Moses’ rod and Shamgar’s oxgoad, when dedicated to God, became mighty tools. This helps us see that God can use what little we have, when surrendered to Him, to do great things. God is not looking for people with great abilities, but for those who are dedicated to following and obeying Him. If you use what little you may have To serve the Lord with all your heart You will find that He can do great things When you begin to do your part.
Month: September 2014
I like to distinguish between a “goal mindset” and a “growth mindset.” A church leader with a “goal mindset” has very tangible, numerical goals to achieve over a specific period of time. Nothing is wrong with clearly defined goals, but there’s a better way of thinking that I call a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset recognizes goals on the journey, but only as part of a process—not as the end results.
Leaders of successful churches are tempted to stop working on themselves, but when the pastor doesn’t grow, the people don’t grow. It’s the Law of the Lid: a stagnant church leader stunts the growth of the church. I hope these thoughts on leadership will inspire you to maintain this “growth mindset,” for your personal benefit and for the benefit of those you lead.
A Function, Not a Title
Elders, deacons, pastors and even evangelists, prophets and apostles were all meant to be functions within the church, whether they are performed in an official capacity or not. They were never intended to be titles. Yes, some of the early apostles did travel between the early churches and ordained elders (Tit 1:5), yet the function of those who lead or govern within the church is listed as a gift in the Bible:
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (1 Cor 12:28-emphasis added). This means that leadership is just as much a gift of the Spirit as healing. Conversely in the modern day church however, most people become leaders after completing some Bible College course or after they have jumped through their institution’s hoops long enough.
Information Transfer versus Relational leadership development
Jesus took risks on leaders the church wouldn’t invite into leadership
- It’s true that charisma can make a person stand out for a moment, but character sets a person apart for a lifetime.
- You build trust with others each time you choose integrity over image, truth over convenience, or honor over personal gain.
- Character makes trust possible, and trust is the foundation of leadership.
- Character creates consistency, and if your people know what they can expect from you, they will continue to look to you for leadership.
- Over time, is it easier or harder to sustain your influence within your organization? With charisma alone, influence becomes increasingly more difficult to sustain. With character, as time passes, influence builds and requires less work to sustain.
- Great communication depends on two simple skills—context, which attunes a leader to the same frequency as his or her audience, and delivery, which allows a leader to phrase messages in a language the audience can understand.
- Earn the right to be heard by listening to others. Seek to understand a situation before making judgments about it.
- Take the emotional temperature of those listening to you. Facial expressions, voice inflection and posture give clues to a person’s mood and attitude.
- Persuasive communication involves enthusiasm, animation, audience participation, authenticity and spontaneity.
- Credibility is a leader’s currency. With it, he or she is solvent; without it, he or she is bankrupt.
- Speak the truth. Transparency breeds legitimacy.
- Don’t hide bad news. With multiple information channels available, bad news always becomes known. Be candid right from the start.
- A highly credible leader under-promises and over-delivers.
- Diligent follow-up and follow-through will set you apart from the crowd and communicate excellence.
- A trustworthy leader goes the extra mile to remedy strained relationships, even when it doesn’t appear to be required.Failure
- “Failing forward” is the ability to get back up after you’ve been knocked down, learn from your mistake, and move forward in a better direction.
- Don’t buy into the notion that mistakes can somehow be avoided. They can’t be.
- Failure is not a one-time event; it’s how you deal with life along the way. Until you breathe your last breath, you’re still in the process, and there is still time to turn things around for the better.
- You are the only person who can label what you do a failure. Failure is subjective.
- Don’t allow the fire of adversity to make you a skeptic. Allow it to purify you.
- Generally speaking, there are two kinds of learning: experience, which is gained from your own mistakes, and wisdom, which is learned from the mistakes of others.
- Seek advice, but make sure it’s from someone who has successfully handled mistakes or adversities.
- When to quit: (1) Quit something you don’t do well to start something you do well. (2) Quit something you’re not passionate about to do something that fills you with passion. (3) Quit something that doesn’t make a difference to do something that does.
- People change when they hurt enough that they have to, learn enough that they want to, or receive enough that they are able to.
- More than anything else, followers want to believe that their leaders are ethical and honest.
- When your people see that you are not only competent to lead but also have a track record of successes, they will have confidence in following you, even when they don’t understand all the details.
- As a leader, it’s your job to get your people excited about what their work will accomplish; it’s a natural motivator.
Why do you think the way you do? Are the choices you make truly your own, or do influences beyond your control unduly sway your opinions?
Besieged by a cacophony of sights, sounds, impressions, images and emotions—all competing for our time, attention and thoughts—our minds are daily exposed to far more information than we can consciously process. Even in sleep we integrate people, places and events into partly real, sometimes frightful and at other times wildly whimsical dreams. The sheer volume of ideas and information incessantly bombarding our minds creates for us an information crisis, a battle for control over what we think and believe.
