So this morning I hit the middle of 1 Kings in my morning devotionals.
And what does the middle of 1 Kings bring? In the middle of the chaotic timeline of a nation in continual rebellion against God, in chapter 17 we are simply introduced to the prophet Elijah.
Oh man, I love Elijah.
Because oh boy, I so completely resonate with Elijah in so many ways.
I mean, this is the guy who in a mere two chapters, sees God stop the rain, and raise the dead, and create food from almost nothing, and fall in visible FIRE from heaven. This is the guy who prays with a faith that shatters the idolatry of a nation, and brings restoration to the people, and we are invited into a narrative dedicated to an earth-shaking-changing-God movement. Through Elijah.
And then we hit chapter 19.
Which opens with these infamous words:
Elijah was afraid.
Get your head around that for a minute.
I mean, he has every-possible reason to, I don’t know? NOT be afraid. But even after all he has seen God do, he is literally petrified. He is depressed. Quoted from the story, he came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.
You cannot make this stuff up.
Which I’m really glad about, because there are sometimes where what I really and totally need to read is that there’s someone else who freaks-the-hell-out just like I do.
Elijah lies under this tree and with his final-hopeless prayer and falls into this super-hopeless-sleep.
Where, at once, God meets him. First, with food. Then, with drink. With these practical things.
(Which, by the way, are the things that any bad-mood-I-can-ever-fall-into are normally treated by. I once worked for a guy who used to send me home for a nap, a burger and a cup of tea if I ever got into a real grump! I am NOT kidding!)
And then, and this is where I am really struck today, Elijah makes his way to the mountain of God.
Literally we read, ‘Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God’.
Which in all honesty leaves me with one question.
One I often dwell upon.
Why is the mountain of God always in the wilderness?
Because it is, right?
In every story.
The people are always going into the wilderness.
These mighty men of God are always being led into the wilderness.
Even Jesus was… Led into the wilderness.
It’s like God has this *thing* about it.
I mean, it’s super inconvenient. There’s not a highway, or a bus route, or any convenience stores along the way. It’s a trek into nowhere. It takes a heck of a lot of time to get to.
On Monday, me and some of my favourite people went on a road trip. Into the stunning-Hokkaido-countryside. We got up early, and piled into a car, and drove and drove and drove. To places that you can’t get to by public transport. To places that are a bit off the beaten track. To places that you find when you have unhurried time to search for them.
But still, it wasn’t quite the wilderness of the Old Testament.
And I sometimes wish the wilderness was… I don’t know? A bit more accessible? Convenient? Comfortable?
I am brought back to the Song of Songs.
Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?
I read that single verse and I am left going… ‘Oh. THAT’s why the mountain of God is there…’ It wasn’t ever meant to be somewhere we could just stroll into or out of with all our pride and strength intact.
Because of the journey.
Because of love.
Because leaning on our beloved, who is our Savour, who is Jesus, is the position of love.
That’s why the rest of chapter 8 is a proclamation of this love.
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised.
Nothing comes close.
Not to Him.
So this wilderness that we are coming up from in the position of love, speaks of weakness.
But in the wilderness, the seal of God (that seal of love that burns and marks us in verse 6) grows most effectively on our hearts.
Because Jesus invites us to lean.
To learn how to love.
To learn what love is.
The reward of verse 6 is found in the wilderness of verse 5.
The anointing to love is found in the desert place.
We come up from the wilderness in victory.
We arise in love.
Walking in love.
Learning that the power to love is the reward itself.
Because nothing else matters.
Except leaning in love.
And learning how to lean.
The love of God is the strength of our lives.
It’s our motivation.
We’re in the wilderness leaning because we’re lovers.
And a lot of people say, ‘Once God delivers me, then I’ll be totally on fire for Him!’, ‘Once this place is over…’
I know I’ve said that time and time again.
But what I’m learning over and over again, is that the wilderness is where God captivates my heart and ruins me for anything less than Him.
So the mountain of God is in the wilderness, because the wilderness is where we learn to lean.
Because leaning is meekness.
It’s where we learn love by learning meekness.
It’s strength under restraint.
It’s when I deny myself out of love for Him.
Jesus described Himself as meek. Perfect power under perfect restraint.
The very Word of God, who outworked Genesis 1 with the awesome power of the Godhead, walked among us in human flesh and blood, calling Himself ‘meek’.
Or take Moses.
40 years of his life gaining strength and becoming a somebody. And then 40 years in the wilderness losing everything, and becoming a nobody.
And then he comes up from the wilderness, leaning. And we see his final 40 years of a nobody being used by the Somebody.
Victory at the heart level.
Because leaning is at the heart level.
Because loving is at the heart level.
And I want to lean. And love. And come up from the wilderness. Like Elijah. Like Moses. Like Jesus.
We always talk about being strong in God.
But today I’ve been thinking that we should sometimes talk more about being weak in God.
Because Jesus took our human weakness.
And He woos me in the wilderness.
And the voluntary acts of weakness that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle: fasting, extravagant giving, denying myself, leaving everything… In those choices, I learn to lean.
I learn to be meek.
I learn contentment in being nobody as long as I’m used by the Somebody.
‘Because love loves to love. And the reward of love is Love’.
Oh, and here are some photos of the last few days. Including our road trip into the almost-wilderness… 🙂