First Family Church

Our Gracious King

Sometimes our greatest needs arise after our greatest victories. Find rest and renewal in the story of God’s care for Elijah in this message from Pastor Todd Stiles rooted in 1 Kings 19.

Sermon Transcript

We are often most vulnerable after victory. Think that through, alright? I'll say it again for you: we are often most vulnerable after victory. In sports they call it a trap game. In life they refer to it as the valley after the mountaintop. However you refer to it, here's something we're going to see play out today that we're often most vulnerable after victory. This is why the church fathers centuries ago would often tell their young disciples, "Beware of human reactions after holy exertions." I mean, that sounds church fathery, doesn't it? I mean, who speaks that way today, right? But centuries ago as they were training up young pastors and church leaders, those early church fathers would say, "Beware of human reactions after holy exertions." What they're saying is this: we're most vulnerable often after victory.
This is where Elijah finds himself in 1 Kings 19, very vulnerable after a victory. He needs to be cautious of his reactions after the recent exertion. In other words, Mount Carmel just happened. God was amazingly victorious. So why in the world do we find Elijah now running for his life? It's 1 Kings 19. Will you open your Bibles and let's look together this morning at this story of Elijah in a very vulnerable moment and let's ask ourselves what is happening and let's just see how God is so gracious to him, alright? 1 Kings 19. I'll walk you through in a narrative fashion in verses 1 through 8. Here's essentially what is occurring. You can read it while I'm sharing this with you.
Mount Carmel happens. A big victory has been won. Ahab tells his wife, Jezebel, "Your prophets are dead." God is God. Baal is no god. And instead of repenting, Jezebel says, "Well, I'm going to kill Elijah." She sends word to Elijah that, "You've taken my men, I'm going to take your life by tomorrow." And oddly, Elijah gets fearful. This is the same guy who just last week we saw was courageous and convictional, right, about his stance on Mount Carmel, about the way he interacted with Ahab. This is the same guy who suddenly hears the queen say, "I'm coming after you," and he just takes off. In fact, 19:3 says, "he was afraid."
What ensues is a very long journey. Let me show you on our map what Elijah does. He gets to Jezreel, which is the top of the red line just below Kishon there, and he takes off running for Beersheba. That's about 100 miles. Now most scholars and commentators believe that this journey was supernaturally enabled by the Holy Spirit, and you'll see as I kind of mention the mileage here. So he takes off about 100 miles. Gets south of Jerusalem to Beersheba where he drops his servant off and says, "You stay here." Maybe that's because he wasn't sure what was going to happen next. Maybe he didn't want to be found or maybe he just wanted to be in privacy. All we know is that at Beersheba he is suicidal. He wants his life to end. This is how low he is. He's afraid. Suddenly he goes on this long run. Even though he's in power, I believe by the Holy Spirit in this way, it's taking its toll physically so he's got a number of factors leaning in on him: physical, spiritual, relational.
Now at Beersheba he just says, "Man, I'm at the end. I want to die." But while he's at Beersheba, an angel comes to him and feeds him. I mean, he was low nutritionally, biologically. He's just at the end of his rope. He sleeps. The next day the angel comes back but this time the reference in the text is that it's the angel of the Lord, which I believe is a pre-Incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. The title "the angel of the LORD" is typically used in the Old Testament to refer to Jesus Christ appearing in the Old Testament before he was Incarnated. So I think this is Jesus Christ in his pre-Incarnate appearance to Elijah taking care of Elijah and he feeds him a meal and says to him, "You've got another long journey ahead of you. Eat."
So Christ ministers to Elijah and he sends him now from that second flag at the bottom of the red line, do you see that? On another about 150-200 miles trek over 40 days to Mount Sinai. It's called Mount Horeb in your Bibles. This is the place where Moses got the law from God. This is the mountain of God. What's happening here, by the way, is God is drawing Elijah into his presence. Just keep that in mind as we work through the rest of the verses.
So this is verses 1 through 8. God has drawn Elijah into his presence through a lot of miles. Even though Elijah is at the bottom of the barrel emotionally, physically, spiritually, he is having what we call in our vernacular burn out. He's at the end. He has nothing left to give. He's discouraged. He's lonely. All of this, of course, is coming from his fear at the beginning. So now about 250-300 miles later, here he is, I believe in the same place that Moses was when God sheltered him in what the Bible calls the cleft of the rock, a certain kind of cave like, and then the Lord passed by him. He's in this same place. So God is saying to Elijah, "Elijah, you're in a bad place. I'm going to take care of you. I'm going to draw you to my presence. It's going to be long and hard and rough, but I'm going to shelter you and guard you and I'll put you in a place and I'm going to show you that I'm here for you and here with you.
