11. Uncertainties of Provision (1)

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 11. Uncertainties of Provision (1)  

Gen 22:14   So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide.

Present Day: I write this particular study (for those who might come across it in the years ahead) in the early months of 2020, the year we suspect will go down in history as either the Year of the Great Coronavirus Pandemic, or the Year of the Great Coronavirus Panic. If I had written about God’s provision a few months ago, I guess most Christian readers would have read it with a big yawn. After all, we live in an age of immense abundance and so have no fears of running short. That was a few months ago. Since then we have seen reports of panic buying in both the UK and the USA, so much so, and creating so much government concern, that we even saw the American President on television at a press conference appealing to his people not to panic-buy.

Abraham: It is the incident involving Abraham going to sacrifice the miraculous child of promise, Isaac, that provokes the first reference to God being a provider. In his case it was simply the provision of a ram to use instead of his son, prefiguring Jesus being our lamb who is offered instead of us. But a Provider is one who supplies something to meet a need, whether it be Jesus to replace us at the Great Judgment or simply physical needs being met to preserve and continue life. It is the latter we will consider in this study.

Manna: It is the need of Israel in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land that has the Lord providing in a most incredible way with this miraculous “bread from heaven” (Gen 16:4), that appeared as ‘thin flakes like frost’, (v.14) “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (v.31)  I called it miraculous because

– it appeared every morning, except on the Sabbath,

– if you collected too much of it, the excess went off the next day,

– on the sixth day you collected twice as much to cover the Sabbath – which didn’t go off!

– it continued coming for forty years until they went to enter the Land.

It was supposed to have been a provision for a month or so until they entered the Land but when they refused and ended up wandering the desert it continued for the next forty years. No doubt, as they had herds of cattle and sheep they sometimes supplemented it with meat but it was God’s basic provision for them throughout that time.

Joseph: Special provision is meeting needs in special times of need and so the onset of a famine would be such a time. I suspect we rarely think of the story of Joseph in Genesis as a story about provision, but it is 100% that. God knows that in a couple of decades a famine is going to strike the whole of what we refer to as the Middle East. The story of Joseph is the story of God choosing a man who will be open to His prophetic leading and come up with divinely inspired wisdom so that in seven good years of abundance, cereal is saved in large quantities in order to feed the nations in seven years of famine. Whether we say God caused the famine or God simply knew it would happen, is really irrelevant. The key issue is that He provided for the world through His wisdom, a multiple provision if you like:

– the amazing circumstances that brought Joseph to power, that a number of times involved ‘the favour of the Lord’ opening the way up for him,

– the gift of interpretation of dreams that opened the door into the palace,

– the gift of wisdom to know how to handle the revelatory dreams,

– seven years of great abundance,

– grace and insight to understand God’s purposes and deal kindly with his brothers.

Elijah: During another such time,  through the life of Elijah, we see multiple examples of the Lord’s provision:

  1. Famine ushered in by the word of the Lord through Elijah (1 Kings 17:1)
  2. The famine would not have taken hold when the Lord tells Elijah that He will provide for him by ravens bringing food (1 Kings 17:4-6) while he lived in seclusion to the east of the Jordan
  3. When his supply of water there runs out the Lord instructs him to go north of Israel to Sidon where a widow will provide for him (1 Kings 17:7-10)
  4. She has run out of flour and oil but the Lord miraculously provides for her, and him! (v.12-16)
  5. A while later her son dies and Elijah restores him (v.17-24)
  6. In dealing with the prophets of Baal (v.19-41) fire consumes Elijah’s offering
  7. When it is all over, by Elijah’s word the rain comes (v.41,45)
  8. When Elijah flees Jezebel’s wrath, the Lord sends an angelic provider (1 Kings 19:5-8)
  9. The Lord also provides him with a successor (1 Kings 19:16)
  10. Yet he still brings a convicting word from the Lord to Ahab that brings him to repentance (1 Kings 21:17-29)
  11. Later Elijah challenges Ahaziah’s messengers about his unbelief (2 Kings 1:3-5)
  12. Again and again he receives protection against arrest (2 Kings 1:9-15)
  13. He gets a word condemning the king who dies (2 Kings 1:16,17)
  14. God sends a chariot of fire to take him home (2 Kings 2:11)

Summary: So how, in what situations full of uncertainty above, did God provide for Elijah, thus bringing certainty by His provision?

  1. a) Prophetic words changing the circumstances (1 – famine, 7 – rain)
  2. b) Prophetic words to individuals (10 – Ahab, 11,13 – Ahaziah)
  3. c) Miraculous provision of food (2 – ravens, 8 – an angel)
  4. d) General guidance (2 – go east, 3 – go north)
  5. e) Fire from heaven (6 – against false prophets, 12 – against arrest)
  6. f) Other miracles (4 – flour and oil, 5 – raising dead)
  7. g) Ongoing (9 – a successor, 14 – transport to heaven)

A combination that we might boil down to revelation (prophecy etc.) and miracles (power).

