A LONELY PLACE WHERE WE ARE NEVER LONELY
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
21 JULY 1991
By: Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
1 Kings 17:1-7
Preparation Verse: (Matthew 11:28)
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
To say that there is a lonely place where we are never lonely is to say something that seems to contradict itself; but it doesn't.
It does, only when what we seek is other people; but it doesn't, if what we seek is spiritual comfort in the presence of the Lord.
It is quite common for the pressures of everyday life to get to us from time to time; and unless we retreat to a lonely place for our well being, we are going to burn out and become spiritually sick, and perhaps even physically sick.
Jesus knew this about Himself, as we read in Matthew 14:13, when He heard of the death of John the Baptist:
13. Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.
Yes, even Jesus, all God and yet still all man, became emotionally upset over the news about John; and He had to withdraw from the multitudes for a time to collect His thoughts and pray.
This wasn't just a one time thing. It was something that Jesus did often. Note Luke 5:16.
16. But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
The pressures of being continually in a crowd can get to all of us, and it's no place to solve our problems.
In Mark 3:20, we see some of this crowd pressure:
20. And He [Jesus] came home, and the multitude gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal.
This may be all right once in a while, but Jesus and those with Him were getting this as a “steady diet.”
Do you remember when Jesus sent out His apostles to do ministry on their own?
Let's take a look at what happened when they returned, as recorded in Mark 6:30-32.
30. And the apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught.
31. And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)
32. And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.
Jesus could see their excitement and recognize their stress from all of their past activities, and even though they may have wanted to go on, He knew that they needed rest, or their ministry could be harmed by their reactions to the continued stress.
We all encounter times like these; and in recent months, I personally have been “banging my head” against this “burn out wall” more often than I like.
And if I can't find a lonely place to get away, either alone or with others seeking the same relief, my stressfulness comes to the surface.
Where we are gathered here together in this sanctuary can be our lonely place, if we make it a true sanctuary in our hearts.
But if we make this place a sanctuary in name only, by bringing in our stresses with us, and in the process take out our feelings on others, our burnout comes closer.
Our homes can be either a place to retreat after a long day at work or a place of continued stress, if our spouse, who has been there all day, is now seeking his or her own lonely place away from home.
We each need a place of our own to commune with God.
And quite often we need to be reminded of this, as Jesus reminded His apostles, and as the Lord reminded the prophet Elijah.
Turn in your Bibles to 1 Kings 17:1-7, and hear what happened when Elijah got stressed out over all the evilness of the people of Israel and of their king, Ahab:
1. Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."
Elijah, in his zealousness for the Lord, calls down the wrath of God to cease the rains as a witness against the people, so that they would take notice of the Lord, and repent.
The overall situation obviously stressed Elijah a great deal, and he also feared for his life at the hands of Ahab.
Then the Lord, in all His love and mercy, reaches out to Elijah to comfort him:
2. And the word of the Lord came to him, saying,
3. "Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.
The Lord is sending Elijah to a lonely place; a place away from all of the threats of Ahab; a place without the stressfulness of seeing all the people turning against the God he loves; a place where he can find peace and comfort with the Lord.
In this place, the Lord will provide for all his needs.
4. "And it shall be that you shall drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there."
5. And so he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.
6. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.
Let's stop here for a minute and think about what the ravens are really bringing to Elijah.
The Hebrew word used for 'meat' really has its root meaning in the word 'fresh', which would eliminate carrion, or dead flesh, as it would not be kosher, which would have brought more stress to Elijah, as any such meat would also do to us.
And the word translated bread could not have meant baked bread, because the ravens could not bake it, and the word can also mean victuals or food in general.
The ravens could have brought Elijah grains and small fleshy fruit, such as figs or dates with all their goodness, and it would not have violated any law, and is much closer to the true meaning of the verse, and which would bring the spiritual healing Elijah needed.
But with our spiritual healing, the Lord will again send us forth to accomplish his work, for sometimes we get too attached to being in the lonely place and don't want to leave.
Sometimes He will give us a hint as He does with Elijah:
7. And it happened after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
The Lord sends him forth again; this time to the Phoenician city of Zarephath.
Have you ever heard the Lord call upon you to leave some stressful situation for a time?
Did you listen?
Sometimes we make the mistake of confusing a vacation with going to a lonely place, and we sometimes find that the vacation can be just as stressful, or on the other hand, it can be just what the Great Physician ordered.
The big difference is whether in our zeal to vacate the time of stress, we also vacate the Lord.
The only way a vacation can fill the lonely place requirement is if we allow the Lord to be there with us.
After about three and a half years of this drought, Elijah once again encounters Ahab, with all the previous stresses.
And to prove that the Lord is the only true God, he proposes a contest between himself and all of the priests and prophets of their false gods; a challenge which Ahab accepts.
The Lord again comes through for Elijah, and he wins.
And when he sees the people again turning back to the Lord, he prays for the drought to end, and it does.
In all his zeal, Elijah outruns Ahab's chariot to the city of Jezreel, expecting the people there to repent, as did those at Mount Carmel.
Let's pick up this accounting at 19:1, and see what happens:
1. Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets [of Baal] with the sword
2. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time."
3. And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
What is happening to Elijah is not uncommon.
Any truly sensitive person, after doing something wonderful, even against great odds, can have one thing go wrong, after which they can lose it, as did Elijah.
They forget all about what they have accomplished and about the strength they had in the process, and they become depressed.
Their heart and soul are so tied up in seeing things made right, and they expect others to become as sensitive as they are; thus, when they see the good they have encouraged in one place not continue in another, they feel like giving up and running away.
And that is exactly what Elijah did. He ran more than 100 miles to get away from one woman, when just before that, he had stood his ground before 450 prophets of Baal.
Listen to his despair in verse 4:
4. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers."
In this lonely place in the wilderness, he pours out his heart to the Lord.
He had run away for his life, but now he wants the Lord to take it away.
He wants to end the heartache he feels over all the hard-heartedness around him.
And because he didn't run from the Lord, but to Him, the Lord once again ministers to him.
This is something we all have to remember, no matter how badly we feel.
5. And he lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, "Arise, eat."
6. Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again.
7. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, "Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you."
8. So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
9. Then he came there to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
In this lonely place, the Lord comes to Elijah and counsels with him.
Elijah felt all alone in the world.
He felt that no one else had the sensitivity and understanding of the ways of the Lord, as he did.
In the crowd, he was lonely.
But in the lonely place, he finds the comfort he needs, and his loneliness leaves him.
The Lord was always with him, but the stresses of what he encountered in the world blinded his awareness of this fact.
It is in the lonely places where we can all find our one true Friend and Comforter who knows exactly what we are going through, and appreciates our sensitivity, because He hurts even more than we do over all the evil around us.
The more sensitive to the ways of God we are, the more we need these lonely places.
This was true with Elijah, and the apostles, and even with Jesus Himself, and it is true for each and every one of us.
God really loves us, and in the lonely places, we can experience it to the fullest.
Your Comments are welcome
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