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Elijah - Unrealistic Expecataions

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Kings  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  33:33
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Kings Elijah – Unrealistic Expectations 1 Kings 19 Pastor Pat Damiani August 27, 2017 Fourteen years ago I was a struggling bi-vocational church planter. Because our church plant had gone through some tough times, we were meeting at our house over the summer and praying for God’s direction. During that time I got a phone call from Denny Howard, who was the pastor here at TFC, asking if we would be willing to consider merging our church plant with Thornydale. After Mary and I met with Denny and Anita, we decided we’d give it a test run. Thornydale already had plans to go through the 40 Days of Purpose program, so we decided that our two groups would jointly participate in that program and then see what God would lead us to do from there. Since our church plant had saved some funds, we decided that we would use those funds to send out a mass mailing of thousands of postcards to our community. The company that we used to assist us in that process assured us that we could expect a certain percentage of the people that received those postcards would respond by visiting the church, so we were really excited about the prospect of the possibility that we could see dozens or even hundreds of visitors over the next few weeks after the mailing. To our great disappointment, those expectations weren’t even close to being met. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but I don’t think we had more than a handful families that ended of visiting as a result of the mailing. Over the years, we’ve attempted a few other big events or programs that we had very high hopes for, only to face similar disappointments. And I suspect, based on my conversations with other pastors, disappointment is one of the regular hazards of being a pastor. Many times, I think we’re our own worst critics and we get home on Sunday afternoon wondering if all the work we did during the week to prepare and deliver our message actually made any difference whatsoever, since we rarely get to see concrete results. But I know that pastors aren’t the only ones who experience that kind of disappointment. I think to some degree or another every single person, and even every single disciple of Jesus, is prone to wonder if living a life of obedience to Jesus is really worth it. Perhaps on more than one occasion you’ve said something like this: · I’ve tried to be the very best employee that I can be and work as if working for the Lord and not for men, but I haven’t gotten a raise or a promotion in a long time. · We’ve tried the very best we can to make Jesus the center of our marriage but we still fight and argue from time to time. · We’ve done our best to raise our kids to love Jesus, but they have still rebelled and are far away from God right now. · We’ve tried to apply Biblical principles with our finances, but we still struggle to pay our bills every month. · I’ve prayed for and shared the gospel with a family member or friend, but they don’t seem to want anything to do with Jesus. Any of those sound familiar? If not, then congratulations. But for the rest of us this morning’s message is really important if we want to learn how to deal Biblically with our disappointment. As we’ll see this morning, one of the main reasons that we have that kind of disappointment is that we have unrealistic expectations. And, as I’ve shared before, I think the church bears some responsibility for that. In our desire to see people commit their lives to Jesus, which is obviously an appropriate goal, we have sometimes tried to “sell Christianity” by implying that a relationship with Jesus is going to fix every problem in life. There is a sense in which that is ultimately true, but in the meantime in our lives here on earth, Jesus has promised no such thing. But we’re actually in very good company. This morning we’re going to look at the account of a great prophet of Israel who was privileged to participate in some spectacular miracles of God. But because he too developed some unrealistic expectations, his disappointment actually developed into depression. His name was Elijah and we see the account of his ministry beginning in 1 Kings 17. This morning, we’re going to look at an event that takes place a little later in his ministry – one that is recorded in 1 Kings 19. Before we read that account, let me give you a little background. Last week we saw how the commonwealth of Israel was split into two separate kingdoms – the northern kingdom of Israel consisting of 10 tribes and the southern kingdom of Judah, consisting of 2 tribes. In your bulletin this morning I’ve given you a handout that you’ll want to keep for the rest of our journey through the Old Testament. I’d suggest you just keep it in you Bible and bring it with you each week. On one side is a chart of the kings of Judah and Israel. While all of the kings of Israel were “bad” kings who disobeyed God, the one that will be part of the account we read this morning, Ahab, is described like this in 1 Kings 16: … Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. (1 Kings 16:33 ESV) On the backside of that handout, you will find a general chronological chart of the prophets. Let me just caution you that some of the dates here are