And So?  I remember the testimony of a man of God who was crying out to God, “Where is the God of Elijah?” and back from heaven came the challenge, “Where are the Elijahs?” The reality is that we may add a further list to clarify the point of this series, the uncertainties coming through the threats or spiritual apostasy that Elijah faced:

– unbelief in the nation and in kings, false prophets,

– threats brought by those rulers and spiritual deceivers, and threats to his very existence,

– the uncertainties of living in times of famine and personal shortage,

– the uncertainties of his role as a prophet.

I think the conclusion to all this about Elijah must be that he certainly was a somewhat scary guy to encounter, simply because God was so powerfully with him. The trouble about that is that it can disguise the uncertainties that he himself had, most clearly seen after Jezebel threatened him. If you were Elijah you certainly would have been able to look back at triumphs but that in no way detracts from the uncertainties that went with it.  But then serving God by faith is like that.

And Us? That leaves me pondering, is it a case of the greater the faith we have, the greater God can use us? I suppose the corollary to that must be if we have little faith, God will be restricted in using us. Ah, but Jesus said you only need faith the size of a mustard seed (i.e. tiny) to be able to move mountains! (Mt 17:20) Where does faith come from? By hearing (Rom 10:17) so the more we learn to listen – and then obey the little bit we’ve heard – the more we can be used by God. Awesome! Let’s go for it!

17. John what?

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 17.  John what?

Mt 11:7,8  As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes?

If anyone needs the reminder, we are studying the pictures that Jesus used in his teaching ministry as seen in Matthew’s Gospel. We arrive at a point where John the Baptist’s disciples have come to question Jesus and, now having received answers, they leave. The onlooking crowd watch with interest, and Jesus takes the opportunity to challenge them as to exactly who John was.

If Jesus lived today, imagine him using a PowerPoint presentation and it is as if he clicks up on the screen a series of pictures and asks the crowd about each picture as he asks them so say who John was. After all, they had gone out into the desert to the Jordan river to see and listen to John, so he starts by asking them, “What did you go out into the desert to see?” Why did they go? What did they find when they got there?

Click. First picture: “A reed swayed by the wind?” (v.7b) Had they gone out to the Jordan to just look at the reeds on the riverside? Was John just another ‘reed’, something quite ordinary? Not really! A shaken reed is often used as a picture of someone who is unsure of themselves, a doubter? Was that John? Definitely not! So, “If not, what did you go out to see?” (v.8a)

Click. Second picture: “A man dressed in fine clothes?” (v.8b) This would have produced a laugh. Definitely not! No, “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4) No, John had had a rather wild look about him. This was no rich man, but a poorly dressed man who lived off the produce of the land. Jesus prods their thinking: “No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces,” (v.8c) No, they definitely hadn’t gone out to see royalty. “Then what did you go out to see?” (v.9a)

Click. Third picture: “A prophet?” (v.9b) Well yes, I suppose so. We hadn’t had a prophet in the land for well over four hundred years, but from all we’ve been taught, yes, John fits the mould of a prophet.

Click. Fourth image. A question mark. “Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” (v.9c) What? More than a prophet? How can you have more than a prophet? What does more than a prophet mean?

Click. Fifth image, just the words, “A Messenger”. “This is the one about whom it is written: ” `I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (v.10) Ah yes, the last book of the scrolls, Malachi, spoke of this: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.” (Mal 3:1) If they had regularly attended the local synagogue from childhood, they would have been taught this. But there is also this surprise link to this messenger for after he has come, “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple” Wow! The messenger precedes the Messiah! What is Jesus saying? Is he saying he’s the Messiah?

Click. Sixth image. Another question mark. Jesus is now in full teaching mode: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (v.11) Hold on, let’s take all that in.  John is greater than anyone previously born????  Why? He was just a messenger you said. But what messenger? The messenger who stands at the open doors to the room where all are gathered and proclaims in a loud voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the President of the United States.” (or “her Majesty the Queen, Queen Elizabeth the Second” or whoever the other very important dignitary it is) or in this case, “the Long-Expected Messiah”. Ah! John was greater than any other previous human being because he had the unique privilege of ushering in the ministry of the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah!

But what about, “least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”? Well, any one of us who now take the name of Christian, is a child of God, uniquely born of the Spirit of God. Even John wasn’t that! We had better follow through Jesus’ teaching. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” (v.12). Of the paraphrase versions I think the Living Bible puts it best: And from the time John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing until now, ardent multitudes have been crowding toward the Kingdom of Heaven.”  John had stirred a hunger in the lives of many, to get right with God (hence being baptized by him). As someone has well said, “the kingdom of heaven is not for the well-meaning but for the desperate.” The word ‘forceful’ above’ could be ‘urgent’, people who have come to see their need and been utterly convicted that they must do something about it – NOW!

Jesus comes to the end of his ‘slide presentation’: For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” (v.13) Yes, the Law spoke and the Prophets spoke about the coming one, the Messiah, who will, according to Malachi be proceeded by Elijah, so….

