Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Three)

1 Kings 17:17-24

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” (17:24 NIV).

Elijah found himself in a situation that no one had previously confronted. God had promised to provide for him through a widow and her flour and oil. But the widow’s son died unexpectedly. She blamed him for her son’s death, and it appeared that God’s promise had miscarried. Did the true God only give the Gentile woman an illusion of hope? How could he demonstrate that God was worthy of her trust? What could Elijah do or even say? Could the dead be raised? His response provides a helpful pattern for us. Elijah prayed effectively.

  • It was a fervent prayer, for “he cried out to the Lord”. The typical “church prayers” (Sunday service or small group) very rarely are spoken passionately. They are lukewarm, boring, and impersonal. People get more excited about junk mail or telemarketer calls than praying to the true and living God!
  • It was a personal prayer. He addressed his God—“O Lord my God”. He knew God, for he had waited on the Lord for daily provision. He knew that God understood his condition and believed that God cared about the widow and him. In contrast, “church prayers” seem like a phone call to some unknown person at a utility company. “With whom am I speaking?”
  • It was a bold prayer—“have you brought tragedy…?” Elijah didn’t whitewash the tragedy to appear reverent. He talked with the Lord in the hideous pain of the loss of the widow’s son. Why pray this way? Because God wants us to be real with him.
  • It was importunate prayer: “three times”. Some mistakenly suppose that prayer is a once spoken request, like the less they pray the more faith they’re supposed to have. Such wrong ideas come from a misunderstanding of Matthew 6:7, which they suppose “excuses” them from wrestling with God in prayer (cf. Colossians 4:12). Yet Jesus himself prayed repeatedly!
  • It was a specific prayer: “let this boy’s life return to him!” He didn’t pray glib, trite, vague requests. He asked for something precise. God wants us to pray this way.

Elijah received a miraculous answer. The means was the prayer of faith. By faith… Women received their dead, raised to life again (Hebrews 11:33-35). Elijah had the same faith Abraham did—that God could raise the dead (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). This is the same faith that every believer has—faith that God can and will raise the dead. He had the great faith to trust God for what had never happened before. Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NASB). Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

The cause was solely the power of God. Elijah’s faith by itself did nothing, but he had faith in the One who was, is and always will be All-powerful (cf. Acts 26:6-8). This exercise of faith showed the truth of God’s word (17:24). It showed he was really God’s prophet. It led the widow to a greater faith in the Lord.

With an ending like the one in this passage, it is easy to see the truth of Romans 8:28. But we must remember what the all things are which Paul includes in that reference. Read Romans 8:31-39 very carefully. Is your confidence in the living God who has all things under his control?

Are you worshipping the Sovereign God? Are you giving glory to him? “The whole life of a Christian should be nothing but praises and thanks to God; we should neither eat nor drink nor sleep, but eat to God and sleep to God and work to God and talk to God, do all to his glory and praise” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David


IMG_0909Psalm 5:1-3

O Lord, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you. Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly (NLT).

I think Psalm 5 is a neglected psalm. Over many years among many Christians, I have never heard anyone refer to it. In a way, this does not surprise me, since most believers run in narrow streets when it comes to the passages of Scripture they read, especially when they feel troubled, and the few hymns or praise songs they sing in their churches. I like the modern hymn “In Christ Alone”, but I don’t want to hear it every week. Romans eight is a great chapter, but others are just as valuable. I’m not sure why most Christians don’t refer to Psalm 5; perhaps the neglect can be traced to their pastors and teachers. However, this is not our topic today.

This Psalm, which is also by David, shows a man with spiritual intensity. David clearly was a man of strong desires and concentration. He was able to lead a band of unruly men for many years, while being godly. This is a rare combination. David’s passionate nature carried over into his friendship with the living God. He was not reluctant to use bold words and to tell God plainly what he thought about his circumstances and his opponents and about sin and its effects.

  • David’s intensity appears in his repeated requests for God to listen to him. Picture someone waving their arms as they strive for attention, or perhaps the endless sending of texts and emails. Throughout his life, David had enemies, who were also the Lord’s enemies, who wanted to destroy him. David knew his desperate situation and kept on asking, seeking, and knocking (cf. Matthew 7:7-8). Christians today would rather moan and groan to each other than pour out their heart’s concerns to their Father in heaven. Attendance at prayer meetings or involvement in prayer times in small groups lays bare the apathy of many. David gives us a better example. Call out to the Lord and ask him to hear.
  • David’s intensity led him to express how he felt. Believers in our time are too formal and socially obsessed. To cry or to groan in prayer…? Can’t do that; what might someone think? He wrote about groaning. This word is related to the word for mediate, and so we can think of a groaning meditation. To meditate is not to seek a feeling of passivity but of engagement with God and his truth. David sang about crying out to God for help. If you softly say help to people, I doubt that anyone will notice. Surely, God knows all our words before we speak them (Psalm 139:4). But that is not the issue. The Lord wants us to share our lives with him, and this involves making our desires, fears, and perplexities known to him.
  • David’s intensity caused him to focus on the Lord. He confessed his total and sole dependence on the Lord. He did not pray to anyone else. He also prayed in the morning. He started the day in fellowship with his God. This strengthened his commitment to the Lord. We can pray anytime of the day we wish. Sharon and I usually pray together at night. Praying in the morning is not a command, but it might be a helpful example to build our spiritual intensity.

