Rev. Francis Balla, is the senior pastor of Evangelical Congregational Church in North Quincy MA. He served with Youth With A Mission in Hyderabad, India for twenty years. He holds a M.Div in Urban Ministry from Gordon-Conwell theological seminary. Please checkout the Church Website. http://www.eccquincy.orgView all articles by Rev. Francis Balla, M.Div
History tells us that Americans are known for tough times. I am always amazed by the resilience shown by American people when they go through tough times. Ten years ago at least five tornadoes ripped through south central Minnesota. Comfrey and St. Peter were damaged so badly that the residents worried their towns would shrivel up and disappear. Instead, these towns have managed a remarkable recovery.” Here is a group of people who went through tough times but did not give up hope.
Are we living in “Tough Times”?
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesian church through Timothy during(66-67) A.D. At that time the churches were undergoing persecution under the emperor Nero. Paul himself was imprisoned. Under such circumstance s Paul wrote this letter to warn the church about the difficult times and what sort of Chritians they ought to be. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2Timothy 3:1-4)
We are seeing some of the signs of terrible times that bible was talking about. You don’t have to be a scientist to find out that we are in “tough times”, pick up any news paper, listen to any TV/Radio broadcast, talk to any one they all will tell us that we are in tough times. We are experiencing tough times partly because we are living in the last days but also because of irresponsible spending of money and unwise decisions. The economic meltdown seems to affect almost all of us.The Spanish born American Philosopher George Santayana said in early 20th century (“those who do not learn from History are doomed to repeat it” therefore it is important to look at what the Bible has to say about tough times.
Biblical understanding of Tough times:
The Bible teaches that God is a loving; gracious, compassionate, merciful at the same time he is also holy, righteous and hates SIN. There were times in the history of the nation of ancient Israel where God had to deliberately bring them into tough and trying situations in order to punish them for their sin of rebellion and teach them valuable lessons. At one point there was a drought in the land and many were dying due to hunger in the land. The whole nation of Israel was affected by this calamity. Indeed it was a terrible situation.
I wonder what must have caused this devastating situation in Israel. What lessons can I learn from their story so that I can better understand my present day tough times? What provisions did God make for his Children to survive during tough times? People ask many questions during tough times. Where is God when I am suffering? Is God punishing me?
Does he really care for me? Can I trust and rely upon him for my needs? Let's see what we can learn from Elijah's tough time in 1 Kings Chapters 12-17.
A snap shot into Israel’s History :( I Kings 12-17)
After the death of King Solomon in 930 BC the Kingdom was divided into two parts, one was Israel on the north and the other was Judah on the south. Several kings ruled Israel, some were good but many were bad. These kings along with the people of Israel did some abominable things which provoked God to anger. They set up idols, and instead of worshipping the Lord Jehovah they worshipped Baal ( the Canaanite rain god). In ancient Israel Baal worship was prevalent. They believed it was necessary for growing crops, raising livestock, and survival and prosperity.
During such circumstances Ahab became King. This is what was said of him, “Ahab also made an Asherah Pole (wooden poles representing the Canaanite goddess of fertility) and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel before him.”(I Kings 16:33). The nation of Israel was at all time lowest when Ahab became King and Ahab caused further moral deterioration by intensifying the worship of Baal.
If rejecting God in order to follow false gods and worship idols provoked God to anger, in ancient Israel, what do you think that provokes God to anger today? The mention of the name of God in public places and statements like, “One nation under God, in God we trust, God bless America” have come under severe scrutiny and criticism in recent years.
Right after the 9/11 attack the daughter of Billy Graham (Anne Graham Lotz) was interviewed by Jane Clayson on CBS’s “early morning show broadcast” The question was if God is good why did he let this happen? Anne answered; “I say God is also angry when he sees something like this. I would say also for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection.”
These days many people think it is a cool thing to reject God. Many people would rather worship their cars, properties, electronic toys, than come to church to worship the living God. Hero worship replaced the true worship of God. There are others who turn to psychics, new age gurus, financial advisers, medical experts, psychologists, and politicians to get them out of trouble instead of coming to God for help. Does this grieve God? Could this be a reason why we are facing tough times as a nation?
