Ready or not, here it comes. Jingle bells rockin’ round your Christmas tree with your little drummer boy and your Santa baby while you let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Maybe you’re one of those who is super excited about the feliz navidads on every radio, or maybe you’re singing a different tune around these times … perhaps the slow dirge by Bobby Vinton, “Mr. Lonely.”
The holidays are a time of fun and excitement, but not always. Sometimes it is a season of loneliness and sadness. Whether we are missing a loved one, missing the sunlight, or feel like we are missing out on what seems to be making everyone else happy, feeling lonely and down is very common this time of year. So what’s the answer? Let’s turn to the Bible, where we meet Mr. Lonely himself.
Before Bobby Vinton there was an Old Testament prophet named Elijah, and he was humming Bobby’s tune while hiding in a cave. Here’s the backstory: Elijah lived in the 8th century b.c. during the reign of the terrible King Ahab and his even more terrible wife, Queen Jezebel. King Ahab reintroduced worship of Baal and Asherah, and together with his wife, they were eliminating the prophets of the one true God.
In 1 Kings 18, there’s an epic showdown between the prophets of Baal and Elijah, who fancied himself the sole prophet of the Lord. In short, the prophets of Baal called on their god to bring fire on their sacrificial bull on their altar, but to no avail. But when Elijah prayed to the one true God, even after purposely watering down the altar and the ground around it, here’s what happened: “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench (verse 38). The people saw the Lords’ power, believed, and bowed down and then slaughtered the 450 prophets of Baal. Wow. Huge power. Huge consequences. The next chapter shows Jezebel’s reaction and her promise to kill Elijah.
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread. … Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:3-10)
After an extreme high, Elijah was experiencing an extreme low. The minor key of “Mr. Lonely” was stuck in his head. But God was about to repair him and get him ready to do his work again. “The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by’” (1 Kings 19:11).
A great and powerful wind came, but the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake, and after the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in either. And after those? A gentle whisper: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (verse 13). In one gentle whisper, the Lord called Elijah to look up. In the next quiet words, he pointed Elijah back to his community and to his purpose.
It is easy to play the victim. It is tempting to throw ourselves a pity party, complete with ice cream and Cheetos. We like to think we are the only ones who have ever felt this way; Satan feeds us that lie. But it does no good to waste away in self-pity and doubt. Instead, here’s what God calls us to do:
- Look up.
We have a big, big God. Look up. See his power and know he is in control of the wind and the fire and the rain. He’s got this. And somehow that big God has chosen to be with us always.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39).
Read that again. And again. Read that anytime you’re feeling lonely and separated and scared. Stop looking inward; you’re can’t handle it all alone. Look up.
- Link up.
Sometimes feelings of loneliness are needed to remind us that we are not meant to do life alone. God is in the midst of his people; if you want to find God, seek out his people. Elijah made a mistake—he left his servant behind and fled solo. God had to remind him that he was not the only one left; there were still plenty of believers who had not bowed down to Baal—but Elijah had fled from them and isolated himself in that cave. God sent him back to the community of believers. Find people whom you can run to, people who might gently whisper to you, “What are you doing here?” and, “You are not alone.”
- Get up.
A prophet hiding in a cave is no prophet at all. Elijah had work to do, and we do too. God had to point him to his purpose; we are here for a purpose too. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
He’s got work for us! He created us to be alive in this time and in this place, and we are workers in his kingdom. Whatever we are called to do, whatever gifts God has given us to use, we use them and do it all faithfully and to his glory. Find your purpose. Don’t hide away in a cave. Get up.
Perhaps you’re feeling like Mr. Lonely this holiday season. But when that tune starts to play in your head, remember Elijah. Remember your big God. And remember that gentle whisper that pointed Elijah to his people and his purpose. He was not alone. You are not alone. Look up. Link up. Get up.