fairly speculative, especially those for Obadiah and Joel, since it’s more difficult to connect their ministry with historical events. So just be aware that many Bible scholars would place their ministry much later in history. But this will still be helpful in understanding the timeframes of prophets and their audience. When Elijah first appears in the Bible in 1 Kings 17, Israel was in the midst of a drought that God had brought upon Israel because of their disobedience. In verse 2, we read these important words about Elijah: And the word of the LORD came to him. Elijah obeys the word of God and goes to the Brook Cherith where God sustains him with the bread and meat that ravens bring to him and the water from the brook. Then in verse 8, we once again see that the word of the Lord comes to Elijah. Again, he obeys God and goes to Zarephath, where he dwells with a widow and her son. Once more Elijah is sustained with bread and water that is made available through a miracle of God in which the widow’s flour and oil never run out. While living there the son dies, but God uses Elijah to raise him back to life. Once again at the beginning of chapter 18 we see that “the word of the Lord came to Elijah.” And again Elijah obeys. He confronts Ahab because he has capitulated to wishes of his evil wife, Jezebel, and permitted the worship of Baal in Israel. Many of you are probably familiar with what happens next when Elijah essentially challenges the prophets of Baal to a type of a duel. In spite of all their cries and even though they cut themselves until they bled, the prophets of Baal could not rouse their God to come and consume the sacrifice. But even after Elijah douses his sacrifice with 12 jars of water, God sends down fire from heaven and consumes that sacrifice. The people fell on their faces and proclaimed that the Lord alone was God. And Elijah then killed all 450 prophets of Baal. And because the people had turned back to God, even if it proved to be short-lived, God brought rain to the land. Elijah is so pumped up that he runs in front of Ahab’s chariot the entire 20 miles back to Jezreel. Up to this point in his ministry, Elijah has seen God work in some spectacular, miraculous ways. And I think that his experiences led him to develop some unrealistic expectations about what God would do next. If you’re not already there, go ahead and turn with me to 1 Kings 19 and follow along as I read beginning in verse 1; {Read 1 Kings 19:1-8] I get the feeling that Elijah thought that once King Ahab had seen what God did on Mt. Carmel that he would go back and set his wife Jezebel straight and that he and the people of Israel would turn back to God. But those proved to be unrealistic expectations and he was in for a rude awakening. Instead of turning to the Lord, Jezebel told Elijah that if he didn’t get out of town by the next morning, he was a dead man. What is just as important as what is in this passage is what is missing. So far, we’ve seen that Elijah acted in response to the word of the Lord, but this time the word of the Lord isn’t even mentioned. So Elijah, who had earlier stood up to King Ahab and 450 prophets of Baal all by himself is now afraid of one queen, albeit a very wicked one. So without consulting God, he flees. [Show map] He leaves Israel and head south into Judah, where he figures he will be safe from Jezebel. But just to make sure, he heads to Beersheba, which is about 100 miles away near the southern border of Judah. And then he leaves his servant there and heads another day’s journey to the south into the wilderness. And there he sits down under a tree and asks God to let him die. Just think about how ridiculous that request is. If Elijah really wanted to die, he could have spared himself that long journey and just let Jezebel kill him in Jezreel. But in his disappoint and depression, God is about to teach Elijah a lesson that we need to heed as well when those times of discouragement inevitably come into our lives: God’s grace is spectacular… even when it isn’t Hopefully, you can start to see that already, but we’ll develop that idea further as we proceed this morning. Elijah falls asleep and he is literally touched by an angel who tells him to get up and eat. And once again, as he has done twice before, God sustains Elijah with bread and water. But this time it’s not just any only bread it’s angel food cake right out of the oven. Elijah fills his belly and goes back to sleep. The angel touches him for the second time and this time we learn this is not just any angel – it is “the angel of the Lord”. As we’ve talked about before, when that phrase is used, it is almost always what is known as a Christophany, which is just a fancy word that means this is a physical appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus tells him that he needs to eat again so that he will have strength for the 40 day journey ahead of him. It’s not really clear here if God directs Elijah to go to Mount Horeb or whether Elijah decided to do that on his own. What we do know is that even on foot that journey would normally take no more than 8 to 10 days. So the implication is that for some reason unknown to us, Elijah was in no great hurry to get there. Let’s continue… [Read 1 Kings 19:9-18] Earlier Elijah had sought shelter under a broom tree. Now he seeks shelter in a cave. And God asks Elijah a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” As we’ve seen before, when God asks a