Sunday I had the joy of preaching on the life of the prophet Elijah from I Kings 17:1-16. It was a joy because I so identify with how God shaped and challenged him. Even as I prepared and preached the message, I relearned some significant truths. I’ve italicized those that spoke to me. Which ones speak to you?
God told Elijah to begin his ministry by proclaiming to the evil king Ahab and the evil queen Jezebel that there would be no more rain or dew until God sent it! From that moment on there was no rain or dew. To preserve and protect Elijah God sent him away to Brook Cherith where he would be out of Ahab’s jurisdiction, would have water from the brook and be fed by ravens.
Yet after a time the brook dried up. Sometimes faith just doesn’t make sense. Now what? Elijah thought he was safe. It just demonstrates that we’re never fully ready when a crisis arrives at our doorstep. But God is always prepared. When the brook dried up, He told Elijah what to do and where to go. Isn’t that just like God? His word comes at the time of crisis, not before. Seldom does God tell us His will before we need to know it. Don’t worry or panic about some crisis that may come to your doorstep sometime in the future; when it arrives, so will God.
So God told Elijah He had made a way. And what a way it was! He said, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. There is a widow there who will feed you. I have given her my instructions.” God’s way does not always appear logical. Zarephath literally means, “A smelting furnace, a place of refining; a crucible.” It was the center of the area where the worship of Baal started. The people of Zarephath and the surrounding area were the ones responsible for God’s judgment in the drought. And now they had no water or food. And what was worse, a King lived there, named Ethbaal, who was the father of wicked Queen Jezebel. So God was telling Elijah to go from the security of a place where he at least had food and was safe from Ahab to a place of extreme drought and famine right into the jurisdiction of Ahab again. And that’s not all! God said He had talked to a widow to help him. A widow – someone with no social or economic standing, no husband, no relationship with her father’s family, no job, no means of support. Sometimes faith doesn’t make sense. This was really a challenge to trust God!
But Elijah headed off to Zarephath. He realized that God was calling him to more than just a place – He was calling him to an attitude of persistent obedience. Not only was Zarephath a tough place but just getting there took persistence! It meant a journey of about 90-100 miles – on foot – through drought-stricken land. Obedience can be painful and confusing. There are no five or ten-year plans in the Bible. God simply asks His people to follow Him, and then He points out the next step. I have learned, along with Elijah, that obedience comes one step at a time, one day at a time. Not once, when answering a call to a new location, did I know the next step. I only knew I was to go. But I also discovered, as did Elijah, that as our day is – as our steps are – so shall our strength be. We can never know the future significance of our current obedience to God. If God is asking, right now, for obedience in some area of your life, just do it. God knows why He needs it; God knows the influence of it. So just do it.
In that spirit and with that attitude, Elijah made the long journey to Zarephath. There, just as he arrived at the gate of the city, was the widow gathering up sticks. This wasn’t a coincidence; it was a God thing! Who else but God could have arranged this? As he was told to do Elijah asked her for a cup of water. And as she left to get it, he added, “Bring me a bite of bread too!” She turned to him and said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.” Elijah knew he was asking her for what she did not have. What could she possibly offer him? Faith sometimes doesn’t make sense. But, then, isn’t that just like God? He often demands from us what we think we do not have. But God never asks from us what He will not also give to us in the first place. He had told Elijah the widow could provide. God knew she could provide; Elijah knew she could provide; she just needed to know she could provide. It makes me wonder: What is God asking from you right now?
Whatever it is, remember the rest of the story. Elijah told her: “Don’t be afraid. Go ahead and cook that ‘last meal,’ but bake me a little loaf of bread first. Afterward there will still be enough food for you and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘There will always be plenty of flour and oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” There’s the key – God is bigger than our need. God is bigger than our desires, our plans, our lack of knowledge, our lack of time or money; bigger than our circumstances or our limitations. So don’t be afraid. Work with God. Elijah challenged the widow to first give away – for in giving there is blessing!
Think about it. Elijah told her that God would provide oil and flour. Well, if God would provide oil and flour, couldn’t He also have simply provided the bread? But that’s just like God, isn’t it? He’s always partnering with us, to grow us. He wanted to flood the earth, but He first had Noah build the ark. God was going to part the Red Sea, but He first had Moses hold out his rod. God was prepared to destroy Jericho, but first the Jews had to march around it. Similarly God wanted the widow to be part of His miracle. God can use anyone and anything at any time. He can use any one – even you. He can use anything – even your circumstances and situation. He can do it at any time – even right now! God is bigger than any of your needs. So whatever your situation, work with Him – even if faith doesn’t make sense.***
***This is a portion of an adaptation of one sermon from a series entitled “Getting Into Shape.” The series was composed of 1st person portrayals of some of God’s key leaders. If interested in an ebook format of the series – or a hard copy – pleaser contact me.