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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Dr. David Jeremiah » David Jeremiah - The School of Faith

David Jeremiah - The School of Faith

David Jeremiah - The School of Faith
David Jeremiah - The School of Faith
TOPICS: Someone Like You, Elijah, Trust, Faith

One of the sobering thoughts about the Christian life is the truth that God is far more interested in who we become and what we are than in what we do. He cares a whole lot more about how we live than about what we accomplish. His purpose is to build Christians, not cathedrals. His focus is on people, not programs, and for this reason, when God is working in the life of a person, he often allows unexplainable events to prepare and perfect those that he is getting ready to serve him in a much bigger way in the kingdom. The New Testament says this: "Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives". Often when difficult things happen in our lives, it's not the evidence of something that is wrong, but proof that something is right. "Whom the Lord loves he chastens".

Discipline proves that God is your Father and he is treating you like his child. And discipline is not negative. Discipline oftentimes is the very greatest evidence of the love of Almighty God. In our study today, God is going to enroll Elijah in the school of faith or the school of discipline. He needs to learn the principles of faith that will put him in good stead for the challenges that are before him. Since we have his whole life story in this book, we know what's looming ahead for Elijah. We know that he will stand one day on the top of a mountain, faced by all of the pagan prophets of the entire country, and there, by himself, be asked to do battle with them before the whole watching world. And in order to carry out that assignment, here are some things Elijah has to learn.

So in the opening verses of 1 Kings chapter 17, we're gonna read about four lessons that God uses to teach us when he's getting ready to use us. The first one's what I call "The Procedure of Faith". In 1 Kings 17, we read: "And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the Lord God of Israel, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.'" Elijah's story begins with a confrontation. Two things about this confrontation will serve to demonstrate the seriousness of his problem. First of all, there seems to be a discrepancy in the Bible's description of the duration of the drought that Elijah predicted. Several passages in the Bible tell us that the famine lasted for three years.

1 Kings 18:1 says: "It came to pass after many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, 'Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send you rain upon the earth.'" In other words, in the third year, Elijah was told to go and tell Ahab that there's gonna be some rain. But according to James in the New Testament the drought lasted longer than that, for James said: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months". How do we reconcile these two numbers? Well, since three years passed from Elijah's prophecy until rain fell again, we may assume that it had not rained for six months already. In other words, it was probably in the fall of the year, the time of the former rains to start falling after the dry summer. The land was already parched and yearning for rain, but Elijah added something extra. He said, "There's not even going to be any dew on the ground".

Even during a dry season in Israel there's dew on the ground in the morning. But this was to be a complete drought resulting in famine and death, all as a judgment by God for the rampant idolatry brought in by Ahab and Jezebel. The people of Israel were already in a state of misery. They'd already had six months of no rain. Elijah said to Ahab, "Your misery's not only gonna be increased because of no morning dew, it's gonna be extended for three more years". And Elijah, at that moment, became public enemy number one of King Ahab. The second bit of information that we might not pick up unless we dig a little deeper, is the fact that when Elijah pronounced a drought over the land, his words were a rebuke of Ahab and Ahab's God, Baal. Did a little homework on that, and Baal was the so-called "rain god". He was the rain god. And Baal worshipers believed that their storm god made rain. And to refute this belief, Elijah states that Yahweh is the one who determines when rain falls, that Yahweh lives at all times, and that Yahweh, Jehovah, is not afraid to challenge Baal on what the worshipers consider his home ground.

As Elijah confronted the king, he probably knew already because we read it in the scripture that many of his fellow prophets had been massacred by Queen Jezebel. Remember, she went around all of Israel trying to find prophets of the Lord, and whenever she found one, she took 'em out. She killed them. Elijah knew he was putting himself in great jeopardy when he stood before the king and gave him that awesome message, yet this was the first assignment God had given him, and he was courageous enough to carry it out.

