“You don’t get to just lie down…”
He wasn’t speaking directly to my thoughts, at least, not that he realized.
“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself … But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God … On Him we have set our hope.”2 Corinthians 1:8-10
It was a comment made during a conversation surrounding the upheaval for so many this past year, including our family. I’d said, “I’m ready for Christ to return anytime.” He said he agrees when people say that and understands but, “You don’t get to just lie down…”
But I wanted to.
And I hadn’t realized how much so until his words went off like a sonic boom in the dread that was permeating my mind. The sporadic thought of going to sleep and waking up in the presence of Christ had crept in during the recent year’s litany of sorrows and anguish, and I hadn’t taken it captive, but rather, allowed it to roam freely. This grown child of mine was repeating back to me what I’ve told him and his brother so many times in their lives. “You don’t get to bail when things get hard.”
Decidedly, suffering in itself is not a virtue. And relationships of any kind; personal, professional or otherwise, can come to an end for the glory of God. However, the way we respond to suffering through perseverance for righteousness’s sake, is to use our suffering for good, redemptive ends, and to bring glory to Him.
For some, their lives look more like Job’s or Joseph’s, a perpetual and daunting task of refusing to bail when things get hard. A constant trying to find their feet again from the last calamity, when the next one arrives.
For others it may be wrestling against the despair and self-pity awaiting, ready to pounce. Or the gnawing darkness that refuses to recede.
Perhaps a vacillation of all those aspects.
You solemnly begin to wonder if God is mad at you. You matter-of-factly wonder if you’ll ever be useful to His Kingdom, notably broken and damaged. You live in a state of waiting for the other shoe to drop, sometimes, on the brink of paralysis. These thoughts tend to fester because, even among Christ followers, it’s rightly uncomfortable and we have an anemic doctrine of suffering. Moreover, there is an ardent desire to seek the answers in God’s Word to address these concerns and be reminded of what we know to be true, but we are SO worn and weary and SO many other things are vying for our attention with urgency, that those thoughts can go unchallenged.
I’ve had enough, Lord. (cf. 1 Kings 19:4)
Elijah’s crying out to God is not unlike that of our own. Charles Spurgeon referred to Elijah as the ‘Iron Prophet’ — still a man, nonetheless. He understood suffering, distress, failure and grief.
And where ought we go with such petitions, except to our heavenly Father?
Do not tarry, Beloved, I implore you. Take your thoughts captive. Do as Elijah did — cry out to God. We do not serve a hard Master. See how He cares for His servants.
We are called to yield to the will of God, even when — indeed especially when — life is difficult and things seem to go wrong. He is sovereign … He or she lives under the sovereign watch-care of a gracious heavenly Father. His banner over us is love … nothing can ever enter the sphere of our lives unless it has first of all passed under that banner. Nothing can separate us from His love. He makes everything work together for our good. See things through spectacle lenses crafted to this prescription and with the Spirit’s help we will be able to respond in loving submission. And then we will benefit from God’s Providences rather than treat them lightly or sink underneath them.Sinclair Ferguson, Maturity
He gave Elijah rest. He nurtured Elijah. He heard Elijah’s grief. He reminded Elijah of Himself and His ways. Thus, restoring Elijah. He will do the same for us. In His time. In His way. And for our good.
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.Heidelberg Catechism
Oh, and Elijah, doesn’t die … he ascends to Heaven.
Elijah is carried to heaven in a fiery chariot. Many questions might be asked about this, which could not be answered. Let it suffice that we are told, what His Lord, when He came, found him doing. He was engaged in serious discourse, encouraging and directing Elisha about the Kingdom of God among men. We mistake, if we think preparation for Heaven is carried on only by contemplation and acts of devotion. The chariot and horses appeared like fire, something very glorious, not for burning, but brightness. By the manner in which Elijah and Enoch were taken from this world, God gave a glimpse of the eternal life brought to light by the Gospel, of the glory reserved for the bodies of the saints, and of the opening of the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. It was also a figure of Christ’s ascension … Christ bequeathed to His disciples His precious Gospel, like Elijah’s mantle; the token of the Divine power being exerted to overturn the empire of Satan, and to set up the Kingdom of God in the world. The same Gospel remains with us, though the miraculous powers are withdrawn, and it has Divine strength for the conversion and salvation of sinners.Matthew Henry
Beloved, lay your heart bare before the throne of God because He already knows. Pour out your heart with perfect candor. We are never encouraged to stifle our sorrow or anguish when we come to God in prayer. Instead, He encourages us to come boldly to Him, the way a child would come to a tender, loving father.
And to be sure, our desire to ‘be away from the body and at home with the Lord’ must be examined. If ever we do wish to exit this world, we must take care that it is from the motive of longing to be with our Lord for it is indeed better, but there must be no selfishness in it: no wish to escape from suffering, or from service. A life surrendered in contented obedience to the disposal of the Lord to do as He pleases.
“You do not know what a day may bring.” — Proverbs 27:1.
Elijah’s life reminds us that we don’t know what God has in store for our lives, what works He has foreordained for us to accomplish for His glory, how much there is for us yet to live for, or the trials we will endure; but that we live for Him, to please Him. And He is faithful to take care that we are provided with sufficient grace.
Christ has gone as a forerunner on our behalf and we will soon be united with Him, and with those who’ve gone before us, in glory. He is our Hope. A sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. And true faith is ever connected to Hope. A confident expectation of the Christ follower because our hope is based on the finished work of Christ and the unfailing promises of God.
I know, beloved, that we may sometimes very properly desire death. When we have had a more than usually clear sight of Christ, we have longed to be with Him. May not the bride desire to be perpetually in the Bridegroom’s company? When sacred song has sometimes carried us, on its bright wings of silver, up into the clear atmosphere that is round about the gates of heaven, we have wished to enter — we have longed that we might see our God. I have no doubt it is right enough, when we are wearied, to wish for the everlasting rest. When we are conscious of sin, it is right enough to wish to be where sin can never come and temptation can never more annoy. There must be such wishes. There must be such aspirations, for, to depart and to be with Christ is far better than to abide here. But we must never get into such a craving and longing for heaven that we are not content to bide our time here … How long you and I are to be here, is no concern of ours. After all, we are not our own masters — we are our Lord’s servants. If He thinks we can glorify Him better here than there, it must be our choice to remain here.Charles Spurgeon, Sermon 2725