Elijah and a Time of Waiting
1 Kings 17:2-9
If I were to ask you this morning to count the blessings that God has poured out in your life, I am sure that many of our lists would be the same. We would all count the blessing of life, family, grace, mercy, forgiveness, our homes, and even our cars.
As we start our new journey together, I would like to mention a blessing that God has been pouring out in our lives. And even though it is a blessing we all experience, it might not make your top ten list. It is the blessing of waiting. Now I know that for many of us the thought of waiting is more of a curse than a blessing. Trust me I fully understand.
One of the things I am not good at is waiting; I even pace the floor waiting the two minutes it takes for the microwave to pop my popcorn, or the coffee pot to finish. I have been know to drive clear across town and pay twice as much to be able to get something today rather than order it and have to wait six days. I am not a fan of lines, or waiting whether it be in the Post office, Bank, the Department of Motor Vehicles, or Six Flags. But, the longer I am allowed to serve in God’s Kingdom, the more I realize that before God will do something great He often makes us wait.
That’s one area where our relationship with God and our relationship with the world rubs up against each other. We live in an instant society of fast food, instant weather, pay-at-the-pump gasoline, and drive through pharmacies. But if we will slow down and read through scripture we quickly notice that one of the greatest spiritual virtues in the Bible has to do with waiting. Moses, Joseph, and even Jesus had to wait before they did the work God had planned for them to do.
The text that was read for us this morning deals with someone who was blessed with a time of waiting, as God prepared him for a greater work. Look back with me at 1 Kings 17:2-9.
This text is a bit confusing, because up to this point Elijah has been standing toe to toe with Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah was a constant reminder that the nation of Israel was falling farther and farther away from God. But instead of keeping His presence in the kingdom, God told Elijah to leave. Before Elijah could take the next step he was going to have to wait.
One of the most difficult commands for me to hear, and one of the hardest commands to obey is the command to wait. I struggle when God says; just sit and wait while I get everything ready for the next move. And God makes us wait in a bunch of different ways. Sometimes sickness forces us to wait. Sometimes we have to wait because we are burned out. And sometimes God wants us to wait so that He can assemble all of the right pieces. And in every situation we are left scratching our heads and waiting.
Elijah goes out to wait at a brook that was drying up, and every inch the brook lost was a reminder that God had him waiting. But the brook was only the beginning. If you walk with the Lord long enough, you will discover that His tests often come back-to-back. Or perhaps it would be even more accurate to say back to back to back to back to back.
I would imagine that when God told Elijah it was time to leave the Brook of Cherith, he was a little excited. It was time for a change of scenery. But God had Elijah move from one place of waiting to another; God told him to go to Zarephath, and stay there. That's where the rub comes.
Truth be told, I am willing to go through a period of transitional testing, if it makes sense. We are all able to endure testing for an hour or two or maybe a day or two. There may even be some saints among us we can endure waiting for a whole week. But no one enjoys just sitting and waiting. But that’s exactly what God had in mind for Elijah; go and wait. He left a place of waiting only to enter another time of waiting and if you know anything about his life, you know this was the crossroads in Elijah's preparation as a man of God.
Let me stop here for a minute and tell you what attracted me to this passage as my first text as the new vision caster for this family. I believe that we have both been in times of waiting. In December of 2015, Jim announced that he was going to begin to transition out of the pulpit. I am sure that was a time of trepidation and fear for the church, after all Jim has been the voice in this congregation for over 18 years. Anytime there is a change there is stress and confusion. I am sure there were days when it was difficult to wrap your head around what was going on.
You share Elijah’s story because you have experienced a time of waiting and confusion. But this is also my, our, story because we have been in a time of waiting as well. It was just a few years ago that we were working in Texas and while it was not a perfect church, we truly believed that we would be there forever. Then as our parents showed signs of getting older, we knew that we had to move closer home. We started praying that God would put us with a church family that was willing to do whatever was necessary to love the people God loved. We wanted to be part of a family that was covered in prayer and people who were the physical embodiment of Christ’s forgiveness and acceptance.
We believe that God has answered our prayers, but before He allowed us to come to Greenbriar, we had to go to our own Cherith and Zarephath. The story of Elijah reminds us that our time of waiting is never in vain. Actually, God has used that time of waiting to get us ready to do something great in His kingdom, and in this community.
In very much the same way that God needed Elijah to stop the work he was doing so that he could prepare for the next work; God has made us wait until it was the right time to put these pieces together so that a greater work could be accomplished. What excites me about our text this morning is that in chapter 18 we see that after the time of waiting, God used Elijah to do some pretty remarkable things. In very much the same way I believe that God has allowed us to endure a time of waiting so that we now have the opportunity to be part of something much greater than ourselves.
So in an effort to show you that I am a real preacher, I want to offer you three points, three lessons that God taught Elijah at Cherith and Zarephath. Because I believe that it is the very same lessons that God was and is trying to teach us.
First, we must endure the waiting before we can be used.
It is only during those times of waiting that we learn how to truly hear God’s voice. The greatest lesson I have learned in my time of waiting is the discipline of patience. It is a spiritual quality that God wants us to develop. But usually instead of living in patience, we walk around irritated because we have allowed the world to seduce us with this possibility of immediate. Very rarely does immediate bring lasting and beautiful results.
Not long before his death, Henri Nouwen wrote a book called Sabbatical Journeys. In that book he told of a conversation he had with a grid of his who was a member of the trapeze artists, called the Flying Roudellas. He told Henri that there's a very special relationship between the flyer, the one who lets go, and the catcher, the one who catches. As you might imagine, this relationship is important, especially to the flyer! As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. He arcs out into the air, and his job is to remain as still as possible and to wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air. His friends told him, "Henri, everyone applauds for me because, when I do those leaps and back flips, they think I'm a hero. But the real hero is the catcher. When I come down from the triple somersault, all I have to do is stretch out my hands and trust, trust that he'll be there to pull me back up. The flyer must never try to catch the catcher," he noted. The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him. But he must wait.
