EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is adapted from Pastor Breonus Mitchell’s concluding message to the African American Fellowship Conference at First Woodway Baptist Church in Waco on July 11, 2019. Pastor Mitchell delivered a bracing charge to pastors to stay in the game.
Pastor, do you ever want to get away from it all?
You may be familiar with Elijah’s story found in 1 Kings 18-19. You may remember the great prophet Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal. You also may remember how the contest ended.
Elijah went up against 450 prophets of Baal. He set the terms of the contest. The prophets of Baal would build an altar, and Elijah would build an altar. The prophets of Baal would place a bull on their altar, and Elijah would place a bull on his altar. The prophets of Baal would call on their god to consume their sacrifice, and Elijah would call on God to consume his.
All day, the prophets of Baal called on their god but to no avail. He wasn’t listening. Elijah goaded them to call louder because Baal must have been busy, traveling or asleep. Nothing happened.
Finally, Elijah had enough and built his altar. He told the people to douse his altar with water three times until his altar was soaked and the trench around his altar was full of water. Then, Elijah prayed to God, and WHOOMP! God consumed the altar, water and all.
Elijah had the 450 prophets of Baal killed. After Elijah’s complete victory, King Ahab told his wife Jezebel what happened, how Elijah killed their prophets, and Jezebel said, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make [his] life like that of one of [our prophets]” (1 Kings 19:2).
And Elijah took off. He fled. He ran for his life. He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and hid in a cave.
At the end of a great contest, when God gave Elijah the victory, Elijah just wanted to get away from it all.
Do you, pastor, ever just want to get away from it all?
God’s question to Elijah
While Elijah was hiding in the cave, the word of the Lord came to him and asked, “Elijah, what are you doing here” (1 Kings 19:9)?
Maybe the emphasis was on “you:” “What are you doing here?”
“Elijah, of all people, after all I’ve done for you, what are you doing here?”
Pastor, after all God’s done for you—after seeing you through tough times, after providing for you when you couldn’t, after having your back when the arrows flew—what are you, of all people, doing here?
Maybe the emphasis was on “doing:” “What are you doing here?”
There comes a time to pull back and recuperate, but Elijah didn’t run into the wilderness to recuperate. He ran into the wilderness to hide. When he got there, he didn’t pray for rest. He complained to God: “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4).
What was he doing? He was doing nothing. He was depressed, whining and praying for death.
Pastor, when you’ve had enough, when you want to get away from it all, what are you doing?
Maybe the emphasis was on “here:” “What are you doing here?”
Of all places, Elijah was holed up in a cave. The great prophet of God Almighty, holed up, hiding in a cave. God didn’t call Elijah to a cave. God called Elijah to the people.
Pastor, are you in a cave? God didn’t call you to a cave. God called you to be with the people.
God’s challenge to Elijah
God asked Elijah the same question twice: “Elijah, what are you doing here” (1 Kings 19:9, 13)?
Elijah gave God the same answer twice: “I’m the best you’ve got. Everybody else deserted you or is dead. I’m it, and I’m through” (1 Kings 19:10, 14).
Elijah thought God couldn’t do it without him. God said he had Jehu and Elisha and 7,000 more.
When we think we’re all God’s got, when we think that’s a bargaining chip, when we think we can direct God’s plans, God says: “That’s all right. I’ve got plenty more.”
Pastor, if you think your church can’t go on without you, just go ahead and die tonight. Your church will have your funeral, they’ll bury you, and then they’ll go back to the church and eat, and the next Sunday, they’ll have someone preach in your pulpit.
When you want to get away from it all but can’t
Elijah got word Jezebel wanted him dead, and he took off and hid in a cave. He tried to get away from it all, and when he thought he was hidden where no one could find him, where no one would know him, he ran right into God. God met him at that cave.
Pastor, when you need to get away from it all, when you go in search of a cave, when you try to run from God, don’t you run right into him?
You go to some other part of town or some other city where people don’t know you, and you hear, “Hey, Pastor!” You thought you were going to get away from it all and dive into some escape, but you ran right into God.
A personal story
Several years ago, Mitchell returned from a trip to learn his wife and small son were involved in a rollover accident. Thankfully, they were alright.
Later, his wife started having problems, and the doctors determined two things: She was pregnant, and she had stage 4 cancer.
Despite a chemo regimen, Mitchell’s wife delivered a healthy baby. Soon after their second child was born, the cancer spread, and his wife died.
There he was, a father of an 11-year-old son and now holding his infant son. He said: “I’m through. I can’t take anymore.” He was ready to get away from it all but instead ran right into God. God had called him, and now God gave him a new ministry and later a new wife.
Pastor, God has called you and given you a ministry. You may need some time away to rest and recuperate, but remember who you are, what you are to do, and where you are to be. And if you run to get away from it all, you may run right into God.
Pastor Breonus Mitchell Sr. serves the Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., and preaches throughout the United States.