by Robin Martin
My perception of life, lately, has been a series of very strong ups and downs. So many blessings, but stress filled challenges as well. So many peaks, but sometimes valleys. As a kid, most of my friends loved to ride roller coasters. I, most definitely, did not. I have always been challenged by a fear of heights, but to fit in, I would work to press down my fears so I could be part of my group of friends that seemed to be having so much fun. I can picture traveling up the incredible steel, and sometimes wooden, structures of old roller coasters. I felt exhilaration. I felt bravery. And when I reached the peak of the coaster, I felt like an idiot thinking that anything so frightening could be perceived as fun. I would scream into the depth of that giant drop with my heart pounding.
It seems that God has chosen to place me on a roller coaster this summer. He has both challenged and blessed me in my circumstances. A magnificent trip to Europe was certainly a blessing. Having 7 Euros to last for 11 days of vacation was certainly a challenge. Having sufficient pledges to build a new fellowship/community building is certainly a blessing. Having the trust and faith to step out of my comfort zone and into our community is to me a great challenge.
I often feel like God places us with others in a giant rock tumbler of life. You’ve seen those machines where you put a sharp rock that looks like nothing on the outside, then you turn on the tumbler and eventually you discover a smooth stone, highly polished, and often very beautiful. In the Old Testament we learn that God challenged the prophet Elijah in the tumbler of life. Our scripture lesson today is from 1Kings 17: verses 7-24. God sends the prophet Elijah to a drought stricken town in Phoenicia called Zaraphath, which means to smelt or refine in a crucible.
During this period of history, the majority of people in Canaan and Phoenicia were worshiping their supreme god named Baal. During the reign of Ahab, and his Phoenician wife, Jezebel, the practice of Baal worship became widespread in Israel. Baal was a fertility god who was believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to produce children. Baal worship was rooted in sensuality and involved ritualistic prostitution in the temples. At times, it was believed, Baal required human sacrifice, usually the first born of the one making the sacrifice. The priests of Baal appealed to their god in rites of wild abandon which included loud, ecstatic cries and self inflicted injury. God really had his hands full with those folks.
During the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, at the height of Baal worship in Israel, God directly confronted this paganism through his prophet Elijah. God did not send Elijah to directly prophesy to the Israelites, but instead sent him to a humble Phoenician widow in the home town of Jezebel.
Hear the Word of the Lord.
1 Kings 17:7-24
The Widow at Zarephath
7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
12 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread–only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it–and die.”
13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’ ”
15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.
17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
22 The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”
God is sending Elijah and this poor Phoenician widow tumbling down this road of life together. So how does he polish and refine them as they are able to triumph together? What does God expect of us as we tumble down this road that we call life?
First, amidst the tumbles of your life, strive to be patient and submit to God’s leading in your life. Elijah, as one of God’s prophets, was hoping that God would lead him into a faith revival of great proportions where he would impact many people. Instead, God sent him to minister to a lonely widow. God determined that Elijah’s revival would take lots of time. God sent Elijah to a most unlikely place to accomplish His goals. Often we are in a hurry and God is not. God sends us those often difficult, stretching experiences; trial upon trial, difficulty upon difficulty. Refining, working within us. From one difficulty to another. We must grow in patience. Submit to God’s leading. Try to become focused on what God is seeking to do within our lives. Learn to rest in Him, submit to Him, and trust in God’s perfect time.
Second, God wants us to have the kind of heart that he can work in. In the stress filled, often frustrating busyness of our lives, it is often easy to have hardened hearts to those with which we don’t agree, with those who are different from us, with those who do things with which we don’t approve, with those whose cultures and religions we don’t understand, or choose not to learn to understand. The people of Israel in this time, had hearts that were hardened from God. They were busy worshiping Baal; reveling in pleasure, not willing to do the sometimes difficult work God expects of us.
Elijah was lucky that the Phoenician widow had a heart that was open to learning about and trusting God. She may have been directed by King Ahab to turn in any person who was preaching against Baal. The widow, instead, opened her heart to the God of Elijah.