question, it’s not to get information. He does that to help Elijah learn something important about himself and about God. But instead of telling God why he was really there – because he was afraid of Jezebel and was fleeing for his life even though he said he wanted to die – he basically uses that occasion to complain and to blame God. He claims, quite incorrectly as we see later, that he is the only one left in all Israel who has remained faithful to God. And in spite of his zealous ministry on God’s behalf, God has failed to turn things around in Israel and straighten out King Ahab and the people and take care of that wicked Jezebel in the way Elijah thought He should. So God gives Elijah an object lesson to illustrate the fact that… God’s grace is spectacular… even when it isn’t God tells Elijah to leave the cave and stand on the mountain before Him. And God begins with three spectacular events – a strong wind that tore the mountain and broke the rocks into pieces, an earthquake and a fire. But God is not present in the spectacular. Instead he speaks to Elijah with the sound of a low whisper – or as the KJV translates that phrase a “still mall voice”. I think that God was trying to teach Elijah that God is not to be sought in the spectacular. Elijah was used to God working in spectacular ways – having ravens bring him food at the Brook Cherith, keeping the widow’s flour and oil from running out, raising a dead son back to life, and of course bringing fire from heaven to consume an altar before 450 prophets of Baal. So he had wrongly assumed that was the only way God worked. And when God didn’t intervene in a similar spectacular way with Jezebel, Ahab or the people of Israel, I think Elijah figured God was done working with him so he might as well give up. We are prone to make that same mistake today. We read the Bible, and see all the spectacular ways that God intervened in the lives of His people. And it’s easy to assume that is the way God normally works. So we get discouraged when we don’t see that same kind of supernatural intervention in our lives. But if we would take the time to sit down and summarize all the instances recorded in the Bible where God worked in those kind of spectacular ways, we’d find that they really weren’t all that frequent. When you consider the long time period that is covered by the Bible, my guess is that there wouldn’t even be an average of even one spectacular event per year throughout that period – may be not even one every 100 years. And for every one of those events, there are multiple examples of God just working in the ordinary events of life, pouring our His grace, often in ways that no one even notices unless they are looking for it. I’d like to tell you that when all this happened that Elijah had one of those “aha” moments and he figured all this out. But unfortunately, that was not to be the case. After the object lesson, God once again asks Elijah the exact question He had asked earlier: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” But sadly, Elijah shows he hasn’t learned anything as he repeats, word for word, the same answer he had given earlier. By now, you would think that God would have been pretty fed up with Elijah. I know it’s a good thing none of us are God because we would have probably responded something like this: “Elijah, I’m tired of all your whining and complaining. I’m tired of the fact that you’re so dense. I’m tired of your self-pity. So if you want to die, that’s OK with me. I really can’t use someone like you any more anyway.” But instead, God responds by giving Elijah a new task – actually three of them: · He is to anoint Hazael as king of Syria · He is to anoint Jehu as king over Israel · He is to anoint Elisha as his successor None of those tasks are particularly spectacular, are they? They all involve rather ordinary duties for a prophet that don’t require God’s miraculous intervention. It’s interesting that Elijah only ends up carrying out one of those tasks himself – anointing Elisha. It is Elisha who ends up completing the other two tasks. There’s a whole other message there about the importance of passing down a spiritual legacy that will have to wait for another time. But God is still not done with Elijah. God was going to intervene in a spectacular way one more time in Elijah’s life. The man who wanted to exit this earth in sorrow and shame would not die at all. Instead he would be taken to heaven in a chariot of fire. (2 Kings 2:11-12) Talk about grace! His entire life, Elijah had witnessed God’s grace in action, but he rarely recognized it even though it was right in front of him. He had certainly seen God’s grace in his own life in the times that God had sustained him with simple provisions like bread and water. He had seen God’s grace in providing for an unnamed widow and her son. He had seen God’s grace when that son was raised back to life. He had seen God’s grace as He postponed judgment on Israel and their wicked king, Ahab. And he had seen God’s grace when God gave him a new assignment even after he failed to learn the lesson God was trying to teach him. While some of those manifestations of God’s grace did involve the spectacular, many others did not. But as we’ve learned this morning… God’s grace is spectacular… even when it isn’t Nowhere is that more evident than in the way God has made it possible for us to have a relationship with Him. From before creation, God developed a plan for