What happened? What went wrong? What is wrong with me? What did I do that I should not have done? What did I not do that I should have done? What now? What do I do now? Where do I go from here?
I am going to read a rather wonderful story. As I read it I want you to see more than the miraculous; I want you to see the humanity during the periods between the miracles. And here is the question I would like you to consider as you hear the story read: At what point in the story do you think the eight questions on the screen might fit?
The Scripture: 1Kings 17: 1-16 (And beyond verse 16 we have the incredible miracle of the resurrection from the dead of the san of this same widow.)
Quite sometime ago I did a series of messages on the theme- ‘Dried up brooks, absent ravens, and the word of the Lord’. I have not revisited that series but its theme has come back to me this week- and I want to share a few considerations regarding it.
Here is the core consideration for this Sunday morning: God rearranges the arrangement in order to move us beyond the present arrangement to a much more significant arrangement just down the road- and all that stands between me and it is a brook full of water and a bunch of ravens turned caterers.
To appreciate the significance of that brook in the life of Elijah I need only to understand that he was specifically directed to it by the word of the Lord- and there was a very specific promise associated with that directive. Here it is: “You will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.”
What we tend to do is to put the entire emphasis upon the last word of that statement- the word ‘there’. And the interpretation or conclusion is that so long as we are ‘there’, so long as we never move from ‘there’, so long as ‘there’ never gets changed or rearranged then God’s promise of provision will never fail.
With that conclusion we have limited God’s promise- in fact we have limited God- to ‘there’, whatever the ‘there’ is in our life at that moment.
When this happens the purity of my focus upon God becomes compromised, and now the focus is upon God- ‘there’. And now the consciousness that dominates my heart is all about ‘there’- and the driving or defining mission of my life is all about ‘there’- (getting there, staying there, and maintaining what is there and above all else keeping it from any alteration)- rather than intimacy with God in which I hear the voice of the Lord.
We are not given the time element Elijah was at the brook, but we do know that a brook does not dry up over night. There was- what I call- a process of diminishment. This process was gradual- and it seems to me we need to understand that the diminishment of the brook was a direct consequence of what the prophet had prophesied. And by the way, and just in passing, any prophet who feels he is exempt from or beyond what he prophesies needs to check his own heart.
For however long Elijah was at the brook I think it is safe to conclude that this was a pretty okay season in his life. The meaning of the name Cherith is significant. I would express it this way- to be separated by or in covenant.
I have the picture of a guy kicked back in a recliner, one hand dipped in the cool water of the brook, ears filled with the pleasant sounds of gurgling waters, and each breakfast and supper hour the groceries are airdropped right at the foot of his recliner. The last thing I would look for in this covenant setting is the rearrangement of the arrangement.
But into this fine arrangement there comes this reality- ‘It happened after awhile that the brook dried up.’ All I can tell you this morning is that this is always the most critical moment regarding the ongoing, ever increasing fullness of the manifestation of the glory of God in our lives. What we do at this point is very determining regarding where we go beyond this point.
When the brook dries up we tend to become very introspective. I knew I should have built a dam and dredged the bottom of the brook. I knew I should have drunk once a day instead of three times a day. And as for those ravens- I knew I should have implanted a tracking device in them.
This thinking exposes a critical issue- and that issue has to do with focus in relation to the word or promise of the Spirit. The focus has shifted from God as the only source of the provision He has promised to brooks and ravens, the instruments of His present arrangement in getting His supply to you.
But beyond our focus upon the instruments, we also focus upon ourselves- with such confessions as, ‘if I had just done this, that or the other’- or ‘if I had had just not done this, that or the other.’
To understand why the brook dried up- or better stated- to understand its meaning in the life of the prophet we need only discover what happened when it dried up. Here it is; ‘Then the word of the Lord came to him saying…..’ The word then is so significant here; it points back to a very specific time and event- in this case the drying up of the brook.
To state it in the theme of this message- ‘Then, in the rearrangement of the arrangement, the word of the Lord came…..’ In other words there was a direct relationship between the drying up of the brook and the hearing of the word of the Lord.
In our humanity it seems to be a bit difficult for us the hear the word of the Lord over the satisfying sounds of gurgling brooks; and it seems quite challenging to move on from a situation of comfortable fullness.
Let me finish this out by looking at the word that came to him. In the midst of the rearrangement of the arrangement Elijah heard a new directive from the Lord- and that directive called him beyond the present arrangement into a new arrangement.
As best Alex and I can determine, the journey into this new arrangement was at least a hundred miles; and remember, this was a hundred mile long journey in a season of ‘no dew nor rain.’ This was a journey through withering dryness- Can anyone identify with this?
And then there was the challenge of the location he was called to- a non-Jewish setting, a location outside of Hebrew territory.
This region was also the absolute heart of Baal worship. And of greater interest it was the homeland of Jezebel.
And the challenge just increases with the fact that the person he will meet is outside of God’s covenant people- (yes, a gentile- God help us all). Jesus himself would refer to this in His condemnation of the exclusive nature of religion.
And to put the cherry on the ice cream, it’s a woman; God is going to use a woman to keep His prophet alive- and not just any woman but a widow woman.
All of this challenge was expressed in the name of the place he was directed to go to- Zeraphath- which means ‘refinery’.
Do we understand now why the brook had to be dried up? Why the ravens had to be redirected? Why the old arrangement had to be rearranged? I don’t care how spiritual one may be- for the most part, as long as that brook is flowing and the ravens are dropping meals we are not going to leave that place of ‘separated covenant comfort’ to make a hundred mile journey through drought only to arrive in a place of refinery.
The point is (and I am certain it is obvious to us all) that if I remain with the old arrangement when God has called me to a new arrangement I will finish out my days piling up stones in the bed of a brook that no longer flows, and I will gather feathers from ravens that no longer appear. And though I quote the original promise of God’s provision in relation to the brook and ravens, I will progressively diminish.
But if I turn my back upon the old arrangement and embrace the new directive of God regarding that original promise of provision- and if I make the journey that new directive calls me to- and if I embrace and enter into that new arrangement even when that new arrangement is a refinery- this much is guaranteed: I will experience the full provision of God in keeping with the original promise.
But beyond that- far beyond that- I am now postured or positioned to witness, to experience, to participate in a manifestation of the power and glory of God that could never have been realised back at the brook nor in the presence of catering ravens.
Here at Zeraphath- the place of refinery, where things die and are burned up- I am going to see the greater glory of resurrection life coming right up out of the ashes of old things made new.
The promise does not change- but the arrangement through which and in which that promise is progressively realised in our experience does change.
The promise is not seasonal but its outworking involves the changing of the seasons. And if we get stuck in any particular season our discovery and experience of God becomes limited to that season. Are some seasons preferred to other seasons? Most certainly they are. But fullness of growth and maturity requires the influence of all the seasons a Sovereign God has appointed to our lives.