A Church in our neighborhood hosting a “Community Day” today. It’s a wonderful event. There are all kinds of fun things to do, especially for kids: inflated bounce houses, nail painting, craft stalls, information booths for community service organizations and local community colleges and universities. Ethnic Christian and contemporary music blares from two large speakers. A disc jockey gives instructions, introductions, and comments. Church leaders and members are working together to ensure that the entire operation runs smoothly. Plus, they are providing hamburgers, hot dogs, and fried fish together with side dishes and beverages.
Even though the outside temperature is in the mid-80s, the humidity causes it to feel more like the mid-high 90s. There is, however a nice, steady breeze. Everyone seems to be having a great time – especially those playing basketball outside of my window. The church is providing free haircuts for those who wish. There is also a clothing closet and even free school supplies! I pray that God will use this event to bring people to Jesus and extend his kingdom.
Everything seems to be going very smoothly; it is well-planned and executed. I spoke with one of the leaders, who was well pleased said, “… if the rain only holds off.” So far it has. As I write this, it is sunny and 88° and no rain!
This reminds me of an event hosted by a church I was serving in northern Georgia. The activities were similar but not quite as elaborate. One major difference is that of precipitation. As we were setting up, there was a sudden thunderstorm, which thoroughly doused most everything – especially the participants! I spoke or rather mostly listened to a disgruntled lady in a nearby booth. Since it was raining when we began to set up and start cooking, she strongly suggested that I should have had better weather. I told her we would pray for the rain to stop. Later, after the brief thunderstorm ended, she said, “If God were really on your side, there would not have been rain at the start of the event.”
Unfortunately, many people equate their own desires with God’s blessings. This concept that God should bless me (i.e. give me what I want!) if I try to please him is a common one. It prevails, not only in the community, but it surfaces in churches – even in our own inner thoughts and motives.
If you disagree, remember the last time someone insulted you or failed to appreciate some kind deed you did for them because you love Jesus. The sting of rejection often results in thoughts like: “They should appreciate me, after all I’ve done for them!” Or, “That’s the last time I do that; they could have cared less.” Friend, if you did it for Jesus, he knows what you did for him. Rest assured that He will reward every good deed.
1 Kings 17 reports a couple of narratives, which shines some light on this erroneous attitude. The opening verses report that Elijah abruptly confronts the wicked King Ahab. This was a daring feat itself. His message: There would be no rain until God’s prophet commanded it. Wicked King Ahab did not take this lightly; so, God sent Elijah into hiding – a safe distance away. During this drought, Ahab was unable to find Elijah. God was protecting and providing for him. Ravens miraculously brought food to Elijah and he was able to drink from a little brook. Elijah apparently got along fine. But as the drought persisted, the brook dried up. Note that Elijah was protected from, but also suffered the consequences of the drought. Even though he was obedient to and blessed by the Lord, he experienced what seems to be good and difficult circumstances.
Next, Elijah is commanded to leave his place of hiding and to go to the hometown of Ahab’s wicked wife, Jezebel. There, he will find a widow whom God had commanded to feed him. Arriving in Zarephath, Elijah encounters a destitute widow who is gathering firewood to cook her last bit of bread. Elijah commands her to make a small loaf for himself before making one for her son and herself.
Amazingly, she obeys. The Lord continues to bless her with bread and oil through the duration of the famine. Her obedience is rewarded. After some time, her son becomes severely sick and finally dies. One could identify with her if she felt that obeying the God of the Bible wasn’t worth the trouble. Wasn’t God supposed to bless her for her obedience?
There are many lessons to be gleaned from these passages. The Bible does not teach an inevitable cause-and-effect connection between sin and suffering. (The same is true of obedience and blessing.) The scriptures leave room for suffering which is undeserved and, from the human point of view, unexplained. Elijah himself clearly had no idea why this tragedy had struck. His prayer in verse 20 shows him both bewildered and angry. By the way, if you read the rest of 1 Kings 17 you will see that the widow’s son was restored to life – the first resurrection recorded in the Bible! 1 Kings 18 describes God’s great victory through Elijah.
We often think that pleasant personal circumstances are the direct result of our obedience. We think that God owes us that much! One huge problem with this is that God is God and we are not! He is our Creator and we are his creatures. We owe him! He does not owe us.
More than that, the account of Elijah and the widow demonstrates that the Lord is working out a major, intricate project, which includes individuals as well as nations. In other words, God’s plan encompasses every individual person as well as every nation – beyond that all of creation! Put bluntly, God’s plan is bigger than me!
I am reminded that I am part of a part of the process – not the focus of it. So, it is for all of us. To many this is shocking. To others, it seems preposterous. To me, it is greatly comforting to think that with all the details in such a grand scheme, the Lord is concerned about me. I am loved by God. Further, I am part of a community, which God is building and developing. Our Lord Jesus wisely uses storms and sunshine to complete his project. Jesus loves me personally and he loves every other member of this cosmic community.