Elijah enters the Scene:
God sent Elijah (means My God is the Lord) with a message to a nation that was rebelling against God. That message contained some “sanctions." God was going to withhold rain. According to the word prophesied by Elijah,God shut the heaven and there was no rain for a long time. As a result of that there was a severe famine in the entire region. God did this in order to punish the sins of Israel and also to let the nation know who was the true and living God.
Good News when facing tough times:
When we are facing tough times let' not loose heart. You may remember what Robert Schuller said in his best seller, “Tough times will not last but tough people do” this brings hope to those who might be going through tough times. The consoling thought when we are facing tough times is that they won’t last forever.
Another comforting thought is that God is with his people during tough times and he makes provisions for his children to survive during tough times. In other words tough times will not over power God’s children. Two principles we can learn from the story of Elijah:
1. Obedience opens the door for God’s provision. 2. In meeting the needs of others (especially God’s children) our needs are met.
I. Obedience opens the door for God’s provision:
Throughout the Bible, obedience to God’s instructions was commended and disobedience condemned. Blessings were pronounced to the obedient and curses proclaimed to the disobedient. People lived when they obeyed God and others have died when they disobeyed God. The Bible places a higher value on obedience than burnt offerings and sacrifices. We see obedience operating throughout the story of Elijah.
I Kings 17: 2-6 “The Word of the Lord came to Elijah: Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered Ravens to feed you there.” So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan and stayed there.
God’s instructions to Elijah were clear and specific, he was to leave where he was and turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, which was east of Jordan and hide in the ravine. What if Elijah went westward instead of eastward? Would he have seen God’s provision?
No, because, God sent a UPS (Upward Poultry Service) in the eastward direction to bring bread and meat to Elijah. God's UPS would never fail to reach it's destination. Whether or not the man of God obeys, the ravens would obey their creator. But thankfully Elijah followed each instruction carefully.
The ravens brought bread and meat in the morning and in the evening. Elijah drank from the brook. We don’t have a record to know, how many days that free service lasted. Some time later the brook dried up. Again the word of the Lord came to Elijah: Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food. This tells me that God was mindful of the needs of His faithful servant. Elijah went to Zarephath as he was told. Obedience opens the door for God’s provision.
II. In meeting other's needs (especially God’s Children) our needs are met:
As Elijah entered the town, he saw a widow gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me some water? As she was going to get him some water, he said by the way get me also some bread to eat.” She said I don’t have any bread; all I have is a little flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am collecting sticks to prepare our last meal; my son and I will eat and then die, because after this there is no more food for us. Elijah said, “Don’t be afraid, go and do as you say but first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me”
It sounds a bit harsh, doesn't it? It looked like the prophet had no concern for the needs of this widow; he was only concerned about his own needs. In reality Elijah knew God's principle that if the woman would reach out in generosity God would not fail to provide for her needs too.
The principle of generosity in the Bible:
"He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophets reward.. and who ever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward." (Matt 10:40-42)
He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Prov 11:25)
After his needs were met Paul said to the Philippians, "my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in Glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:19)
Paul commended Macedonians for their generosity because they gave out of their poverty (2 Cor 8).
It is more blessed to give than to receive. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.
Paul writing to Galatians exhorts, "Let us not loose heart in doing good for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then while we have opportunity let us do good to all people and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:9,10).
When the widow sacrificed her last meal and prepared bread and brought to Elijah, God blessed her obedience by making the flour and the oil last for whole three years. There was food for Elijah, the widow and her son during the entire famine. When we give to God and meet the needs of His people, God will bless us in return and meet all our needs.
When we go through tough times remember, that tough times will not last forever. God is with his people during tough times, and he makes provisions for his children so that they can survive in tough times. God's provision to survive in tough times is found in, obedience to his commands and by meeting the needs of God's children.
What kind of people we ought to be during tough times? Are we going to be like Elijah who obeyed God's instructions without fail? And like the widow who gave everything she had so that the man of God will be fed in turn God turned around and fed her whole household?