Someone has suggested that the day Elijah left Gilead for Israel with this message he's gonna give to Ahab, he must have wondered, "Okay, I got that. But what happens next? Lord, what's step number two"? There's no record of any instruction given to Elijah about anything that was gonna happen afterward. He just went in obedience to the Lord, delivered the message God told him deliver, and we read in verse 2 this little phrase: "Then the word of the Lord came to him". Then, when? Then after he did what God told him to do in the first place, then after that, God told him what to do next. We're talking here about the procedure of faith. After Elijah had done what God already told him to do, then the Word of the Lord came to him, and that is the way the procedure of faith always works. It's the procedure of step-by-step obedience before the Lord. We obey one command, and then he gives us another. We take one step, and then he leads us to the next step. And that's very uncomfortable for me and for all of you too. Can I get a witness? We want to know the whole story. We wanna see where it ends up. We wanna know what problems we're gonna face between A and Z, but God doesn't work that way. He leads us one step at a time.

Anne Graham Lotz and her husband, Danny, who died back in 2015, used to attend football games at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina. And when they would go, thousands and thousands of people would cram into the parking lot, and Anne Graham Lotz said she couldn't see where she was going, but her husband was 6'7, and he was able to look over the crowd, so he would take her hand and he would lead them to their seats, and she used to say that from the time she got out of her car till she sat down in the stadium, she didn't see anything or understand anything. All she knew was that her husband could see it. She had a hold of his hand and she followed him, kept hold of his hand, until they sat down in the stadium. She went on to say that she follows the same procedure with the Lord. "I just try to faithfully follow the Lord step by step and day by day. Ten years from now I just wanna look back and know that, to the best of my ability, I've been obedient to God's call on my life".

How many of us, like Elijah, have had the faith to follow in obedience to the Lord for one bold moment and then felt what he must have felt, "Now, Lord, what's next"? Do you know, Paul had that experience in the New Testament, the great apostle. In the same chapter that records his conversion are these words: "So he, trembling and astonished, said, 'Lord, what do You want me to do?' And the Lord said to him, 'Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'" And if you go to the book of Hebrews and you read through the 11th chapter, it is filled with the stories of people who live like this. "By faith Noah prepared an ark for the saving of his household". Have you ever thought about the fact that when Noah built an ark, there had never been any rain on the face of the earth before? And when people would ask him, "What are you doing"? he would say, "I'm building an ark". "Why are you doing that"? "Because it's gonna rain". "What's that"? But all Noah did was go to work every day and pound a nail till God told him what to do next.

I love the story of Abraham. It says: "Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going". Sounds kind of like a lot of us, doesn't it? The Bible told Abraham to get up and leave, but he didn't tell Abraham where he was headed. He just said, "Follow me and I'll take you there". I love Sarah: "By faith Sarah received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age," which I think is the understatement of the Bible, "because she judged Him faithful who had promised".

So, one more illustration from Hebrews 11. One day, the Lord told Joshua that they were going to take out Jericho, and that Joshua got God's battle plan: most bizarre thing he ever heard in his life. And here's what we read: "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace". Can you imagine being in that procession, getting up every day for seven days and taking the step God told you to take? "What do you mean we're walking around the city"? "Well, the Lord God said we gotta walk around the city seven times and on the last day we gotta do it all in one day. And then he's gonna give us victory".

Man, I don't know if I could have made that trip. And some of you are the same as I am. You see, the procedure of faith is a tough lesson to learn because most of us want the security of knowing the whole plan before we take the first step. But in walking with God, we always have to take step one before we have any idea of where step two, three, or four is going to take us. What is the procedure of faith? Here it is: do not ask about tomorrow when today is before you. Do not ask about next month when this week is yet to be lived. Take God at his word, one step at a time.

