L'Abri Newsletter, August 2013
July 31, 2013
Dear L’Abri praying family,
Energy drinks are selling exceptionally well these days. Although a good rest would in fact be the best cure for tiredness, many people who cannot afford it turn instead to medicine in order to keep on working. According to a psychiatrist that I’ve met, “I am tired” and “I want to rest” are the most common words that people say nowadays.
Many of those who visit L’Abri also tell us that they came here to rest. It is quite different from twenty years ago, when people used to tell us that they came to study. Many dread our lecture schedules and work duty; many try to avoid meeting other people. Would it be too much to say that they look like the exhausted Elijah, the Biblical prophet?
As you are well aware of, Elijah was the spiritual giant of his time. Yet even he became exhausted at one point and found himself on the verge of killing himself. Some might say that there is a considerable difference between the nature of Elijah’s exhaustion and that of modern people’s perpetual tiredness. However, the same fundamental causes of exhaustion seem to apply to both cases.
First, life is a spiritual war. The battles that Elijah put up with might seem to be strenuous spiritual ordeals that do not seem comparable to our everyday life, but there is no aspect of the lives of modern people, whether at work, home, or church, that is not part of a spiritual war.
Second, the greatest stress comes from interpersonal relationships. Political oppression was not the only thing that consumed Elijah’s energy. Just as he was exhausted by his confrontations with Ahab and Jezebel, modern people are stressed more by uncomfortable relationships than by work itself.
Lastly, exhaustion does not stem from a weakness of faith. Some people may attribute the cause of Elijah’s exhaustion to a weakened faith or loss of relationship with the Holy Spirit. Such a cause, however, is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Even when the person is as full of the Holy Spirit as he can be, it is possible for him to lose motivation if he is simply too tired.
How, then, did Elijah recover from exhaustion? Let’s take a closer look at Elijah’s holiday in 1 Kings 19:3-21. First of all, Elijah had a time off from his usual work. He escaped from Mount Carmel to Beersheba and then again to Mount Horeb where, after at least 300 kilometers of traveling, he finally settled under a quiet tree. To get the most out of a holiday – a Sabbath – it is important to retreat from one’s “own work” (Hebrew 4:10). Jesus once told his disciples to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31), to escape the crowd who wanted to meet Jesus. As Jesus ran away from the crowd, so Elijah ran away from Jezebel. Running away might sound cowardly, but it can sometimes be the best answer when you are tired and powerless. Joseph escaped from Popithar’s wife. David escaped from Saul.
Also, Elijah regained his strength by eating well and sleeping well. God let him eat and rest, not even urging him to pray or read the Scripture. A loaf of bread and a jar of water were the best remedy and source of hope for a prophet exhausted to near death. Jesus also put much emphasis on eating and drinking: He gave out bread and fish to thousands of people, cooked fish on the shores of Galilee, and broke bread with His disciples at Emmaus. Eating and drinking central to koinonia (κοινωνία), a spiritual communion. In 1 Kings 19:5-7, Elijah is said to have experienced nahga (נָגַע), the warm touch of God delivered through an angel.
Finally, after he had eaten and slept, Elijah had time to listen to God’s subtle, minute voice. However far away from work and well-fed he might have been, he would have missed the real point of a holiday had he not listened to God. While resting, Elijah realized his mission. God called him twice, “Why are you here?” (1 Kings 19:9, 13) The vision was the beginning of the second stage of Elijah’s life – a greater, more far-reaching vision than fighting Ahab or Jezebel.
After his holiday, Elijah anointed Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16-21); through Elisha anointed Hazael as king of Aram (2 Kings 8:13-15); and anointed Jehu son of Jehoshaphat as king of Israel (2 Kings 9-10). These three missions had longer-lasting consequences than anything Elijah had done before. “A sound of gentle whisper” (1 Kings 12), which gave Elijah the motivation to continue, can also be translated as “a sound of sheer silence” (NRSV) or “a still, small voice” (KJV, NKJV). It is a barely audible sound, easily lost amid the noises of everyday life. God gave Elijah a new mission not through a thunderous revelation but quietly and privately, as if whispering to a friend. These whispers can reach you while you are praying, reading, or talking with your family and friends. Listening to them is the essence of a real holiday.
Please pray that, this summer, the hard-worked and heavy-burdened can have the true rest that Jesus promised us. The summer term begins on July 15 and lasts till August 18, and hundreds of people are expected to visit L’Abri. Please pray for our finances and our health. Every minute we struggle and clench our teeth to depend solely on the Lord’s Cross, even as the relentless heat of the summer challenges us moment by moment.
Awaiting August 18,
Translated by Haejin Sung