From mountaintop to shadowed valley - 1 Kings 19
A Lent Reflection for Monday, February 27th
By Kendall Smith
Lectionary reading: Psalm 32; 1 Kings 19:1-8; Hebrews 2:10-18
Selected passage: 1 Kings 19:1-8
1 Kings 19:1-8 NIV
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
Growing up, “mountain-top experiences” were a big thing. Youth group, retreats, summer camp…all of these were events where I was on fire for God, ready to go home and convert the masses. And then I’d come home and life would happen. The forces creating this epic “high” were removed, and life seemed hard and boring again.
I couldn’t help but be surprised as I reflected on this passage–Elijah has just come off the most “mountain-top experience” I can imagine: he proved once and for all that the God of Israel is the Most High God when God rains down fire on to the sopping wet altar, and all the prophets of Baal are humiliated and proven wrong. BOOM. Mic drop.
If mountain-top experiences could sustain us for long seasons, Elijah would have been good to go for a long time. But the truth is, he wasn’t.
It wasn’t long before Jezebel was furious at him and he retreated into the wilderness, utterly depressed. It’s too much, LORD. Just let me die.
If I were finishing this story, I’d write the following: “Then God, full of anger, told Elijah: ‘Do you not remember the miracles I performed in front of the prophets of Baal? Didn’t you watch how I proved once and for all that I am the One True God? Get up and go back to your people! Proclaim my goodness! Oh, you of little faith. Maybe I should find someone else’.”
But thankfully, the version we find in 1 Kings shows us a much more gracious God: Get up and eat. Here is some warm bread. Here is some cool water. You are exhausted. I’m here with you. This, too, is sacred ground.
Lent is a season of intentional reflection, lament, and preparation. Whether you are experiencing the joys on the mountain-top, or are looking for a place to lay down and rest, our God is present in both places. We’re not asked to maintain the energy and passion from that mountain-top experience that we had last week or last month or last year. God knows that we are fragile and tired and that what we most need is our Daily Bread and Living Water.
What “mountain-top” experiences do you remember?
Are there seasons when, like Elijah, you have curled up and wished to die (literally or metaphorically)?
In what ways do you sense God providing for you?
What expectations are you carrying that you could lay down this week?
God of Elijah, we are so humbled that you don’t shame us for our exhaustion or lack of faith. You respond as a nurturing Mother, understanding that we are human, in need of food and rest. Provide what we need today. Amen.
About the Author
Kendall Smith works part-time as a science teacher, and also provides pastoral counseling for those walking through spiritual hurt or confusion. She loves reading, writing, thunderstorms, and long walks outside. She and her brother write a blog called Not All Who Wonder Are Lost (www.invitationtowonder.com/wonderings) where they write about science, faith, doubt and the goodness of God.