The battle for your mind is a reality that you cannot afford to ignore. Believe it or not, you are the focus of relentless efforts to alter your beliefs, and some of the subtle skills meant to shape the way you think are astonishingly powerful and effective.
Commercial advertising is a widely recognized example. Marketing efforts thrive on shaping public habits and influencing choices.
Honest and legitimate advertising is a benefit to consumers and a valuable information source in any modern economy. Yet not all advertising honestly represents the facts, as illustrated by the old saying “Let the buyer beware.”
Beguiling and seductive schemes are so sophisticated and pervasive that America’s NBC Nightly News telecast with Tom Brokaw includes a regular feature called “The Fleecing of America.” Like it or not, you are the target in a never-ending struggle for control over the way you think—and behave.
Right and wrong influences
Under the right circumstances, the influence of others on our lives can be beneficial. People who positively affect our thinking expand our understanding and knowledge. They stimulate our minds and expand our horizons, increasing the excitement and challenge of life itself. From them we learn and grow. Emotionally, we benefit immensely from their nurturing influence. Our fellow human beings contribute enormously to our personal development.
But not all who seek to shape our views are constructive. This is especially true of the massive efforts at work to eradicate society’s standards and values. The previously mentioned adage “Let the buyer beware” is just as applicable to this intellectual and spiritual domain as it is to the marketplace.
In general, irrational ideas foster irrational behavior. How you think controls the way you live and how you relate to other people. Your thoughts will influence your decisions and thus your actions. Ultimately, in this sense, you are what you think.
Consider these questions: Who exerts the greatest influence on your personal opinions? What are the external pulls that sway your thinking the most? What are the sources that affect the standards for your behavior? If you address these questions honestly, you’ll find their answers disturbing as well as profound.
Let’s examine some commonly recognized influences that shape the choices millions of people make every day, noticing the colossal impact those influences have on the behavioral standards of society. Then let’s look at some of the direct and concerted endeavors to modify—and in some cases abolish—almost all standards and values. Finally, let’s squarely face another momentous question: Who should have the greatest influence on how we think and the choices we make, and what is our personal responsibility?
Influence of television and movies
Television is the most powerful medium ever invented for conveying ideas and information to large numbers of people. Remarkably effective and influential, television is drastically altering our society’s thinking and behavioral patterns, even encouraging so-called alternative lifestyles.
Film critic Michael Medved describes the profound impact of the TV and movie business on society. The power of the entertainment business “to influence our actions flows from its ability to redefine what constitutes normal behavior in this society,” he writes. Entertainers have “assumed a dominant role in establishing social conventions. The fantasy figures who entertain us on our TV and movie screens, or who croon to us constantly from our radios and CD players, take the lead in determining what is considered hip, and what will be viewed as hopelessly weird” ( Hollywood vs. America , Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, 1992, p. 261, emphasis added throughout).
Mr. Medved notes that society’s standards and values are incrementally but constantly altered by the entertainment media: “According to all available research on the subject, the most significant aspects of influence are gradual and cumulative, not immediate, and they occur only after extended exposure . . . What this means is that the full impact of today’s media messages will only be felt some years in the future” (Medved, p. 260).
“Hollywood no longer reflects—or even respects—the values of most American families. On many of the important issues in contemporary life, popular entertainment seems to go out of its way to challenge conventional notions of decency” (Medved, p. 10).
Music to whose ears?
All too often popular music represents the cutting edge of a philosophy that influences its adherents to seek to undermine all established conventions. Combining catchy tunes with sometimes blatantly antisocial lyrics, popular music exerts a near-incessant influence on many young people. Most adolescents can easily and flawlessly recite the words to today’s most-played tunes, yet they stumble over memorization work at school. Even adults can recall lyrics that were popular decades ago, but they flounder over names and phone numbers of friends.
Music’s influence is profound and pervasive. It is one of the most effective tools to alter the attitudes and outlook of those hearing it, both positively and negatively. It reaches emotions and reasoning simultaneously, ensuring a lasting impact.
For those immersed in the cynical hostility that has characterized much of popular music in recent decades, the consequences can be devastating. Consider the rationale behind the promotion of some music-industry artists:
“Those in the rock business understood very well that the music’s subversion of authority was a large part of its appeal to the young. An impresario who developed one star after another was asked how he did it. He said, ‘I look for someone their parents will hate’ ” (Robert H. Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah , Regan Books, 1996, p. 23, emphasis added).
Tragically, however, all too many parents find themselves inadequately equipped to explain right from wrong. A recent survey of American adults by the Barna Research Group reveals that 71 percent of Americans still believe in right and wrong, that such a thing as sin exists. But the survey also found that most adults simply grasp no clear concept of right vs. wrong.
An article that accompanied the survey observed that “77 percent of non-Christians said, ‘There are no absolute standards for morals and ethics.’ Yet, shockingly, the majority of born-again Christians—64 percent—agreed with the secular culture that morality is relative. No wonder our lives are indistinguishable from the surrounding culture . . . The church has ‘tons of teachers’ yet it ‘doesn’t seem to be making a difference’ ” ( Southern California Christian Times , June 1996).
