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Sermon_20190721 Ross Woodhouse

ELIJAH and ELISHA: GOD, above all gods

When does faith become faith, in this day in which we live? How do I know that I’m living in faith, living by faith, growing my faith? More to come but here’s the short answer: when there’s less of me (wanting to control) and more of God (giving him control). And we know this in the way we pray, the way we relate to others, the way we behave, and the way we respond in the most difficult of circumstances.[1]

My encouragement for us all today – because our faith is directed somewhere – is that we are so consumed in the Word, so full of the Holy Spirit, our eyes are so fixated on Jesus, we choose, to live no other way than, in faith in Christ.

When does faith become faith? I think Hebrews 11:1 helps us answer that: “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen” …

Like this: I could say I believe that when I get in my car, it’ll start first pop and when I put my foot on the accelerator I’ll be able to go where I need to. Just believing I can get there, is not enough.  Perhaps some of us are in the driver’s seat, but we haven’t stepped on the gas yet, and the Google maps lady is saying take the road straight…

Faith is only faith when I’ve stepped out and into the space of trusting God, beyond myself. Faith is faith when I’ve said no to any other voice or behaviour that’s not aligned with his truth.

Christian musician Toby Mac has produced a song called the Elements, a word he uses to refer to the things that are trying to keep us from being who we are called to be. In the song he says, “I got Spirit, I got faith, I might bend but I won’t break, I’ll fight the elements, and I’m gonna down swinging.”[2]

Let me say this, for you (for us) to be on fire for Christ, young people, on fire for Christ, being unashamed, uncompromising people of faith is who we must be…

 1 Kings 17: 7later 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 in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first, make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

15 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. 16 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.

17 Sometime later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!” 24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

There was a lot going on for the widow wasn’t there, but she was fighting the elements.

We can see God at work in this story. God could easily have supplied water to that one little brook, but he had a task for Elijah, to go to the widow and her son; which by the way was right in the heart of Baal-worshipping-territory.

Baal the ‘god’ of the rains, worshipped for the fertility of the land. In sending Elijah there, God was teaching his people that his power is greater than any other god/s, through miracle provision of food and raising the son to life.

It may not be Baal, today, but there are still many gods that compete for the love and worship God wants us to give him, alone. The widow, in this instance, was the one chosen to show how great God is.

She’s faced with a conundrum, from the moment Elijah asks her for a drink from what would have been literally scraping the bottom of the well, she has to decide, do I die – with my son – trusting my ‘god’, or cut my losses and give the guy what he’s asking for, risking it all, trusting his God?

“As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug” (v.12).  The writer does a good job of relaying how desperate the situation is here for the widow and her son.

She was a woman of means (v.17) she owned her own home – unusual for widows in this day – but the drought had emptied her entire food supply and she was gathering sticks to cook their final meal, she was out of options, at the end.  But handpicked by God to show how great God is.

Elijah breaks every rule in the hospitality and pastoral care handbook. Imagine this: a friend or family member invites themselves for a meal, don’t bring anything, you’ve been sharing the same glass of water for a week (maybe even a little backwash!), you’ve got nothing but a slice of bread and a dribble of cooking oil and they insist you cook for them, first…what would our reaction be?

Our situation doesn’t need to be as desperate as the widows. The point is would we have, or do we, trust God, trust his word, trust his provision, trust his power in such circumstances?  Faith is faith when I’ve stepped out and into the space of trusting God, beyond myself.

Elijah says “This is what God says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

His demand was backed by a promise from the Lord who in effect was saying, ‘put me first, trust me and watch my power at work’.

What you see is different from what I see, God says. You see the bottom of the jar. God says when you give the flour and oil[3] to me watch and see my power and provision at work. Why? To make my name great! But, it requires you to take your eyes off that god, those gods[4], and put your trust in me. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead,” James says.

The woman’s response was, “OK”. She did as Elijah asked her to…she had no idea what would happen, we don’t know what her expectations were. Did she have evidence before she believed? No. Only after she agreed to do what Elijah asked, and make the bread for him first, then feed themselves, were the jars kept full.

For the widow, this was the calm before the storm though wasn’t it? Her faith was already great—but it would be severely tested again. For a time, peace was enjoyed where death had been expected (1 Kings 17:7–16). How quickly that peace was destroyed when death was a likelihood again![5]

The woman would receive two outpourings of God’s grace and power. They were going to die, provided for, son died, raised from the dead. Something no other god could do!

“Now I know that you are a man of God (the widow says) and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

The general principle to be applied from this story is: we trust God, always and in all things.

I want to acknowledge there are occasions when we have genuinely trusted God, we have prayed persistently, but we feel our prayers have been unheard, we’ve stepped out in faith and God has not delivered on what we have asked or expected…

Our faith is not in God doing what we want him to do. Our faith is in God to do what He wants to do and it will always be the right, and good thing.

A.W. Pink put it this way, “Faith is not occupied with difficulties, but with Him with whom all things are possible. Faith is not occupied with circumstances, but with the God of all circumstances.[6]

Circumstances measure our faith. Thermometer…

… circumstances, no matter how desperate, do not diminish the character and power of God. They can in no way change His faithfulness.

This is what I’ve learnt from spending time in this story: Faith, never ignores the reality of whatever it is we’re going through, but for faith to be faith requires us to make movement toward God and give God the control I might otherwise want to have. Faith is resisting the urge to control a situation and giving it to God.

This kind of faith could almost look a bit foolish because it is not the kind the world imagines or operates by.

In Dec of 2001 I left my full time job at Placemakers in Clarence St to go to Bible College, Karyn and I were students at the same time, had 3 young children, we’d done the math, but we knew this step was the right thing no matter what it looked like. Financially outgoings were significantly more than incoming, God provided…

Sometimes the challenges we face can seem like impossible barriers to faith and following Jesus, what do we do with that? Take a risk on God to show how great he is! Just like the widow was the one chosen to show how great God is. We need to be heroes of God’s Kingdom and stand firmly upon God’s ways.

If God’s promises seem like they won’t work, it’s our seeming that needs fixing, not God’s promises.[7]

Where, today, do we identify with the widow? We may not be as desperate as she was, but we’re struggling to see beyond the drought, can’t see past the small amount of flour and oil…equivalent… and the faith of the widow and how I’ve described what faith looks like seems way off.

Or is my faith, my loving of Jesus jaded, blurred, by the compromising culture (elements) of the world? Do I – like the widow did – know how I must and when I must make a decision that honours God and his holiness and exalts Jesus, at great risk and cost to myself, if necessary?

Maybe Gods saying to some of us today, “all you’re looking at is the bottom of the jar”. You’re praying Lord “help me with this”, and he’s saying “it’s time to step on the gas, I’m here, you move toward me, you trust me…”

True and living faith is the kind that comes from Christ in the heart, eyes fixed on him and is active. It comes from being full of the Holy Spirit. From time spent consuming God’s Word. Prayer. Instead of complaining or giving up in times of challenge, Spirit-filled faith looks for how to move forward.

Faith is only faith when I’ve stepped out and into the space of trusting God, beyond myself.

In faith step into the space where God works; show how great He is.

In faith be thankful for the difficult times; because they will build faith.


[1] These are the measures


[3] Swapped out for whatever our circumstances are…

[4] Anything or anyone we trust ahead of God…

[5] Dillard, R. B. (1999). Faith in the Face of Apostasy: The Gospel according to Elijah & Elisha. (T. Longman III & J. A. Groves, Eds.) (pp. 28–29). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.