Sermon Series: Things that make a difference
1 Kings 18:1-16
As chapter 18 opens we read that the Prophet Elijah is on the move. He has been instructed by God to “go and present himself to Ahab.” Prior to going to meet Ahab, the Prophet Elijah has had some experiences that have prepared him for his meeting. In chapter 17 he has three experiences that help to prepare him for his impending meeting with Ahab, the king of Israel. In chapter 17 Elijah has an earlier confrontation with Ahab to inform him that God intended to shut up the heavens and there would be no rain in the land except by the Word of God through Elijah. This experience helps Elijah learn how to rely on God for his daily sustenance. As the rest of the land suffers through a drought, God directs Elijah to camp out in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan River and ordered the ravens to feed him. Elijah drank from a brook and was fed bread and meat in the morning and in the evening. Elijah’s second experience came when God instructed him to go to Zarepath and there he would meet a widow whom God directed to provide him with food. Upon encountering the widow Elijah asked her for a drink and something to eat. The widow informed him that she only had a handful of flour and a little oil in a jug. Elijah encouraged her to share what she had and by not being afraid to use the little that she had God made sure that the handful of flour was not used up and the jug of oil never ran out. Here Elijah was reminded that God is a keeper of His Word to those who trust Him. Elijah’s third experience was of the unexpected variety. The son of the widow got sick and died. In the first two experiences Elijah was operating in accordance with what God had commanded him to do. This was not in the script. This was an opportunity for Elijah to put into practice what he had just learned. It was an occasion for God to see what Elijah would do without any prompting. The Bible says that Elijah stretched himself out on the boy and cried out to God three times and God revived the young man. How do we handle the unexpected? What do we do in situations when there is no prompting from God?
These three experiences were divine teaching moments. God uses life experiences to teach us something about Him and about ourselves. Every unexpected situation and circumstance is an opportunity for you and I to put into practice what we have learned from God and about God. It is also important for us to keep in mind that whatever we face today, we have been prepared for yesterday. Whatever we experience today is preparation for something we will face, encounter or confront tomorrow. Sometimes the most powerful and profound experiences are our past experiences. To often folks are always looking forward to something or for something, and when the something does not come they are disappointed. We cannot live off of what has not come. However, we can draw strength from what we have already been through. As in the case of Elijah, we see that past experiences empower us to face present challenges, but they also help us to empower others. As you and I reflect on some of our past experiences what have we learned from them and have they prepared us for present and future challenges?
As Elijah is on his way to meet Ahab, the Bible says the famine in the land was so severe that Ahab calls his chief of the palace Obadiah to go through the land and search for grass for the livestock. Obadiah is a very interesting character. Here is a guy who is in charge of the king’s palace. That would make him a high-ranking official within Ahab’s cabinet and give him unimpeded access to Ahab. In addition, the Bible says that Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. This would suggest that Obadiah lived his faith and not his religion. It would further suggest that Obadiah did not wear any neon lights, carry any signs or banners, none of that, he simply lived what he believed. Actually, I would venture to guess that his environment did not lend itself to that kind of behavior. Ahab’s palace was probably not the kind of place where it was in a person’s best interest to broadcast what they believed. Make no mistake about it a believer should never be ashamed of their faith, but they should live what they believe. There are those who say that believer’s should let the world know that they are believers, and I agree. I also think that certain environs do not always make it possible to verbally or openly share our faith. However, whether the environments we move and operate in are conducive to sharing our faith openly is really not the issue. The issue is are we living our faith?
The text tells us that Obadiah encounters Elijah along the way and recognizes him immediately. Apparently, Elijah’s reputation has preceded him. Obadiah acknowledges Elijah and pays tribute to his standing as a mighty prophet of God. Elijah tells Obadiah, “Go tell your master, Elijah is here.” Obadiah’s response is WHAT! You want me to do what? Obadiah loses it and then proceeds to provide Elijah with a laundry list of excuses why he cannot do it. In fact three times Obadiah makes reference to the fact that what Elijah is asking him to do will result in his sure death. Blah, blah, blah!
At this point there are a couple of lessons that are screaming to be lifted up and pointed out.
1. Before God calls us to do something courageous, God provides us with a template of what courage in action looks like. Remember, Elijah is simply asking Obadiah to do what he did in chapter 17. It is difficult to do something or become something if we have no idea what it looks like. You cannot expect a boy to become a man if he has never seen one. Within each of our lives God has placed men and women, boys and girls who are living profiles of courage in action. The question is have we identified them? Elijah is a profile, a picture and a portrait of courage in action. He is not asking Obadiah to do something he himself has not already done. In fact God is using Elijah to empower Obadiah so that Obadiah too can become a profile in courage. Before we can empower others to be courageous we need to have had some experience in the area they are struggling with or require assistance. There is a difference between encouragement and empowerment. Encouragement says you can do it, but empowerment says this is how it is done. The age-old question is do you have to walk a mile in a person’s shoes to know where they have been? The answer is absolutely yes. If we are not acquainted and familiar with the sacrifice, struggle, and energy it takes to accomplish something or become something the best we can be are encouragers. Again I submit to you that God has strategically placed individuals in and around us for the express purpose of allowing us to tap into their insights and knowledge as we walk in their shoes or the path they have walked before us. This is what mentoring is all about, taking someone by the hand and showing them how to do it because we have already done it.
