Jesus gave the last hours of this age a poignant headline. He called this period "The Great Tribulation." The word rendered tribulation meant "grievous affliction or distress; pressure or burden upon the spirit." As we move closer toward the end of this age, catastrophic distresses and pressures upon man shall increase.
If you are one who has stood unyieldingly against the increasing darkness, you know how intense and multifaceted the battle is. Whether you are fighting to heal your city's wounds or warring against abortion and pornography, barely do you make headway against one evil before it seems that ten others storm in.
Many Christians on the front lines are weary. A number are just going through the motions; still others have stopped fighting altogether. Daniel warned of a time when the enemy would "wear down the saints of the Highest One" (Dan. 7:25). To emerge victorious from this day in which we live, we must discover the stronghold of God that He has prepared for us.
Elijah was a man with passions like ours, fighting in a war like ours. In his battle for the soul of Israel, he stood against the wiles of Jezebel and Ahab. Yet, his most intense battle was against personal discouragement.
As bold as Elijah was, he lived as a fugitive, moving in and out of places of hiding. Jezebel had murdered nearly all of the Lord's prophets, replacing them with the satanic priests of Baal and the Asherah.
A new initiative, however, had come from the Lord. Both Elijah and the prophets of Baal were to build altars to the deity they each served. The God who answered with fire would truly be Lord. King Ahab, and all Israel came to the confrontation.
Try as they might, the priests of Baal could draw no response from their god. But when Elijah prayed, fire immediately fell upon his sacrifice. This was Elijah's greatest victory, and when the Israelites saw the display of God's power, they bowed to the ground saying, "The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God" (1 Kings 18:39).
But the Lord was not finished. After Elijah had the priests of Baal destroyed, he prayed and the Lord brought rain, ending a terrible three-year drought. On this one day, both fire and rain fell from heaven! If this tremendous day had occurred at virtually any other time in Israel's history, the nation would have repented, but it did not. Baal worship should have ended, but it continued. Nothing changed. In fact, instead of a revival, the opposite occurred: An enraged Jezebel vowed to kill Elijah, and he fled until he sat exhausted and discouraged beneath a juniper tree in the wilderness. There, the prophet prayed, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers" (1 Kings 19:4).
Have you said, "It is enough"? Perhaps you were frustrated by your own inability to truly effect positive change in your family, church or society. Possibly you gave your all but found little success. Disheartened and weary, like Elijah, you wished to die. You said, "It is enough! I have done all I know to do!"
Elijah laid down and slept; as he did, an angel touched him and told him, "Arise, eat." At his head were bread and water. Elijah, weary with life itself, ate and withdrew back into sleep. Once more the angel touched him; "Arise," he said, "eat, because the journey is too great for you" (vs. 7).
For all our visions, plans and programs, God's will cannot be accomplished without His strength. The journey before each of us is also "too great." We need the strength that only comes from the touch of God.
"So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God" (vs. 8). The Lord gave Elijah strength, not to send him back to battle but to bring him back to basics.
If, in seeking to fulfill the task God has given us, we sacrifice our daily devotional life, our lives will soon become dry and desolate. To restore our souls, the Lord brings us back to the essentials of our faith. He reminds us that our first and highest purpose is not to save our nation but to give Him pleasure. Without this focus, we lose touch with the Presence of God; we are outside the stronghold of God.
Elijah was led to "Horeb, the mountain of God." In Hebrew Horeb means "desolation." The barren environment mirrored Elijah's soul. This was not the first time the Lord guided a servant of His to Horeb. It was here, five centuries earlier, that the Lord appeared in the burning bush to Moses. In his zeal, Moses had tried, but failed, to liberate Israel from Egyptian oppression. He also had fled to Horeb. As a fugitive from Pharaoh, Moses lived forty years in desolation.
When the Lord brought Moses to Horeb, it was for two reasons: to reveal Himself to His servant and to initiate a new beginning based solely upon God's sustaining power. In the eyes of Moses, Horeb had been a time of desolation. To God, however, Horeb was a place where He prepared His servants for new beginnings. As the Lord had met Moses, He now would meet Elijah.
Perhaps Elijah's greatest virtue was his zeal. Indeed, we shall see that twice in his communication with God, Elijah speaks of having been "very zealous" for the Lord. But zeal, unattended by wisdom, eventually becomes its own "god"; it compels us toward expectations which are unrealistic and outside the timing and anointing of God.
To remain balanced, zeal must be reined in and harnessed by strategic encounters with the living God. Otherwise we become frustrated with people and discouraged with delays. We step outside our place of strength and spiritual protection.
Elijah had come to Horeb and lodged there in a cave. Soon, the Word of the Lord came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (vs. 9).
This is one of the most important questions God will ever ask us: "What are you doing here?" He may ask: "How did your service to Me become dry and desolate? When was it you left your first love?"
It is especially true in our times. We can become so consumed with the deteriorating condition of the world that we fail to see the deteriorating condition of our own soul. In His love, the Lord stops us and demands we look at our life. Is this existence which I now live the abundant life promised me from Christ?
We can be honest at Horeb. We have nothing to prove and no need to pretend. Here, at Horeb, the internal mechanisms of defensiveness and pride crumble. If we are disappointed, we are free to express it; if frustrated, we can admit it. We must simply and truthfully evaluate, without rationalization, our heart's condition.
In our transparency, the Presence of God draws near our hearts. Is not intimacy with God the very thing we have neglected? And is not the Lord alone our source of strength in battle? If the enemy can distract us from our time alone with God, he will keep the power of God from accompanying our efforts.
You will recall the story of Joseph and Mary after the Passover in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-49). Supposing the child Jesus was with them, they journeyed home. But Jesus was neither with them nor with their relatives. Three days later they found Him in the temple.
Likewise, many of us have become so consumed with our battles that we fail to notice Jesus is not with us on our journey. Jesus' parents returned to where they had last seen Him; so also must we. To renew us, God is bringing us back to our most recent encounter with the living Christ. He is bringing us back to basics.
As the pressures and warfare of this age continue to intensify, it is imperative we realize that yesterday's anointing will not suffice for today's battles. Like Elijah, we must return to the sacred mountain. Indeed, in order to fit us with a new mantle, God must dis-mantle our confidence in the flesh. For Elijah, the Lord was about to use the "loner" Elijah to mentor another prophet's life. The new anointing would ultimately release a "double portion" of power to his protege, Elisha. Under this new anointing Jezebel would be destroyed and Baal worship crushed!
To reach this same place of breakthrough in our own times, God is bringing us back to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:1-3). What seems like a time of desolation is more truly a time of preparation: A revival of great proportions is coming to our land! God has prepared a new beginning for you. Beloved, it is not time to despair, but prepare. When you return to the battle, you shall go with a double portion.
Lord Jesus, apart from You my life is dry and desolate. Forgive me for trying to do Your will without Your Presence. I desperately need You, Lord.
This day, I commit my heart to return to my first love. Teach me, Lord, to consider intimacy with You the greatest measure of my success. Let me see Your glory; reveal to me Your goodness; guide me, O Holy Spirit, into the Presence of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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