This is a message for all the people in my life who are struggling right now. Colleagues with cancer, friends with ailing parents, “baby mamas” who have been ditched. Reading this won’t solve all your problems, but I hope it will remind you that God can be found in the dry and rough places. I preached this several summers ago, continuing a Dr. Seuss theme that the vacationing pastor had started.
“Oh, the Places You’ll Grow” (Based on Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)
He wasn’t exactly a politically correct preacher, this Elijah. He had no seminary degrees, no prestigious pulpit. He didn’t own any nice suits; heck, just a stinky coat made from camel fur. His parsonage was a cave and he avoided potluck suppers to forage for grasshoppers and wild honey. His sermons weren’t diplomatic, either. He confronted King Ahab for his evil ways and then declared that no rain or dew would fall in Israel for three straight years.
That’s when God told him to get out of Dodge.
“Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there” (I Kings 17:2-4, NIV).
The Kerith Ravine was a dry gully on the far side of the Jordan River—country that looks like the surface of Mars with its rugged red hills and deep forbidding canyons. There God ordered ravens to act as waiters for Elijah, flying in a daily meal of meat and bread. Then the brook dried up and God spoke once more to Elijah, ordering him to a Gentile town where a widow woman lived with her one son. When Elijah arrived, the widow was using up her oil and flour to make a final loaf of bread, a last supper in the midst of a brutal famine. Elijah asked for the bread and the widow willingly gave it to him. Would you do that? If you were down to your last slice of Mrs. Bairds—with no food in the pantry and all the grocery stores boarded up—would you feed a total stranger?
The widow did. She used up the oil and flour and gave the freshly-baked bread to Elijah. She went back to see if anything remained in the jars—and they were full! She kept using up the flour and pouring out the oil to bake more bread. The jars couldn’t be exhausted.
Elijah’s greatest triumph came on the top of Mt. Carmel. He challenged 850 pagan prophets to a spiritual duel there, announcing that the deity who answered with fire was the one true God. Elijah’s opponents worked all morning, praying and dancing and even cutting themselves to get the attention of their gods … and nothing happened. Then Elijah prayed a 30-second prayer and, without lighting a match, a whooshing fireball consumed a waterlogged sacrifice on the altar, even burning up the stones and surrounding dirt.
You would think that a man like Elijah—a robust prophet who attracted miracles like moths to a flame—would have no problems, no worries. After all, God seemed to be in his back pocket. There had been no holy man quite like him in the history of Israel. Elijah was the lead balloonist in Dr. Seuss’ story: “Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.”
But Elijah would discover that he was mortal, after all. He would experience “Bang ups and Hang ups” just like the rest of us. On the heels of his stunning victory on Mt. Carmel, Queen Jezebel put him in her sights, ordering his execution. Elijah’s faith evaporated and fear fell on him like fat raindrops. He dashed into the desert, running for his life, and collapsed at the end of the day, begging God to take his life. He fell asleep under a scraggly tree until he was awakened by an angel who had hot-baked bread for him and a jug of water. Elijah partook and kept moving for 40 days and 40 nights until he came to a mountain. When you’re reading the Bible and come across a mountain, you know interesting things are about to happen. The finger of God etched the Ten Commandments on a mountain. Peter, James and John saw Jesus turn into a human lightning bolt on the Mount of Transfiguration. But Elijah encountered God on his mountain not in theatrical wind, fire or earthquake—but in a small, still voice; an awesome whisper; a murmuring so low that Elijah had to strain to hear it.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
God was saying, in so many words, that he hadn’t put Elijah in this “prickle-ly perch.” You, and you alone, “raced down this long wiggled road at a break-necking pace and you grinded on for miles across weirdish wild space.” The prophet was in a Slump all of his own.
Can you identify with Elijah? Have you ever followed a marker labeled FEAR that landed you in the wilderness, thrown a pity party in the desert, allowed bitterness or guilt or greed to drive you into a cave where you ended up all alone? Then there are those days when we are thrust into a wasteland through no fault of our own, with no sustenance in sight.
Most of us would do anything to “un-slump” ourselves, in the words of Dr. Seuss. We don’t like those times in our lives when everything around us in parched and empty. But these waiting places to which we go can be places to grow. Quite often we forget about God in times of plenty, but we tend to draw nearer in times of want and learn things we never learned before.
Elijah’s story in I Kings teaches us this. By a dry ditch, Elijah learned trust. In a meager house, the widow practiced faith. In a musty cave, Elijah put his listening skills to the test as he leaned forward to listen to God.
If you open the eyes of faith, you can see it, rising from the horizon like a beacon in the night. It’s a mountain—but not just any mountain. It’s the mountain of God.
Draw near. Come closer. This is your burning bush moment, the mountain of transfiguration, a place of divineMatt 17 Transfiguration Picture" src="http://www.onemanshow.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Matt-17-Transfiguration-Picture-150x150.jpg" alt="" width="150" height="150" srcset="http://onemanshow.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Matt-17-Transfiguration-Picture-150x150.jpg 150w, http://onemanshow.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Matt-17-Transfiguration-Picture-180x180.jpg 180w, http://onemanshow.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Matt-17-Transfiguration-Picture-300x300.jpg 300w, http://onemanshow.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Matt-17-Transfiguration-Picture-600x600.jpg 600w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" /> encounter. Here you can sit, rest, yes, even complain and pour out your heart.
“It’s not fair!”
“I can’t do this anymore!”
“Why did you let this happen?”
“I feel so alone!”
Then, as your protesting subsides and you wipe away your tears, God will speak to you in a quiet whisper:
“You’re still my child.”
“I love you.”
“I have carved you on the palm of my hands.”1
“I know the plans I have for you: plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”2
Today is your day.
You’re at a dead end.
Now God will make a way!
Jesus said, “I am the Way 3…the door to heaven…the Gate for the sheep to go into abundant pasture.” 4
You know, that’s good news for us who need a change of scenery.
1. Isaiah 49:16
3. John 14:6
4. John 10:7-10
Book quotes from Oh, The Places You’ll Go! ©Dr. Seuss Enterprises 1960 Random House Children’s Books