Tuesday, July 7th 1 Kings 19:9-13

“At that place Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:9-13

Today’s Bible reading is like hearing the punch line of a joke without hearing the setup. If you have time today, I encourage you to go back to 1 Kings and read more of Elijah’s story. It has much to say to us about taking time off.

Elijah is in trouble with the authorities. He is running for his life, escaping to the wilderness. He stops to catch his breath under a tree and tells the truth about his feelings. He has come to the end of his rope. He can’t go on. He would rather die than continue the fight.

What happens next is really important – not only what happens but the order in which it happens. First, God provides for Elijah’s needs. God provides food and drink and God encourages Elijah to be on his way. Like Israel before him, and Jesus yet to come, Elijah takes a 40 day hike on the strength of that heavenly food. Only then does he get to the cave in today’s reading.

That is where God does the second thing that transforms Elijah. He asks a simple question, “What are you doing here?” It is a wonderful, profound, and yet so simple question. “What are you doing here?”

It is the sort of question that allows us to gain some perspective on our lives, on our purpose under God. It is the question that reminds us of the importance of every aspect of our lives – self care, love of others, worthwhile service, leaving a legacy for others. When we realize the “what” of our lives, we are a whole lot closer to discovering the “why” and the “who” of our lives. Without the “why” and the “who”, the “what” doesn’t make any sense.

My colleague in my first call, Pastor Don Carlson, taught me much about the importance of self-care and perspective. He taught me to say, “I can do 12 months worth of work each year in 11 months of working. But I can’t do 12 months of work in 12 months of working.” He saw the value of time off. He knew in his own life the value of getting away, renewing some perspective, and rediscovering his purpose.

The final part of Elijah’s story that speaks to us today is the marching orders that God gave to him after his sojourn in the wilderness. God sent Elijah back into community. He sent him to anoint kings and to get some help in calling Elisha. There is a time for solitude and a time for community. Both help us see the “why” behind the “what” of our lives.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, like Elijah, we all come to those places in our lives when we feel ourselves on the run from all of the pressures and trials of daily living. Yet even in those times when we are so empty, you come to feed us and care for us. Use our time away this summer for refreshment, recreation, but most of all, for renewal in our sense of purpose. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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