Have you ever had a “mountaintop experience”?
This term can be taken literally, figuratively, or even spiritually. If you have experienced the spiritual mountaintop, you are probably also familiar with the spiritual valley. These low places can be emotionally taxing and sometimes take the form of discouragement or even depression.
Mountaintop highs and valley lows could explain why even strong believers struggle with faith. Although struggles refine us and force us to figure out what we really believe, if we give in to negative emotions, we begin a downward spiral.
Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, fought this same battle between hope and doubt. God told Elijah in 1 Kings 18 to tell King Ahab that the drought—punishment for Ahab’s idol worship—was to end. Elijah gathered more than 800 prophets of Baal and Asherah on the top of Mount Carmel, challenging them to ask their gods to send down fire from heaven. Elijah said whichever god sent fire was the true God.
After an entire day of chanting and praying and penance, these pagan prophets were unable to call down fire from their “gods.” Then Elijah called on the Lord to prove Himself, and immediately fire flashed down from heaven. At this, all the people fell down and proclaimed, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39). Then Elijah seized the prophets of Baal, “brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there” (18:40). It was a massive victory for Elijah—a literal mountaintop experience with God.
And then, it began to rain.
In response to Elijah’s victory, Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, threatened to kill Elijah. The prophet ran for his life. He ran for more than a day. Once in the wilderness, he sat under a tree and asked God to let him die.
Only days earlier, Elijah had boldly called on God to prove Himself in front of hundreds of people who opposed God. Then, after receiving a single threat, Elijah picked up and ran away? What changed? Where was his faith?
Elijah was utterly exhausted and, therefore, susceptible to doubt and discouragement. He gave in to self-pity and lost his perspective. He was focused inward. Chuck Swindoll, in his book Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility, wrote: “Elijah had to get his eyes back on the Lord. That was absolutely essential. He had been used mightily, but it was the Lord who made him mighty. He stood strong against the enemy, but it was the Lord who had given him the strength.”1 In the face of doubt, we must fight against discouragement. When things look like they can’t get any worse, we must reach out to others to gain perspective and hope.
By running away, Elijah separated himself from people who could have helped him grow in faith—people who could have offered encouragement, strength, and, most importantly, objectivity. If he had reached out to others, Elijah might have realized that the God who answered by fire would continue to be with him. But instead, Elijah wailed, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers” (19:4).
Many of us can relate to Elijah’s situation. Faced with an increasingly secular society and the watering down of scriptural truth in our churches, it’s easy to feel as though we’re the only remaining faithful and are about to be wiped out. How much easier it is to give in to self-pity than trust in the Lord’s provision!
After God fortified Elijah with food and rest in the wilderness, God confronted him on Mount Horeb. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (19:9). Elijah complained that he was the last remaining prophet and was about to be killed. Instead of rebuking Elijah for his self-focus and lack of faith, God revealed Himself. He told Elijah he was not alone, no matter how things seemed. There were 7,000 people in Israel still faithful to God, people whose knees had not bowed to Baal and whose mouths had not kissed him (19:18).
The same is true today. Regardless of how bad things look, there are those who remain faithful to continue the preaching of God’s Word. Insight for Living continues to reach the world with the truth of Scripture and is committed to the exegetical exposition of the Scriptures.
Elijah reminds us to look up, to choose to believe in God’s faithfulness, even when everything seems to us to be hopeless. Whether we apply this truth to our ministry or personal lives, we can know that when we’re in the will of God, we’re secure . . . even when our experiences are not always “mountaintop.”