Click. Seventh image. A photo of John overprinted with one word: “Elijah”. “if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” (v.14) That’s it. You’ve been faced up with the ministry of John. Not just a reed, something ordinary, someone unsure of himself, not a rich, influential personage, not even ‘just’ a prophet, but the Lord’s Messenger, the herald of the Messiah, the ‘Elijah’, the heralding prophet that Malachi spoke about. He has come; the Messiah has come. Got the picture?

Pictures and more pictures as Jesus seeks to help us take in truth. Why do we preachers (and why have I) so long focused on rules and principles when Jesus gives us such a clear example of how to get into people’s minds?  Use pictures. When we try to convey the Gospel to others, do we use principles or do we convey it in picture terms, because that is what the Gospels are – a treasury of pictures. Aren’t they wonderful! Isn’t the Lord wonderful that He hasn’t given us a book of laws or principles but a story book, true stories, but a story book nevertheless, because He knows that most of us operate in pictures in our minds and in our imaginations. How wonderful. Thank Him for that.

18. 1 Kings (2)

After a week’s break we pick up and continue with…

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 18.  1 Kings (2)

1 Kings 18:21   Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

OK I cheated! Yes, I made it sound in the previous meditation of this series that I would take the two highlight verses of the book together and then we would move on. Yes, I know, that was the implication, but as I went to move on to 2 Kings I realised that one of the greatest prophetic action highlights of the Old Testament was still there later in 1 Kings, and it involves Elijah, and so we must not miss him!

The action of Elijah on Mount Carmel must be one of the greatest showmanship examples of the whole Old Testament. Elijah seems to appear from nowhere in 1Kings 17 with his first recorded prophetic announcement” Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1) He is clearly a prophet who comes from somewhere east of the Jordan. Ahab was a bad king, a very bad king, king of the northern kingdom with his palace in Samaria, so presumably Elijah first contacted him somewhere in that region. A three year drought follows and the story tells of how Elijah survived it (1 Kings 17). After three years the Lord tells him to go and confront Ahab again (18:1,2). Now he clearly has a divine strategy in mind because when he meets Ahab he tells him to get all the false prophets and turn up at Mount Carmel – which was over on the coast (18:18,19).

Thus we find this amazing confrontation. The drought and subsequent famine still continue so perhaps Ahab goes along with this and instructs all the prophets of Baal and Asherah to turn up at Carmel. Elijah has also instructed that people from all over Israel should be called there and so there is this mighty national gathering with a king, lots of ‘prophets’ and lots of people – and Elijah.

Before he does anything else Elijah challenges the entire ‘congregation’ with this challenge found in our verse above: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (v.21)  i.e. half these prophets say Baal is the deity to follow but this is Israel, a nation called into being by Yahweh. Choose who you will acknowledge is the true God. He then goes on to set up this exercise to prove who is the true, real, living, existing and powerful God. Let’s get two bulls, he says, and slaughter them. You prophets of Baal go first and offer one of them to your god and call on him to send fire to burn up your offering. I’ll do the same thing and the God who answers by fire is truly God. Off you go, you go first.

And so they set up their altar with one of the bulls on it and spend the whole day calling on Baal, but to no effect. Elijah makes fun of them but then takes over and sets up his own altar with a bull on and, as if to make a point, has lots of water poured all over it, and then stands back. Fire comes from heaven and Elijah wins and the prophets of Baal lose and are shown to be charlatans and are killed (see 1 Kings 18:22-40).

Now the canny modern scientist might say, “Ah, a high point, lots of water that would possibly attract lightning. Obviously a natural phenomena!” Possibly. But that does not deny Elijah getting wisdom from God of how to go about it. The only other problem is that in what follows, there is obviously a clear sky and a storm does NOT come for some time (see v.41-46). No, sorry, act of God!

And that’s where the challenge comes from this amazing story. Act of God or natural phenomena? That’s not the challenge. The challenge is why do we so often try and explain away the  miraculous works of God? Why is the world scared silly of attributing miracles to God? Well if you have ready these meditations for any length of time, you will know that I define Sin as ‘self-centred godlessness that is inherent within us, which leads to unrighteous thoughts, words and actions’. Because we are all tainted with this propensity we all still have this tendency to be self-centred and godless because we want to be the ones who determine our destiny. Thus we question God’s existence and His actions.

It is only when His own Holy Spirit piles up the evidence before us and we become convicted of our self-centred godlessness and of the truth about God, that we surrender our lives and accept the saving work of Jesus Christ and are born again. But, as we have noted recently, we are still tainted with this thing called Sin but now have the resources to overcome it. But beware, it is still lurking there in the background and you become aware of it when you start recognising such thoughts as, “Was this a natural phenomena or was this God?” and you recognize you are trying to erase Him from the story.

But there is also a second challenge to this story. Elijah thought he was the only prophet of God left (v.22) yet the Lord was later to point out to him that there were yet seven thousand in Israel who were NOT Baal followers (19:18), but that did not stop him standing out with this amazing act of faith to confront what he saw as the whole of the rest of the population from king down. The fact that he believed he was utterly alone makes this even more incredible. So here is the challenge, regardless of whether we are alone or there are other believers in our vicinity, will we remain faithful to the Lord and obedient to His leading. It is unlikely that the Lord will call any of us to such dramatic action until we have walked with Him some time and had our faith built up. That had happened with Elijah as the previous chapter showed.