Living by faith is like driving across the country from the West Coast to the East Coast. If you were to park your car in the middle of the highway and say, "Until every light between here and the East Coast is turned green, I'm not moving," you wouldn't get very far. Take the green lights that God gives you. Sometimes, the caution lights are all right too. But it's always one light at a time, isn't it? Jesus is telling us to take each day as it comes, give our attention to what God is doing right now. When we begin to brood about the future, we end up with double trouble. All of the anxiety and worry that belongs to tomorrow will be ours today, and then it'll still be there tomorrow and we will not have done anything at all to reduce it one little bit.

At the close of World War II, as the allies were gathering up the hungry, homeless war orphans and putting them into camps, providing sufficient clothing and food, these little children had trouble sleeping at night because they were so afraid. They were restless. One of the doctors hit upon an idea of placing in the hand of each child when he got into bed a slice of fresh bread. This was not to be eaten but merely to be held, and the effect was electrifying. They slept soundly. They had been concerned about where the next meal was coming from and had known hunger and want so much. Now, at last, they could go to sleep without concern. The crust of bread in their hands was the assurance of their next meal. Likewise, the good Shepherd has made provision for the tomorrows of all of his flock. He knows where the water is, he knows where the best grazing is, he knows where the fold will be on the next day, and he's made provision for his children, and if you believe that, you can walk by faith. You can take today's step without knowing about tomorrow's step because you know the God who has brought you this far is the God who will carry you on to the future.

So the first lesson is "The Procedure of Faith". Now, the second one, we're gonna call this lesson, "The Preparation of Faith". We read in verse 2 that "the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, 'Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan.'" Do you know that the Brook Cherith has never been discovered? Archeologists, scholars, people who know up and down the whole land of Israel, the Brook Cherith was so small, nobody ever knew for sure where it was. It was a tributary to the Jordan River, one little rivulet, if you will, and the Lord said to Elijah, "Get to the Brook Cherith". Elijah's just confronted the most powerful man on the face of the earth. Maybe he's not ready to hide, but God has a plan for him. God knew that what Elijah did in front of Ahab was small compared to what he was about to do in a few days on Mount Carmel. And it was important now for Elijah to learn the preparation of faith. God's principle of teaching faith, listen to me, is the principle of isolation.

I have a feeling that Elijah was a very lonely man, as I read about him. If you read his life from the beginning to the end, he only had two associates that we know by name. There was a period of time when he and Elisha were ministering together and for a brief time he was ministered to by a widow simply known as the widow of Zarephath. But the rest of his days, Elijah seemed to be quite alone. He had no companion, no fellow worker. God hid Elijah by the Brook Cherith in order to protect him from an angry king. The king was furious. Every day, Ahab witnessed the rainless skies. Every day he saw the produce in Israel withering away. Every day he looked upon the declining economy of Israel, he blamed Elijah and was intent on eliminating him and the entire prophetic family. In fact, the Bible says the royal family began to massacre the prophets of the Lord during this time, 1 Kings 18:4. And so Elijah was being hidden by God for his own protection.

Now, if the archeologists couldn't find it, we shouldn't be surprised Ahab couldn't find it either. But I don't think God's main issue for Elijah was his safety. I think God's main issue for Elijah was not just to protect him, but to prepare him. God hid Elijah by the brook in order to give him some quiet, to prepare him for the challenges that were coming his way. Have you ever noticed how God does that? In the Bible, it's almost, I mean, when you go back and look at the Bible with this in mind, it's kind of like, "Whoa, does he ever not do this"? I mean, Joseph spent time in the pit and he spent time in the prison before God let him spend any time in the palace. And Moses is a classic. God spent 80 years of Moses's life giving him preparation for the final 40 years of his life. Moses lived to be 120. The first 80 years were preparation, the last 40 years were ministry.

Someone has said, "Moses spent his first 40 years learning to be somebody, his next 40 years learning to be a nobody, and the last 40 years learning that God can take a nobody and make him a somebody". From the time that David was anointed to be the king, until he actually became the king, there was a period of 15 years. He was anointed to be king and he actually got to be king 15 years later. And what was he doing during that time? He was tending sheep and he was running from Saul and a lot of other things that aren't very kingly. But God was preparing him. And, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ only had three years of public ministry. If he lived to be 33, there's hardly any information about the first 30 years of his life.

