“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (Matthew 5:11–12 NLT)
The ancient prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, et al. – had patience in the midst of their persecution because they knew everything would be alright in the end; they had faith in a big God and trusted he would be on their side because they sought to do his will. Even still, they had their moments.
After Elijah ridiculed the prophets of Baal and their false God on Mount Carmel, after he had them all killed in the Kishon Valley, after he prayed to God to end the multi-year-long drought, after the first rains in years came in torrents, and after he mocked Ahab and outran his chariot back home, Elijah got a threatening letter from Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, which sent him into a depressive state. “Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died’” (1 Kings 19:4).
In response, God sent him to Mount Sinai, where Elijah hears the Lord in a gentle whisper that asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” His response further illustrates his depressed state of mind: “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too” (1 Kings 19:14).
The Lord then tells him to go anoint the next king of Aram, anoint the next king of Israel, and anoint his successor, Elisha. God also tells him about 7,000 others who are still loyal to the LORD God Almighty. Elijah was not as alone as he thought he was. From that point onward, until he is carried into heaven by a whirlwind, we have no indication Elijah further succumbed to this downtrodden state of mind. His capacity for long-suffering appears to have increased, and it seems to have been all due to finding a community of people who also chose to follow God rather than Baal.
We tend to think of patience as an individual virtue, which is largely a reflection on our narrow understanding of how the word was used in the New Testament. When we forget to include long-suffering and forbearance in our definition, lack of patience becomes a character flaw rather than a symptom of lack of community. As we see in the case of Elijah, community is the battery that empowers patience in our lives. It is important that we surround ourselves with those who can encourage us and help us stand upright in the midst of difficult times, for this better equips to be the kind of people who are defined by patience. And as all true community goes, we can also help hold up others so they, too, can better exhibit patience throughout whatever storms come their way.
Who is your community? Who considers you to be part of their community?