Today, of course, we know we do not stand alone for we are part of the body of Christ, the Church, and within that body there are mature leaders and mixed ministries, all there to support and encourage us in our personal calling.

The question we might ask is, if we believe we have heard from the Lord with a new task, perhaps a new mission, do I have people around me to whom I can submit this for checking? Beware the ‘lone wolf’ syndrome.   As I have testified in others of these meditations, I have been privileged to step out in relatively minor escapades, as some might see them, but even more importantly been part of the checking process for some fairly large and dramatic ‘Elijah-type’ evangelistic activities. If we cannot submit our calling to others, we need to question why that is. I do know of those who have ‘freaky lives’ but they are freaky not so much because of the weird things they do, but more because they are lone wolves who refuse to submit to others. (Check out 1 Cor 16:15,16, Eph 5:21, Heb 13:7) Resist this lone-wolf mentality, get the support, encouragement and wisdom of others and then step out into the acts of faith to which God calls you.

6. Marks of a Prophet

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 6. The Marks of a Prophet

Mk 1:6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

Real prophets, I suspect, are fairly few and far between. Prophetic gift, I believe, abounds. You’ve only got to do a simple study in 1 Corinthians 14 to see the use and benefit of the prophetic gift in the local church, but prophets are a ministry to the wider body. John the Baptist is a prophet in the mould of the Old Testament prophets – even in appearance: “They replied, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.” (2 Kings 1:8)

Why such rough clothing? I suspect the answer is so that you didn’t need to change your clothes often, especially if you lived in the desert and didn’t have a wardrobe with you! It may also be a sign of their austerity; these are men who don’t care much for the values of the world; their head is in heaven even if their feet are on earth.

Why the diet? Simply because that was all that was around. Locusts were a ‘clean food’, although some suggests this refers to a form of plant. That’s what he ate because there wasn’t a supermarket nearby!

The thing about prophets is that they stood out like signposts to heaven. They sometimes did freaky things. Isaiah, for instance, went round for three years, probably only in a loincloth (see Isa 20:1-4) as a sign, at the Lord’s command. Ezekiel had to publicly lay on his side for a long time as another sign (see Ezek 4:4). Virtually all of the prophets seemed to get opposition from kings and the people. They acted as a conscience for the nation and as such, especially in times of apostasy, they were unpopular. We aren’t told of anything similar in the New Testament but there were clearly prophets operating (e.g. Acts 11:27,28) who stood out more by the message they brought than for anything else. Today in many churches prophetic gift is common although prophets are fewer.

Lord, open my ear to hear what you are saying about our world today and what you want us to be doing in it. Your word reveals you as a God who communicates with His people, yet so often they did not ‘hear’ because their minds were closed to you and they had turned their backs on you. May that not be true of us in your Church today. Open our ears to hear what you wish to say to the Church and to the world today.

19. To Elijah

“God turned up” Meditations: 19 :  To Elijah

1 Kings 19:11-13 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

We are not told when the Lord first ‘turned up’ for Elijah. The first we read of Elijah is, Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word. (1 Kings 17:1) These are the words of a confident prophet, a man who knows God and who knows his calling. He’s a pretty powerful character!

After that we read, “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.” (v.2,3).  He clearly hears God’s directions – and follows them.  But it continues, “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.” (v.7-9)  So he does that.  The story continues: “After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.” (1 Kings 18:1,2)  What followed was the amazing incident on Mount Carmel (see rest of chapter 18) where the Lord sent fire to burn up his sacrifice and shame the false prophets who were subsequently killed.  This was a most incredible encounter and conflict.

Now the upset this caused is quite obvious: “Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:1,2) Now that’s an odd thing because surely it would have been easier for Jezebel to just send some soldiers and kill Elijah.  No, perhaps she is scared of him and this is just scare tactics to get rid of him.  It works: Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (v.3)  Eventually he ends up in a cave at Mount Horeb.

There the Lord confronts him: “And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v.9) Elijah explains and the Lord instructs him, “The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” (v.11) The Lord is about to turn up in a big way. “Stand…. in the presence of the Lord” simply means the Lord is going to come there in a very obvious way. The Lord confirms that by “for the Lord is about to pass by. i.e. I’m not staying but just turning up for a specific reason – you need help and encouragement (implied).

Now I think if we were Elijah we might not like the sound of that. The Lord has spoken to us and guided us and empowered us a number of times, but if He is using this sort of language He is saying I am about to ‘turn up’ in a significant way. For what reason we are not sure, but when He talks about making His presence known, He obviously intends to create a stir and impact on Elijah. Elijah, brace yourself, this is going to be something!