One author actually put it this way, and I don't think he was being irreverent: "Jesus's early life was boring. For the first 30 years of his life, he was an unknown carpenter who wasn't doing anything big for God. He worked alongside his dad, using his hands to shape, shave, and tack together pieces of wood. He quietly studied the scriptures and he grew in stature with God and men, and he didn't have a public ministry. He didn't write any books, he didn't go on any conference tours, he didn't have any rallies, he didn't adopt an orphan, he didn't give away 75% of his income, he didn't go on mission trips. He loved the Lord with all his heart, honored his mother and father, and quietly went about his work. Was Jesus wasting his life? Of course not. He was doing exactly what God called him to do".

I'm sure there are some people here today who are in a season of preparation. Sometimes, it's really frustrating to be in a season of preparation. I remember that feeling. Let me tell you about it. I was in seminary, and Donna and I had taken on a little task of working for a church in Fort Worth, the Northwest Bible Church. It's on Jacksboro Highway just past the stockyards. We would drive over there early every Sunday and we would come home late at night, and I know you're not gonna believe this. You'll have to take this one by faith. My task was: I was the youth pastor, I worked a little bit in Christian education, and I led the choir. I know, it's something to laugh about. We would give ourselves to that church for that whole day, working there, and the man who was the pastor was a great man. I loved him and learned a lot from him. Believe it or not, he's the only guy up until that time who had ever gone through the entire program at Dallas Seminary, including the graduate program, without ever getting anything less than an A. He was a brilliant man. But I would work there all day, and Donna and I would get ready.

Believe it or not, we actually took roll-up cots with us and after we finished everything and had our lunch, we'd go in the kitchen and lock the door, put these on the floor and take a nap 'cause we'd be tired. We worked, both of us, full-time jobs and I was a student. We'd get in the car after the service and we'd reflect, first of all, on what happened that day and be grateful for what God has done. And then I'd start to say to Donna something like this, "You know, honey, sometimes I just feel like I'm wasting my time. And all my friends where I went to college, many of them, they went to college, got a Bible degree, and they're out pastoring churches and God's blessing them and the church is growing and people were coming to Christ. And tomorrow I've gotta go to the library," which seemed to me like not very exciting. Go to the library.

And every week, as we would come home, we would turn on the radio because there was a radio program that we found, and this program was called "Revival Time". And the speaker on this program was a man by the name of C.M. Ward. He would come over the radio and I would hear his powerful voice and his enthusiasm for evangelism, and I'd be all stirred up. He used to, at the end of his program, he would envision this whole country as his congregation and he'd say, "And they're gathering at the altar now from California all the way to Florida". He'd go through the states and, you could just close your eyes, not when you're driving, but you could close your eyes and see this all happening. He created a spirit of evangelism and excitement about the ministry. I almost didn't wanna listen to it because I would say to my wife, "Maybe we should just quit and go find a place and start a church". But today, I look back over those years as such a blessing. Those quiet years of preparation were very key to what God has done in my life today. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to spend time preparing.

God was preparing me, and you know what? I've been fishing out of that stream now for almost 50 years, what God taught me in the time of preparation. I didn't like it, but now I see what God was doing. Maybe God is preparing you for something. Maybe it doesn't seem like there's anything really special going on in your life right now, but you're walking with the Lord and your relationship with him is good and you're just asking him every day, "What is next, Lord? What do you want me to do"? Don't despise the days of preparation. God is up to something. The procedure of faith and the preparation of it. Let me share with you quickly, "The Provision of Faith". So we read in chapter 17: "'And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.' So Elijah went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook".

