“I have too many bad memories from that place. I’m never going back there again.”
Can you think of a place that matches this description from your experience? What, for you, would be your place of defeat?
My great-grandfather retired from pastoring in 1963 and completed his memoirs in 1973. They include a chapter with the title “My Waterloo” – named for the place in Belgium where Napoleon met his final defeat in 1815. For my great-grandfather, his Waterloo was Ellis, Kansas. He had some bad experiences there in the 1920s when a small group of people in the church and some prominent pastors in the area wanted him removed. Discouraged from it all, he decided to resign. Deeming himself a failure in ministry, he moved to Texas to sell furniture for a living.
But the call of God was upon him. He talked about having some heated conversations with God. He said he would do absolutely nothing to promote himself as a preacher; God would have to open all the doors for it to happen. And the very next night he was called and asked to lead a revival. The rest is history. He went on to serve pastorates in Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, California, and also back in Ellis, Kansas for a second time around. His journey brought him back to his old place of defeat to make some better memories.
In the Bible, I Kings 19:1-9a follows Elijah out of a place of despair. It included experiences of intense religious persecution marked by predatory anger (19:2), fear (19:3), and a wish for death (19:4).
God does not leave us alone in such times. I thought of this when I shared Psalm 91 at Elaine Ek’s funeral recently. It was a scripture she wanted us to read, and it includes verse 11 which says, “He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” The Bible speaks of angels as God’s messengers and servants, directed to help and protect the faithful. We would probably be amazed if we could see all the things in the spiritual realm that are going on around us.
How do angels work in our midst? Elijah was “touched by an angel” to give him what he needed in two ways…
There is actually a town in Kansas named Protection. It’s down in Comanche County, not far from the Oklahoma border. It was founded in 1884 by Republicans who had strong opinions about the protective tariff that was a major election issue that year. James Blaine, the Republican who supported the tariff, lost the Presidential race to Grover Cleveland. But the town of Protection carries the name to this day.
For Elijah, his place of protection was a cave at Mount Horeb (19:9). He would still have to face dangers and hardships. Following Jesus is not something that takes you permanently out of the path of danger; there’s always a cross for us to bear in our discipleship. But God certainly does have His ways of ministering to our needs through angelic means – and taking us from defeat to protection for carrying out His purposes.
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor
First Congregational Church
The blog of Andrew McHenry, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas.