5 affirmations for when life takes an unexpected turn

The call came as I was having lunch with a friend. Seeing it was the cardiologist’s office, I let it go to voicemail. It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have in the middle of lunch. And sure enough, the message confirmed what I feared—yet another heart surgery.

In the next few weeks, more extensive tests unfolded in greater detail the extent of the problems—two valves leaking severely, a blockage, and a possible aortic dissection. Did I mention this would be my second major heart surgery?

An account from the life of Elijah the prophet in 1 Kings 19 has stayed on my mind through this process. Remember when Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah? He ran for his life into the wilderness, sat down under a broom tree and said, “Enough of this, Lord!” Then traveled another 40 days to sit in a cave.

Unlike Elijah, there wasn’t an evil queen trying to kill me—though my own heart seemed determined to do so. Like Elijah, I went into a dark place.

Elijah’s story helps make sense of ours when life doesn’t happen as we planned. The most startling about his story is the stark contrast between the bold Elijah standing on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18 and the brooding Elijah sitting alone in a cave in the next chapter. Here’s the moment when everything seemed to change for him: “Then Elijah became afraid” (1 Kings 19:3). There it is—fear. In spite of everything he had witnessed God do, Elijah’s fears became bigger than his faith. Jezebel became bigger in his life than God.

Elijah himself isn’t the focus of this story but rather God is—what Elijah learned about God when life took an unexpected and undesirable turn.

1. God knows what you need.

As a fearful Elijah slept under a broom tree in the wilderness, and angel of the Lord brought him a loaf of bread and a jug of water, twice telling the prophet, “get up and eat.” (See 1 Kings 19:5-8.)

God knows our needs—big and small. Elijah needed to eat and drink; God provided.

God knows better than you and I what we most need. We’re quick to think the greatest need of someone recovering from a painful surgery is relief from pain. That is a need—it’s not the greatest need. The painful circumstances God allows to come into our lives can be the thing He uses to do His work in us. So pain isn’t the worst enemy. Fear or our lack of trust in Him is the greater enemy. Relief of pain isn’t the greatest need. The ability to see how God is at work in the circumstances of our pain is a greater need. Finding His strength in our weakness is a greater need.

2. He knows where you are.

Elijah “entered a cave and spent the night” (1 Kings 19:9). There, in the dark place, the Lord came and asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He didn’t ask, “What are you doing?” Rather, “What are you doing here?” Why are you sitting here in a cave at Horeb and not in Israel where I called you to serve Me? The issue wasn’t where Elijah was geographically—but where he was spiritually. That’s the question for us too.

God knew why the prophet was there, but did Elijah know? The prophet thought he was there because Jezebel was trying to kill him. Yet Jezebel wasn’t Elijah’s problem. Elijah’s problem was Elijah. And what drove him from there to “here” was fear.

It’s also noteworthy that God didn’t come to condemn Elijah for being in a place where he should’t be. Rather, the Lord showed up to lift the prophet out of the dark place. He does that still.

3. He calls you by name.

When Elijah had called on God’s name, fire fell from heaven (1 Kings 18:36). Now, God spoke Elijah’s name (19:9,13). Which was the greater miracle?

I recently saw some of the new images of deep space from the James Webb telescope. Unlike anything seen before—the Webb telescope is capable of looking 13.6 billion light years into space and seeing billions of galaxies. Looking at those images, I’m in complete awe of the One who spoke such a vast cosmos into existence. Equally awe-inspiring is the fact that the One who spoke that into existence speaks my name.

4. He speaks in a whisper.

Hospitals are noisy places—day and night, constant noise—machines, monitors, carts rolling down the hallways, people talking. In a world of noise, a whisper has a way of getting our attention. The tenderest of words are spoken not in shouts but in whispers. When someone whispers your name, something powerful often happens.

God got Elijah’s attention by speaking to him in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12-13). To hear, Elijah would need to lean in to God.

Know that God is not silent; we’re just not good listeners. Lean in to Him and listen.

5. He’s not finished with you.

Finally, God told His prophet: “Now get up and get on with your life. I still have work for you to do” (see 1 Kings 19:15-18). Elijah may have thought his life was over; his work was done. But God had other plans. It’s not over till God says it’s over.

I’m living with that hope. God isn’t finished with me. I’m getting back up.