What Elijah's Story Can Teach Us About Church
Elijah's story comes with a lot of practical wisdom. Yes, the story is about the guy who has fire rain from the sky and hears God speak to him on a mountain. It sounds like a very practical and relatable story that we have personal accounts to match, right? No, but those big moments are surrounded by familiar moments. Being hangry, feeling alone, depressed, or having come out of a religious experience and yet feel distant from God are things I have experienced or heard others tell me, and they all connect back to Elijah.
Here is a refresher for those who don't know the whole story of Elijah. Elijah is a prophet, and his story is found in 1 Kings and 2 Kings. The story we are often familiar with is that the king's wife is not for the worship of Yahweh. Elijah goes up against the prophets of Baal to see which god answers their prayers. Yahweh shows up big for Elijah consuming in fire the wet sacrifice. This does not go well for Elijah; however, the queen quickly tries to kill all the prophets of Yahweh. Elijah runs for his life to the furthest town he can think of and goes beyond that into the wilderness. It is here, after seeing all that God could provide, Elijah is hungry and tired and cries out, "I have had enough Lord, take my life..." Indeed Elijah has been through a lot, but I also feel there is a bit of drama in him. He has not eaten, and he is tired. I can relate to his hangriness. The emotions of the story remind me of the snickers commercials from years back. They always showed someone complaining and angry. Then someone gives them. Snickers, and they feel better. I am not sure if the word hangry originated with that commercial, but I know it became common. Elijah was definitely hangry. The story of Elijah tells us that God cares for Elijah and gives him food. Elijah's travels are not over. It is a powerful moment when we realize that God truly cares for us and meets us where we are. The Lord knew it was not a lack of trust in him that Elijah displayed, but he was hangry.
Angels come and feed Elijah. After he eats, he has the strength to continue to Mount Horeb. On the mountain, Elijah experiences the presence of God. There God tells Elijah to go out and find Elisha, who will be with him. Recap time: God cares for Elijah by feeding him and giving him the strength to be with him on the mountain. Elijah then is present with God on the mountain, where he tells him he is not alone. Elijah then goes and finds Elisha and has a fellow friend. Thus, Elijah begins with a profound experience and encounter with God, but quickly finds himself in hardship. The hardship tests his resolve but also sets him down a path believing he is alone.
Elijah's story continues with a few more adventures, but his last is memorable. We remember Elijah's last adventure as the one where he is taken up to the heavens in fiery chariots. However, notice the entire time he is traveling he is encountering prophets along the way. Elijah thought all the prophets were dead, and he was the sole survivor. However, he was truly never alone. It may have taken him a while, but he was brought back into the community he belonged to, and thought was gone.
We must always remember the church is a community. Our faith, our religion is not individualist or solitary but communal. You may have been saved, but saved to be part of a people. Jesus did not come to save you but to save us. Elijah's story reminds us that God is seeking to care for us, be present with us, and call us back into the community even in our darkest, most isolating moments. It is powerful to know that this is how God operates. That means those who are hurting from church hurt are not alone. God has not abandoned them. God is seeking to care for them and will bring them into the community when they are ready. It may not happen overnight. For those who have moved or are feeling isolated, particularly in college. Know that God is seeking to care for you. Know that God is present with you. Know that God is still calling you to the community. I know these are words that I need to hear in my life, and I pray these words are affirmations that uplift, empower you, and allow you to be embraced into fellowship.
Elijah's story also teaches us about what is the church. The church is the place where we gather together to be in God's presence. We are meant to be in community. "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:23-25) Being in community (aka going to church) is the place where we go for encouragement, to be built up by one another, to partner with God to serve one another. We desperately need that encouragement and community. Elijah thought he would be better off dead without it. We go to church to be reminded that God cares for us, God is present with us, and we are not alone. We need to be reminded of these truths because we are often so weighed down by life's struggles that sometimes it is hard to see or hear God.
I pray that wherever you are in your journey, you hold to the truths found in Elijah's story: God cares for you, God is present with you, and you are not alone. Baptist Campus Ministry will always be a place that holds those truths for you, even in times where you may not be able to hold them yourselves.
As we enter into a new school year, we invite you to join in our fellowship at NIU. You can find out when and where we are meeting on our website baptistcampusministryniu.com.