us to be made right with God that is for the most part, not all that spectacular. In fact, parts of that plan are downright repulsive. And even though we, just like Elijah, often just don’t get it, even after God makes it really clear to us, God still pours out His grace as undeserving as we are. The Bible tells us in Romans 5 that God didn’t wait to put this plan into action until we got our act together. Even while we were still in rebellion to God, God sent His Son, Jesus to this earth. His birth here on earth wasn’t very spectacular. He wasn’t born to the rich or powerful or famous. Instead he was born to a young teenage woman who the world would have considered to be an unwed mother. He was born not in a palace, but in a barn. His birth wasn’t announced on Facebook or on the news, but rather only to a few shepherds and stargazers. He grew up in the unremarkable town of Nazareth, learning the carpenter trade from Joseph. There was really nothing outwardly remarkable about His life as indicated by the comments that many people made after He began His ministry – “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Obviously Jesus did do some pretty spectacular things during His time here on earth, but ultimately those didn’t impress a lot of people anyway, so by the time He dies, He has only a small handful of followers left. And certainly, his death was not all that remarkable in that culture. Crucifixion was a common punishment in those days – a horrible, painful, gruesome punishment. But, just as He had done with that widow’s son, God raised Jesus from the dead. Now, certainly that was spectacular, but every other part of God’s plan was far from it. And yet, every step of the way, God’s grace was spectacular, even when it wasn’t. And that grace is ultimately the only way that we can have victory over the disappointment, discouragement and even depression that comes into our lives. Some of you here this morning might be just like Elijah – you’re discouraged, disappointed and maybe even depressed. You are in the middle of a situation that seems impossible and you are inclined to believe, like Elijah, that the only way God can solve your problem is to do something spectacular, like heal your cancer, or provide that promotion and raise, or change your spouse, or bring your kids closer to God. And no doubt God is more than capable of doing any of those things. But often, what we really need, God’s grace, operates in a much less spectacular way, perhaps in something as simple as changing our hearts rather than changing our circumstances or allowing us to see the grace that He has been pouring into our lives all along in just the ordinary things of life. So as we close this morning, let me just briefly suggest just two ways that we can all make sure we don’t do what Elijah did and not miss God’s grace. HOW TO SEE GOD’S GRACE AT WORK IN MY LIFE: 1. Listen to God’s whispers God still tends to speak to His children in a whisper, which is really exciting if you think about it. A whisper is something that evokes the idea of intimacy. When I whisper something to someone else, it is almost always someone I am intimate with – my wife, my children, my grandchildren. So the fact that God wants to whisper to me is a demonstration of how much He loves me. But like Elijah found, the noise and chaos and the spectacular of this world often drown out those whispers. So we have to set aside some time every day where we can listen to those whispers, which today primarily come to us through God’s Word. 2. Look for God’s grace in the ordinary If we’ll look for it, God’s grace is all around us in the ordinary things of life. The rain reminds us of how God cares for and sustains His creation and how He sustains us as well, even though we do nothing to deserve that. The rainbow, reminds us of His promise to never again flood the entire earth again, although that would be a just punishment for man’s rebellion against God. When we stop to pray before we eat, we are reminded of God’s grace in providing for our needs, and even well beyond, when once, again, we have done nothing to merit Him doing so. When we get stopped by the Oro Valley motorcycle cop and get off with only a warning, we are reminded that God is patient in exercising the justice we all deserve. And when we see a child playing in a mud puddle, we are reminded of the childlike faith that is required to appropriate that spectacular, amazing grace into our lives. As we begin to look at the world that way, we confirm that what we have learned this morning is true: God’s grace is spectacular… even when it isn’t [Prayer] Discussion Questions for Bible Roundtable 1. What are some unrealistic expectations of God in our culture, and even in the church? How do we guard against developing those expectations? 2. What are some of the assumptions that Elijah made about God and himself that led him to answer the way he did when God asked “What are you doing here, Elijah?” How do we avoid making those same wrong assumptions? 3. How should the understanding that God does not always, or even frequently, work in the “spectacular” impact the way that we pray? 4. What are some of the ways that you have observed God’s grace in action in the “ordinary” things of life? 5. Even though God extended grace to Elijah, he was reluctant to extend that same grace to others. How do we make sure we don’t fall into that trap?
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