Ever had the props knocked out from under you? Sure you have. We all have.
Probably no one in American history is more admired than Abraham Lincoln, and probably no one in public life knew more about defeat. Early in life, he lost his love. His career was a struggle against enormous odds, with many failures. He went through a series of almost continuous political defeats before being elected president, and for that matter, he suffered constant public ridicule during his presidency.
In addition, his private life was equally torn. In a letter to his law partner and friend, John Stuart, Lincoln said: “I am the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth...”
For sure, Abraham Lincoln knew what it was to have the props knocked out from under him.
The Old Testament prophet Elijah is another example of the props being knocked out. Only a few hours earlier on top of Mount Carmel, Elijah had stood out as a giant among men. He had challenged the people of Israel and the 450 prophets of Baal with his magnificent declaration, “If the Lord be God, follow Him.” Then he had put these Baal prophets to the test, and Elijah and his God had emerged victorious. But soon thereafter something happened that literally knocked the props out of Elijah’s world. He became a prisoner of himself, because after being told what happened, Queen Jezebel sent a threatening message to Elijah that he was going to be killed.
At that point, Elijah became afraid and fled into the wilderness. As I mentioned, he became a prisoner of himself until God intervened and gave him some valuable insights. And it is these insights that I want to briefly share with you.
First insight, there are no permanent victories!
Irving Berlin stated it correctly when he said, “The toughest thing about being a success is that you have to keep on being a success.”
Here Elijah was in the midst of a crisis, and God seemed silent and absent. So frightened and discouraged, Elijah was experiencing the “trying times” of those who discover that there are no permanent victories. Not long ago, after performing a wedding ceremony, a young woman rushed up to me in the hall and said, “I appreciate your remarks about marriage, but the real question is,’How do you stay married? I hope you’ll address that subject sometime.’”
Do you hear what that young married woman is saying? She’s saying that there are no permanent victories.
Second insight, self-pity is not the answer! I remember a dear parishioner in one of my early appointments. This woman had suffered terrible tragedy in the loss of several of her family members. Consequently, she kept the blinds drawn, sat in the dark and grieved. She spent all day, every day, in the valley of self-pity; and that was even more tragic.
Full of self-pity, we find Elijah pleading to die. Then it was that God sent God’s angel to Elijah. In a series of messages, the angel instructed Elijah to “get up and eat,” “to go forth and stand on the mountain of the Lord,” and “to return and do the work I have for you.”
Did you notice? In the midst of his self-pity, God always told Elijah to “do” something.
Third insight, there are always moments of unexpected grace! Mike Soroka is an “ace” pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. During a game, as many of you are aware, he injured his Achilles and had to have surgery. The result is that he is a loss for the season.
Soroka recently tweeted his thanks to his family, friends and fans for their “tons of support.” In that tweet, he stated, “Humbled and lucky to be surrounded by so many people who care.” Sounds to me like a moment of unexpected grace.
For Elijah, that angel’s arrival was a moment of unexpected grace. And there are always moments of unexpected grace because GOD IS FAITHFUL.