Who should set your standards?
Intelligent moral standards serve simply as practical rules for considerate conduct. They establish our ethics, ideals and values. They allow society to function in peace and safety for the benefit of all. Proper moral standards should be carefully thought-out principles for distinguishing right from wrong. Without them, we retain no guidelines for the way we live.
Who holds the prerogative to set absolute standards for the way we think and behave? Some among the academic elite do well to tell us that human traditions are not reliable sources; they are too often contradictory and parochially biased. But they are wrong to tell us that absolute standards of right and wrong do not exist. There most certainly is a source for absolute standards for humanity. The Almighty God, He who created mankind, reveals to us how we should live.
“The distortions and insults about organized religion [in movies and television],” writes Mr. Medved, “will continue unabated as long as our popular culture continues its overall campaign against judgment and values. A war against standards leads logically and inevitably to hostility to religion because it is religious faith that provides the ultimate basis for all standards” (Medved, p. 89).
Only the God who created us can define perfect and reliable guidelines for human conduct. He reveals them to us through the Holy Scriptures. Make no mistake: God’s Word is not of human origin. It carries the highest authority possible.
God cares how you think
How we think—our ideals and beliefs—are important to God. Yet our normal way of thinking is quite different from His. Through the prophet Isaiah, God describes the scope of our universal human problem: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah:55:8-9, emphasis added throughout).
The apostle Paul explains the reason for the gulf between the values of God and most humans: People tend simply to tune out God’s instruction. “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened” (Romans:1:20-21, New Revised Standard Version).
How wrong thinking began
The rejection of God’s guidance is nothing new. It began as far back as the Garden of Eden. There “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan,” began an influence and distortion of human thinking that still grips humanity (Revelation:12:9).
Essentially, Satan’s line to Eve was: “Don’t believe God and trust His words. Trust yourself. Eat the forbidden fruit. Then you will have all the wisdom you need to determine good and evil” (Genesis:3:1-5). Eve was impressed. The devil kindled in her the desire to decide right and wrong for herself.
Eve eagerly fell for Satan’s seductive pitch. Then she persuaded Adam that the two of them were capable of deciding such matters for themselves. They chose to disobey God. They lost their inheritance in Eden and began a life of toil and hardship, all because they allowed their thinking to be swayed by Satan, the archadversary of God (verses 6, 17-19). Satan won this early battle for the human mind. With relatively few exceptions, he has continued to win ever since.
God wants you to think like Him. He wants the principles expressed in His laws to live in your heart and mind (Hebrews:10:16), to form the foundation for your convictions, your thoughts and the way you choose to live your life. He wants to establish in your mind appropriate standards for human behavior—a clear understanding of right and wrong (1 John:3:4).
The apostle Peter expresses God’s concern for the way you think. “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter:3:1-3). New International Version).
Learning to think clearly
Paul goes further, giving timeless guidelines for what we should allow to enter our minds: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, NIV). Wholesome thinking flows from honesty and truth, from a knowledge of what is right, pure and admirable.
Paul describes the results of behavior based on thinking that rejects God’s standards: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians:5:19-21, NIV).
An outstanding model of clear, level-headed thinking is recorded for our benefit: the personal example of Jesus Christ. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul (Philippians 2:5). He admonished: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (verses 2:3-4).
Clear, wholesome thinking puts concern for others as a priority—equal to concern for oneself. It is founded on genuine love for others.
A matter of choice
We live in a society that prides itself on its new ways of thinking, many of which have really been around as long as mankind has existed. Because of the sheer force of these ideas, we are confronted with a personal battle for control of our thoughts and values in the face of almost overwhelming opposition.
God will never force us to think like Him. Even to ancient Israel He said, “. . . I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life . . .” (Deuteronomy:30:19). God provides the guidance, but the choice to heed or ignore it is always ours.
Those who would abolish standards of conduct often imply that acceptance of values defined by anyone besides yourself—whether God or man—is an abdication of choice.
To blindly accept the ideas of others would, of course, be abdicating personal responsibility. However, to carefully examine, comprehend and adopt the wisdom of God is the mark of one who makes informed and intelligent choices. Acting only on feelings and emotion shows neither discretion nor intelligence.
Corrupting power behind the scene
What is the real source of our society’s rejection of godly values? The apostle Paul explained that his God-given mission to earth’s inhabitants was “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God . . .” (Acts:26:18).
The Bible reveals Satan as a powerful unseen force influencing humanity. He is described as “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” a being influencing men and women to lead a life of “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Ephesians:2:2-3, NIV).
Satan’s influence is so pervasive that it affects every area of life in every society. How great is his power over humanity? He “deceives the whole world”! (Revelation:12:9).
Through thousands of years of deceiving people, he has become the “god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel . . .” (2 Corinthians:4:4, NRSV). The influence of Satan and his demons is such that they can sway even the opinions and decisions of world leaders (Revelation:16:14).
