have done! We read of instances in the Bible where God uses wind, earthquakes and fire to good and sometimes devastating effect
  • But on this occasion, He used a still, small voice (‘gentle whisper’) to speak to Elijah
  • The physical signs (wind, etc.) were to remind Elijah that God is still in control… regardless of what circumstances might say to the contrary

Note in verse 13 that Elijah still hadn’t budged from inside the cave!

So God has to ask him again: “What are you doing here, Elijah?

  • What a gracious and longsuffering God we have…
  • We are so slow to believe, yet He is always the God of second chances
  • Perhaps someone here needs to hear that truth loudly and clearly

And in verse 14, Elijah repeats what he said before… Perhaps he thought that God hadn’t heard him the first time! Only this time, he is standing at the mouth of the cave

  • When we have been “hiding in our cave”, it takes time for us to retrace our steps and re-orientate… God knows that
  • There is rarely a miraculous split-second transformation… where one moment we are depressed and fearful, the next we are dancing and leaping for joy!

We need to be careful and patient with those who are emerging from their caves…

  • Beware of offering them simplistic “solutions” or telling them to “get over it” or tossing them a Bible verse like a spiritual lucky charm!

Instead, let’s follow God’s plan of action

  • Asking the person to explain the problem…
  • Listening and not interrupting…
  • Reminding the person of God’s almighty power and everlasting love…
  • And speaking in a “gentle voice” with words that come from the Holy Spirit

Not judging or accusing… but giving the person hope

God knows that some of us are struggling with situations and circumstances… even the ‘spiritual’ ones amongst us might be grappling with doubt or fear or unbelief…

So the question comes to ALL of us: “What are you doing here?

  • Not just in a physical sense of place
  • But what are you doing here in terms of your thought life… your priorities… the way you spend your time and money… your relationships… your love for others…

WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?

And see in verse 15-17 how God gives him work to do

  • Yes, we need to be gentle and understanding with those who are discouraged, despondent and fearful…
  • But also to ensure that they understand that going through the “cave experience” does not spell the end of their usefulness for Kingdom work

We ALL need to recognise that God is not finished with me yet!

  • Never allow the devil to whisper in your ear that you’re ‘past it’
  • That you’re too old… too dull… too sinful… too this or that… to be used by God and be a blessing to others

You may not be an Elijah… but God loves ordinary people… that’s why He made so many of them!

Finally, “The Lord said to him, ‘go back the way you came’…”

  • There’s still work to be done… and there are 7,000 others who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

The path out of the cave might be uphill, rugged and difficult at first

~ But see Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World, shining at the mouth of the cave… Hear Him speaking to you… calling you by name

  • He waits for you and for me… not with a stick to beat us up… but with arms open wide

Have you ever come to Jesus in this way, as your Saviour … Or have you been hiding in the cave of unbelief

  • Or have you simply drifted away from God?
  • The things that once delighted and stimulated you have become commonplace and dry

TODAY is the day of salvationToday is the day of repentance… Don’t delay… Turn around… Come to Christ from the dark paths of sin… and walk freely on the mountain top

ELIJAH WAS A GREAT MAN OF GOD but he wasn’t perfecthe needed to be rescued from his cave

And we can be encouraged that whatever our situation, God has not given up on us… we are NOT “on the scrap-heap” of life

  • To paraphrase the words of Dutch Christian, Corrie Ten Boon: “However deep the cave, God’s love is always deeper still”
  • And to Him, we give all the glory

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