Run, Elijah, Run!

Run, Forrest, run!”

I love this scene from the movie, Forrest Gump. Little Forrest was being bullied by the other kids from school. So his small, female friend, Jenny, took charge and admonished him not to fight, but run! Bolstered with speed, Forrest not only lost his weighty leg braces, but also made record time.

Impressive. I ran that fast once . . . yes, in a dream, but it felt exhilarating nonetheless!

There was another man. . . a prophet, who had an impressive speed streak. He may have even been faster than Usain Bolt, who set the 2009 world record of 9.58 in the 100 meters. His name was Elijah.

After God used Elijah by powerfully demonstrating His sovereignty over the false prophets of Baal, “the power of the LORD came on him and he ran ahead of Ahab all the way from Mount Carmel to Jezreel,” as King Ahab sped away in his chariot in order to beat an angry storm, (1 Kings 18:44-46).

Most scholars suggest the distance to be approximately 17 miles, others suggest it could have been as far as 30 miles. Although we don’t know Elijah’s speed, we know God miraculously gave him strength to run ahead of Ahab in his chariot, which could have easily been about 35 miles per hour.

Elijah ran in God’s strength in 1 Kings 18 and ran on his own fumes in chapter 19. When we are exhausted, we need to stop, rest, and wait on God. It’s pointless to take matters into our own hands. Faith isn’t the opposite of fear, but rather trusting in a greater God when facing our fears.

When Elijah obeyed, God supernaturally equipped and empowered him. But when Elijah disobeyed by not confronting Queen Jezebel and instead ran away from her death threats, he placed himself outside of God’s will.

With the amazing miracles God accomplished through Elijah, especially on the heels of Elijah’s major victory over the false prophets of Baal and Asherah, (men who led the nation into idolatry and ate at Queen Jezebel’s table), it’s hard to grasp how this committed man of God could fear Queen Jezebel, sinking into a pit of despair to the point of asking God to take his life.

But if this tough minded prophet with an impressive track record, both literally and spiritually, could be vulnerable to discouragement and depression, then so can we.

What can we learn from Elijah’s story?

The Enemy’s lie: “You’re life is over.” Do you ever feel stuck, or in a season where you don’t feel very fruitful? I know I have. There have been mountain top times when I can see God move and feel blessed because I know He is using me. Then the winter season hits when I struggle to hear God’s voice. Unsure where He wants me, or what He wants me to do, I give way to frustration and feelings of hopelessness. But it’s during these seemingly long, unproductive times that He prunes and teaches me to simply trust, rest, and just enjoy His presence. Because Jesus cleared the way through his atoning sacrifice, I can not only come as I am, a complete mess, before the Father, but He also welcomes me with open arms.

He forgot what God had done. All of us have struggles. But God is faithful. He has seen me through many difficult and good times. I have witnessed His gentle strength, guidance, healing, comfort, and counsel numerous times. I not only need regular time of reflection of His provision and blessings, but also need to remember to thank Him daily for His goodness. While we’re admonished to forget the past in regard to sin, we’re reminded to remember what God has done.

He listened to the enemy’s lies. We have a real Enemy who knows us and seeks to discourage and trip us up. I am sensitive . . . to a fault sometimes. The enemy has used this area before, whispering lies when dealing with difficult personalities in the church. Telling me: “You don’t belong here. You don’t fit into this church body.”

But just because I am hurt by someone’s words or actions, or didn’t agree with someone, doesn’t mean I should leave and run to another church. God plants us where He wants us. When we feel pressure, we look for a word from God to bring relief. But sometimes God is quiet and places us in very uncomfortable situations to refine and strengthen us, not to cut us down.

If we’re not facing some opposition, could it be that we’re not fully walking in obedience? When we actively seek to obey God, we need to ground ourselves in His Word and in prayer, because the Enemy has marked us as targets. But He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” (1 Jn. 4:4).

He isolated himself. Maybe other believers steered clear of Elijah because he was called to confront, not comfort. Whatever the reason, he ministered solo and suffered because of it.

I need quiet time to recharge. But there is a difference between recharging and having alone time with God, which is beneficial, than cutting myself off from others.

Some people withdraw because they don’t want to be a burden or obligation to anyone. I tend to withdraw when I’m tired or feel like I have nothing to offer, (which would also be a lie from the Enemy). But these are the times I especially need God’s people around me for encouragement and edification.

He began fantasizing about escape. Hmm . . . how about a romantic movie? (Writing to the ladies here.) Chocolate ice cream? Digging my feet in the warm crystal sand beside the turquoise waters? A shopping spree, courtesy of my visa? I could go on. . . Maybe Elijah justified his running away from confronting Jezebel with his strong desire to hear from God. The void he felt within and the hunger to hear a word from God changed his focus from stepping out in obedience to fleeing to Beersheba, then into the desert, and finally to Mount Horeb (Sinai). It was there, like Moses centuries earlier, that he finally talked to God.

Personal Application

Take some time to look for the following red flags and ask God for clarity:

  • Am I physically exhausted?
  • Am I isolating from people who love me and are willing to challenge me?
  • Am I consumed with either self-pity or shame?
  • Am I fantasizing about unhealthy escapes from my situation?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, take these steps:

  • Acknowledge why I’m running.
  • Read Ephesians 6:10-18 and gear up.
  • Remind myself of what I know about God and what I’ve seen Him do.
  • Let someone else know where I am and ask them to pray with me.