So it makes me ask this question: when we find ourselves at that kind of place, when you find yourself at a place of, and I'll use our words, burn out, like I have nothing left to give, I'm at the end spiritually, relationally, emotionally, biologically, physically, just any other word you want to use in there, like I'm just out, I'm depleted, what do you do? Well, I think that's the wrong question to ask. I think a better question is: what does God do? This is what's so beautiful about this chapter. We see what God does when his people come to the end of their rope, when they're burned out, depleted, they've got nothing left. What does God do? That's where we start.
Let's see what God does now beginning in verse 9. He first of all says to Elijah, he assures him by saying, "Elijah, I am here." Look what he does in verse 9, Elijah "came to a cave and lodged in it," which I believe is the very one that Moses was sheltered in as well. There are a lot of symbolic things happening here in regards to Moses and Israel, as well as now Elijah's experience.
"And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'" And Elijah's answer is evidence that he was in this place of burn out, this place of depletion. Look what he says, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." Now there are some things about that that are factually true, would you admit? And there are some things about that that aren't factually true. So is Elijah lying? No, he's doing what you do often when you say around your house, "Am I the only one working in this joint?" Well, no, you're actually not the only one working in that joint but you feel like you are, don't you? You come home from work and you say, "Man, not a single person in my company does anything." Well, that's actually not true. They do some things but you feel like you're the only one doing anything. That's what's happening here. Elijah is saying, "Man, God, I know but I hid 100 prophets in groups of 50 in the caves. I know I'm not the only one but I feel like I'm the only one doing any work around this place. Man, Israel has turned their backs and I, only I."
He's got this martyr complex going on. He's in this place of pity and what does God do?Remember he's traveled 250-300 miles, just a couple of meals, he's fearful. I mean, he's in a tough place. What does God do? Does he says, "Elijah, I'm holding out the prophet scorecard here. I'm going to check up on you in an annual performance review of the prophet. Let's have a little job evaluation here." Does he do that? No. He just simply says to Elijah, "Elijah, I'm here in the middle of this mess."
Look what happens here. He says to Elijah, "'Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.' And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper," or in Hebrew of a very thin silence. Something is sounding but we're not sure what it is. It's really low and we're not told is it a voice, is it a hum, is it a vibration? We don't know, it's just a very small sound, almost what we'd call almost like a thin silence. It's definitely in contrast to wind, fire and earthquake, right? It's in contrast to that.
Now watch the next phrase, "when Elijah heard it," what does "it" refer to? The low whisper, correct? "When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak," which is what God did to Moses when he passed by in that same place, he covered Moses' face. So he wrapped his face in his cloak, humility, a shielding type of activity, and he "went out and stood at the entrance of the cave." Now listen very carefully, church. I want to do some textual work with you here. I think it's quite intriguing, quite revealing to us that the phrase in verse 13 that he "went out and stood at the entrance of the cave" comes after all of the activity in verses 11, 12 and 13. It does not come in the middle of verse 11. Do you see that? That's where the command is. Are you following me? The command is in verse 11, right? "Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord," and most of us assume he just did it right then but that's not what the text actually says, is it? Are you tracking with me? I need you to kind of be engaged here. I know you are.
Now could it be implied and assumed that he did? It very well could be so I don't want to say that this is a die-hard closed-fisted interpretation but I tend to think the reason that the two phrases where he was commanded to go out and stand and then he didn't go and stand until after the activity was over, it's because I don't think he heard the Lord say this until the low whisper. In other words, how did the Lord speak to Elijah in this moment? It wasn't in the big rock moving, the earthquake, the fire, the wind. In other words, that's not how God spoke to him and said, "Go out and stand at the cave." It was actually in the small almost silent whisper that Elijah heard God say, "Come out and be in my presence. Come stand at the front of this." And so Elijah goes and what does he do? He simply wraps his face in his cloak and he stands at the entrance of the cave and then the sentence ends.