Perhaps she was disillusioned by the hardness of her life. She was a widow, the drought was starving her and her son; she could see no future. Her heart, through these terrible difficulties, was humble and broken. She was searching for what was really true. She was searching for a change in circumstances. She had a hungering, searching, weeping heart and God appeared in her life. We must also have the kind of heart that God can use, that God can bless, that God can touch. Guard against a hard heart, an unresponsive heart, an unrepentant heart, a heart that refuses to listen. A heart that is blocked. Have a heart that God can move in.
Third, practice what you know already about your God and let it grow. God sent Elijah to the unlikely town of Zaraphath to seek out this widow and God assured Elijah that they would both be taken care of. The widow was pretty unresponsive to Elijah at that first meeting. She really blasted him when she told him she was gathering sticks to build a fire for the final meal she would share with her son. Their last meal before starvation.
Elijah chose to practice his faith in God with the widow. Instead of blasting her back for her lack of cooperation, he practiced the faith he had learned when God had sent ravens to supply him with food. He encouraged the widow not to fear and to trust in the miracle that God would provide. And God did provide. There was always just enough flour and just enough oil to keep Elijah, the widow and her son alive; day after day after day. Elijah was practicing his trust in the miracles that God had already shown him. We must also grow through the strength of our Christian experiences. We must move on in our faith. Let’s not get stuck with God trying to teach us the same lesson over and over again.
Fourth, we must learn to always keep God in first place and see what He does in our lives. The widow trusted to make the last of her flour and oil into bread and feed Elijah first. God had commanded her to care for this prophet and she was obedient. We, too, must remain faithful, even through life’s greatest trials.
God is our foundation, our hope, and we must continue to put Him first. Put Him first and see what miracles He will do in your life by His great mercy and grace. For as much as 2 years, Elijah, the widow, and her son experienced this mercy and grace. The flour jar was always filled, the oil was always there, and there was always water to drink.
Fifth, know that God forgives and isn’t continually punishing us for our past mistakes. As we read in the scripture, after months of experiencing God’s blessings, tragedy strikes. The young son becomes ill, he gets worse and worse, and he dies. The widow lashes out at Elijah. “Why have you come to remind me of my sin and take my son?” The widow feels that this God of Elijah’s is punishing her for the sins of her past. She has started to believe in this powerful God of Elijah’s, but maybe the sins of her past were unforgivable after all. Even Elijah finds himself calling out to God and begs God to save the child’s life.
Our God does not hold our past transgressions as punishment. Our God is the God who holds out full and complete forgiveness. As Christians, we believe that Jesus the Christ has paid the debt of sin in full thru His death on the cross. We have the complete forgiveness of our sins according to the richness of His grace. The widow did not have that knowledge. Even Elijah did not fully understand the miracle that was about to happen. They both had to witness another miracle of God. Through Elijah’s prayers and intervention the widow’s son was saved.
Sixth, bring God’s life to others around you. Both Elijah and the widow were anguished and grief stricken over the boy’s death. By now, we can assume, that Elijah had a strong bond with the boy and he passionately begged God for the boy’s life. This is the first recorded instance of the raising of the dead in the Bible. Another miracle of God. One can only imagine the joy in the house as Elijah brings the son, once again alive, to his mother. She declared her faith in God and recognizes the word of the Lord as the truth.
As we are tumbled together along this road of life, we need to bring God’s grace to each one who God places in our path. We must bring an attitude of Jesus into all of our relationships. Words of encouragement, physical help, the grace of giving, thoughtfulness, love, or putting other’s concerns first. Bring the grace of God, the life of God, to people around you. Sometimes we need someone to minister to us. Other times it is our place to be the minister and bring God’s life to those around us. So, in this rock tumbler that we call life, God will polish us, draw us to Himself, help us to grow in our faith. He will teach us about the desires of His heart. He will encourage us to grow in our hope and love. He will grow Christ’s character within us and develop our gifts. We tumble through this life together, bumping into each other. Friends sharpening friends. People refining and polishing each other by God’s will. Let us minister to each other in this tumbling of life that we might triumph together.