2. Obadiah was positioned to make an impact. Let us consider that Obadiah was in charge of Ahab’s palace. His position gave him intimate knowledge of both the king and queen. His position afforded him access to the king, and he had the king’s ear, and he could not have attained to such a high position without having earned a high level of trust. Not to mention, Obadiah was a believer surrounded by and in the midst of unbelievers. It is not by accident that you and I are where we are. While we may not be serving in the king’s palace or on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the point is wherever we are we are there to address a need. Many times we are not immediately aware of the need to be addressed, but believe me when I tell you it is there. I think about my parent’s as a child growing up. One of the memories indelibly burned into my mind is seeing them read the Bible. Let me be clear, my parent’s were not spiritual giants by any stretch of the imagination. They were not regular attendees at church. I did not see them pray every day or night. They were not model believers or templates. However, they were positioned to make an impact on me. God used the images of seeing them sitting on the edge of their bed or on the sofa in the living room with a Bible opened on their lap to make an impact on me. Seeing them impacted me. There are three questions I would encourage everyone to ask themselves, 1) where has God placed you? 2) Who has God placed around you? 3) Who are you close to? The answer to these questions will provide insight into what God is doing and what God wants us to do where we are. As we consider these questions we will begin to see that we have been positioned by God to use us to reach, touch, or impact the lives of others. As a teacher I get to provide instruction to hundreds of students a year, I have been positioned to make an impact. As a preacher I get to stand before people every week and break open God’s Word and share the truths of God’s word, I have been positioned to make an impact. What about you?
3. Elijah gave Obadiah the key to take back the power. Two things are clear in this text, Obadiah was scared of Ahab, and Elijah was sent to empower Obadiah. Obadiah was already positioned to take back the power, but he just needed to be empowered. God used Elijah to inform Obadiah that he was not powerless. Ahab put on his pants the same way Obadiah did one leg at a time. Elijah told him “Go tell your master that Elijah is here.” Literally, it means – Go tell the one who controls you, My God is Jehovah and he is here. Wow! In one statement Elijah gave Obadiah the key to take back the power that fear had robbed him of, but it required effort on the part of Obadiah. The only one who can speak to our masters is you and I. We are the only ones who can speak to and reclaim the power we surrendered from the people and things that we have allowed to control us, have possession and rule over us. If we want to be free we have to be willing to speak truth to power. Frederick Douglas said that, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Elijah’s words were for Obadiah not Ahab. Before we can speak something we need to believe it to be true. We need to believe that our God is bigger than our master, and then we need to let our master know that he has been relieved of his duties because our God is here. There are some who look at the situation in Egypt and see utter chaos. They see a nation in crisis. I see a people using their keys taking back their power. If we do not stand up, people will continue to stand on us. If we do not speak up, people will continue to speak for us. If we do not confront the things that have taken control of us, they will continue to dominate us. Use the key and go tell your master that Elijah is here.
4. Obadiah experiences a failure to launch. In typical fashion, Obadiah does not hear a word Elijah said. He makes a laundry list of excuses. Obadiah wanted an assurance that things would go as planned. He was worried about the outcome. Here we have a man of faith living in fear and not by his faith. This just goes to show that even the most devout believers sometimes experience a short circuit in their faith. For Obadiah the problem was not the condition, the problem was the excuses he was making for remaining in the condition. After we have been empowered the only thing that can short-circuit our power are excuses. They render us impotent and unable to perform. Excuses create an artificial ceiling limiting how far and how high we can reach. Excuses cause us to pay more attention to what if’s and what could and keep us distracted from realizing what God can. The biggest problem with excuses is that there are no solutions for excuses. If there are reasons why something cannot be done then a solution can be found. For every reason why a problem exists there is a solution for that problem. For every excuse why a problem cannot be handled there are not solutions because excuses only create more problems.
Elijah grants Obadiah a hearing and says look I will do what I said I will do, but you still need to do what you need to do for yourself and go tell your master that Elijah is here. Obadiah was paralyzed by the thought of facing Ahab. Elijah gave him the key and Obadiah was the only one who could use the key to free himself. FDR said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear has the power to make us prisoners in our own mind. The more we face our fears the less power they will exert over us. A liberated mind has the power to go where a bound mind cannot go. That is why we need to do it even if we are afraid we need to use the keys that Jesus gives us, His empowering presence, and face those fears that have controlled us so that we can be free. When we do we will see that doing it even though we are afraid will make a difference in the quality of our living.