I boldly suggest that we all think though the words of our text. Perhaps we need to read them out loud before we pray, yes, even when we pray with others. The Lord wants our hearts (Matthew 22:37). We can start by praying from our hearts instead of merely by reading our requests off prayer lists that are so common in churches. David the king was a man after God’s own heart. Let’s learn from the words of this song.

Grace and peace, David

Lessons from Ruth’s Conversion

IMG_0855Ruth 1:16-18

Ruth had chosen to follow the Lord, instead of making the choice for her former gods, as her sister-in-law had. Along with that choice came other immediate consequences that produced a new identity for her. Ruth knew this and was ready to accept it, though she could not realize the dramatic changes would follow. It is only when we begin to experience the reality of following the Lord that we start to understand the radical, new life that results from being part of the family of God.

When we become a believer in the true and living God, the way we look at ourselves changes. As a believer who lived before Christ’s death and resurrection, Ruth became part of the old covenant nation of Israel. She was joined to Yahweh and his people. This meant that she would from that time on live as one of the Lord’s people, keeping the law’s commands and regulations. What she ate, how she dressed, her thoughts, attitudes, words and actions were now within the boundaries of old covenant life. For example, she could longer have a ham sandwich for lunch! She had to keep the Sabbath. She had to keep the laws of ritual cleanliness. Yes, even the basic desire of her heart had to change.  Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

As new covenant people, we become part of Christ’s body or church (assembly or gathering). We are united to Christ by faith. Everything in our way of life must change. When we wake up every morning, we must remember we are in Christ and part of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have a new mission statement and a way of life that agrees with it (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:1-4:1; 1 Peter 1:13-2:3; etc.)

With this union with Christ to God the Father’s family, we gain a new passion for life. We stop wandering aimlessly through life and begin to live for the kingdom of God. Ruth’s passion showed up in the strong promise and oath she made (1:17), probably made with a fitting gesture, such as slashing one’s throat. (Remember that when people speak with emotion, we tend to use gestures!) She was very willing to join the people of God and to worship the true and living God the rest of her life.

True Christianity involves living with passion for the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. The good news has forever changed us, and we want others to hear the good news of Jesus and be saved! And so we gladly make sacrifices of wealth, health, leisure, honor, and perhaps even our lives for the Lord Christ.

Our daughter Sarah once attended at a meeting for managers, where the founder of the company told the story of the start of that company and the sacrifices many had made to launch it. Christ’s church grows in the same way. People make sacrifices for the benefit of others and to extend the spread of the good news. Are you passionate about what the mission of the church, the new covenant people? Are you glad that you’re part of the people that follow Jesus Christ?

Our hardships can become the doorway to faith in the Lord for others. What must have Naomi been thinking as she listened to Ruth’s confession of faith? We are not told! The writer allows us to ponder the scene in solitude. In any case, to the praise of God’s glory, all of Naomi’s complaints failed to have a detrimental influence on Ruth. But clearly, Naomi was not filled with joy at the moment, as this “pest” of a daughter-in-law walked by her side, because Naomi’s words were filled with her bitterness when she arrived in Bethlehem. However, God has told us the rest of the story that neither Naomi nor Ruth knew at that moment. God wants us to share his smile, as his sovereign grace as provided a kind, loving, believing sister-in-the-Lord to walk beside struggling Naomi. For at that time, the story of God’s glory was very much wrapped up in Ruth, and through her, Naomi’s life is about to change from bitter sorrow to sweet joy.

My friend, why not trade in your bitterness, sorrows, frustration, disappointment, and anger for the opportunity to serve the Lord with gladness, because he delights in joy and offers to share joy with you? Life is short. Don’t waste your life being peeved and pouting.

Think on the words of the last stanza of “The Master Has Called Us” by Sarah Doudney, 1871.

“The Master has called us, in life’s early morning,
With spirits as fresh as the dew on the sod:
We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
To cast in our lot with the people of God:
The Master has called us, His sons and His daughters,
We plead for His blessing and trust in His love;
And through the green pastures, beside the still waters,
He’ll lead us at last to His kingdom above.”

Grace and peace, David