What's the point? Here's what I think is happening and, again, I wouldn't fight you over this but I think what's happening is Elijah is realizing that even when nothing – watch this – even when nothing is happening, God is here. He had just come off a great victory at Mount Carmel and now God is saying to him, "Elijah, I can be majestically loud but I can be magnificently silent as well." So it wasn't in the earthquake or the fire or the wind. What was it in? It was in this low sound that was almost silent but Elijah heard it and he came out and he said, "What's going on?" And actually – watch this, church, listen – nothing was going on except God was there. I love that because it says to me when we're at a place in our life and we just feel like, "Man, ain't nothing happening. I'm in a cave. I'm lonely. I have nothing left to give. I'm depleted. I'm actually a little upset with God. I've got questions. I'm frustrated. Yeah, God, these are the kinds of thoughts I'm having right now. Ain't nothing happening. What's up with that?" Do you know what God says to us? Three words, "I'm here." Isn't that beautiful? In one sense – listen, church – it tells us what our greatest treasure is. Our greatest treasure is not what God does, it's who God is, and in this moment there was nothing happening technically, there was someone being and Elijah is realizing, "Wow, in the middle of my frustration," and some commentators think he sinned in this, by the way, so whether you think he did or not, you can wrestle that out with your own theology and Scripture, but in this place where Elijah was from fear and spiraling downward, did God give him a checklist? Did God remove himself and say, "Well, you call me when you're doing better. You've got a time-out right now, Elijah. Go to your room. Go to your cave." No, God is right there with him. It's just a beautiful picture of our compassionate gracious King.
It reminds me of what we know to be true about God. Psalm 103 describes it. I'll just show you the very last verse. This will encourage your hearts this morning. This will just massage them and revive them. Here's what Psalm 103 says, that God is compassionate and merciful. He treats us this way because – watch this – he himself knows our frame. He is mindful that we are but, what? Yeah, that's all you are. You're like a large collection of dust. Now think about that. Dust is not really a solid substance on which to build anything. I know you see dust balls under your bed, you may find dust on your dressers, you may think it's irritating but let's be honest, you can't build anything on dust. God knows that's what we are, we're just dust of the earth in which he has breathed life. He knows we're human and so what is his reaction to us when our dustiness gets the best of us? He is compassionate and merciful. Isn't that sweet? That's what the previous verse actually says, that he is compassionate. He's longsuffering. Why? Because he knows we're just dusty people.
Now watch this: when we're dusty, we often become sinful, don't we? We find ourselves depleted emotionally, we find ourselves physically and even nutritionally in a bad place, relationally we're at odds, and so we just have very little going for us in our humanity and suddenly that gets the best of us and we sin against people. Our dustiness is a platform for our sinfulness often and so that's why in that same chapter, Psalm 103, if you scoot back up even further, he says, by the way, God is so compassionate because he knows our frame that he has actually forgiven our sins. He doesn't hold them against us. In other words, this whole chapter is a chapter about how God shows his compassion to people who are just dusty sinful creatures. Aren't you glad that God is a gracious King? I'm so thankful. This is God's response to Elijah in a moment when he's not showing one of his better days, is he?
As I pondered this for the last few days, even the last several weeks, I was reminded of several of my more dusty moments. I won't go into detail about the many that came to mind, I just thought of a couple that relate to my time here at First Family. You know we planted First Family about 14 years ago, not quite but about. Some of you were here then. Some of you have only been here a few weeks, but we're about 14 years old. But though we planted 14 years ago, this idea of this church was in our hearts about 20 years ago. So in 1998, I approached our elders at the church I was serving as youth pastor and said, "Hey, what do you think about planting a church in Ankeny?" And I was expecting a yes. I mean, I was just thinking they'd get on board and say, "Let's do it!" And after a month of praying, they came back and said no. So in the meeting, I act like I'm okay. Kind of like you would do, right? "I understand," but in my heart I'm like, "What?" So I started having some of those same thoughts, "Am I the only guy who cares about serving God around this place? Am I the only one who wants to plant churches? Am I the only one who loves people and souls? I mean, what's with you elders?" I don't say that, right? Like you don't say what you're thinking half the time, right? I thank God probably weekly, at least monthly, that he did not let us plant when we asked to plant. I thank God for those elders who said, "No, it's not the right time." I'm so thankful because I was not anywhere near ready. I don't think I was ready when we planted, actually, but I knew I wasn't ready then. I didn't know it until later.