Surprising to many, Satan has succeeded in influencing religious beliefs and institutions. He manages to disguise his own ostensibly Christian ministry and religious assemblies (2 Corinthians:11:3-4, 13-15; Revelation:3:9).
He does not present his ways as the greedy, self-centered, vain practices they really are. Nor does he show their destructive, painful end, leading inexorably to suffering and death (Proverbs:14:12; 16:25). On the contrary, he masquerades his thoughts and way of life as enlightenment, fulfillment and satisfaction. God’s Word warns us that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians:11:14, NRSV).
Besides religion, Satan’s ideas invade such arenas as business, education, philosophy, government and science. No human interest or endeavor escapes his intrusion. Indeed, we read that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John:5:19).
Does Satan influence your mind?
The consequences of Satan’s influence on mankind’s thought processes have proved devastating. Seldom has the world seen peace; 150 million people have died in wars in just this century. In the same time, more than 100 million have died from diseases, pandemics and natural disasters. Humanity possesses the ability to erase human life from earth many times over.
In spite of constant attempts to improve our lot, thousands live on the verge of starvation, and millions go to sleep hungry every night. A fourth of earth’s population lives under totalitarian regimes with little control over basic decisions that affect their lives.
Under Satan’s influence, human thinking has become so absorbed with self-gratification that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot” (Romans:8:7-8, NRSV).
The prophet Jeremiah recognized that people are blinded by the deceit of their own evil intents. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah:17:9).
Satan has succeeded at turning humanity away from God. The apostle Paul describes the inevitable, tragic results of rejecting God and His way of life:
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans:1:28-32, NIV).
Who will win?
God calls some out of this immoral, ungodly, Satan-dominated world. He calls them to fight the influences around them, to resist the tendencies and desires of their own minds. This deeply personal battle, however, is not the sort of conflict we often envision. This battle “is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against . . . the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians:6:12, NRSV).
This struggle pits us against the ingrained, self-centered habits and ways of thinking that have influenced us from birth, as well as a personal foe determined to separate us from God: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter:5:8-9, NIV).
Who will determine your values? Who will win the battle for your mind? Will you allow the influences of Satan on society to control and corrupt your personal beliefs and convictions? Or will it be “God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”? (Philippians 2:13).
A godly victory is possible only by establishing righteous standards as your values. That will require you to make difficult choices.
The apostle Paul expressed it so well in these words: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds [on our minds]. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians:10:3-5, NIV).
Who you allow to exert the greatest influence on your life is your choice. Will you permit God, by seeking His knowledge and assistance, to win the battle for your mind?
Isn’t it fun to sit around and fantasize about what you could do if you had someone else’s circumstances or resources? If only I had their money…if only I had his staff…if only I won the lottery…if only she worked for me…if only I grew up in that family. Playing the “if only” game leads to inertia, paralysis, and failure. I believe that God created every person with a certain set of skills and experiences so that we worship him and bring glory to his name. If I work with what I have been given for God’s purpose I have everything I need to succeed.
You shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do the signs. —Exodus 4:17
Conventional wisdom questions how much can be accomplished with little. We tend to believe that a lot more can be done if we have large financial resources, talented manpower, and innovative ideas. But these things don’t matter to God. Consider just a couple of examples:
In Judges 3:31, a relatively unknown man named Shamgar delivered Israel from the Philistines single-handedly. How? He won a great victory by killing 600 Philistines with nothing more than an oxgoad (a stick sharpened on one end to drive slow-moving animals).
In Exodus, when God asked Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses was afraid the people wouldn’t listen to him or follow him. So God said, “What is that in your hand?” (4:2). Moses replied, “A rod.” God went on to use that rod in Moses’ hand to convince the people to follow him, to turn the Nile River into blood, to bring great plagues on Egypt, to part the Red Sea, and to perform miracles in the wilderness.
The surprising truth about living in the strength of weakness
What do you think makes someone a winner in life? Is it wealth, education, prominence, or fame? This world’s standards are quite different from the Lord’s: our culture esteems the self-made man, but God’s scale for success measures by dependence, not strength. Instead of looking for strong, independent people, He seeks those who know they’re weak and inadequate.
The apostle Paul was a man who knew how to live victoriously. As he neared death, he summed up his life with these words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). He expressed no hint of disappointment or regret but, rather, bold confidence that he had fulfilled God’s purpose.
That’s how the Lord wants all of us to live. No Christian wants to come to the end of life and feel remorse over wasted opportunities to live for Christ. Today is the day to evaluate whether you’re following the apostle’s example.
• Paul fought the good fight. When you trusted Christ as your Savior, you entered a battleground. Satan lost your soul, but he’s not about to give up. He’ll do anything to make you useless for the kingdom of God. The bad news is that you are no match for the Devil—it’s impossible for you to win this fight in your own strength. But Christ has given you His armor and the sword of His Word so you can stand firm (Eph. 6:10-17).
