Success can distort the ability to think clearly and be happy!
I have had the opportunity of meeting a lot of interesting people in my life. Since my childhood I have lived in North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina. During my journey I have encountered some very successful and wealthy individuals. Many of them carried themselves in such a manor that most people would not know how wealthy they had become. However, one of the people I came to know in this camp, seemed to always show a character of uneasiness and paranoia. On one occasion I asked a mutual friend a question. “What do you think Jonathan’s assets and properties are worth?” His response, “I would guess he is worth over fifty million.” Fifty million! I knew he was rich, but I didn’t know he was that wealthy. Yet, he seemed on many occasions to be an unhappy man. There appeared to be seasons of unease and tension in his life on a regular basis. How is it that someone can be that successful but appear to have strong conflicting powers in their life. The story of Elijah tells about such a journey.
Elijah lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab in the ninth century BC. The prophet had experienced amazing supernatural acts of God in his life. One of those events was the resurrection of a small child from the dead.
Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. (1 Kings 17:17-23)
After resurrecting the young boy, the prophet Elijah was then introduced to another event. King Ahab did not like the prophet, and he wanted him gone. The king saw Elijah as nothing more than a nuisance and a trouble-maker (1 Kings 18:17). This was because Elijah accused the King of being disloyal to God by turning to worship Baal. After making these accusations, Elijah challenged the King and the prophets of Baal to meet him on Mount Carmel. As they met on the mountainside Elijah challenged the pagan prophets to prepare a sacrificial altar and call on their god to ignite the altar fire. The challenge was accepted. The followers of Baal laid a sacrifice on their altar and began to call on their god. They prayed from morning until noon, shouting and dancing and pleading that their prayers be answered. Around noontime Elijah began to make fun of their empty, shallow, religious practices. The prophet said,
“Pray louder!” If Baal really is a god, maybe he is thinking, or busy, or traveling! Maybe he is sleeping so you will have to wake him!” (1 Kings 18:27)
None of their efforts produced any kind of response. Then it came time for Elijah to call on his God.
The prophet called for the people to gather around him. He rebuilt an altar to his God that had been destroyed. He took a stone for each tribe of Israel and built the altar to honor the Lord. Next, he dug a ditch around the altar. He then placed wood on the altar, cut a bull into pieces and placed it on the wood. The prophet told those around him to fill jars with water and pour it over the wood and the sacrifice three times. So much water was poured over the altar that it ran over into the ditches that surrounded the sacrifice. Then, an amazing event took place. Elijah approached the altar and began to pray.
“Lord, you are the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” he prayed. “Prove that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant…….Lord, answer my prayer so these people will know that you…are God and that you will change their minds.” Then fire from the Lord came down and burned the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the ground around the altar. It also dried up the water in the ditch. ( 1 Kings 18:25-38)
The actions of God to show his mighty power was amazing and overwhelming. This type of event should have given Elijah confidence in the success of what God had done. However, just the opposite took place in the life of the prophet.
Success Can Cause Great Stress
Several years ago, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor only to find out that he had resigned from the practice. When hearing about this I asked the office manager if I could find out where he had moved his practice. “He did not move,” she replied. “He is no longer practicing medicine.” “What do you mean?” was my response. “He has resigned completely from practicing medicine,” she said. I was shocked. He wasn’t fired, or forced out. He simply quit. How could someone who had dedicated that much of their life to the medical field just quit? I was told by another doctor, “He simply had enough.” Even success can produce unusual behavior.
After the resurrection of a child and the mighty acts of God on Mount Carmel, Elijah fled to Horeb and asked God to take his life. (1 Kings 19:4) He could take no more, good or bad. After some significant events, he was an exhausted man.
This story describes how depression can sometimes occur from victories. Anxiety can be produced by positive and the negative events. It is a mistake to think that crisis and hardship are the only events that wear on the body and spirit. Successes can also be stressful. Elijah had just had one of the greatest victories of his life when he called upon the Lord to take his life. The attitude of Elijah soars from an extreme exhilaration relating to his victory on Mount Carmel to a depression so deep he wishes to die. The prophet transforms from a mighty man of God to a whimpering coward.