But isn't it amazing how sometimes we find ourselves in a cave-like experience thinking that no one really gets us, and what's up with that, and I was planning on this. You see, what I think is happening in this text is I think Elijah actually thought that when Mount Carmel went down, that would be the end of Baal worship in the northern kingdom. I thought he thought he would be the answer, kind of like I thought, "When I get this church in Ankeny going, it will be the answer to Ankeny's problems. There will be nobody in Ankeny who is an unbeliever once we get there. How can you say no to the church plant?" That's just completely false. It's self-centered. It's selfish ambition. There are a thousand wicked things about those thoughts, you're right, and Elijah is in somewhat of a similar place. "You mean Jezebel didn't repent? You mean the northern kingdom is not having a revival? I thought I was going to be the answer to this problem. Didn't Mount Carmel do the trick?" No, it actually didn't. It did meet God's needs, not needs but God's demands, his purpose in the moment, but there was still more punishment to come. There was still more revival to come. There was still more things to happen.
So do you see what's happening here? I think Elijah finds himself disappointed, upset, frustrated, angry. It causes fear. We find him just at the bottom of the barrel and I love the way that in that place, and I'm going to say this to you and I want you to hear this, I want you to understand this not necessarily theologically but I want you to understand this practically: God doesn't try to fix him, God just says, "I'm here." That doesn't mean that God excuses our sin, it doesn't mean that he rationalizes it. I'm not saying that at all, but I am simply saying this, that in the middle of this moment, you know, God just said, "Elijah, I want to talk to you," and he talked to him in a still voice and when he got him to where he came out of the cave, nothing happened. God's just there. It's this assuring, affirming sense that, "Elijah, I'm here with you in the middle of your mess. I'm here." And I think that's beautifully comforting in times when I think I'm in a cave and I just don't want to talk to anybody or go anywhere and things aren't looking bright. You have your own cave, don't you? You've had your moments like that.
When we did plant in '04, we just had a ball. God's been so gracious to our church plant here. Some of you remember those early days. What you may not remember is this: about 9 or 10 months into it, four of the original six who had decided to plant the church left, and though four left, it wasn't a pretty situation. It wasn't anything real public but two of them went back to the first church, and then the other two just said, "We're kind of done." And I remember, I remember so vividly standing outside the office up there in uptown Ankeny, I'm crying a little bit. I'm more mad than crying. Julie is tearing up heavily and she's kind of in my face like, "They just left?" I'm like, "Their call." And she's like, "You've got to call them. You've got to get them back." I'm like, "I tried." And we're having kind of an argument. We're not sure if we're mad at each other, if we're mad at God, if we're mad at them. We don't really know what we're upset about but we're thinking this wasn't the bargain, this wasn't the deal. You don't just say yes and then everybody leaves. There were other people around us, sure, the church was growing, but it's 2/3 of the original six who said, "We're in," like you're leaving? Man, we were just like, "Man, what is with that?" A lot of that was just our own dustiness, to be honest with you, and I should say my own dustiness.
Now, let me bring a happy ending to that story. Those four people are today four of our best friends. Two of them ended up serving an internship here later. We're close to them. He pastors in Missouri now. Beautiful friendship. There's a lot to that story that I won't get into here except to say this: there was a lot of dustiness going on, okay? The other two, they're back here. They're both serving. He's in leadership. About nine months after that event, I remember he called me one day and he said, "Todd, I could really, I'd like to talk to you." Man, we got together and the Lord was just so faithful in restoring our relationship and they're still here to this day. So in one sense they didn't go anywhere, amen? But there was a time when I thought, "Wow, is this really what church planting is all about, where you lose four of your best friends in the process? Like, I didn't ask for that. What's up, God?"
And through all of that, here's one thing I can assure you: God was always here. In the middle of my dustiness which produced sinfulness, in the middle of others, he's here. Guess what? He's in the middle of your situation where you realize, "Man, I'm just a dusty person. I cannot hold it together." I've even had moments where I've been sinning because of this and do you know what? God is with you. I hope you'll take comfort in the presence of God in the middle of your biggest mess, okay?
But God is not only here with us – watch this – God is there with us. You see, this is what he assures Elijah of secondly. It's in the last part of this chapter. Elijah is now on the outside of the cave. He's heard the voice of the Lord and though nothing is happening, he knows God is present, right? And in that moment God asks him the same question, so if you're a parent, here's a good template for you as you raise your kids, right? It's okay to ask the same question more than once, right?