• He finished the course. Paul likened the Christian life to a marathon. God has designed a specific path for each of us and has bestowed gifts and abilities to enable us to fulfill His purposes and finish the course. This race is long and filled with distracting obstacles, but Christ hasn’t left us to struggle on our own. His Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us along the way.
• And he kept the faith. After revealing Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus entrusted him with a priceless treasure: the gospel. The word keep means “to guard,” and that’s what Paul did as he preached and defended the faith—whether to Gentile skeptics or religious Jews.
When we compare our life to Paul’s, we may feel discouraged and defeated. After all, who could possibly live up to his example? Although we tend to think of the apostle as a “super Christian,” he would be the last one to claim the glory for a well-lived life. He had learned the secret: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
The principle of dependence
Man is inadequate to fulfill God’s purposes, but Jesus provides everything we need. In his letters, Paul used the term “in Christ” to describe this dependent relationship. To live “in Christ” means we are walking around in human bodies that are overflowing with the very life of Jesus. He dwells within us through the Holy Spirit, making us capable of achieving whatever He directs us to do.
Jesus used the analogy of a vine and branches to describe this relationship. The only way a branch can bear fruit is by abiding in the vine so the sap can flow through it. In the same way, a Christian must maintain a connection with Jesus in order to become and do what He desires. In fact, Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Do you really believe this? Before you respond, think back over the last week. What kinds of situations did you face on the job, at home, or in church? Did you depend on Christ for wisdom, courage, and strength, or did you rely on yourself?
The problem of pride
One of the greatest obstacles to a dependent life is our own foolish pride. We forget that God is our Creator and Sustainer, and we are all totally dependent upon Him, even if we don’t realize it. Without the Lord, we couldn’t take our next breath or have any hope of eternal life. We’re totally unable to save ourselves; no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Those who live in pride have simply closed their eyes to the reality of their condition.
The potential of a dependent life
Although many people can boast of impressive accomplishments, anything they’ve achieved in their own strength will have zero eternal value. The only way to realize our full potential is to be rightly related to God through His Son, living in submission and reliance upon Him. With the almighty presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we tap into supernatural strength to accomplish what we can’t humanly do.
Yet despite God’s abundant power, many Christians are still living in defeat. When asked to serve the Lord in a challenging way, they claim, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that!” The real problem is unbelief. They aren’t seeing the situation from God’s perspective. He’s promised to strengthen us to do all things within the parameters of His will, but we’re afraid of failure. Fear draws a line around our life and limits God’s work in and through us. Self-made boundaries always hinder us from becoming the people He wants us to be. If we automatically say no to a God-given challenge, we are not living in our full potential. The Lord wants to do so much more in us than we generally let Him.
But our potential in Christ doesn’t just refer to accomplishments and service. It also applies to our attitudes. Paul talked about learning to be content in every circumstance, whether in need and hardship or comfort and abundance (Phil. 4:11-13). We see this same attitude demonstrated in his life when he suffered from “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Christ told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul’s response shows that he had truly learned the value of a dependent life: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” If you and I could learn this lesson, we would be more like Paul because we’d recognize that Christ in us is sufficient for every heartache, burden, and sorrow we experience.
The practice of dependence
Now, the big question is, How do you move into a life of total dependence upon Christ? The first step is to acknowledge that you are completely inadequate to be and do what God desires. Your only hope of living a victorious life is to develop the mindset of Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” If you’ll begin each morning with this attitude and let it shape your decisions throughout the day, you’ll begin to glimpse what He is able to do in and through you. The more you surrender to His plans and obey by relying on His strength, the more you’ll live in your full potential.
The Third Command–“and stay there.” Next, he heard “and stay (yashab, “live, dwell”) there.” He might have thought, “This really takes the cake.” And, as if these were not enough, he then heard something even more strange that had to be a tremendous challenge to his commitment, trust and vision as a man of God who was seeking to serve the Lord.
The Promise–“behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” Note the very next word, “behold.” This is the Hebrew hinneh, a demonstrative particle used to arrest the attention or to focus the reader’s (or hearer’s) attention on something important. The Lord was dramatically pointing out the reason for going to Zarephath. “I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” Elijah’s provision would come by human hands, but they were the most unlikely hands he could have imagined. Everything about this was a test for Elijah. Please note the following:
“I have commanded a widow” is an interesting statement. Had the Lord spoken to this Gentile widow? Was she waiting for Elijah to come? I think the content of the text suggests this was not the case. I don’t think she was aware at all of her role in God’s plan. Rather, I believe this expresses the divine will of God. It shows that God commands or wills things to take place and they do. He uses the conditions and dispositions of men and women and brings things to pass.
Let’s say you need a job. When you find a job, it will be because God commanded it. Your new employer may not be aware of it unless he or she is a believer, but it will be because God willed it so. “He sits in the heavens, He does what He pleases” (cf. Isa. 10:5-6 with vs. 7, and Gen. 50:19-21).
