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Unmet Expectations

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Kings 19

Elijah’s descent into despair reminds us that victory can easily give way to defeat and discouragement. The way out of the spiral of despair is not to look inward but outward—to the Lord’s provisions and blessings and to serving others.


William Carey, pioneering missionary to India from 1793 to 1834, would become known as the Father of Modern Missions. He seems an unlikely candidate to experience deep depression. Yet, written in his diary are entries like these: “I am very defective in all my duties . . . In prayer I wander, and . . . I soon tire; [my] devotion languishes; I do not walk with God.”[1]

Even the godliest people can become depressed and downhearted, and the prophet Elijah is no exception. It all begins with the reaction of Queen Jezebel to Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel recorded in 1 Kings 19:

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” (verses 1-2)

Now you might not think this would affect the courageous prophet of God, but we are told here in verse 3: “Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life.”

Elijah had just seen the fire of God fall from heaven and all the false prophets of Baal defeated. Why, then, would he flee from Jezebel?

Well, for starters, he is human just like you and me, and every one of us can falter in our faith. But I personally think Elijah expected the news of fire falling from heaven and God sending rain again to bring Jezebel to repentance. I think he expected her to renounce Baal for good.

But she doesn’t want revival; she wants revenge. And in his great disappointment, Elijah falters in his walk of faith and runs for his life.

Beloved, I believe one of the biggest challenges in the Christian life is unmet expectations. It’s easy to become disheartened when people fail to do what we expect them to do or God doesn’t do what we expect Him to 

Elijah eventually wanders into the wilderness and sits down under a tree. He’s exhausted and frankly depressed. He says in verse 4, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” To put it another way, he’s saying, “That’s it! I’m throwing in the towel. I’m through.”

How does the Great Physician deal with His despairing patient? First, God does not hit him over the head with a rebuke. God does not kick Elijah to the curb and go find a better prophet. God actually gives Elijah time to sleep and rest; the Lord even sends an angel to bring Elijah food and water in verses 5-8.

Next, God leads him to Mount Horeb, another name for Mount Sinai, where God had given the law to Moses. In verse 9, the Lord speaks to Elijah like a wise counselor, asking him a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” In other words, “Elijah, tell Me how you’re feeling.” And Elijah sort of pours it all out in verse 10:

“I have been very jealous for the Lord . . . For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

You can hear the disappointment and loneliness in his complaint. He has tried to honor God, but God did not bring the nation to repentance as Elijah had expected. Elijah now says that he is all alone in the land, and on top of that, he has a death sentence hanging over his head.

The Lord answers him now in a unique way—and He doesn’t start with words. First, the Lord sends a strong wind that verse 11 says breaks apart the rocks on the mountain. Then the Lord sends an earthquake, and then a fire breaks out on the mountain. And in each case, the Bible says the Lord is not “in” these powerful demonstrations—there’s no personal message for Elijah from the Lord. However, in verse 12, the Lord speaks, but it’s in a still small voice, a “low whisper.”

You see, the Lord is teaching Elijah that He does not always work through impressive miracles, as Elijah apparently was expecting. No, sometimes the Lord works in quiet ways to teach His children and accomplish His plans.

And now once again, here in verse 13, that quiet voice asks Elijah the second time, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” The prophet answers with the same words, but now the tone and attitude are beginning to 

We know that because the Lord now gives Elijah some ministry assignments. No more power demonstrations are needed because God’s whisper has gotten through to His prophet.

In verse 15, the Lord tells Elijah to anoint Hazael as king of Syria, and then in verse 16, he’s commanded to anoint Jehu “to be king over Israel.” He is also to anoint Elisha to become his successor as a prophet of God.

We learn later that these three men will become God’s instruments of judgment against the house of Ahab in the days ahead.

Then the Lord corrects Elijah’s feelings that he is the only follower of God left in the land. God tells him in verse 18 that there are “seven thousand [people] in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal.” Elijah thought he was the only one left, but there were thousands praying for God’s name to be honored in Israel.

The final verses in chapter 19 introduce us to Elisha. He is out in the field plowing with a team of oxen, and Elijah approaches and throws his cloak upon him. This symbolizes God’s call of Elisha to be His prophet.

Elisha agrees to follow Elijah but says that he wants to say goodbye to his parents. Elijah replies, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” (verse 20). That sounds rather blunt and uncaring to our ears, but what Elijah means is, “Go back home, and consider carefully what I have called you to do.” And Elisha does just that.

Verse 21 then tells us:

He . . . took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them . . . Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.

In other words, Elisha just burned his bridges behind him. There’s no turning back. There’s no more farming in his future.

I wonder what Elisha was expecting from the life of a prophet. Well, Elijah could teach him a lesson about unmet expectations—when people, and even the Lord, don’t respond like you expected them to. I can just imagine their conversations together.

Perhaps you are at a place right now you didn’t expect to be. You thought your commitment to God would bring you somewhere else or bring you something else. But it hasn’t. And that has led you to discouragement and even despair—like Elijah.

Let me encourage you to take a reality check. Realize, like Elijah, that you are not alone. There are many others who struggle just like you do. But don’t just realize that; renew your commitment to serving the Lord by serving other people.PQ When you do that, your focus shifts away from yourself to others. You will regain a sense of joy as God uses you in the lives of others, who might just think they are the only ones with unmet expectations. I can just imagine your encouraging conversations with them.

[1] Eustace Carey, Memoir of William Carey (Jackson and Walford, 1836), 158.

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