Forming Faith Blog

Elijah’s Exhaustion (1 Kings 19:1-18)

While on the run from danger, the prophet Elijah cries out to God in his exhaustion. God hears and answers in the silence after the chaos. In our exhaustion, listening for God in the silence offers us hope, even if life is still chaotic.

A tree in a grassy field, like the one Elijah slept under in his exhaustion.
A Prophetic Exhaustion

As this scripture begins, the prophet Elijah receives a death threat from Queen Jezebel. To understand this, we must back up a few chapters to when Elijah first appears in the Bible. In 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah proclaims that God is going to cause a drought and famine over the land of Israel because of the evil acts of King Ahab, husband to Jezebel. God then directs Elijah throughout the land, providing him with food and drink from birds, small streams, and a poor widow, all while performing miraculous acts (17:2-24).

As Chapter 18 opens, God calls Elijah to speak to King Ahab. Elijah then shows people the power of God as he calls down fire from heaven to consume an offering. The chapter closes with Elijah’s order to kill the prophets of Baal and then God sends rain to Israel. Queen Jezebel is a worshiper of Baal and the slaughter of these prophets angers her and leads to her death threats. Elijah escapes into the wilderness and travels for a day before collapsing under a tree.

God Hears Our Cries of Exhaustion

While he is a prophet, Elijah is still human. A life with little food paired with prophetic actions has worn on him, and now his life is threatened. This could easily be the end of Elijah. As he sits under the tree, he prays that God might take his life, and then he passes out. God sends an angel who provides food and water for him and sends him on a long journey to Horeb, the mount of God.

While on the mountain, God comes to Elijah. The presence of God is not in the chaotic wind, earthquakes, and fire that occur while Elijah was on the mountain, but in the silence. From within the silence, God asks Elijah why he is there. Elijah shares his story along with his exhaustion and fear.

A Call in Our Exhaustion

God responds with a reminder that while the work is not done, it has not been in vain. God will protect Elijah, provide him with a helper, and save those who are faithful.

This is the Call of Elijah, a call in the middle of chaos, exhaustion, and fear. Our world is often like Elijah’s: chaotic, full of pain, and full of fear. Whether the turmoil is from pandemics and natural disasters or simply the chaos of life that piles up around us, this Scripture text offers us an assurance to God hears us no matter our current place in life.

Listening to God (and Each Other) in Our Exhaustion

As we practice faith formation in our communities, here are some spaces to listen for this call and assurance. God continues to call us, wherever and whenever, and that may very well be in the midst of an exhausting time.

Practicing a Time of Silence

Regularly, our times of worship and formation are as busy and exhausting as our lives. Instead of filling the entire time with words, music, and activity, offer a brief time of silence as part of the event. This might be at the beginning of your time together, prior to a prayer or after the readings of this scripture. As you prepare people for this, provide them with simple thoughts or prayers to say to calm their hearts and minds and listen to God. This might be a chorus such as “Jesus, Remember Me,” or a prayer such as breath in “Holy God, be with me in the silence.” It is important—especially if children are present—to remind people that this is not a perfect silence but simply a quieting of our hearts and minds. You might also provide a space for reflecting on the silence through discussion, journaling, or art.

Musical Reflection

Listen to the song “Graves into Gardens” by Elevation Worship, and explore the imagery and emotions of a God who is able to turn graves into gardens, bring hope in the pain, and call us in our exhaustion.[1] This might be a time for reflecting on various biblical references in the song or sharing about times when these sorts of experiences are connected in our lives. When working with children and youth (or in an intergenerational setting), encourage the children to share their times of trouble as well. We should never downplay the experiences of young people (or anyone), even if their troubles might seem “less than” or not as important as other troubles.

Receive Help, Be Help

When life exhausts us, we know that God often sends help. However, sometimes, we are the helpers. Provide index cards and materials to write or draw with. On one side, have people write or draw how God has sent them help. On the other, have them write or draw how they have been the helpers God sends. Have them share with a partner. This works for children, youth, and adults because anyone can receive help from God and serve God through helping. You can even collect them and display them in ways people can flip them over, so others receive both sides of testimony by exploring these written and visual stories.

From Exhaustion to Hopeful

In his time of fear and anxiety, Elijah wants to die, but God reminds Elijah that his work is important, assures Elijah that he is cared for, and sends him on with the promise to continue to care for him for the rest of his ministry. God’s reassurance does not mean the struggle is over, but it does let us know that God hears us, is with us, and helps us. As we go about our daily lives, let us remember we are both recipients of God’s help and vessels of that help for others.

Cheers friends,

Jonathan LeMaster-Smith

Jonathan LeMaster-Smith lives with his wife, Shannon, in Hildebran, North Carolina (District 12 of The Hunger Games movies). He holds a Ph.D. in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary with a focus on Rural Ministry and Methodist Studies. His work includes presentations on Dolly Parton, articles on ditch lilies, and musings about the genius of mayonnaise.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “The Silent Game” from our home-based family curriculum Living the Word: God’s Story @ Home (NL) designed to be used in intergenerational faith formation!

[1] Make sure your church has the appropriate licenses and resources for sharing this music in worship, classes, or online, depending on your use of these resources.

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