Then, “a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD. Wow! This is awesome. The power of God is here, but hold on, “but the LORD was not in the wind.” So what was that about? The Lord just demonstrating His might? Next, “After the wind there was an earthquake.” Awesome!  The whole earth shakes. This is mighty power, “but the LORD was not in the earthquake.” What? Where is the Lord then? Why the earthquake?  Just showing a bit more of what He can do! Then, “After the earthquake came a fire.” Whoops, this is getting close and personal. The earthquake was shaking but the fire could burn me up! But where is the Lord? I’m seeing all these demonstrations of power but the Lord still isn’t making His presence known here. He’s still holding off. Then, “And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” He’s here! To be able to hear a whisper means that the person is close. Then comes the conversation between them.

Yet as we read on there is no manifestation of the Lord; Elijah simply hears a voice. Now I don’t know about you but I find this both awesome and encouraging.  I mean, if I suddenly heard this audible whisper coming from behind me as I am typing these words, it would scare the life out of me because I know there is no one else in the room beside me – or at least there hadn’t been until that moment, but someone is now there – and close! Scary! Awesome!

But then if this is the Lord turning up, especially after He’s given warning that He’s coming, it must mean that He is trying to convey something particular to me. To me it seems like He is trying to convey intimacy. He’s actually not here in a mind-blowing vision that would probably knock me over; He’s here quietly communicating His presence to me in a way that is not overwhelming. Suddenly I realise that this is how He does mostly turn up. So often when He’s spoken to me it’s been in a quiet whisper, so quiet I could have almost missed it. This is Almighty God who loves us and understands us and so often comes so quietly and gently we might almost miss Him. How amazing. He comes intimately and close and He’s there for us. Wonderful!

55. Example of Elijah

Meditations in James: 55: The Example of Elijah

Jas 5:17,18 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Most of us can look back and see people who, if they weren’t quite role models for us, were certainly people who impacted our lives (for good or bad) in some way. Perhaps we took them for granted, but nevertheless they still made an impression upon us. They might have been a family member or they might have been a friend or a teacher or a leader of some kind. It is natural to look at other people and be touched by their good example, especially. Many Christians come across a character in the Bible who seems to stand out to them and impress them in some particular way. We learn, not only by direct teaching, but also by example.

James uses just such an example to help us focus even more on what he has been saying. Do you remember back in chapter four he called us to side with God against the world?  He called us to live lives submitted to God, lives lived out in the light of our relationship with God. Yes, it was our relationship with the Lord that he went on to talk more about, until in recent verses he comes to talk about prayer as a natural expression of that relationship. In trouble? Pray! Happy? Pray! Sick? Pray! Guilty? Pray! Oh yes, as we’ve said previously, prayer is the classic expression of faith, of this relationship with the Lord being lived out.

But now he wants us to also realise the impact of prayer, the power of prayer, the importance and significance of prayer, and to do that he uses Elijah as an example. Now he’s aware that because Elijah was a great prophet who was remembered for doing great things, we might consider Elijah was right out of our league and therefore not identify with him. Hence he starts off, Elijah was a man just like us.” Yes, he did do some great things, but in many ways he was a very ordinary sort of person. Read Elijah’s story some time (1 Kings 17 on) and you’ll see that he really did have feet of clay sometimes, a very ordinary man. But He prayed. Elijah had a relationship with the Lord and it was that which made him stand out for some of the things the Lord enabled him to do.

But more than that, He prayed earnestly. As he came to God, he obviously caught something of God’s heart, and prayed it some more. As he prayed he found he was getting an assurance from the Lord about what he was praying so, He prayed earnestly that it would not rain. Now when we look up his story we don’t find that part recorded. All we find is, Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1). Because he was so sure that he had heard God, he conveyed it to Ahab the king. Now if you’re like me, I guess that at that point, he is really praying! Once you step out in faith on what God has said, you really want to be justified and see it happen!

Well, he prayed and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Was it Elijah making it not rain for that time? No, it was the Lord, but Elijah shared in it in as much as he shared in the Lord’s heart and was the messenger to convey it to those on the earth who would be affected by it.  Then James tells us,Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain. Again we are not told in the Kings accounts exactly what he said. What we find is, And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” (1 Kings 18:41,42). Still in the Spirit, following his episode with the prophets of Baal, Elijah turns to Ahab and finds himself basically saying, “OK, now it will rain, now the land has been cleansed of this apostasy.” What is this climbing to the top of Carmel and bending face down and puting his face between his knees? He is praying, and he carried on praying earnestly, for the same reason as before, until the signs of rain came, followed very rapidly by the rain itself.

Now did you see something in that? If we are right in our assessment of how things happened with Elijah, he had a relationship with the Lord in which, as he prayed, the Lord conveyed His heart to Elijah. All that it needed was for Elijah to respond, which he did, which then provided an even greater motivation to pray. In all this it was God taking the opportunity of the relationship He had with Elijah, to make His will known on earth before He acted. Both times He wanted to do something, and used Elijah to convey it. Both times, as James says, it was as Elijah prayed that he caught the sense of God’s will and was able to declare it. Prayer is the doorway to heaven whereby we catch the will of God and are able to express it on the earth. As we express what God has conveyed to us, He then does it and people realise that it is indeed an act of God and He is glorified.