God's provision for Elijah was dependent upon Elijah being in the place where God told him to go, because God is also in charge of the ravens. He's the Lord of all creatures, the Bible says, and when God dispatches Elijah to the Brook Cherith he also called the ravens in and gave them a new assignment. He gives them the address where Elijah's going to be and tells them they're to feed him there, morning and night. All the ravens are to deliver the food, and if Elijah doesn't show up at the right place, he won't have anything to eat. How many of you know that God works both sides of the street? He works the things that he's putting in your life and he orchestrates those and brings them together, so best do what he tells you to do 'cause you'll wind up at the wrong place and you'll miss what God wants to do for you. God's provision was probably not what Elijah was looking forward to. Maybe he had a better idea of the menu he should be fed.

Sometimes our greeds and our needs get mixed up. But God provided what Elijah needed. He didn't provide a gourmet lunch. Elijah needed enough food to stay alive, and God delivered it to him in the morning and in the evening. And just as Jesus later took a few loaves and a few fishes and multiplied them so that 5000 men plus the women and the children were fed, God used the ravens during this time to feed Elijah every single day. And that's truly an amazing thing because ravens are omnivores. They're scavengers who eat just about anything and yet God put them under his control and disciplined them enough to deliver meat to Elijah every morning and evening. And scary as it must have been for Elijah to wait for God to provide his meals, God never failed. In fact, God did above and beyond all that Elijah could have imagined.

Let me put this provision in perspective. I love this little part of the story. So if you're Elijah and you're sitting there complaining about, "Man, all I get every day is meat and bread. Meat and bread. Sandwiches day after day". Well, Elijah had some buddies who were his partners in prophecy. They were also prophets, and the Bible says that while this whole thing was going on with Ahab, that another prophet by the name of Obadiah took the prophets who were being chased by Jezebel and he organized them. Here's what it says in 1 Kings 18:4: "For so it was, when Jezebel massacred the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave," now get this and underline it in your Bible, "and fed them with bread and water". Elijah, what are you complaining about? You got meat. Your buddies are in a cave eating bread and water. I'd rather be Elijah than the other prophets, wouldn't you? The prophets who were with Obadiah had only received the bare minimum, but Elijah received water, fresh meat, morning and night.

Oh, how God provided for him. And God will always provide for us if we will trust him. I believe that with all my heart. I've been trying to look for illustrations where that isn't true for all these years I've been serving the Lord, and I haven't found any. God will provide our needs if we will trust him. That's an important lesson for us to hear today. Some of us, you're going through some tough times and you're asking, "What should I do"? Well, let me just tell you what you better do. By all means, stay in the will of God. Don't stray from God's will 'cause if you do, you'll get off the path, and when God's provision comes, you won't be where you need to be to receive it.

Remember, faith is only as good as an object. If we trust people, we get what people can do. If we trust money, we get what money can do. And if we trust ourselves, we get what we can do. But if we trust God, we get what God can do. That was the lesson Elijah was learning. The procedure of faith, the preparation of it, the provision of it, and finally, the purpose of it. "And it happened," verse 7, "after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land". Now, I'm envisioning a prayer from Elijah: "God, why are you letting this happen"? And I can hear God saying, "Elijah, you're the one that started all this. You're the one that pronounced 'No rain for the land.' What are you complaining about? It's finally gotten to you".

Day after day as Elijah sat by the brook, the bread and the meat kept coming but, little by little, he sees this brook drying up. What was once a gushing brook is now just a little trickle every day, and one day he must have asked God, "Why is this happening"? Can you imagine this man of faith sitting there by the brook, watching the thing that God had supernaturally provided to care for him, little by little drying up? Some of you have watched your brooks dry up, haven't you? Your popularity is not what it used to be. Maybe your health is waning, your brook of money, sometimes the brook of friendship. Do you know it's much harder to sit by a drying up brook than it is to stand on a mountain and confront a bunch of prophets? It is really tough on your faith when you see your provisions starting to dissipate. What in the world could be the purpose of that for a prophet of God?

