There are times in life when circumstances seem to overwhelm us completely. The plans we made, the hopes we had, the prospects so precious to us suddenly disappear, and the future, which appeared to be so secure, is full of uncertainty. In a world which is intent on turning its back on God there is plenty to make the believer feel cast down in soul. We may not be seeing the fruit in the gospel which we would like to see. There are, perhaps, around us saints who are faltering in their devotion to the Lord. It even may be that we no longer believe that God is working in our area of testimony.
Elijah felt like that (1 Kings 19). He had seen the effect of years of drought in Israel, the result of the discipline of God. Over these months he had waited in anticipation, longing for the day when his God would be vindicated and the prophets of Baal would be publicly exposed and judged. What a sweet prospect this would have been, helping him through the dark months. How often he must have lingered over the anticipated public triumph of the Lord and the defeat of His enemies.
At last the day arrived, and, as he stood on Mount Carmel and saw God work and evil priests with their false gods dealt with, he must have thought that all Israel would now turn to the Lord. What despair, then, flooded his soul when he realised that the evil Jezebel was still a power in the land and that his own life was under threat. What had gone wrong? Why should things turn out like this? In dark despair he travelled to Beersheba and lay exhausted under a juniper tree.
Have we not felt the same despair at times? Going through circumstances which we just do not understand! Trying to grapple with the unexpected and to make sense out of what seems to be beyond understanding! But it was then, in despair of his life and desiring only to be left alone in his sorrow, that Elijah heard the words of the angel, "Arise and eat" (1 Kings 19.5). In the midst of his despondency he still had lessons to learn.
First, he had to learn that the Lord knew what he was passing through. His God is not uninterested in the troubles of His people, and He understands the difficulties of life. Elijah's God does not forsake His own, even when they are in the darkest of despair, feeling that all of life is over. At times we feel that the heavens are like brass and there is no answer to our cry. The response which we feel must come is not heard. The answer which we feel must be His is not given. But He does understand even although we may say, "Lord, if thou hadst been here…" (Jn 11.21).
Second, he had to learn that there were heavenly resources to meet his need and to give him strength. There was a cake, made ready and a cruse of water. When there are no apparent earthly resources, we have recourse to those which are greater than anything which this world can provide. Elijah went in the strength of that meat for forty days and nights, something which could never have taken place as a result of using all that earth could have supplied. In despair, it is only the strength which comes from Him that is able to sustain us. Let us avail ourselves of that resource.
Third, he learned that there was further work for him to do. "Go, return" is the exhortation (v.15). If we are travelling through the Valley of Despairing Service, and there seems to be no light before us, remember that service is not yet over. God still has work for us to do, and our undertaking of that work is one way in which He enables us to overcome the darkness.
As we face the days ahead in His will, and look at the work which lies to our hand, it may be that we are going through a period of doubt, times when circumstances do not seem to make sense, days when it is difficult to see the way ahead. All of this envelops us in a sense of disappointment. But let us keep our ears open to God, for, as we lie low, desiring only to end our service, there will come the moment when He will say, "Arise and eat".