“Provide” is the Hebrew word, kul. In Aramaic and Arabic this word means “measure, measure out.” The basic meaning is “calculate,” or “contain” as does a vessel. For instance in Isaiah 40:12 the prophet writes, “who hath calculated or contained the dust of the earth by a measure?” Mainly this verb is used in a causative stem and means “to cause to contain, supply.” It came to be used in the sense of “support, sustain, provide for” (cf. Ps. 55:22; Gen. 50:21; Neh. 9:21). While the Hebrew word used is different, I am reminded of one of the Names of the Lord, “Jehovah Jireh” or “Yahweh Yireh,” meaning “the Lord will provide” (Gen. 22:8 and 14). It comes from the Hebrew ra`ah, “to see” as the Lord foresees and thus provides.
THE LORD’S SUPPLY–PROVISION
First, God would provide for Elijah through a woman. While women in Israel had a higher position and status than among their Gentile neighbors, this was highly irregular, for it was the man’s place to provide for women. Second, this was a Gentile woman, a woman outside the circle of God’s own people. In fact, she was from the pagan nation of the Sidonians (or Phoenicians) who, at that time, represented the forces arrayed against God’s kingdom. Third, she was a poor, destitute, depressed widow facing starvation. She wasn’t exactly the kind of person you would go to for support, but she was the person whom God had chosen to be Elijah’s support and the instrument of God’s glory. He didn’t know her plight as yet, but he would soon find out and his response is remarkable.
Note several principles of application:
(1) Remember what God said through Isaiah (Isa. 55:8f, God’s ways are not ours)? We might also remember 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.” God uses sources and instruments we would never choose, but in His wisdom He chooses them to accomplish His own purposes and to do exceeding abundantly beyond all we could ask or think (Eph. 3:20). We should not be surprised then with the tools God sometimes uses. What would we choose? We would choose a hero kind of figure, a well-known athlete, a rich man or a king, but the Lord chose a destitute widow. We would choose someone brilliant, powerful, perhaps someone in the king’s palace. But God chose a woman from Zarephath of the land of Jezebel. Sure, sometimes God uses the powerful and wealthy as he did with Nehemiah (Neh. 2), or Joseph in the latter chapters of Genesis. The question is, what is our response when He chooses to use the poor and the weak in our lives? Do we despise them? Are we disappointed? Or do we thank Him for what He is doing?
(2) The sources God chooses to use often test our submission and faith. How could God possibly supply through this destitute woman? The how is not important. God would show that in time. God only wants us to trust Him regardless of how things look to us. I remember a story my grandfather used to tell about a dear old lady who truly believed God. One day he said to her, “Mary, I believe if God told you to jump through the wall, you would jump.” She replied, “Yes sir, I would. If God told me to jump, it would be my job to jump and His to make a hole.” How can we rest in God’s supply in situations like this? We need to remember a simple but profound concept. Who would supply Elijah’s need, the woman or the Lord? The Lord, of course! The woman was only an instrument.
Never get your eyes on the instrument or the conditions. Look beyond the instrument to the real source of supply–the Lord. Read again the story of Abraham in Genesis 22. He saw beyond the immediate problem to the Lord’s supply.
Often God either chooses the despised and the small, or He reduces our resources to teach us He is really the One who supplies. See Judges 7 for the illustration of Gideon and God’s instruction to him. Lest Israel boast and trust in their own power, the number of men to go up against the Midianites was reduced from 32,000 to 10,000 and finally to 300.
(3) The Lord uses His sources of supply to humble us. Doesn’t He really know how to take the starch of self-dependence and pride totally out of our spiritual shirts in order to bring us to a place where we will really trust Him? Here Elijah was receiving aid at the hands of a destitute widow of the enemies of Israel. How humbling! But also, what an opportunity for the manifestation of God’s grace, love, and power.
(4) Finally, this teaches us God can use any of us. He can take whatever we have and multiply it many times over just as He did with the meager resources of the widow or as the Savior did when feeding the five thousand.
What was Elijah’s response in verse 10? We read, “So he arose and went . . .” No questions, no arguments, no complaints–just obedience. Undoubtedly, it was in the joy and expectation of not only what the Lord would do for him, but through him. Elijah realized he would be there not simply to be ministered to, but to minister.
By way of application:
- Are you in a spiritual condition where you can hear God’s instructions? (Mark 6:30f.)
- What are you facing in your life right now that needs God’s supply? Are you resting in Him for your needs?
- Where is your focus? Are you focused on the problem rather than the Lord? Are you seeing the agents of supply in your life as totally inadequate with the result you are questioning what God can do?
- Does your present condition look impossible? Does it look like there is no way God can meet your needs through what He has brought about into your life?
- Have you considered that before God meets your need, or that in meeting your need, He wants to use you to meet the need of someone else?