This is why James wants us to maintain this relationship with the Lord, rejecting the world’s advances, so that we can become instruments to bring glory to God. Isn’t that wonderful! Let’s be that!

Walk of Despair

WALKING WITH GOD. No.40

1 Kings 19:3,4 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD ,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

We have previously commented along these lines, but it bears repeating, that the idea that the Christian life is always smooth and easy is unreal. Christians have to live in this Fallen World and so things go wrong and people are nasty. To see the reason why Elijah was running for his life, we have to see the previous two verses: “Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” This was a very real threat from a very nasty person! There was a contract out on Elijah’s head! But, you might say, wasn’t Elijah this great prophet of the Lord so he could simply stand up to the Queen? Well actually, no, because that is the problem.

The problem is not only the Queen, it is that Elijah has just been through an amazing spiritual battle and would be feeling exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Please realize that this was all in the service of his Lord. Even Jesus took time out to rest after his busy schedule. The reality is that when you are giving out spiritually, it can leave you drained. Yes, the Lord will be your strength and yes, He will restore you, but for that moment you are empty, needing to be refilled, and it is often that at that moment the enemy attacks, when he sees you are vulnerable. The response? You feel weak and fearful and want to run, escape to a quiet place and fall asleep (v.5). Did the Lord chide him for this? No! Instead He sent an angel who provided supernatural provision for Elijah to enable him to get to the place of meeting with God again. This is a very real experience and we need to really take on board the elements of it.

First note that we live in a state of war with Satan and sometimes he seems to come like a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) and when he comes like that he seeks to create fear in us.

Second, note that he comes to attack like this when we are vulnerable and probably when we have just been giving out a great deal, and even when we have just had a great victory.

Third, the crucial thing here is to be aware of what is going on. When Peter in the verse just referred to warns about Satan coming as a roaring lion, he starts, “ Be alert…..” Very often Christians become casualties simply because they did not realize what was going on and did not take steps to counter it. Emotional responses when you are at this place of attack are fear, doubt, feeling down, worrying and so on. They are all things the enemy seeks to impose upon you. Realise what is happening.

The fourth thing is to get out of the firing line. It was sensible, in the absence of a word from the Lord, to get out of range of the Queen. When you are feeling weak and vulnerable step back from the front line until you can be restored. While you stay there you are simply a target for more blasting from the enemy, and that isn’t necessarily the big obvious things, it can be the subtle temptation that brings your downfall into sin.

The fifth thing is to get with God. Elijah made for Horeb, or Sinai, the known place of encounter with the Lord. Even to get there he needed supernatural help. It may be that you need help from the Lord and that ‘angelic’ help can actually be through others. If you have those who are close to you, ask them to pray and carry on praying for you. (If you don’t find them!) I have a small group of people I confide in who pray for me all the time, but they find it particularly helpful if I share with them what is happening to me. Perhaps we need a retreat – it can be a day or a week. We would like to say that the ‘walk of despair’ should only be temporary, but unless you do some of these things, it can extend. Prov 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” It is the same principle that applies here. If you stand alone you are vulnerable. If you have those who can be made aware of the battle and the subsequent weakness, you are on the way to recovery.

The ‘walk of despair’ is all about resources, or to be more precise, shortage of them. In your daily walk with God, when you are in the midst of the battle, those resources can run low. Listen to the apostle Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (2 Cor 1:8,9). Did you see that? “pressure, far beyond our ability to endure” Why does the Lord allow that? Listen to Paul again, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” (v.10,11). There it is, exactly as we were saying. This happens, share it, get prayer support to get to the Lord and “he will deliver.” Hallelujah!

Walk of Anticipation

WALKING WITH GOD. No.39

1 Kings 18:43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

Sometimes in the Christian life, in our walk with God, we seem to be waiting and waiting and nothing seems to change. At those times it is easy to give up, but that is something we must resist. The writer of the Proverbs understood this: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Prov 13:12). The Message version speaks of ‘unrelenting disappointment’. Hope that keeps on getting put off, disappointment that keeps on and on, these are things that wear us down and perhaps these are the things the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.(Gal 6:9). Perhaps that was also in Jesus’ mind when we find, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Lk 18:1). No, the Bible writers clearly understood the human condition and they knew that when we expect something and it doesn’t happen, and keeps on not happening, there is a strong temptation to give up.

This makes the example of Elijah all the more helpful, so let’s see what is behind our verse above. Elijah has just been through the amazing tussle with the prophets of Baal where God turned up for him and brought fire down on his sacrifice to confirm His presence with Elijah. The Lord has stood up for His man, and that must have felt good to Elijah. After the prophets of Baal have been disposed of, Elijah turns to King Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” (1 Kings 18:41). Now that is an amazing prophetic command because there has been no rain for three years and the sky is still perfectly clear. For there to be rain there needs to be clouds – and there are none! Elijah is saying to the king, it’s all right, you can go and celebrate now, the drought is over. Elijah has just stood in faith against the prophets of Baal and now he stands in faith against the drought. So what does he do? “So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees” (v.42). He prays! There is an interesting example to follow here. It is all very well to know the will of God (the drought is ending) but we are still to be part of the process of bringing it about by praying for that will to come into being. Elijah knows rain is coming, but he now needs to pray it into being. It’s just how it works.