Of Bridges, Dolphins and the Church

“There’s a broken beam inside of the big big bridge
I guess that whole thing is caving in
Maybe it is time I learn how to swim
I’ll be a dolphin, I’ll be a dolphin” ~ Dolphin song by Poe

Soaking in the warm sunshine and turquoise water, my husband and I ferry toward Shell Key Preserve near Tierra Verde, FL with our Eco Tour Guide at the helm.

“Do you know the story behind this bridge?” Our guide points toward the Sunshine Skyway, a bridge that spans at least four miles, connecting St. Petersburg and Bradenton over Tampa Bay.

“No.”

“In 1980, a violent wind blew a freighter off course. With impaired visibility, he crashed into a bridge pier causing 1,200 feet of the southbound span to collapse into the bay. With very low visibility, eight unsuspecting motorists had no clue they would be driving off the edge. Thirty-five people lost their lives that day.”

(Photo Credit: Tampabay.com)

Surveying the 430 foot high bridge packed with vehicles. . . packed with lives, questions rise and fall like the tumultuous waves that probably swallowed them below. What flashed through their minds as they plummeted to their death? Fear? Regret? Were they right with God?  

“Over there!” One of the other passengers points. Shark or dolphin, I welcome the interruption.

It is a dolphin! No, two dolphins!

The pair swim closer, surfacing near our boat several times as if to say hello. Thank you, Lord! I asked Him just this morning if we could see a dolphin or two on our excursion. 🙂

Dolphins . . . with the impressive range of different species, unique characteristics and identities, small wonder they charm so many. Not only do they appear to smile, they are also intelligent, athletic, and social aquatic mammals who can form groups of over 1,000 individuals, known as super pods.

(Photo by christels on Pixnio)

I know, sounds like I’m going down a rabbit’s trail, but God showed me a connection between the broken bridge, dophins, and the church, so please bear with me!

With my newfound dolphin fascination, I later learned that the builders of the new Skyway Bridge strategically placed 60 foot bumpers they appropriately called ‘dolphins’ around the piers to protect the bridge’s structure.

Why do dolphins group together? Besides being social, small dolphins will gather into multi-member pods when facing predators. These groups provide protection to an animal that does not have large jaws or sharp teeth. When dolphins are together, It’s easier for dolphins to survive as they communicate or intimidate the predator.

Like our Flipper friends, the church body desperately needs each other, not only for friendship, edification and accountability, but also for protection. God never intends for us to be isolated, independent Christians.

God also desires His church to be like a bridge, anchored in Him, supported by Him. People that stand strong and steady during tumultuous times. He not only helps and blesses us when we help others connect with Him, but also blesses us when we seek to help and support each other along our earthly journey.

I know I need people in my life whom I can count on when the going gets rough. Relationships and parenting, to name a few, have festered into squalls in my past, making me feel as though those piers might collapse in a given moment. But when I am surrounded by caring people, I am bolstered with encouragement and hope. I also realize I’m not the only one struggling to stay the course. We need to gather together not only during formal worship services, but also beyond the formal settings, whether that be getting together for Sunday School, coffee, hiking together, or joining a life group at church.

Covid has disrupted all of our gatherings. It hit not long after our last move, which resulted in a year when my husband and I weren’t plugged into a life group at our new larger church. Feeling isolated, however, has given me a deeper appreciation for family and connection.

If I’m honest, there have also been times that I have put off seeking a church “life group”. Someone carelessly sharing information outside of the group; exaggerating a truth that borders on a lie; gossip; subtle manipulation to ‘promote one’s ministry’. Unfortunately, I’ve seen these within the church. All of these result in hurt, misunderstanding, anger and distrust. These are not from God, nor are they by-products of Him.

Perhaps we’re the most Christlike, however, when we choose forgiveness. Remembering that Christ has forgiven me, and seeking His help, I can also forgive whatever “grievances” I have with another, (Col. 3:13). God never said it would be easy, but it is possible. And the really scary part is that God won’t forgive me if I choose not to forgive others (Mt. 6:9-15).

Although it takes courage and resolve to seek out another ‘life group’, it’s okay to do so.

I find the following discovery interesting: “Scientists discovered that when dolphins belong to a group, nothing binds them to it in a matter of space and time, this means that they can move freely to different pods that are in their vicinity, then the movement of members is continuous. This type of social network is flat and open, and scientists found no evidence of a rigid, closed or semi-closed structure, so dolphins do not have permanent “membership” in any pod,” (Dolphin Social Structure).

This is where my analogy breaks down in part. I’m not advocating ‘church hopping’, but we’re not married to our life group either. God gives wisdom to the one who asks in faith (James 1:5-6). As God’s children, we are free in Christ (Jn. 8:36), not only free from enslavement to sin, but also free from remaining in an unhealthy group and/or church. If someone can’t control their tongue (James. 3:5), and/or doesn’t seek to love and protect others, we are free to leave and seek a healthy group. We need mature believers to come alongside new and younger believers, ones who seek to mentor and help us grow so we might function properly within the church body.

Like the wind, words come easy. But let’s seek to model Christ; forgive, and be that faithful friend who genuinely loves (1 Jn. 3:16). Who knows. . . we might just be the ‘dolphin’ bumper that prevents someone’s ‘bridge’ from collapsing, as well as saving the lives of those who travel over our life bridge.