The great Elijah, alone, exhausted and overwhelmed despite his impressive victory over the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, could not muster the fortitude to respond to either God's mighty signs or his gentle voice at Mount Horeb. His earthly walk ended abruptly, if spectacularly, as a passenger in God's fiery chariot. It was a testament to his life of obedience in ministry, but a stark contrast to its ignominious final weeks spent largely in fear and despondency.
Elijah's bleak end serves as a warning to all ministers of the gospel--which is to say to all Christians, for all who are saved by grace are called to give our lives to ministry in His name. The nature of ministry is to give to those who will not give back in equal measure, or respond to our satisfaction. Contrary to our wishes and dreams, a life of ministry is not one of unending excitement over the visible fruits of our labors, but rather one in which we must believe God that He will ultimately bless, honor and value our sacrifices for His name.
Therefore, if we seek to gain the strength to continue from those visible fruits, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We are, in fact, committing idolatry, insofar as we are attempting to squeeze from earthly labors such nourishment as can come only from our Lord Himself. Ultimately, our strength must come from the eternal hope we share in Christ, and from the internal ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The writer of Hebrews makes this clear in the starkest of terms, when he reminds us of the example of those who have passed before us:
Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.The Apostle Paul knew all about this. Languishing in a Roman prison near the end of his life, he experienced the full measure of earthly disillusionment: alone, betrayed and virtually abandoned by those for whom he'd been "poured out like a drink offering," he discovered anew how his hope lay not in seeing the earthly fruits of his ministry, but in the knowledge that he had a "crown of righteousness" awaiting him in glory.
"Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees," but know that such strength does not ultimately lie in seeing our labors bear fruit, but in knowing that the Master Gardener is alive and working through us in ways we cannot yet see. We shall one day stand in wonder at His feet as we gaze on all that He has done.