I am confident that what God wanted to teach Elijah is what he wants to teach us, and that is that our faith is not to be in God's gifts, but our faith is to be in God himself. Our faith is not to be centered on the blessings that God pours out upon us, we should be grateful, but our faith is to be centered in the person of God himself. John Piper said, "We are spring-loaded to turn gifts into alternatives to God". And so what God does is, in this age between our Fall and our perfection, God uses pleasure and pain to provide us with revelations of his goodness and protect us, watch this, from loving substitutes for God, which actually are gifts that God gives us. He uses a mixture. He brings pleasure into our life in order that we might know him through those things and then he brings pain into our life in order that he might show us that he is more important than the things he's given us. I think what Elijah learned that day by the brook was, "Man, this has been good how God has cared for me, but I started putting my faith in the brook instead of the God who created the brook".

Someone has written that God is consistent, but he's also unpredictable. He is consistent in his nature. You always know where you are with God, but you seldom know where he's going and what he's gonna do next. You cannot find security in what God is doing. There is only security in who God is. God wanted Elijah to trust in him, and as long as things were going well, that was easy. But when the brook dried up, the true test of his faith became front and center. A man by the name of Jim White who writes often for "The Discipleship Journal," said, "When I was a boy, my father would go away twice a year to buy clothing for his clothing store, and the minute my three brothers and I heard his car drive up after one of those trips, we would run to meet him, asking what he brought us in his suitcase. But one day when he set the suitcase down after his trip, we asked him what he brought home for us and he said, 'I brought you me.'"

And I can just feel how that would go over with a bunch of kids. "I remember the disappointment," said Jim White. "'Aren't you happy to see me?' he said. 'I brought you me.' 'Yeah, we're happy to see you, but what have you got in your suitcase for us?' He said we bore the mark of immaturity, being wrapped up in the gifts instead of in love with the giver". As we look back over this brief passage, we discover that Elijah went to the Brook Cherith by the Word of the Lord, and there he remained. Not until he was ready to leave or even till the brook dried up. The Bible says he remained there until, "And the Word of the Lord came unto Elijah: 'Get thee up. Step two is on its way.'"

There's a sermon that was preached years ago by a man by the name Al Martin, and he tells this cold snowy winter in German village when a boy and his mother were in desperate straits. "They had run out of food. The fire was out, there was no wood left to burn to keep the cottage warm, so the mother was shocked as they prayed to hear her son walk across the room and fling the cottage door wide open to the cold night air. She said, 'What are you doing? It's freezing out there. Why are you opening the door?' 'It's for the ravens, Mom,' the little boy simply replied. He had read the story of Elijah by the brook and he remembered how God had provided for his prophet and trusted that God would send his ravens, snow or no snow, so he opened the door so the ravens could get in.

It so happened that that night, the burgermeister who was in charge of that little community was walking about to see that all was well in the village, and he was quite shocked to see an open door at this tiny house, so he went to investigate. He met the woman at the door and asked what was the matter. When she explained, her son, waiting for God to send his ravens, the burgermeister replied, 'I will be your raven from now on, forever.' The poor mother and the child were just like Elijah. They lived in an evil day. They knew the same God that Elijah knew, and as they prayed for his provision, they discovered the same thing that we will discover when we trust him: he is a living God who always keeps his word and always cares for his people. But that little boy taught us the whole truth. He opened the door. He believed. He was ready when the blessing came".

And that's the lesson that we have to learn, is it not? To trust God, to believe him. When he says, "This is the way; walk ye in it," we start walking. We may not know what the future holds. We don't know what it's gonna look like tomorrow, but all we have to worry about is what's next. Lord, what do you want me to do next? And I just wanna tell you something I've learned. Until you do the first thing, you can't find out about the second thing. You may have no idea what God has in store for you, but he's told you to do some things and you haven't done 'em yet and you're holding off God's blessing. Do what God tells you to do, do it now, and trust him because he's got a plan, but he's not gonna give it all to you at one time. He doesn't work that way for you or me or anybody I've ever met or know. One step at a time, trusting the Lord.
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