When we walked in the Bible class at the Sussex & Kent church of Christ the Sunday morning in mid-September we visited, we they were talking about the life-changing lessons offered in 1 Kings 17:
After predicting a severe drought, Elijah the Tishbite is told by God to hide himself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan, where he would be miraculously sustained by ravens bringing him bread and meat. When the lack of rain caused the brook to dry up, God then fills Elijah in on how He will help him survive the drought in a very unlikely way, a way, it turns out, that will also help the one who would help Elijah: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, “Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.” As she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.” Then Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.’” So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah.”
During the course of this study, we helped each other think about the value of denying ourselves some of our selfish ambitions for things that, in the end, that are of worlds more valuable, and in doing so, positioning ourselves to reap all the positive benefits God has for those who choose to become a living sacrifice.
Great points were made about how hard it can be to sacrifice when, like the widow in this story, the thing God (or His inspired prophet) says you must sacrifice feels like it stands between you and staying alive. As we are letting go of our last bit of oil and flour, so to speak, it is as if God whispers, “Trust Me. Trust Me. Put your faith in Me.” Faith to the point of sacrifice feels very risky when what we are giving up conflicts with our own aspirations and desires. As we let go and rest our hearts in the knowledge that God will sustain us as He has promised, despite the temptation to waver, we learn that a life that focuses on helping others, and building God’s kingdom, not our own little personal kingdoms, has a richness to it that is unparalleled.
When Elijah arrived at this widow's house, she's actually in a state of hopelessness, having already submitted to the notion that she and her son were going to take their last meal and die. She was in this very state of despair, when the prophet of the Lord came to her. He says, I want you to make me some bread FIRST. What God’s prophet, Elijah, is asking of the widow is the same thing God asks of us: our first fruits. So she follows Elijah’s challenging request and as a result, here's what we learn is her reward: She and all her family did not go without food the entire remaining time of the famine. God did what He said He would do. God provided. Though she was an outsider and of a lowly social class, still she was saved because her faith moved her to humbly obey God’s prophet. She humbled herself in the sight of the Lord and was lifted up. That is, until her life, like ours, took another dramatic turn...
“Now it came about after these things that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, “What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!” (1 Kings 17:17-18)
In this conversation we learn things: That she, with good reason, is very aware that Elijah is a “man of God”. But what she doesn’t yet understand is that as human beings, we all (including Elijah) have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She also seems to erroneously think that sin is always punished in this lifetime so that “bad things” only happen to bad people, but surely the story of Job certainly proves otherwise. In the life of Job, we learn suffering isn’t always because we’ve sinned, and that God is in control, and because He is in control, we do best to trust in His mercy during times of trial.
And finally, we learn that the widow’s sacrificial act of feeding Elijah did not mean God would prevent every painful circumstance in her future. And yet, she learns that God’s mercy extends to people who have sinned, and in this true story, the widow is helped in the same way that we eventually, in the year of our Lord that followed, would be helped: through the resurrection of a Son, because God never abandons his people as long as we write His promises on our hearts and hold tightly to His word.
The story of the widow ends happily, when Elijah calls to the Lord, saying “O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child’s life return to him.” The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” Hallelujah!
After class we introduced to the good brethren at the Sussex & Kent church of Christ, our friends, Denis and Julie Desloge, a couple who have been like family to us for over three decades, who have, as long as we’ve known them, made the kinds of sacrifices for God’s people that we had talked about during this Bible class. In fact, in order to even attend this Sunday morning worship service was quite a sacrifice and testament to their commitment to obey God and put first things first. I say this because the day before, had started around 4am and they had not gone to bed until after midnight because they had participated in an Ironman Triathlon. In these events the athletes complete a 2.4-mile swim, followed immediately by a 112-mile bicycle ride, followed immediately by a full 26.2 mile marathon run and are obviously one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. What's more, in this particular Ironman, the waters in Maryland are full of jellyfish so that is par for the course that many of the participants are being stung as they are swimming. Julie and Denis were no exception.
It had been an honor to join them at the race to be part of their four-person support crew. We used an Ironman app all day to (sort of) track where Denis and Julie were so we could cheer them on and tend to some of their needs. As we watched for almost 17 hours, the more aged athletes were SO inspiring, and an accompanied athlete that was both deaf and blind absolutely astounded us with what she had overcome.
What an inspirational experience, especially at the finish line to not only see, but almost absorb the palpable jubilation, as each individual expressed their delight. Denis finished and Julie would have too, most likely, if there was not the 17-hour cut off. I could have spent all day at the finish line watching one by one, every athlete’s ecstatic moment when all his or her hard work paid off! We are especially proud of Denis and Julie both for their physical, but more importantly, their spiritual endurance throughout life. Just like with the widow we studied in our Bible class, their story is also one of hope, faith, and endurance.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3
Sussex & Kent church of Christ
510 Smith Ave.
Harrington, DE 19952