The Defective Prophet
Mar 24, 2021 1628
Elijah is one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. For the Jews, he ranked alongside Moses. In fact, he was such a powerful prophet, and served God so faithfully that he never died. Instead, God took him straight up to heaven in a chariot of fire.
However, I think there’s more to Elijah’s story than meets the eye. I think there’s enough clues in the Bible to let us see Elijah as a person just like you and me, who struggles with some very similar issues.
Just like so many other heroes of the Bible, Elijah the prophet is deeply flawed. His story isn’t so much a story of how God can use powerful people. Instead, it’s a story of triumph through weakness. Elijah’s story is a story of God’s grace, and not of Elijah’s moral worth.
Throughout his story, the prophet Elijah seems awfully self-centred.
As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve (1 Kings 17:1, NIV).
That’s his trademark saying. While it starts by mentioning God, the focus quickly shifts to himself and how he serves God.
Never think that you’re useless to God.
You’ve probably never thought of this, because we tend to read the Bible thought sanitised, “religious” way, in which its heroes are glorified and their faults minimised.
Elijah is actually your pretty classic manic-depressive. He has moments of frenetic energy and activity, with great clarity and focus. In between these moments are times of deep depression and inability to act.
The greatest example of this in the life of Elijah was his experience on Mount Carmel. One moment he was facing down the hundreds of false prophets of Baal, and calling down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice in their sight (1 Kings 18:20-40). That must have been exhilarating. But the next moment he is running for his life into the wilderness, afraid of Queen Jezebel.
He sits under a bush in the desert and he wishes for death. Then he goes into a cave, caught in the deepest depression. When the Lord comes to him and challenges him with the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” his response is telling. Elijah is self-absorbed in his own importance (1 Kings 19:14,18) and accusing God of not doing the right thing by him (v.14).
God could use the defective prophet and he can use you.
God responds to Elijah by telling him that he is wrong. He is not the only true follower left. He has 7000 more. And, just after Elijah’s greatest triumph, God effectively sacks him! He does it in a gentle way, but he still sacks him (See 1 Kings 19:16). Not long after this, God takes Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire, one of only two men have entered heaven without seeing death (Enoch was the other).
What does all of this tell us about how God deals with us? There are some powerful lessons here if you’re willing to listen. Much of what we’ve been told about God is wrong. Never think that you’re useless for God. The story of Elijah tells you that God loves you with your imperfections and your weakness. He uses you with your flaws, even if, as in Elijah’s case, that happens to be a mental illness like depression. Read 1 Kings 19:3-18 and see how gently God encourages Elijah and woos him back from his thoughts of loneliness, failure, death.
God isn’t who you think he is. Wherever you’re at in life, even if in the deepest pit of despair, you are still loved by God. You are not alone. He still has a purpose for you. And he still has a wonderful reward for you, just as he did for Elijah.
Whatever your weaknesses, flaws and failures, God is still waiting for you to say “yes” to him. If you will do that, he will take care of the rest.