He says, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" I mean, this is like a replay, isn't it? Well, I love what happens next because it shows Elijah's really not made a ton of progress. He gives the same reaction. Look at the verse. It's an exact quote. He says, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." Like, okay Elijah, we need to get moving on this thing, right? I know you're at the bottom of the barrel. This is not a good day for you. But I have hope for you. I'm not only here with you, but I'm there with you, and he begins to paint a picture of the future.
Watch what happens. This is very interesting. The Lord says to Elijah, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus." In other words, now watch this, "Get back to work. I want you to go to Hazael and anoint him to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death." What's he doing here? What he's saying is this, that he's not through bringing judgment upon the northern kingdom and so there will be future revival but it won't come just through Elijah. In other words, "Elijah, you're not the only player in town."
So he paints a picture of the future for him and says, "Elijah, I've got more work for you to do but I want you to do it through other people." So he kind of shows him the future and he says, "I'm there as well. I've got the future covered. I'm already there, in fact, Elijah. I've got people in place who will carry out my judgments. I not only have that in place, I've got 7,000," look at verse 18, "seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal." Imagine Elijah's surprise when he realizes, "Wow, we've gone from 100," remember the prophets that were being hidden by Obadiah in the caves? "We've gone from 100 to 7,000. Wow, God, you've got it covered, don't you?" Yeah, 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal, "and every mouth that has not kissed him." God is showing Elijah, "Elijah, I'm here for you now and I am there for you in the future."
So, church, watch this: if God is here and he's there, there's not a place where you're without God. That's what God does for us in moments when we are at the end of ourselves and we're burnt out, depleted, afraid, lonely, discouraged. What does God do for us? He shows us, "I'm here and I'm there."
Can I show you something about this last section that will be very encouraging for you? God shares with Elijah that he's got 7,000 kind of being held in his hand, protected. That's the same as we've been saying for the last two weeks when we said to you that God has a remnant. Remember that concept? We've been driving it home for two weeks. I want to use this final week to make sure you understand that that's not just something we've made up. It is a biblical concept of the entire Bible, in fact, I've been waiting for this week to share this with you that Paul actually uses this story to show us that the idea of a remnant is a biblically based concept from start to finish. In Romans 11, can I just read for you what he says there about this story? In Romans 11, he's discussing the idea that God has not forgotten his people. That might be the thought of some because there has been a partial hardening of Israel and they had rejected Jesus Christ, and so I guess Israel, they've just been forgotten. Paul says no. He says verse 2, "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? " So he's going back to this story and he uses Elijah's pity-party words to prove his point of a remnant. He says, "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life." Verse 4, "But what is God's reply to him? 'I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.'" Verse 5, Paul says, "So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace." Isn't that beautiful? That God knows the future as well and he is keeping his people and this remnant is by God's gracious act of election. This is so beautiful.
So I can say to you with confidence this morning, God is with you in the present and he's already with you in the future. He's always with you. He's got you covered. This is the initial foundational antidote, we'll call it, when we are in a place of burn out, discouragement, fear, depletion. It starts with, "What has God done?" He has shown us and proven to us he is here and he is there. I hope you're tracking with this well this morning, as we see our gracious King taking such good care of Elijah.
As we think about this concept of a remnant and the future and how God is working, even though we're not aware of it all the time, I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I helped one of our young Lighthouses move. This Lighthouse was full of 20 year olds and I went, for various reasons, one of them being the pizza, and so I go to help, and in that environment, I just really didn't talk much that day. I just loaded boxes and helped move stuff, but they're stronger than me and they're more talkative than me, and so I found myself within a matter of maybe 45 minutes or so, just listening and what a great day. I remember coming home to tell Julie, I said, "There are some beautifully bright young leaders in our church."
As I was listening to them, girls and guys, just talk about, some of them were married, some weren't and so they were talking about their relationships and then just talking about their zeal for God and things they hoped to see God do and some things in our church, and some things in their life, and just probably three or four hours of just hearing their conversations and their passion, their connectedness, this small group, I think the girls meet early for prayer once a week on their own, I think the guys meet early for prayer on their own, and they're really in good community. I remember just watching them and my heart just really got revved up for the young leadership, and I'll use the word potential, but it's more the potential even though it's not all in reality yet. It's just like, man, God has put some great things in our church and I went home and I told Julie, and I said, "You know, I don't know how many more years we have left here in this church, in our life even." That's okay to say that. We don't have plans to go anywhere but let's just be honest, at 53, almost 54 this week, I mean, you've got to be thinking about, "Okay." I just went home thinking, "You know, honey, the best is yet to come for First Family." Did you know that? And that's, first of all, because God is who he is, amen? It's not based on us but can I say that because God uses people, I ran into some people that day that, man, they're vibrant for what God's doing in this place. They're committed. They're in and they're young and it just really jazzed me.