Elijah was sent a message from the king’s palace that he would be killed. His distress causes him to behave like a loser. He dismisses his servant in Beersheba (I Kings 19:3) as if he would not need his services any longer. His journey south, past Judah, may also show signs that the prophet had given up and was laying aside his ministry altogether. It seems that Elijah was developing the character of a man who would not find peace or rest any longer. After a day’s journey into the desert, an exhausted Elijah says he wants to die. Elijah interprets the attacks on him as the end of it all. He had come to believe that defeat was inevitable. The events in Elijah’s life seem to be irrational. These actions make no sense. However, this irrational behavior seems to be common among those who attempt to work alone. Even great successes without the assistance of others can produce trouble.
Success is Not a Solo Act
After the stresses of Mount Carmel and exhaustion, Elijah is led to a companion to help him in the remaining days of his ministry. Lawrence Richard and Gilbert Martin believe that God never intended for his servants to work alone. God intends for us to work in interpersonal settings. This certainly seems to be the direction Elijah was being led. Charles Colson, in his book The Body: Being Light in Darkness, speaks of the dangers of solo leadership. He says that exalting solo leadership causes people to become the “spiritual Lone Ranger.”
The Lone Ranger first appeared in 1933 in a radio show and in a popular television show that ran from 1949 to 1957. The Lone Ranger was so named because the character was the sole survivor of a group of six Texas Rangers. This type of leadership, the lone leader, according to Colson, is not good for anyone. It is counter-productive and in many cases self-destructive. Even the writers of The Lone Ranger knew that they needed to include Tonto, the Ranger’s Indian friend as a partner.
Even Elijah came to understand that he needed help. One day Elijah laid his cloak on the back of Elisha as he passed by the young man working in a field. (1 Kings 19:19-21) There are many interpretations as to what this action of Elijah meant. Some believe it was a symbolic transferring of the prophet’s power to Elisha. Others think it was a transference of spiritual power. Another interpretation could be that the prophet wanted to pass on his role to a successor. Regardless of how this is interpreted one fact is evident: Elijah knew he needed help.
Failure and Success Combined
Have you ever seen someone experience a series of successes and then have a failure that overshadows all their accomplishments? Elijah seemed to suffer from this. He had seen great success. Unbelievable success! Yet, he came to feel like a failure when the King threatened him. The facts are clear, most us do not want to talk about failure. However, all of us at some time in our lives are going to experience failure in some way. Even though losing may be brutal, it is not eternal, and it should never overshadow our successes. That is precisely what happened to Elijah. Failure and success create the many chapters in our book of life. Failing and succeeding are opportunities to learn. They are opportunities to learn how to do things better. Here are some essential truths about success and how it creates conflicts that we can learn from:
Our accomplishments will not be pleasing to everyone around us! King Ahab hated Elijah.
Our success can cause high stress to evolve in our life! The Prophets of Baal opposed everything about Elijah,
Experiencing success alone is not always good. Elijah moved quickly into depression after getting away by himself.
All of us, regardless of our success, need someone to walk with us, as Elijah needed Elisha.
Success can birth brutal conflicts. But conflict can provide an opportunity to glorify God. There are three ways that Ken Sande shares that I believe Elijah was able to honor God through his successes and conflicts. First, Elijah had a strong trust in God and because of that trust he had an opportunity to rely on God and his power. Second, Elijah obeyed God. In his obedience to God, the Lord showed himself in a powerful way on Mount Carmel by consuming the altar Elijah had put together. And last, Elijah, through this conflict became an imitator of God. Instead of following the ways of the world when dealing with his conflict he was obedient to God. The accomplishment of anything as a soloist cannot compare to the experiences of walking with God and the people he introduces into our lives.
Questions About Success
- Have you ever felt stressful after an accomplishment? What are some of the issues that caused your stress?
- Why could working with other people be a disadvantage?
- Why could working with other people be an advantage?
- As Elijah experienced success in the Lord raising a child from the dead and calling down the fire to burn the sacrifice, he also experienced severe discouragement. Why do you think this took place?
 Lawrence O. Richards and Gilbert R. Martin, Lay Ministry, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishers, 1981), p. 204.
 Dr. Charles Colson, The Body: Being Light in Darkness (Word Publishing, Dallas, 1992) pp. 296-299.
 Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997), pp. 26-27.
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