Our business enjoyed the best year ever. We shattered every sales record. Profits were exceptional. We even set a record for fewest customer complaints. It seemed that we could do no wrong. After the results were tallied, we congratulated each other and handed out bonuses.
The next day, celebration over, we were back to work as usual.
That’s it? No vacation? No party? Unfortunately, the new year was upon us. We faced tougher goals. We needed to work harder than ever with new employees to train and more problems to solve. We had no choice. So, instead of enjoying a period of elation, I was depressed. Why? Why would success be followed by despair?
Despair following success can impact anyone: entertainers, athletes, preachers and teachers. A surge of success followed by a period of despondency and anguish. Why? It doesn’t make sense… or does it. Are successes always followed by bouts of despair? Of course not, yet it happens frequently enough to ask questions and seek guidance.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, I found answers through a prophet named Elijah. Elijah challenged 850 prophets of Baal to a dramatic showdown before the entire nation of Israel. For hours, the prophets of Baal put on a show of chanting and dancing, but nothing happened. Then Elijah walked to the altar, said a prayer and the people witnessed an amazing miracle. (Chapter 18 of 1 Kings) What a spectacular display of God’s awesome power! What a triumph!
This victory should have caused a great celebration but instead; Elijah ended up fleeing for his life. How could such a victorious prophet of God lose his confidence and faith in God so completely that he prays for death? But it was during this time of despair that Elijah’s extraordinary journey of faith would reach a dramatic turning point.
• Elijah assumed God’s dramatic miracle would be a turning point. Wrong!
• I assumed a record-breaking business year would be a turning point. Wrong!
• Like Elijah, I needed to make a spiritual journey to seek the truth.
For forty long days and nights, Elijah traveled to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. As Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
Now Elijah was ready to listen. Do you see the turning point yet? Occasionally, God will surprise us with an awesome miracle like the mighty windstorm or the earthquake, but they are seldom understood or appreciated. It is not our victories that gratify God as much as our day-by-day obedience and attentiveness to God’s quiet and gentle whisper. It’s our willingness to put our priorities in order.
Elijah receives instructions and assurance from God that he is not alone; the assurance Elijah needed.
• Victories are important but Elijah was putting too much faith in miracles alone.
• Success at work is important but I was putting too much faith in success alone.
• Elijah wasn’t listening or trusting God for the future.
• I wasn’t listening or trusting God for my future either.
Shortly after our record year, I was asked by my church to give a children’s message during worship. Normally, I declined such requests because of a hectic work schedule but this time I heard a quiet and gentle whisper encouraging me to say yes.
Saying yes to providing a children’s message each Sunday became my turning point. I discovered an exciting new way to communicate my faith. My despair at work was quickly replaced by a fresh vitality. My business situation didn’t change but I changed. We enjoyed another record-breaking year but there would be no despair afterward. I felt at peace with my career and my faith.
The next year, I would hear God’s quiet whisper again and leave my business career behind to become a full-time church pastor. So, what did I ultimately learn from Elijah?
1. God patiently offers spiritual nourishment in victory or despair.
2. We must be willing to listen for the sound of God’s gentle whisper.
3. Victories aren’t as important as day-by-day obedience and trust.
4. God’s whisper promises guidance and reassurance that we are not alone.
My life changed when I listened more closely to God’s gentle whisper and changed my priorities. My fervent prayer for you is to take time to listen to God’s gentle whisper promising guidance for your future and assurance that you are never, ever alone.