“Jesus is the Answer for Our Discouragement”
Pentecost 11 (Proper 14), August 9, 2015
The Answer for Our Discouragement
Text: 1 Kings 19:1–8
When I was a kid, I liked to play sports. Football, basketball, softball, tennis, golf, lots of different ones. And my folks and coaches always said, “Practice makes perfect.” In other words, if you work hard at it, you’ll get better. And I practiced. The sad truth is that did not work out for me. I played a lot of basketball, but I didn’t really get any better. I played a lot of golf. Disc golf too. Don’t really get any better. I practiced driving before my driver’s test in 1978. I practiced a lot. Still hit that electric light pole trying to do the Y-turn. When you put a lot of effort into getting better at something and you don’t get better and you don’t see results, well that can be discouraging.
That happened to Elijah in our text. In the chapter before our text, at Elijah’s request, God sent fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice of a bull, the kindling wood, the stones of the altar, and the water he had poured over it. The people of Israel realized the folly of following Baal, and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God,” (1 Ki 18:39). At Elijah’s command, the people slaughtered 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah then told King Ahab to mount his chariot and leave because it was to rain and end a three-year drought. And it happened just as the prophet said. Finally, all his work had been rewarded.
Except nothing changed. Queen Jezebel was not repentant but angry, threatening to kill the prophet. The people went right back to worshipping Baal instead of the Triune God. The people had forsaken God’s covenant, broken down His altars, and killed His prophets. Elijah thought he was alone. So he left Israel, crawled under a tree, and asked God to take his life.
God always answers our prayers, but sometimes He gives us something way better than what we asked for. Certainly in this case. For him and for us, The Lord Has the Answer for Our Discouragement.
This is one of those Bible texts that we can all relate too, just like last week. Last week we talked about how it is in all of us to grumble. Today we are reminded of how all of us have it in us to be discouraged when things do not go our way. When we work hard but then do not see results, we sometimes become discouraged (vv 1–4). For instance, maybe you have had a problem in school. When I was in college, I got a tutor to help me with calculus. And so you decide to buckle down, work hard, put the nose to the grindstone, a shoulder to the wheel. The problem then is how do we feel if it happens that way, that after all that effort, all we have is a broken nose, a sore shoulder, and a grade that has not changed?
Maybe there is something like this happening to you at work? Your sales are down, your performance reviews aren’t as good as they used to be. You decide to kick it up another notch, take it into another gear. You work longer hours, you do what the bosses say they want and then some. How do you feel after you have put in all that extra effort, and your performance, your sales, your reviews don’t change? That can be discouraging.
This can happen in church, as well. We love the Lord and, like Elijah, we want God’s kingdom—and our congregation—to grow. So we pray. We attend every worship service. We volunteer to teach Sunday School and to usher. We give generously of our income. We can do all those things, and yet the congregation doesn’t seem to grow, and it’s not unusual for the finances to remain tight.
There are two ways we can go in this situation. We can give up, and we have all seen people do that. Or we can double down on our efforts. If that is the case, we read the advice of others. We try new programs. We urge our church’s members to do more. We even try to be better at the roles God has given us to do in church. Even after all of that, it might look as if nothing was accomplished.
What we often forget is that we cannot make our congregation grow by our own efforts. Our energy is not endless, human talent is limited, and both we and the people inside and outside our church are sinners. While our work and our time and our talents may bring success from time to time, while God wants us to use our gifts and use our talents and be the church in here and out there, that does not guarantee that more effort will mean our attendance will go up or that the general fund will go up either. Sometimes a church grows not in numbers, but in the faith and confidence in God of each member. Sometimes the growth is not seen by us, just by God.
God does not call us to be successful, but to be faithful. I am going to repeat that. God does not call us to be successful, but to be faithful.
After all, it is Jesus who saves. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts. He calls us to hear God’s Word, to use in faith the gifts He gives us, to love Him and our neighbors, to witness to His love in Jesus, to receive the Sacraments He gives us. When we expect things to happen because of our own efforts, thinking God is not in the picture, we do not have things in the right order, and we may very well burn out, sooner or later.
So wherever we are: school, church, work, we may get discouraged. At times like these—when we are discouraged, Jesus Christ Himself will raise us up.
Look at what happened with Elijah. The Lord gave Elijah His better answer (vv 5b–8). As God had fed His people Israel in the desert with manna, as God the Son would feed five thousand in the wilderness, so now God feeds His prophet. While Elijah was under the tree, waiting to die, God did not grant his prayer. Instead, the angel of the Lord came to him and brought bread and water. God gave His prophet the strength to go on. Then in the verses after our text, Elijah, who has walked for 40 days and nights after eating God’s cooking (now those are some energy bars), arrives at Mount Sinai where God tells the prophet he is far from alone and his work is not in vain (19:15–18). Elijah thought he was the only one left who believed. Elijah thought his work was pointless. You ever feel that way? Can you relate when you look at everything that is happening out there? Well, God told Elijah there were 7000 in Israel who had not worshiped Baal, and God is telling you today that we are not alone, either.
Just as God made this offer to Elijah, Jesus invites us, too, to cast our cares upon Him. After all, He took our sins upon Himself. He carried all of them to the cross, where He died the death we deserved and paid all the debts we owed for them. And then of course, He did not stay dead! He rose again! He won for us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
And that’s not all! As the Son of God fed Elijah, He now feeds us, not with just bread and water, but with His own body and blood in the bread and wine of His Supper. Here, the forgiveness and all the blessings of Jesus’ cross are given to us personally. With the sin that separated us from God removed, we have the assurance He is always with us. In this way, the Sacrament gives us strength to go where we need to go for the Lord, to do what we need to do, to walk where we need to walk.
We begin to wrap this up with a story from Ken Klass. It was World War I and a British lieutenant was leading his soldiers back to the front. His men had seen considerable action in the trenches and all of them had lost friends and close comrades. They had been given a two-week furlough, but the time of rest and relaxation was over, and their orders said they must return to the conflict. The soldiers’ shoulders slumped because they knew ahead of them lay mud, blood and possible death.
Nobody talked. Nobody sang. They were bummed out, discouraged. As they marched, they passed the remnants of a church. The lieutenant took a look and although the walls of the church had been blasted by cannon and small-arms fire, the altar of the church was still intact. And above the altar, miraculously having escaped damage was a statue of the risen Christ. The lieutenant, a Christian, remembered His Redeemer who had suffered, died and victoriously conquered death with His third-day resurrection. He recalled how the knowledge and faith in the living Lord had given him forgiveness and eternal life. He knew, no matter what else happened to him, because of Jesus, he would also be victorious.
Although the lieutenant was not prepared to preach a sermon to his marching men, he did what he could. With faith in his heart, he barked out the order: “Eyes right!” Every head turned to the right. As the soldiers marched by, they also saw the cross and the figure of their risen Redeemer. The soldiers took courage and with straightened shoulders they continued their march, only now with strength in their steps and smiles on their faces.
This morning, if you are struggling, then I encourage you, like the officer a hundred years ago, to lift up your heads and your eyes and see your Savior. He has successfully completed His divine mission of grace, which was designed to forgive our sins and save our souls. The answer for our discouragement is always Jesus Christ.