Nouwen writes, “Waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait, the more we hear about Him for whom we are waiting.” Waiting is not a waste of time, it is a time when God is working behind the scenes, and the primary focus of His work is on us. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 8:24: Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. During our time of waiting God was creating His life within us, and we must wait for it to come to full term.
The place that so many of us get into trouble is when we try to get ahead of God. We wait and nothing seems to happen, so we panic and try to work things out on our own. We start trying to catch God instead of waiting for Him to catch us. Waiting is an art, and timing is everything. Waiting is that time in our lives when we set other things aside so that we can listen for God's voice in the stillness.
Next, we need to understand that God will lead us to a place where we can hear Him.
If God leads you to Zarephath, don’t try to make sense out of it. Just go. If God places you in a difficult situation, and you have peace that you are to stay there, don't analyze it or run away from it. Stay put. The longer I live, the more I believe that God's leading so often goes against my own logic. It's a mystery, at least from our limited perspective. But the longer we wait and listen to God the clearer His will becomes in our lives.
Maybe one of the reasons that God needs us to go to Zerapath is because of our how busy and overwhelmed our schedules get. Our days are crammed full with one thing after another that it’s difficult to pencil in time to stop and listen to God. In Psalms 46:10, the writer says to Be still, and know that I am God. How often do we take the time to just be still and listen to God? It’s not that God wasn’t talking to Elijah, but maybe Elijah was so busy doing the work of a prophet that it was getting harder and harder to hear what God was saying. We face the same danger of overloading ourselves with so much that we drowning out God’s voice.
Or maybe, like Elijah we can get overly focused on the wrong things. While Elijah was a prophet, I wonder if he had started thinking that God could only speak in flashes of lighting and claps of thunder. If you flip over a few pages in your bibles to 1 Kings 18 we find Elijah once again waiting, but this time it was on a mountain top. If you remember that story, you remember that Elijah saw a mighty windstorm, then an earthquake, followed by a fire. The text says that after all of the pyrotechnics, there was a gentle whisper and that’s where Elijah found God. I hope you have found that God most often speaks to us in very simple ways. But in order to hear Him we must be listening.
There are times we need to go off to Zerapath to be reminded what God sounds like. In the midst of all the voices and message that we take in every day it is hard to pick God’s voice out of it all. This is especially hard if we are not spending any time with Him. If we are not spending time with God, if we are not reading His word, meditating, and hanging out with Him, His words and language will become foreign to us and we will miss so many beautiful things because we don’t understand anymore.
And sometimes God takes out out to Zerapath because we just don’t want to hear what He has to say. Elijah is taken to the Brook of Cherreth, where he had water to drink and the ravens brought him food. God could have spoken to him there, but God has him move to Zerapath for a while. Sometimes we have to be convinced that God has something to say to us, before we are willing to listen.
Honestly when we were first contacted about moving to Greenbrier I was extremely hesitant. Trista loved her school, and her principal. Trafton was very well established; he was looking at class rings, letterman jackets, and he already had a job at the waterpark lined up. Rylan was going to play varsity basketball next year as an 8th grader, he just won a whole bunch of awards at state technology competition and was talking about defending those awards next year. We felt that God was doing some great things in the community and in school. While Fayette might have been our the Brook of Cherith, we still had water and food. And there are benefits to living in a small town: you get to know everyone, the police officers keep a close eye on the boys, and there is no traffic.
But after talking with Ronald, and then getting the chance to talk with the shepherds we began to petition God to see if He was in this. The more we prayed the clearer it became that God had something in mind. Then we came and visited with you, and I was able to spend some time on my sabbatical praying about this decision, and it grew more and more clearer. As Trista and I continued to set our fleeces out, God kept answering our prayers. We believe that it is God’s will for us to be here with you, and once again we are reminded that if we are willing to wait on God and trust Him, that waiting is never in vain.
Finally, we need to understand that the beginning days are often the hardest days; don't quit.
The first days at the brook and at the Widow’s house were difficult days indeed. At the brook in Cherreth God told Elijah that a bunch of dirty and nasty birds would feed him. It probably took a few days of hunger pains to get past the gag reflex of being fed by ravens. When God sends him to Zarapeth, Elijah was told to look for a widow woman who would take care of him. Not only was a widow woman supposed to care for him, she hardly had enough energy to gather a few sticks of firewood to cook her last meal. I imagine that Elijah was a bit discouraged.
It is our trust and faith in God that allows us to find a new hope. Elijah shows us that our time of waiting is what allows our faith to become a verb. Real living breathing faith is active faith, it moves, it does something. Waiting faith has developed the ability to delight in doing the Master’s will. It is love that results in action. It is a faith that keeps doing the right thing even when the waiting becomes long.
I would be lying if I stood here this morning and told you that the hard part was over. Because as hard as the waiting was, the task that God set before us this morning is even more difficult. We have been called to go out into this community and be a physical representation of Christ. We have been called to sacrifice our time, love, money, comfort, and will in order that this community will know without a doubt that Jesus is alive and willing to save them from their sinfulness. We are called to be a Church of Christ, Or maybe better said a Church that is trying to live like Christ.
The time of waiting is over, and now we enter into a time of following God so that He can accomplish great things in this community. Today is the day that the work begins. Let me encourage you to be steadfast in the work.