But Elijah needs to know how long to pray, so he sends his servant to go to look for the clouds. There are none. Now I wonder why Elijah did this? Why couldn’t he have just looked himself? There may be two answers. First he may have been too burdened and felt he needed to totally immerse himself in prayer and, second, he may have felt he wanted to involve his servant and teach him something about spiritual realities. This servant would remember what happened because he was involved in it. His part was to walk the walk of faith, or the walk of obedience, or the walk of anticipation; we can call it a number of things. This servant could have just sat round the corner and not bothered to go. He could have thought, “This is crazy, Elijah has finally flipped after all his exertions with the false prophets,” and not bothered to go. After all, where he was standing he could see around him that there were no clouds!

But this servant doesn’t do that. The man of God has spoken the word from God and so his role is to follow through as requested. He hadn’t had the word but he knew the man who had had it. That was enough. So he goes to the lookout point where he can see across the sea, but there is no cloud. He returns and tells his master. Seven times at his master’s bidding he goes to look and six times he sees nothing. Humanly speaking, with every additional time he would be thinking, “This is a waste of time!” but there is a spiritual dimension to all this – God has spoken, the man of God has spoken, and so ‘sometime’ it IS going to happen. Eventually the word IS fulfilled: “The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, `Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.” (v.44,45)

Prophetic people are notorious for getting the timing wrong, but that need not put us off. For decades now we had heard prophetic words saying ‘revival is coming’, and it hasn’t. It’s all right, don’t be put off when dates were attached that didn’t work out, it will happen, in God’s time. Just keep walking the walk of anticipation. He’s said it, so it will come – eventually.

Listen to how Jesus finished off his parable in Luke 18 about persisting in prayer: “And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?(v.6-8). Keep on praying, he taught, because the answer will come, and by the way, when I come back and you’ve been waiting and waiting for me, will you still be faithful? Will you still be walking the walk of anticipation, knowing it’s just a matter of time? Hang on in there! Walk the walk!

Miraculous Provision

WALKING WITH GOD. No.38

1 Kings 17:15,16 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. 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.

Miracles don’t happen, miracles rarely happen, miracles frequently happen, thus runs the gamut of people’s ideas. Probably for many Christians the viewpoint would be, miracles can happen but never for me. That idea is probably built on two further ideas. First, I have no need of a miracle and second, God doesn’t turn up in my life like that anyway. Well what is a miracle? It is a sovereign act of God to bring about the existence of something that didn’t previously exist, or to change something, and both things are against the course of nature.

The intriguing thing about the miracle that occurred here in today’s verses, is that God took something that already existed and kept on making it exist, even when some of it was taken away and used up. The same thing occurred when Jesus performed the miracles of the feeding of the five thousand (Mt 14:15-21) and the feeding of the four thousand (Mt 15:32 -38). There too he took a small quantity of food and made it stretch round a large number of people. The other well-known ‘provision’ miracle of Jesus was the changing of water into wine (Jn 2:1-10), this time changing something that existed into something else. Other miracles that Jesus performed that went against nature were walking on water (Mt 14:25 ), and the calming the storm (Mk 4:39). Of course all his acts of healing and raising people from the dead all come under the heading of the miraculous as well, all things that clearly went against nature. Miracles of provision where there was nothing previously were the two draughts of fish (Lk 5:4-10 & Jn 21:6).

The question has to be asked, why miracles? Well in Jesus’ case in the examples of all the healings he did, the simple answer has to be compassion and because he could do it. Those of us who struggle with miracles actually struggle with the concept of a God who is there, who created this world and therefore clearly has the power to change this world as He sees fit. It’s as simple as that. We may be frightened of miracles because they challenge our unbelief, but don’t write off miracles as impossible because you are writing off the God who the Bible proclaims from beginning to end who is all-powerful and who created the world, sustains this world, knows everything there is to know about this world and can, therefore, change this world as and when He wants! Why should He want to change it in the form of what we call miracles? Because the Bible shows Him not as some impersonal, unfeeling force in the background, but a living, feeling, benign and full of love Being who interacts with this world that He has made. Very simply God loves people and turns up and blesses them in the miraculous simply because He loves them and can do it!

In the case of Elijah God has performed this ongoing miracle for this woman as a means of providing for her and her son and for Elijah. How did God do it? Don’t be silly, you can’t explain miracles! He just speaks and things come into being. He has that power because He is God. Now the bigger question that may be in your mind is, well I don’t have a need so why should God turn up in this way for me? Why shouldn’t He? I wonder how many times in life God does things that change the course of nature or change the course of circumstances without us ever noticing. I wonder sometimes if, when we get to heaven, God will ever let us look back and see over our past lives but from His viewpoint. If He does I suspect we may be very surprised at the number of times He intervenes in the affairs of the earth on behalf of His children, us!