I got to thinking about that and a few weeks later I challenged our staff, I said, "Help me think of young leaders in their 20s, 30s and 40s." Now if you're above 40, if you're in the 50+, don't be offended here. Just relax, okay? Can I just say to you this: wouldn't you rather pass the baton on while you can watch it happen than pout about not passing it on later? Amen. So if you're so insecure you can't think about the future without you, you've got bigger issues than this text, okay?
So I was thinking about, like, man, this is awesome. We got a list, just got it last week, this list of really young leaders, people who are serving and impacting this church in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and I challenged our staff, "Guys, get one of these men or women in your ministry. Let's start giving things away to the folks who are coming after us." Now that may scare you. I don't know if it does. Deal with it. I think we've got to start thinking about what does it look like when the Elijah's are moving on and the Elisha's are just kind of, "We're ready to go." I think it says to us the best is yet to come. By the way, just to kind of lean in on this text a little more, the chapter ends with Elijah passing Elisha, throwing his cape on him, which was a sign that, "You're the next prophet." Elisha accepts it, goes and gives kind of a worship feast to celebrate his commitment and says goodbye to his family, heads off. And did you know that Elisha actually does, and you can count them in Scripture, twice as many miracles as Elijah and it was Elisha who actually saw much more peace in the northern kingdom. So we say this a lot of times, Elijah is the prophet of fire, he's the one that broke up the ground, Elisha's the prophet of peace, he's the one that kind of saw the fruit more. They were both necessary. Aren't you glad Elijah didn't say, "Well, if I can't be around to see it all happen, I'm not taking part in this." Aren't you glad he kind of got out of this cave he was in and realized, "Wow, the future looks great because, first of all, God is already there, and second of all, he's already got folks lined up to handle it."
That's the attitude you want in a church. Can I just be extremely transparent with you? I know it's not going to happen, so first of all, I trust God, but in a human way, I don't want the church to grow old with me. If you're the same age as us, hear that, I'm not trying to make you feel better about it, I don't know what to say to you. I don't want the doors to close when we have our last funeral here. I don't want that. I want this place hopping and kicking with young leaders who are concerned about God's glory among the nations. I love the transition so well that in this place its best days are when I'm not here. Wouldn't that be awesome? And that can happen because God is faithful to his promises and he already knows the future. He's already there, church, so why do we in somewhat of a depressed sometimes think, "Oh my goodness, what's the future hold?"
Are there tough times? Yes, and I don't think getting old is always the greatest. There are things about it that we like. We say to each other a lot, "These are our better days," and we mean that, okay? No diapers. No late nights. All those things there, right? But there are times you're like, "Man, some of our better days are past in energy and stuff like that." What do you do with that? Instead of moaning and pouting, man, let's look to see what the future looks like from God's perspective. Who is he really enabling in these ranges, they're going to carry the torch, and let's hand the baton to them while we can and not pout about it later.
This is what I see in this text. The way out of some burnt out issues, the way forward when you feel discouraged and lonely and afraid is not by saying, "What do I do?" it's by looking at what God has done first. And what has God done for us? He's assured us he's here with us in the present and he's there for us in the future. In other words, God is always here and there. There's a word for that theologically, did you know that? It's the word omnipresent. Now what you think that means normally is this: God is everywhere. And I think that's okay. I'm not going to argue that with you theologically except to say this: God is not actually in every place. You may think, "Oh my goodness, we've got a heretic in our pulpit." You don't. For instance, let's just take a place in Ankeny in which there are no believers. We taught our kids this. This is some of the conversation we had when they were growing up. Let's say there's a place where there are no believers. Would God be in that place? The answer is, no, he's not there. If there are no believers in a certain location, then God's not there because his Holy Spirit is not there. So how do we say God's omnipresent? Well, what we mean by that in the most technically theological fashion is this: everything is always present to God. In other words, last week is just as present to God as right now is. Did you know that? Because God, the Bible says he was and is and is to come. He's transcendent, to use a big word.
