I trained to be a lifeguard at a camp one summer when I was younger. I passed most of the tests, but there was one test where we had to tread water while holding a heavy weight for a few minutes. It was difficult, and I couldn’t do it. I gave up. I remember quitting and feeling like a failure. Adult life likewise brings no shortage of things that prompt us to give up, that make us feel like we’re just treading water. This world can be discouraging in its sin and brokenness.

The prophet Elijah gave up. He’d just achieved a monumental victory in serving the Lord by defying King Ahab and the false prophets on Mount Carmel. God had sent down fire to consume the sacrifice of Elijah, while the prophets of Baal had spent all day crying out to their impotent god. It was a time for supreme confidence, but that confidence was only momentary for Elijah. Queen Jezebel heard about what happened and swore to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). What did Elijah do in response? He ran for his life down to Judah. He even left his servant behind and went into the wilderness—near the same wilderness in which Jesus was tempted. He had to get away. He sat down and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

Elijah made a death wish: “Take away my life.” Have you ever made a death wish? Perhaps you haven’t made one out loud, but I think many of us have quietly wished we were dead in moments of desperation. I don’t mean suicidal; nor do I mean that we’re simply wishing for heaven. I mean we wish things were over. Done with. We’re tired of suffering, faltering, and struggling. We wish we could leave the trials and difficulties of this life behind. We just want to die.

When Elijah asked the Lord to take away his life because he was no better than his fathers, did he mean he couldn’t continue to live up to the calling of a prophet? Did he mean he recognized his human weakness, and it was simply not enough? Did he mean he couldn’t turn the hearts of the Israelites back to the Lord? It’s not clear. Maybe it was just a cry of desperation that didn’t have a strong grounding in any fact. It’s an expletive, as we might say, “I can’t take it anymore!” Whatever the case, Elijah fell asleep in the middle of the wilderness. But lo and behold, verses 5–7 tell us that an angel showed up. He touched Elijah and told him to get up and eat. In front of him was a baked cake with water. He slept again, and the angel came again with food and water. God gave him strength.

God is at work in us, but He’s also at work elsewhere. He’s working in and through other people and circumstances. We don’t have the perspective to see all that He’s doing.

Elijah, by the way, wasn’t looking for God to show up. He just decided to call it quits. But God showed up anyway. He knew His servant had lost his strength, and He intervened by means of an angel. It’s a shadow of Jesus in the wilderness, where angels came to minister to Him after His trial (Matt. 4:11). Perhaps even more significant, it’s a shadow of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where He seemed to be at the end of His human strength in carrying out His mission, and an angel appeared to Him to minister to Him (Luke 22:43).

When we read this story, we maybe think: “So what? Will an angel appear when I give up?” Likely not. But what can we understand? Well, for one, God does strengthen His servants. It doesn’t mean an angel is going to show up, but when we’re following the Lord, He exercises a special grace toward us in building us up through His Spirit. In fact, it’s encouraging to remember that we have someone with us who’s greater than any angel—the Holy Spirit. He helps us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26).

Second, we can acknowledge that life often brings circumstances that are incredibly difficult. They require fortitude, endurance, and patience. We shouldn’t be surprised by discouragement. This world is riddled with sin, is filled with forces that are opposed to God, and often exhibits a general chaos. The Psalms are filled with acknowledgments of distress, deceit, and confusion (e.g., Pss. 3; 7; 120). Knowing that, we can admit that this world is often too much for us. We can tell God what’s happening and ask Him for help. It’s only through trusting the Lord and giving our lives to Him that we find any peace. And if we do give up, God won’t give up on us (John 6:39; Phil. 1:6).

Finally, we can understand that wishing for death isn’t completely contrary to Scripture when understood rightly. I don’t mean suicide here; if you struggle with suicidal thoughts, please know that you’re not alone. Seek the help of a pastor, counselor, or friend. There’s hope and light to be found, though the darkness is overwhelming. I also don’t mean that Elijah was right to ask God to take his life. But rather, strangely enough, Jesus sought His own death to accomplish His mission—a death for us. Christians are also called to live sacrificially; to “give up” for the sake of God and others (Rom. 12:1). We’re to put our old selves to death and live for Christ (Gal. 2:20).

After this episode, Elijah was strengthened for forty days, and He came to a cave. The Lord met him there in a still, small voice—that is, a whisper (1 Kings 19:12). He told Elijah he was not alone, that He had saved thousands who still follow the true God. By saying this, God reminded Elijah that He wasn’t working only in Elijah’s life; He was working in other people’s lives. He had a plan; Elijah just didn’t know it. So basically, He’s saying: “I’m in control. I’ve got this covered.”

God is at work in us, too, but He’s also at work elsewhere. He’s working in and through other people and circumstances. We don’t have the perspective to see all that He’s doing. We’re small, but God is big. It can sometimes be hard to hear Him; hard to feel His strength. We sometimes want to give up, and sometimes we do. But He’s always there working—in our lives, in others’ lives, and throughout history—for my good, your good, and, ultimately, for His glory.

Don’t give up. He’s got it covered.

What Is Calvinism?

God the Father and Our Adoption