However, one has to agree that much of the time it seems we don’t need a miracle because most of the time most of us don’t stretch ourselves in His service where our resources need miraculously replenishing. But what about the illness or the infirmity that we seem stuck with, what about the thing that seems impossible to change? Yes, if you look around your life, it is quite possible that you will see examples of things where we tolerate the absence of provision whether it is the absence of health, or healing or whatever else. Do we not get because we do not ask? (Jas 4:2). Did Jesus not teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, (Mt 6:11) i.e. please provide for me all I need to live today in your kingdom.

Elijah had put himself out on a limb in God’s service in difficult times, yet God was there for him and in this beautiful way seen in our verses today, provided for Him. The question of miracles is a real challenge to our faith. To deny the possibility is simply unbelief; let’s not try to rationalise it and explain it away, it’s unbelief! Perhaps we need to be like the father of the little boy who, when Jesus said, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” responded, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief !” (Mk 9:23,24)

Unusual Provision

WALKING WITH GOD. No.37

1 Kings 17:6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

The subject of the provision of God is both varied and exciting, and it takes us away from the gloom of the kings as we look in these next four days at the walk with God as it comes to us through incidents in Elijah’s life. Elijah was a prophet who had dealings with the very ungodly and unrighteous king, Ahab (1 Kings 17:1). He has just pronounced a three year drought for Israel and the Lord has told him to leave the area and go to a place east of the Jordan. This was not a day of social security and so the question of food or drink was a very real one, especially when you are in desert areas.

Now the first thing to note is that Elijah had clearly had a word from the Lord about the drought, and he had now clearly had a word from the Lord about where he should go. He is clearly, therefore, serving the Lord and being obedient to the Lord. He is in a good place with the Lord and so, even though the geographical location and climate are inhospitable, he can still trust the Lord to look after him. In this he is quite different from a number of other Biblical examples who ‘ran for the hills’ of a foreign country when a famine came, instead of seeking the Lord (e.g. Abram – Gen 12:10, Isaac – Gen 26:1, and Elimelech – Ruth 1:1,2).

The fact that he goes to this ravine, miles from anywhere in a time of famine, would appear humanly at least to be simply foolish. It will be the last place to get food, but it is the place where the Lord has said to go and therefore he trusts the Lord to provide for him there, especially as he has been told by the Lord that He will provide for him in that place. In our walk with the Lord we are called to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and so there will be times when the word of the Lord will come to us to lead us into circumstances that leave us wondering about how we will cope. Don’t worry, He will.

The second thing to consider is the way of God’s provision. There have been some who have suggested that ‘ravens’ is a nickname for a certain group of nomadic Arabs, but whether it is that or literally the birds of that name, it is still a strange and most unusual form of provision that you could not have planned or guaranteed beforehand. In that these scavenging birds dropped him food morning and evening on a regular basis, sufficient to keep him alive, is a small miracle. However we normally tend to use the word ‘miracle’ to apply to something that is completely contrary to nature. Ravens doing this is fairly common to them and so we would prefer here to refer to this as a remarkably unusual provision of food for Elijah, rather than a miracle that we will see tomorrow. Why are we making this distinction? Because God does use natural but unusual means of providing for His people. Let’s consider this question of provision more widely.

Why should we need God’s provision? Well usually it is when all other provision has run out. There is a sense that ALL our food and drink is God’s provision, but having accepted that normal daily life provision is part of God’s design, there are times when that provision seems lacking, for example when there is a famine. Now a famine, in Israel’s case (and possibly in a wider world sense), is an indication of the blessing of God being withheld because of the sin of the nation (see Deut 28:15-19), but although the nation will be suffering this story tells us that God can still provide for His faithful people even in the midst of a famine.

So famines come and God will provide for His faithful people, but if you try and think how that provision will come, you won’t be able to do it, because the Lord does it through a means that you will probably have never thought of. It happens in a variety of ways. One of the famous stories of provision is the story of the Schaeffer family who established L’Abri in Switzerland . They trusted the Lord and again and again and again, He prompted people to send them money, sufficient to meet the needs of the hour. The Lord obviously doesn’t do this for everyone, simply those He has called into a position where they will need such provision. Many Christians through the years have been able testify that as they came to the end of their resources as they served the Lord, suddenly there was unusual provision, provision that came through a natural source, but a very unusual and completely unexpected source. Miracles? Yes, in as far as they are things prompted by God so that where there were no resources there are now resources, but these are ways of provision that come through natural means.

This is a story and a concept that appears to be only for certain special people, but in our walk with God, I wonder if, in respect of our money, we have an attitude that means we are open to the Lord leading us to give money away to bless others? Are we open to be the ‘unusual resource’ that the Lord will use to provide for another person? This is as much a faith action as being on the end as the receiver of the unusual gift. Some of us might then worry, but I haven’t much money so what would happen if the Lord asked me to give to another? You suddenly move from the role of giver to receiver, you become an Elijah where you trust that if the Lord has prompted you to give, He will provide for you afterwards. Fun isn’t it, this life of faith!