So God does not know a sense of the past or the future in that sense. Now we describe him that way and we look at it that way but the truth is to God everything just is. Did you know that? Always. It just is. That's how incomprehensible God is. He looks at your life, he doesn't say, "Oh yeah, last month you went..." Your last week is just like your moment today and your future is just like your moment today. In other words, your life is to God. He is just always there. There is no part of your life that isn't just under God's presence and power and control, which is why David would say in Psalm 139, "Where can I go from your presence? If I go to the bottom of Sheol, you're there. If I fly with the wings of heaven, you're there." In other words, "God, I cannot escape you." God has just always got everything in his present view. Everything.
So this place in Ankeny where there are no believers, is God there? Not in the sense that he's physically in that location but is that place always in God's view? Yes. Does that make sense? So that's what we mean in a technical sense by God's omnipresence. Nothing is outside of God's ever-present eye which means – watch this, church – let this just comfort your heart today. Nothing in your life is outside of God's ever-present eye. Nothing.
That cave you're in right now, the one that you're sure is where you're going to vent your frustration, ask God your questions, you've got a list of them, you know. Yeah, God's there. Maybe you're watching your parents age. God's there. Maybe you're watching your kids leave. God's there. Maybe you're watching more kids get born. God's there. Maybe you're watching your marriage struggle. God's there. Church, are you hearing the good precious King who knows that you're just dust, is ever-present of every second of your life.
We have a gracious King, don't we? And I just want to encourage you to own your dustiness this morning. Yeah, you're like Elijah more than you realize and so am I. We have days and moments when we're just not at our best. We're at the end. We're depleted. Some of you may feel like you just want to die. God is here and God is there. That's where it all starts, not what you can do, it's what God has done.
So let me leave you with two affirming applications then I want to pray with you about these. Just know, first of all, that God's presence is really all you need. You can argue that, alright, you can push back and say, "No, I've got to have this and I've got to have that," but actually you don't. You say, "Well, then I'll die." You're right, you will die and where will you be as a child of God if you die? In God's presence which is really all you need because the day is coming when in God's presence you will not need anything to survive, you won't need the sun, the Bible says, or the moon. You'll just need to be in God's presence for all the help that you require.
So I want to say to you again: when you're in your cave, when you're at the end, when you're depleted, when you're facing burn out, hold on to this truth, God's presence is actually and really all you need. He's here. Amen? He's not trying to fix you either, and I'll say that correctly. He's sanctifying us, yes. This is not a message about that, but in this moment of understanding our dustiness and how it comes to show itself, God will meet us not trying to fix us, check us, evaluate us, he'll just be there with us, holding us. I love the old song, "He will hold me fast." Sovereign Grace sings it well. The Gettys sing it. The Gospel Coalition sings it. You ought to Google it. You'll find it. "When the tempter tries me, when my feet slip." The song refrains, "He will hold me fast, for my Savior loves me so. He will hold me fast."
His presence is really all you need and, secondly, his work is bigger than me. Let's say that to ourselves. Do you know why? Otherwise we get into this idea that if we're not the centerpiece, if we're not the prime player, if we're not the celebrity, then things don't go well, but God's work is far bigger than any of us, amen? So realizing our place is very healthy. "God, your work is bigger than me. I'll just do what you ask me to do and as long as you're with me, I will be content."
I don't know where you are this morning in relation to Elijah's story but my guess is you're not a whole lot different than me. Maybe in this message you've thought about some of your cave-like moments, your mind has revisited placed where like, "Man, I was sure dusty that day." Yeah. I'm praying that God has freed you this morning from having to be something that you don't have to be. "What do you mean, Todd?" In other words, you don't have to be non-dusty. You see, this is where we get into trouble. We think we have to be something other than who we are so we try to be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. We actually try to be God. "I can't make any mistakes. I'm doing exactly right. It all depends on me." Church, listen, you don't have to repent of not being omnipotent. You don't have to repent of not being omniscient. You don't need to repent of not being omnipresent. You have to repent of trying to be. God didn't make you to be God. He didn't make you to fix all of your problems and everyone else's and be the star. He actually fixes, corrects, sanctifies, he does the work and his Son is the star, amen? Ours is just to enjoy his presence and know that his work is bigger than us and he will get it done. You could say, "Yeah, that's my posture this morning. Would you pray for me?" Let me do that for you right now, okay, church? Let's bow our heads, can we?
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