Now we turn to another scene in the life of Elijah. Again, God is preparing him for what is to come. But the story also involves what God is doing in the life of His people, the nation of Israel. Let’s not lose sight of the nationalistic interest here. The story deals with more than simply Elijah or his destiny. It also deals with what God was seeking to do in the northern kingdom. It deals with what the northern kingdom was experiencing because of its idolatry. The nation had turned away from the Lord and His Word to the substitutes of the world.
Elijah forms a model for us. We can learn from Elijah about God and about ourselves–our needs, responsibilities in society, and our tendencies under the pressure of the conflict. On the other hand, Israel forms an example of what happens in a society when it ignores God–it goes down hill fast and becomes morally corrupt.
With this in mind, let’s ask a question. Why did God send the Prophet into the land of the Sidonians and to this widow as His source of supply when there were many widows in Israel with just as great a need? Apart from God’s mercy, His use of this in the life of Elijah and the lessons it has for us in that way, there is another very important lesson here that I would like to address. The answer is found for us in the remarks made by the Lord in Luke 4:23-27. Not only was the nation facing drought and famine in the land, but they were also facing a famine of the Word of God. Because of their indifference, idolatry, and unbelief, God sent Elijah out of the land and to a Gentile widow. This was a form of judgment and has a two-fold significance for us:
This was somewhat prophetic of the church age when, because of Israel’s unbelief, God would turn from Israel as a nation and offer the gospel to the Gentile world. Remnants of Israel would still come to Christ, but from the standpoint of the nation and her promised blessings, she would be temporarily set aside (cf. Rom. 11:6-32). Sending Elijah to the widow reminds us of our responsibility to carry the gospel to all men.
This also teaches us we should never take our blessings for granted. Privilege never guarantees success (1 Cor. 10:1-13). It provides the basis for success, but we need to take heed how we use those blessings. When a nation or individuals ignore the Word and turn to the substitutes of the world, they eventually experience the judgment of God. God may finally turn them over to the futility of their own solutions or strategies for life (Rom. 1:18f; Amos 8:11; 2 Tim. 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:10-11).
The Response of Elijah
Both in 1 Kings 17:5 and 17:10, we see how the prophet moved only when he had a word from the Lord. Even though the brook was drying up, he remained by the brook until word came from God. Isaiah 28:16 says, “he that believeth will not make haste” (KJV). The RSV has, “he who believes will not make haste,” and the NASB has “he who believes in it (the cornerstone) will not be disturbed.”
Interestingly, this statement of Isaiah 28:16 is made following a reference to lsrael’s deceptive trusts–her dependence on her own human solutions. Rather than waiting on the Lord, Israel was running ahead to solve her problems and fears through her own strategies. But Elijah waited on the Lord and help arrived. But in what manner? He was commanded to go on a long and toilsome journey through wild and barren country. Further, with so many widows in the land, how was he to find the right one? Isn’t this a natural question? It appears he didn’t know who the widow was, but he knew the Lord who did and that was more than ample.
Elijah was operating by the principle of Proverbs 4:18, “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” While this verse refers primarily to the moral rectitude of those who walk with the Lord, it may also illustrate how the Lord directs our paths making His will plain as we walk in His righteousness by faith. The righteous live by faith. Day-by-day, step-by-step as we walk in fellowship with the Lord, He leads and directs the path of the righteous (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17).
Again, being consistent in faith, Elijah did not argue with the Lord, whine, complain, nor run away. Instead, we read, “So he arose and went.” No questions, no arguments, no complaints, just obedience and undoubtedly, in the joy and expectation of what the Lord would do not only in him and for him, but through him. Why? Because, like the Lord Jesus, he would be there not simply to be ministered to, but to minister. I expect also he understood why he was not being sent to the widows of Israel. Also, it was God’s way of removing Elijah from Jezebel’s reach.
The Relief to the Widow
When you and I measure what God is doing, we tend to measure it by what we see and think according to the natural man. We tend to measure God’s supply, or our confidence and hope in God’s supply, by what we see. When we do this, we are walking by sight rather than by faith. The question we need to ask ourselves is: “Do I tend to look at human conditions as a basis for my confidence or do I see through them to the Savior?”
Obviously, we need to know human conditions. We need to know the facts. For this reason, God allowed the spies to go into the land, but what they saw was not to become the basis of their confidence in what God could do nor for what they should do. That was to be found in God’s person, promises, and commands to go in.
Let’s note Elijah’s response: Our text tells us, “and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks.” Again, we have the word “behold,” that little demonstrative particle, hinneh, which is designed to arrest attention. We find Elijah at the gate of the city of Zarephath, but the Lord, who was there before him, had arranged it all. The widow was by the gate gathering sticks by the providence of God. Remember, He leads us step-by-step. He never leaves us, indeed, He goes before us.
If Elijah was looking for something to encourage him from the human standpoint of the widow, like a well-dressed woman living in a luxurious house with a well-stocked pantry, his hopes were soon dispelled. “Gathering sticks,” was a sign of poverty. This woman was so poor she had no fuel, and in order to cook even a meager meal, she had to get out and round up a few sticks. Until now Elijah knew only that his source of supply was a widow. Now he knew she was a poor widow.
