Welcome to the post-Urbana world! You’re back to the life you were leading before Urbana. You may be keeping up with new Urbana friends through Facebook. You may have a few emails from missions agency representatives lingering in your inbox. You may have started the Come to the Party Bible study with your non-Christian friends or listened to the Urbana worship CD in an attempt to keep the Urbana experience alive. You may have even looked at your journal a few times.
But even as you relive your Urbana experience, life has moved on without you and the Urbana reality is getting pushed out by the pressures of the everyday. Returning to normal life after Urbana can be disorienting. You may even be feeling a little depressed.
Going from high school to college is a major transition. Transferring from the dorm to an apartment alters your social dynamics and life’s dramas. Moving from singleness to marriage changes your life forever. Similarly, when you transition to life after Urbana, your roles, your routines, your assumptions, and your relationships may go through significant change.
The book of 1 Kings tells how the prophet Elijah transitions from a great experience with God to the ordinary. In a dramatic show-down Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to a duel. (Baal was the false god believed to control the rains, agriculture, and fertility.) Elijah and the prophets of Baal would each build an altar on which to sacrifice a bull, then call on their respective deities to rain down fire from heaven.
From morning till evening the prophets of Baal cried out to their god, but to no avail. After mocking their false god, Elijah asked Yahweh to send down fire on his own sacrifice of a bull that he had drenched in water. God appeared in unmistakable terms, showed his power and might, and burnt up the sacrifice, proving Baal to be inept and worthless.
It was an amazing mountaintop experience. But for Elijah, it was followed by a deep valley. The evil queen Jezebel set out to take his life and pursued him with a vengeance. In the face of this threat, this man of great faith became deflated and fearful.
After Urbana, perhaps you’re going through a similar experience. I know I’ve been to conferences where God met me in amazing and life-changing ways. I came home elated, excited, ready to go anywhere for God! I’ve discovered those experiences were also followed by a period of depression. My energy was down and my spirit was flat.
I believe that Elijah’s fear and despair came when his focus shifted from the battle between the living God and the false god (his earlier victory) to the contest between him and Jezebel. He failed to recognize that God’s power and might were just as present and available to him in his conflict with Jezebel as they were when God sent fire to consume the sacrifice in a drenched, makeshift altar.
When I focus on myself and not on God and his history of might acts, I begin to be discouraged and fearful as my world shrinks in crumpled powerlessness. It is easy to have your eyes on Jesus at Urbana when 16,000 others are doing the same thing. But life back on campus, and life in general, has a way of clouding our perspective.
Remember the battle is the Lord’s, even when your battles are of the everyday variety. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus who dwells among us, and the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Do not forget his might acts.
Action Step #1
Ask God to forgive your self-centeredness and lack of faith. Then accept his forgiveness and ask for faith to believe and eyes to see things in his perspective.
Let’s go back to Elijah. In his attempt to escape Jezebel’s wrath, Elijah found himself in a desert with one wish: “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Exhausted from spiritual and physical exertion, Elijah fell asleep.
God chose to ignore Elijah’s request, and instead sent an angel who delivered a heavenly catered meal of warm bread and water. He awoke, ate, and slept some more. He was awakened again by the angel providing a second serving. With tenderness, the angel said, “Get up, eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
Rest, Sleep and Eat
Similarly, in our walk with God, we find ourselves at times despairing. We want to give up. We even ask God for things which reflect our ignorance and spiritual poverty. Yet, God gives us what we need. He understands and knows that we are physical beings and that we need sleep and food.
Sometimes, our physical deprivation leads us to wrong conclusions about ourselves and our work. It is interesting that the angel did not share scripture with Elijah or replay a video of what God has done, but in a simple but profound way, God, through the angel, nourished Elijah back to physical health.
It was simple: Elijah was tired and he needed to rest, sleep, and eat!
Your time at Urbana is similar to Elijah’s mountaintop experience. God showed up! You met Jesus in a whole new way. The Spirit of God ignited new fire in your heart for his word and his mission on campus and the world. Jesus calmed your fears as you listened to many God stories. You saw his glory and grandeur as participants from over 100 countries worshipped together. At Urbana you wrestled with personal issues and sins in your life.
While you were spiritually engaged you were also physically spent. At Urbana, you experienced a different routine and schedule. You lived with more people than you may have preferred. You lined up with thousands of people for your dinner. You walked and talked late into the night. In other words, you were exhausted when you returned to your campus.
Action Step #2
Take care of yourself physically! Do not neglect to nourish your body with adequate rest, sleep, food and exercise. Ask a friend to hold you accountable in this area, or arrange to eat or exercise with someone.
After the physical rest and food, God takes Elijah to a special place, Horeb, the mountain of God. There God met him, close and personal. The God who spoke through fire, during the duel with the prophets of Baal, was speaking in a more intimate way.
God asked Elijah what he was doing in the cave. Of course, God knew the answer. But by responding, Elijah was able to articulate for himself why he was running away. He replied,
I have been zealous for the Lord God almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.
Elijah had been on fire for God. He had exposed and rendered powerless the idolatry of the Israelites in a most dramatic and convincing way. He was broken-hearted for God. And Elijah was also feeling achingly alone. And in this state, God met Elijah.
Tired and Limited Perceptions
God appeared and spoke through a gentle whisper. He repeated the question, “What are you doing here?” After Elijah responded the second time, God gave him specific directions on where to go and what to do next. Just when he was feeling that his work was over, God was sending him to his successor! God’s work would continue.
When he was feeling alone, God revealed to him that there were 7,000 in Israel whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him. What Elijah saw and perceived with is tired and limited view was wrong. God gave him a picture of true reality.
Where Are You Hiding?
Months have passed since Urbana. Where may God find you today? Where may you be hiding and why? You are zealous for God but may feel alone and under attack. Where is the attack coming from? Are you discouraged? Do you feel abandoned and alone in being a Christ-follower and His ambassador on campus?
God met Elijah at the lowest point in his life. God put him in a place where he had to be honest about his condition. In that place of vulnerability, he heard God’s gentle whisper. There, God showed him what he could not see because of his despair – God’s provision of a co-worker and a successor and thousands of others who loved God just like he did!
Whatever you are feeling, God wants to show you His care, provision, and plan. He is present and wants to meet with you now.
Action Step #3
Look at your schedule. Carve out an unhurried and extended time with God.
As a serious follower of Jesus, you will face many more transitions ahead, but God is faithful to watch over you. May the lessons of Elijah help you navigate them with an intentional focus on God, appropriate attention to your physical limitations and needs, and a continuous expectation of meeting and hearing God as you follow Him all the days of your life.
Lisa Espineli Chinn is the National Director of International Student Ministry for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. She was the Bible expositor for Urbana 03 and a platform speaker at Urbana 06 on the topic of cross-cultural ministry.