It was the best year ever. Our company shattered every sales record. Profits were exceptional. We even set a record for fewest customer complaints. It seemed that we could do no wrong. After the final results were tallied, we congratulated each other and handed out bonus checks. By the next day the celebrating was over and it was back to work as usual.
That’s it? No vacation? No party? No! There was work to be done. We faced a new year with tougher goals to achieve. We would need to work harder than ever with new employees to train and more problems to solve. We simply had no choice.
So, instead of enjoying a period of elation, I struggled with mild depression. Why?
Why would success be followed by despair?
We’ve seen it affect entertainers, athletes, preachers, parents, teachers, and friends. A surge of extraordinary success is followed by a period of despondency and anguish. Why? It doesn’t make sense. Or does it?
Are extraordinary successes always followed by bouts of despair? Of course not, yet it happens frequently enough to ask questions and seek guidance. In the Bible, I discovered supportive answers through a prophet of God named Elijah.
Elijah challenged 850 prophets of Baal to a dramatic showdown before the entire nation of Israel. For several hours, the prophets of Baal put on quite a show of chanting and dancing but nothing happened. Then it was Elijah’s turn. Now, what kind of show would Elijah put on? None—instead Elijah simply prayed. That’s it? No show? “Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven.” (1 Kings 18:38)
A spectacular display of God’s power! The Mount Carmel victory should have caused a great celebration; but instead, Elijah was soon fleeing for his life. What happened? Scripture refers to a furious Queen Jezebel seeking to kill Elijah; after facing 850 prophets, why would he fear one angry queen?
How could such a victorious prophet of God lose his confidence and faith in himself and God so completely that he runs for his life?
At one point, I assumed the Mount Carmel showdown was a major turning point for Elijah but I was wrong, so wrong!
My business experienced our best year ever, but I was feeling despair. Elijah witnessed the awe-inspiring power of God at Mount Carmel but never received the opportunity to savor it. Instead, an enraged Queen Jezebel wanted him dead, so Elijah ran for his life.
At times, even after a significant accomplishment we can feel unappreciated, vulnerable misunderstood, abandoned, and threatened.
But it was during this time of despair that I was offered a new opportunity that would dramatically impact my career and my life. It was during this time in the desert that Elijah’s extraordinary journey of faith would reach a dramatic turning point.
“He went on alone into the desert, traveling all day, then he lay down and slept. As he was sleeping an angel touched him and told him, ‘Get up and eat!’ He looked around and saw some bread. Then the angel of the Lord came again and said, ‘Get up and eat some more, for there is a long journey ahead of you.”’ (1 Kings, parts of 19:2-9)
Elijah assumed God’s miracle on Mount Carmel would be the turning point of his ministry. He was wrong. Now, Elijah must take a journey to discover the truth. Meanwhile, God quietly provided nourishment for the trip ahead. For forty long days and nights, Elijah traveled to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, where Moses had received the Ten Commandments.
“‘Go out and stand before me on the mountain,’ the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” (11-13)
Elijah witnessed a mighty windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire. But somehow he knew God was not there. Only at the sound of a gentle whisper would Elijah experience God’s presence.
Occasionally, God will surprise us with an awesome miracle like the mighty windstorm or the earthquake but they are rare. It is not our victories that gratify God as much as our day-by-day obedience and attentiveness to God’s quiet and gentle whisper.
It is in the quiet and gentle whisper Elijah receives instructions and a promise that he is not alone. This was the assurance Elijah needed.
Shortly after our record year, I was asked to give a short weekly message for children during worship. Normally I declined such requests but this time I heard a quiet and gentle whisper encouraging me to say yes. Saying yes to a simple request at my church turned out to be a major turning point in my life. I discovered a fresh talent and an exciting new way to communicate my faith.
My despair at work was quickly replaced by a fresh vitality. Business didn’t change but I changed. The next year was another record-breaker but it would not be followed by despair again. For the first time, I felt at peace with my career and my faith. This step would also be the first step toward becoming a pastor.
So, what did I learn from Elijah?
- God patiently offers spiritual nourishment in victory or despair.
- We must be willing to take a long journey and trust God’s guidance.
- Victories are important but so is our day-by-day obedience and our willingness to listen.
- God’s gentle whisper promises guidance and reassurance that we are not alone.
I found comfort in learning God is not counting my victories or occasional periods of despair. What really matters is the consistency of my journey: humble when on top and determined when on the bottom but always recognizing that God is still in control.
The comfort is in knowing that you are never alone and God will actively nourish and guide you every step of the way. Thank you, God!
About Larry Davies
Larry Davies is currently the Lynchburg, Virginia District Superintendent for 89 United Methodist Churches. He has been the pastor of small, medium, and large churches. For many years, Larry managed and trained sales people in the automobile business. He is also the author of Live the Light: Five Weeks to a Light that Shines and three other books. Larry is the founder of Sowing Seeds of Faith, a worldwide prayer ministry and writing ministry, www.SowingSeedsofFaith.com. His columns and blog posts appear in several newspapers, magazines, and websites. Larry is a graduate of Virginia Tech and received his Master of Divinity at Duke University. Mell, Larry’s wife, recently retired from Concord Elementary School. Larry’s oldest son Stephen is married to Brandy, and they have a one-year-old bundle of energy, Jackson. Larry’s daughter Lisa is engaged to be married to Bobby. He and Mell also have a lively but older Springer Spaniel named Daisy.