By human measurement, how reasonable was it that the man of God could expect sustenance under her roof? It was no more reasonable than Noah should build an ark before he had ever seen rain, much less a flood, or for Joshua to command the people to walk around Jericho and expect the walls to fall down. But the path of obedience is the path of faith that looks to God and not to circumstances both before and after the will of God is clear.
Elijah’s response is the issue. Remember that the brook was a preparation for him. The God who commanded the ravens and supplied through them, was the same God who had commanded the widow and would supply through her. The principle is the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Circumstances change, but the Lord never changes. Our circumstances do not diminish the character and power of God. They can in no way change His faithfulness or omnipotence.
Elijah responded in faith. But how did faith manifest itself? Like Abraham on Mount Moriah who looked to God for the supply of a lamb, so Elijah saw beyond the woman’s condition to Yahweh Yireh–Lord who provides. He did not judge according to sight, but according to God’s character and divine essence. Elijah trusted in the promises of God. He didn’t throw up his hands and say, “I don’t believe this! You mean this poor soul is my supply for food? How in thunder can she help me?” He responded to God rather than reacting. Elijah acted in faith with his eyes on the Lord. In verses 10 and 11, he asked the widow for a jar of water and a piece of bread. Was he believing the promise of God and acting on it, or was he looking for confirmation by her response that she had been expecting him and had plenty to eat? I think he was believing the promise of God because Elijah knew she was poor by the fact she was gathering sticks.
In verse 12 we see the widow’s response. Elijah’s request opened afresh the wounds and pain of her heart. She could conceal her pain no longer. Her words showed she was not only poor but severely depressed. She had given up and was ready to die. This was their last meal and after that they would simply starve. It also appears she was without any real knowledge of the Lord and without faith. Still her heart was ready and had been prepared for God’s Word and the ministry of Elijah.
Note her words in verse 12, “as the Lord your God lives.” This suggests she must have recognized Elijah as a prophet of Israel, perhaps by his dress (cf. 2 Kings 1:8). But Yahweh was not her God and she wasn’t all that sure about the honesty of Elijah or the reality of his God (cf. vs. 17:24). She needed to see the testimony of Elijah’s life as well as the power of God.
What was Elijah to do now? Was he mistaken? What gave Elijah the courage to act like he did instead of throwing in the towel? Remember, as a man thinketh, so is he! Elijah’s response in verses 13 and 14 were words of faith, compassion, and vision.
As a man of God, he undoubtedly felt compassion for this poor woman but he knew his solutions or strategies for meeting his or her needs were not sufficient. He knew she was poor, yet God’s source of supply was no accident or mistake. Elijah knew God was faithful, powerful, and purposeful and that his needs were God’s concern and that they were met in the Lord. He also knew God was aware of his longings to preach in Israel and this would need to be tabled for now and turned over to the Lord and His timing. This meant he must be available to serve others and trust the Lord for his needs.
For us today, Elijah’s words to the woman in verses 13 and 14 are equivalent to two things: (a) Giving others the promises of God’s love, concern, and care such as the promises of Philippians 4:19; 1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22; and John 10:10. Please note the first half of John 10:10. We often fail to connect the two. (b) Acting as the Good Samaritan; sharing our blessings with others, knowing that our giving will not be our lack (Phil 4:19).
The woman listened to Elijah’s instruction and it was just as he had promised according to the Word of the Lord. She saw the power of God–the widow, her son, and Elijah were all sustained.
What lessons can we learn from this passage?
(1) Look beyond the circumstances to the Lord as Yahweh Yireh–the Lord who supplies.
(2) Never judge or measure God’s supply by what you can see. He is the One who does exceeding abundantly beyond all we can ask or think.
(3) Ask God for the vision needed to see the opportunity for ministry lying, perhaps, right under your nose.
(4) Ask God for the compassion and love needed to reach out to others with His power and love.
(5) Know that the Lord is aware of your longings and turn them over to Him.
(6) Know also that your basic needs have been met in Christ. Knowing that, commit yourself to fulfilling God’s purposes in your life.
God sent Elijah out of the land because the people were indifferent–indeed, rebellious to the Word of God. No man or nation can neglect God’s truth without dire consequences. It can mean a famine, not just for bread and water, but for hearing the Word. This is not just a matter of what God does to us, but what we do to ourselves, of what happens within mankind that hardens us and causes us to ignore and turn away from God.
Far too often today when people look for a church they choose one like they would a country club or a shopping mall, on the basis of consumerism rather than on the teaching of the Word of God and the ministry of its people to one another. Many times the basis of their choice is not the solid teaching of the Word, but programs, music, the number of youth, the activities, and other similar consumer-like issues. Our nation is filled with steeples, but there is a famine in our land. Not a famine of food and water but of the proclamation of the Word of the Lord.