Elijah, Christmas, and Feeling Alone

It is officially the most wonderful time of the year! Thanksgiving is over. The turkey has been eaten and we are all now stuck with enough leftovers to last until 2025 (maybe that’s just at my house :D). Now that we have enjoyed our annual feast of giving thanks, we inevitably look toward Christmas. Christmas is a beautiful and joyful time of the year. This is especially true for those of us who know Christ. It is a celebration of the arrival of the Savior of all mankind. It is the fulfillment of centuries old prophecies. It is the moment that the God of the universe chose to enter the world as a human being in order to bring about our redemption and the restoration of our relationship with him. It is the beginning of a story that ends with a torn temple curtain and resurrected Savior. Christmas is one of the most joyful times of the year, but not for everyone.

Over the last several years (and especially the last several months), there has been a growing epidemic of loneliness in America. When we think about loneliness, we often think about people who are by themselves in their homes with no family or friends. And this is certainly one type of loneliness. However, there is a growing number of people who are surrounded by others and experience a deep sense of loneliness. Feeling lonely has less to do with being around other people and more to do with social isolation. Loneliness stems from the sense and/or the reality that we don’t have strong, meaningful relationships with others in our lives. This lack of connection leads us to feel utterly alone, even when we are in a sanctuary full of other people. This has been heightened for many of us over the past several months as we have all stayed home, seen events cancelled, seen businesses and schools shut down, etc. We have been seeking to keep one another safe, but in the midst of that many people have lost the only social connections that they have. Loneliness is a terribly difficult challenge to face and for many it can feel insurmountable, especially right now. The prophet Elijah knew this feeling well.

In 1 Kings 18, there is an incredible story. Elijah has been hiding from King Ahab. Ahab was an evil ruler. God was punishing him with a drought that Elijah had told Ahab about. Ahab wanted to kill Elijah, so God had Elijah hide in the desert. Then, God tells Elijah to go back and see Ahab. Elijah obeys and challenges the 450 prophets of Baal to a sacrifice-off to see who was real, Baal or God. Each side would prepare a sacrifice and then call on their deity to send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice. The prophets of Baal prepare their sacrifice and spend the entire day calling on Baal to consume it. Meanwhile, Elijah is openly mocking them because nothing is happening. No fire, no nothing. At the end of the day, Elijah prepares his sacrifice and then douses it with a HUGE amount of water. He stands back, calls upon God, and immediately fire shoots out from heaven and consumes the entire sacrifice as well as all the water that has collected around it. The people of Israel immediately fall down and worship. Then, they round up the prophets of Baal and Elijah slaughters all of them. He then tells Ahab the drought will be ending. Ahab heads home and tells his wife what happened, and she tells Elijah that she is going to murder him. Elijah runs for his life and ends up laying under a tree asking God to end his life. An angel appears, feeds Elijah twice, tells him to rest, then instructs him to head to the mountain of God. Elijah does this and God meets him there. He tells God that he has been trying to serve God but that he is alone. Israel has abandoned God and Elijah is the only one left who still worships. God then tells him that not only is he not alone, God has preserved a remnant of 7,000 Israelites who have not bowed to Baal. 7,000!!!! God then gives Elijah his next set of instructions, which includes anointing Elisha as the next prophet. Elisha will be Elijah’s daily companion for the remainder of his life. He will never again be isolated and alone.

Elijah was a faithful prophet. He spoke God’s truth to powerful people, knowing that doing so would likely end in his own death unless God intervened. He carried out God’s purposes here on earth and in this story, he saw God consume a sacrifice with fire from heaven. That is wild! The next thing we know, he’s under a tree asking God to end his life because he feels so alone. That is a stark contrast. And it is one with which many of us are likely familiar. We all have wonderful things happen in our lives. We get new jobs, have kids, get married, and/or move into a new home. But many of us can feel excruciatingly alone while doing those things. Elijah’s story shows us a few things that are helpful to remember when we find ourselves in a place of loneliness.

First, God is with us always. Elijah runs into the desert, lays down, and asks God to end his life then he falls asleep. God sends an angel to feed him before he falls asleep again. The God sends an angel to feed him a second time before telling him to go to the mountain of God. When Elijah arrives there, God meets him. God was present at the sacrifice, God was present in the desert, and God communed with Elijah on the mountain. All throughout the story, God was present and with Elijah, sustaining and empowering him. For those of us who have placed our trust in Christ, this is also true! The Spirit resides within us. He guides us and leads us toward God’s will for our lives. He is the presence of God in our everyday life and we have him with us ALWAYS. We also have direct access to the throne of heaven through prayer. We can talk to God and tell him how we are feeling and where we are struggling. We can ask him for help, and he is faithful to give it to us, even if it doesn’t always look the way we think it will look.

Second, Elijah thought he was the sole surviving worshiper of God. But God tells him there are 7,000 others who have not bowed to Baal. He thought he was alone, but he wasn’t. This is also true for those of us who trust in Christ. When we come to know Christ, we become a part of his Body. We become a part of his Church. We become brothers and sisters of million of people all around the globe! As Christians, we are never alone! However, we must take some ownership in connecting with that Body. Scripture tells us it is important to be connected with a local church. To be connected with a local body of believers with whom we can live our lives. This means finding a local church to attend regularly. It also means being willing to serve in that church and be a part of the life of the larger community. If you haven’t found a local church, I would encourage you to come and worship with us here at Beacon. We would love to meet you!

Third, we need people who will be our daily companions. God gave Elijah a companion in Elisha. We must begin connecting with others and building meaningful, transparent relationships with other believers. My wife and I have done this by being a part of small groups, Bible studies, and serving in various ministries of the church. These are the places where you can build those relationships and do life with one another. If you are already a part of our Beacon family, I would encourage you to dive into a small group or a Bible study. And if you can’t find one, come talk to us and we would love to help you start one!

Loneliness can be a crushing experience. It can make you feel as though no one cares for you and that you have no worth. But that is simply not true. You are a creation of God and carry the image of God. He knows you and desperately wants you to know him. And if you are lonely, we want you to know that there is a place where you will be welcomed and loved. Find a local church and dive in. We would love to have you with us here at Beacon but there are many other Bible believing churches in our town, county, state, and nation who would love to do life with you as well. God loves you and has provided a means to build meaningful relationships into your life. Come join us and see!!

Josh Cervone