Yesterday, Ben and I drove home from Polishing The Pulpit. No, Polishing The Pulpit isn’t a class on cleaning (as one of the children at our congregation naturally concluded), but a week-long spiritual feast for people who want to grow closer to God and stronger in their faith. I was able to attend about 30 lectures on practical topics like, “Breathing Space. Three Secrets to Creating More Room in Your Life For God,” “Can We Know We Are Going to Heaven?”, “A Nagging Habit. How to Overcome the Bad Habit of Nagging Before it Undermines Your Marriage,” “How to Dig Deep Into the Bible and Get Into the Meat of the Word,” “The Friendly Preacher’s Wife: How to Stay Strong in the Lord When Times Are Tough,” and LOTS more. Not only are the lessons incredibly helpful and practical, but while you’re learning, you’re fellowshipping with over 3,000 true disciples with like-minded goals and a love that binds us and pushes us toward heaven. I met many brothers and sisters this past week with whom I immediately felt a family bond because of our common faith. Sitting in an audience of 3,000 Christians singing praises to God is as close to Heaven as I’ll ever get while on earth. I always come home from PTP feeling recharged, restored, and ready to face “the real world” again.
While I was at PTP, one of my favorite lessons I was able to attend was delivered by Mrs. Sheila Butt and was entitled “If You’re Happy and You Know It….” It was about being content as a woman even when faced with tremendous discouragement. I needed it because I’ve been battling discouragement for a good while now. Mrs. Sheila brought to my attention some things about which I’ve never pondered. For example, I’ve never thought about how discouraged Eve must have been after she heard the news that one of her beloved sons had slain the other. I wonder if she was tempted to just give up trying to live for God, or to blame God for what happened. It seems very unlikely that she ever gave in to those temptations she might have experienced, because we know her descendents were faithful, like Enoch who clearly “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22).
Mrs. Sheila also talked about how much Satan LOVES to get to our hearts when we’re discouraged. She said, “Discouragement is Satan’s greatest tool against us. It’s just a part of life, and Satan knows that. He loves to take away your joy and tempt you to blame God for it.”
But then she took us to a passage that made me feel ashamed for ever feeling discouraged. She took us to I Kings 19, where we read about the prophet Elijah, who felt more alone and discouraged than I probably ever will. With his life hanging in the balance after a death threat from wicked Jezebel, and all the other prophets of God he knew slain, he ran for his life and collapsed, likely exhausted, under a tree. It was then that he begged God to take his life. He understood that it is a lot harder to live for God than to die for God. And with that, he allowed himself to fall asleep. He likely knew that the very best thing he could do for his psyche at that moment was to rest. Here, Mrs. Sheila emphasized the importance of good rest when we are discouraged.
After Elijah slept, an angel awakened him and told him to get up and eat. Sometimes we have mornings in which we feel so sorrowful over the struggles we face in our lives that we don’t want to get out of bed because we’re just not sure we can face the day. This is how Elijah felt. Sometimes, just like Elijah, we have to tell ourselves to get up and eat—to face the day. Here, Mrs. Sheila emphasized the importance of eating healthy (and she reminded us that chocolate is full of antioxidants. Ha!)
After this happened, Elijah traveled for forty days and forty nights before hiding out in a cave. God saw him in the cave and asked him what he was doing there. In his sorrow, he answered,
“I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Talk about depressing. I feel like I need to go take a Zoloft after just reading about how that one man felt thousands of years ago. Dejected and miserable, he sincerely felt that he was the only faithful man left on the earth. While my feelings never compare to the way Elijah likely felt, there are times when I feel very much alone in my daily effort to live for God. Sometimes I look around me and I see apathy, apostasy, and lukewarm lifestyles in the lives of other Christians. I see non-Christians who seem to be happier and more fulfilled in their lives away from God than I feel while living in Christ. Like Elijah, I feel alone.
But here comes the good part (I really need for there to be a good part after that, don’t you?): God listened, then his answer is absolutely fascinating. He didn’t sympathize, offer an explanation, or give a pep talk. Instead, He immediately gave Elijah his next assignment. But then, almost as a side note or a P.S., God reminded Elijah of something to lift his spirits. He said: Hey, by the way, Elijah, “…I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Although it doesn’t say, I’m sure Elijah took great comfort and relief in knowing there were still at least 7,000 people in the world who were zealously serving God with all their hearts—just as he was. It likely gave him the courage and stamina he was lacking to carry out God’s will for his life.
This is how I feel after PTP. I came to PTP feeling somewhat alone and disheartened. I left feeling uplifted and revitalized. I left with a fire within me after spending time and fellowshipping with over 3,000 Christians who I know I can count on, wherever they are in the world throughout the year, to be fighting the good faith. I can depend on them to walk alongside me in faith, even if I can’t physically be with them.
The message Mrs. Sheila wanted us to take from this story was this: When you feel lonely and discouraged, remember you’re not alone, and listen to God as he says to you, just as he did to Elijah, “Drive on until you get to your final destination.”
I’m thankful for the reminder. Thanks to all who had a part, great or small, in assembling this spiritual feast like none other. God is good!