I don’t know about you, but conflict and confrontation wear me out.
I can’t imagine how it is to be William Barber. I watch his Moral Mondays Movement and his Poor People’s Campaign. I admire his stinging critique of the policies that privilege the privileged and compromise the most vulnerable among us.
I wonder how Rev. Barber finds the courage to keep on keeping on.
I can’t imagine how it was to be Martin Luther King Jr.
How did he find the stamina to continue his work when the vast power of the status quo resisted everything he did, opposed everything he stood for, despised everything he was?
I can’t imagine how it was to be the ancient prophet, Elijah.
Day in and day out, Elijah brazenly confronted powerful and dangerous people because of their abuse and misuse of authority. Elijah went up against some of the worst offenders of human rights and common decency in ancient Israel.
Elijah knew well the personality disorders of unfaithful unscrupulous leaders.
As do we.
Even in our day there are politicians who will manipulate people and turn us against each other in an effort to control their opponents and enthrone themselves as false saviors.
Even in our day there are abusers and misusers. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing who are quite adept at using the cloak of religion to lead people into the worship of false gods of self-sufficiency, self-satisfaction, self-preservation.
Any prophet who speaks truth to power, who stands with the needy Zarephath widows, who speaks out for the swindled Naboths, who advocates for the powerless and the voiceless – these prophets are engaged in risky (and exhausting) business.
Such public prophetic work can stretch us almost beyond our limits.
So it doesn’t surprise us that here in 1 Kings we find a story about a disillusioned, discouraged and drained Elijah running for his life. He is ready to be done with this wearisome prophet business.
As a minister I’ve experienced my share of conflict as well.
- People come to pastors with their stories of conflict in their jobs or in their families.
- Pastors walk with people through dark valleys of brokenness, addiction, chronic pain or untimely death.
- And no matter what we ministers do, within our churches or in our communities, we surely will be criticized and chastised by someone or another.
It’s easy for any of us who do such work to wonder: what the heck am I doing here?!
In my own work as a minister, I know I haven’t done near enough standing up to the “principalities and powers” of this age:
- the powers of darkness that keep people blind;
- the cycles of poverty that keep people enslaved;
- the damage of abuse that assaults the most vulnerable among us.
Even though I haven’t done as much as many others, still Elijah’s weariness resonates with me when I find myself wanting to escape to a cave on a mountaintop and whine like Elijah.
As I’ve pondered how to persevere when discouragement and apathy sneak into my soul, I’ve thought of two things I can do.
Two ways to counteract despair
One thing I know about myself is that I need to believe I’m doing something that matters; that my work is important and that I can make a difference for someone somewhere.
Maybe this is true of you as well.
I know this is true of church.
If we are the church of Jesus Christ, then we must be about doing what’s important: what is big and life-giving and lasting.
If we are the people of the Christ, then that means we have died with Christ; we are new creatures created in the image of Christ; we are living our lives for God; we are living our lives for others.
It is so easy to get all wrapped up in ourselves. It’s so tempting to make our own desires and opinions and preferences into idols and to place ourselves at the center of our universe.
- How much better if we would spend ourselves on behalf of another?
- If we invest ourselves in God’s purposes in the world?
- If we stand with the widows and advocate for the children and challenge the abuse of the oppressed and dispossessed?
Then at least – when we’re exhausted – we know it’s for a good cause. At least then – when we’re weary – we know we’ve made a difference somewhere; we know we’ve left behind a legacy of courageous caring and bold living.
So one thing we can do to fight against discouragement is to be active.
Another thing we can do to work against discouragement is to be still.
When Elijah met God on the mountain, God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire; God was in the silence.
I find this to be true very often. Many times it is in the stillness and the waiting that we discover the small voice, the whisper, the clarification, the affirmation of the Holy.
If we are filled up with the whirlwind call of the world, then we can’t hear the voice of the Divine.
If we listen to the rumblings of the voices that accuse, scold and criticize, then we can’t hear the voice of the Divine.
If we let the fires of fear and anxiety burn us and turn us, then we can’t hear the voice of the Divine.
I think many times when we hear the voice of the Holy, it will call us BOTH to “be still – and know that I Am God” (Psalm 46) AND it will challenge us: “What are you doing here?”
It’s all in the balance.
- Be still.
- Get up.
- Get out of yourself.
- Be on your way.
- DO something.
Shine light in the darkness, bring hope to despair, stand firm against injustice. Be on your way loving one another just as Christ has loved us.
- Be still and know my love, says the Lord.
- Be active and show my love, says the Lord.
That’s what we are doing here.
Living in The Story readings for Week 33