Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. James 5:7-8
One story I go to again and again is Elijah’s. And every time I read about this man’s wilderness trek to Horeb, I’m overwhelmed by a tender and merciful God. About a month ago, Elijah was brought to mind once more through a Beth Moore study (James: Mercy Triumphs). Beth touched on what happened before the desert journey… when God worked through Elijah, a man with a nature just like ours, in a miraculous way. When he prayed for no rain, it didn’t do so for three years and six months. But then, when he prayed for the rain to come, the skies broke open and watered the land. Beth highlighted his faith.
Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a rainstorm.” But when Elijah said this, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Yet, he promised a downpour. He went up a mountain and bowed to the ground sending his servant off to check the horizon. Nothing. Seven times he sent his servant, finally to hear the report, “There’s a cloud as small as a man’s hand coming from the sea.” And so from this teeny, tiny cloud, Elijah gave warning, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Get your chariot ready and go down so the rain doesn’t stop you.'” What faith he displayed in forecasting a rainstorm when seeing only a tuft of cloud. Sure enough, after a while, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and there was a downpour. 1 Kings 18:46 says, “The power of the LORD was on Elijah…”
So, what happened? How could one who encountered God in such a way shrink back in fear? Because the next chapter shows Elijah wandering through Beer-sheba (desert). One verse describes Elijah running for his life, and yet another records Elijah’s request for God to take his life. “I have had enough! LORD, take my life.” That’s when he lay down to sleep. Elijah literally had a mountaintop experience with God, but slid down to the backside of the desert. And this is what moves me every time. An angel touched him and encouraged him. “Get up and eat.” A loaf of bread and a jug of water was provided for sustenance. Afterward, he lay back down. Again, the angel touched him saying, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” And so, after eating and drinking the second time, he was strengthened to walk for 40 days and 40 nights through the desert. To Horeb. The mountain of God. That’s where Elijah camped out in a cave. And it was there, he encountered God.
Now, tone is everything. I don’t know how God sounded when He called out to Elijah but in my ear, I hear tenderness. I hear compassion and mercy. I hear care as He whispers, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And when Elijah vented, raging about his circumstances and the struggle, God let him. And when he railed about how alone he felt, God listened. But then, He simply said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the LORD’s presence.”
At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:11-13
Twice God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” It touches me for God wasn’t harsh. Rather, He gently reminded His servant of unfinished business through a softly spoken question. When Elijah heard Him, he roused and stood at the mouth of the cave. But he didn’t yet step out. It was as if he had one foot in, one foot out. And before stepping out, he voiced his complaint one more time. But God simply gave instructions. He said, “Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascas.” Apparently, Elijah had spent enough time on the mountain. He had work to do, for he had rested, refueled, and was strengthened. After he encountered the living God, it was time to journey onward.
I think about Elijah a lot. Because I’m in awe that he could slip away… that he could stumble… that he could falter… that he could fear. But as the book of James says, he was a man with a nature like ours. He was only human. And when it comes down to it, I think Elijah was just empty. I don’t think he had in him what he needed to carry on. He had depleted his storehouse of energy and faith. And so, he had a layover in his journey. A time to rest and replenish. This is how I feel sometimes.
At times, I just need to quit what I’m doing. I make frequent stops for the bread of life and living waters, which are necessary for sustaining life in a barren land. However, after filling my horn with oil, I’m supposed to get up and go. I cannot tarry at the mouth of the cave. And today, I think this is where I am. I tremble at the mouth of the cave for I fear leaving the place where I last encountered God. But that’s where the walk of faith comes in. As Beth Moore said, it’s the law of the harvest. It’s easy to rely on God when He’s right there in your midst and you marvel as He rains down on your life. It’s those other times, the dry times between the rains, where faith gets exercised. And like Elijah needed faith to step out of that cave, I need it, too.
This is Molly, my little cave dweller. I’ve written about her before as I contrasted the difference between her and my other kitty, Otis, who is a fearless traveler. But here lately, I’ve noticed a change in Molly. For where she once peered out of the mouth of her cave, our doorway, she now wants to go beyond the entrance. At first, she was timid and had to be near me. Not only that, I had to leave the door open. If it was closed, she ran back and stood there till I opened it. She’d scurry past me as she ran out of sight. But inevitably, she’d come back to the door so she could peer out again. And we’d do the routine all over again. Eventually, I began to leave the door open so she’d have a sense of security. But you know what, it was just this past week or so that she seemed to no longer need that security. I’ve closed the door and she doesn’t fret. Not only that, she ventures out of my line of sight. She doesn’t need to see me anymore to feel safe. Confidence dispels her fear. And in this, I rejoice. Yes, Molly may be well along in years (she’s fifteen), but her life’s not over yet. And as old as she is, she is just now learning to step out in faith.
Truth is, the mouth of Molly’s cave looks just like mine. And God already called out to the cave dweller that I am… once, twice, three times, or more. I heard His tender whisper over two years ago when He said, “What are you doing here, Pam?” But I tarried. See, the mouth of the cave is comfortable, one foot in and one foot out. It’s so easy to step back into my nest of security if I need to. But I hear Him anew, “What are you doing here…” And His question prompts me to rise for I know He bids me, “Get up! Go!” He’s given me instructions more than once. But a twinge of fear lingers. For if I venture out a few short steps, the door to my cave may close. And then, there’ll be no turning back. I’ll have to walk one step after another until I reach my next Mount Horeb. But this is what He wants from me… my steps of faith. The carry me from one mountaintop to another. And if experience has taught me anything, I know that the path may become dry and thirsty along the way. But as long as I continue to seek His face, He’ll show up. He’s near to those who call on Him. And you know, He hasn’t let me down yet. I am confident that when I can’t quite see Him and I’m at my driest, God will rain down on me once more.
Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12