1 Kings 17:1-7
Elijah Predicts a Drought
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lordthe God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ The word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
I love action movies. I find them entertaining and amusing, and you’re not required to think too much. A few weeks ago I was home sick, laid up on the couch unable & unwilling to move, so I say around and caught up on movies I’d missed when they first came out. I watched Captain American and Thor and the third Transformers movie, which seemed an awful lot like the first two Transformers movies. If you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t rush out and watch it. To be honest, I wouldn’t even walk out to go watch it.
The thing about an action movie is that you can never judge it by the first five minutes. The first give minutes are almost always the same—there is some huge fight, a big explosion, some drama, or, if you’re Michael Bay, all three. The special effects budgets of some of these movies probably exceed $10 million in the first five minutes. The best way to judge the movie is by what happens next—what happens in the next five minutes, the next half-hour. That’s where the quality and depth of the movie is determined. In some movies, excellence is sustained, drama is heightened, suspense raised. Some movies fall apart completely.
When we look at the lives of Biblical characters, we also have to look beyond the first five minutes of the story to see what kind of depth there is. Often, characters make a big splash in the beginning—but the formative work is often yet to be done. We have David killing Goliath early on, Abraham leaving everything he knows behind, Jesus being pronounced as the Son of God during his baptism, Elijah and his pronouncement of drought for Israel. These are big splashes, huge ways to make an entrance—but what happens next?
Well, for Elijah, just as there is for Jesus, there is a wilderness time. Time alone in the wilderness, time alone with God, formative time. For us, too, there is wilderness time.
See, we want our call to be all about mountaintop experiences. We want to leap from one dramatic moment in ministry to the next. We want the spiritual highs without the spiritual lows—the tangible, palpable presence of God to dwell with us every second of the day.
Except there’s just one problem—that’s not Biblical. God promises to be with us, to always abide with us and to not let anything separate us from him—but it doesn’t mean that a life of ministry is always going to be fun and exciting. It’s going to be tough sledding at times. That doesn’t mean that God isn’t happy with you or that God doesn’t love you—it just means that God is preparing you for something else.
We can go back to movies for this—movies constantly set us up for what comes next. There’s a small scene, something that we don’t understand at the time, but later on it becomes apparent how important that scene was. Something happens in a character’s life, and we don’t recognize how important it is, but later on that takes on monumental significance. We, the viewer, were being prepared for what would happen later.
God does the same thing to us. God uses events in our lives to prepare us for what comes next. Our life in ministry is about a series of events, each one preparing us for the next. I can stand up here and say that God used some of the deepest troughs of my life, the darkest canyons through which I have wandered, to prepare me for what was to come. I didn’t see it at the time—I often wondered exactly where God was—but I now know that God was teaching me.
The same can be said for Elijah. He makes this huge splash, going before King Ahab, a lousy king that is so bad he manages to stand out against a backdrop of pretty bad kinds, and saying it’s not going to rain. This is significant because Ahab is allowing the worship of Baal, a false God, who is said to control the rain. God uses Elijah to teach Ahab that Baal isn’t in control of the rain—only God brings the rain. So there’s going to be a little drought.
You can imagine that this doesn’t make Ahab very happy. Kings and other people in power don’t like to be opposed. So God has Elijah run and hide—in a streambed, out in the middle of nowhere, far from everyone else. So far from everyone else, in fact, that the only way to get food is to depend on ravens who bring bread and meat, morning and night. Great delivery service, but this isn’t exactly a glamorous life of a religious leader. Do you remember that old show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? They didn’t chronicle Elijah’s life, did they?
But God was using this time in the wilderness to teach Elijah about depending on God alone for sustenance. God was using this as a formative time, a time when Elijah could sink deep roots into God’s love and learn about how God sustains us in good and bad times. God was using this time to form Elijah into the kind of disciple he would need to be in order to make it through the challenges that were ahead of him.
He did the same for Jesus Christ. Jesus was baptized and immediately led into the wilderness, where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. Jesus had challenges ahead of him, and so it was important to be formed as a disciple before he faced them, because if he was weak and not totally dependent on his Father, he would struggle.
God did the same for the Israelites. After leading them out of Egypt, it was apparent that there was some spiritual formation that needed to happen. The people didn’t depend completely on God. So God led them through the wilderness for 40 years, feeding them with manna every morning, teaching them to depend on God, in the hopes that when they arrived in the Promised Land they wouldn’t immediately forget about God and his sustaining hand.
So God leads Elijah into the wilderness, sustaining him using ravens.
Want an example of what happens in the wilderness times when you don’t depend on God? Look at Nebuchadnezzar. He went into the wilderness without a deep relationship with God, and he went crazy, until he finally came to terms with God’s Lordship and came back into his right mind. The wilderness can drive you crazy if you’re not dependent on God.
So God leads us into the wilderness, too. We may not like it, but God wants to teach us to depend on him, and on him alone. If our faith is formed there, out in the wilderness, we’ll be ready to remain faithful in the face of the challenges that await us. Otherwise, we’ll fade under the heat of the noonday sun, reaching out to anything that promises relief.
Want an illustration of this? In Ghana, they have water problems. There aren’t a lot of rivers there. As a result, farming during the dry season is nearly impossible. I had lunch on Wednesday with two pastors from Ghana, and they said a well drilled during the rainy season goes down about thirty feet and then stops because they hit water. Water gushes everywhere, and everyone rejoices.
But in the dry season, the water table drops, and suddenly that well isn’t deep enough.
World Vision only drills wells during the dry season. They drill down up to 200 feet until they hit water, and they know that if they drill it during the dry season, there will always be water, as opposed to the momentary joy of a wet-season well that will not last into the tough times. A deeply-drilled well, drilled when the water table is lowest, will always provide water, while a shallow well will not.
So which type of faith do you want? One that fails when you need it most, or one that sustains you through each and every season, each and every trial of life?
If you want the latter, you need to spend some time in the wilderness, letting God feed you, shape you, form you, into the type of disciple that can face any challenge and keep a strong faith in God.
Let us pray