God’s care for his people

Does God care for you?  How do you experience that care?  When are you tempted to forget it and what’s the result of that? Take a minute to answer those questions, don’t rush past them.

We have a funny attitude to work, self-care, and failure.  Not funny ‘ha ha!’ but funny distorted.  It’s like we’re in a fun fair hall of mirrors, for some of us the distortion warps us and makes us lazy, or fearful and not want to do or risk anything.  For others of us it stretches everything and makes us want to work harder and harder, burning ourselves out.  There are lots of reasons for that but ultimately for us as Christians it can be traced back to the wrong way we think about God.  It’s as if we view God via a funhouse mirror.  Our theology is faulty, it’s warped by our performance management, DIY, and expressive individualism culture.  

And it surfaces in the way we serve in church.  Some of us are so fearful of getting something wrong, so scared of the imperfect, so anti-failure that we daren’t try because we look at God in the distorted mirror of the perfectionist.  Others of us are burdened, and when something goes wrong just redouble our efforts, trying harder and harder, working longer and longer, telling ourselves its better to burn out than have anything left, because we view God in the mirror of slave driver.

We saw in the last post that Elijah is passionate about God, his people and the gospel – God’s great plan to redeem the universe.  And that passion is a good thing.  But it’s led Elijah to be discouraged and despairing because Israel haven’t turned despite a miraculous intervention.  How do you think God feels about that?  How do you expect God to react to Elijah’s brutally honest prayer?  How would you react to a friend who felt like that?

We left Elijah asleep under a broom bush (5-8)and an angel wakes him and what does he say? “Get up and eat.”  There’s not normally a lot to eat in the wilderness but, there by his head is (6)some bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water.  Then what does Elijah do?  He “lay down again”.  And notice the angel doesn’t treat him like a lazy teen and start banging and clanking around moaning about ‘prophets these days!’  No the angel lets him sleep.

Then a second time the angel wakes him again and provides food and water for him.  It’s vital we get this.  What does God do for Elijah?  He provides for his physical needs.  Spiritual labour exacts a physical toll and we are embodied beings.  The angel doesn’t tell Elijah to ‘Man Up!’ or hurry up.  He doesn’t tell him he hasn’t got time to eat or drink or sleep because God has big things for him to do.  No twice the angel provides food and water and lets him rest. God knows how we are made, he made us to eat, sleep and drink.  That’s not an accident, it’s not a result of the fall.  It’s part of the good God’s good design.  It’s a way we’re unlike him, that we show our creaturely-ness, our dependence on him.

And notice something else about the provision.  What’s on the menu?  Bread and water.  OK it’s not a Michelin Star meal, although I wonder if angel bread would be a showstopper on Bake Off in bread week.  But there’s huge significance in this.  In ch 17 when Elijah is fed by ravens he’s fed bread and drinks water from the brook.  When the brook dries up God sends him to Zarephath where God says he has a widow ready to supply his needs.  When he gets there he asks her for what?  “a little water in a jar…. And a piece of bread.”

Do you see the significance of what God provides for him here?  There’s theology on the menu.  God is feeding both his body and his soul with this food.  Elijah don’t you remember how I provided for you last time you were on the run?  Have you forgotten I care about your physical needs?  Won’t you trust me?

God’s provision and protection in the past should be a constant reminder for our present and future.  God cares.  And God cares for our physical needs.  Every single meal you eat is a direct answer to the prayer for provision that we often forget to make.  Every meal is a sign of God’s care and blessing for you and your family, whether it’s cheese or beans on toast or a 24oz steak with all the trimmings.  And times of eating and sleeping aren’t distractions or necessary evils, our society is sinfully wrong in its attitude to them.  They are gifts of a good God to us, so we’re renewed in our faith and trust in him and put it into action. 

I don’t know about you but I need that reminder.  When something goes wrong, or just not as well as it could have gone, or I’m discouraged, my sinful tendency is to work longer, sleep less, do more, eat on the go.  To do meals as pit stops and rest as necessary inconvenience after I’ve tried everything to stave it off.  But God has made me finite.  He’s set my limitations and it is ungodly, it is sinful to try to live outside of those limitations.  It’s a rebellion that forgets, or deliberately denies God’s nature, wisdom, character and his care, and our nature as not-God.

But the angel does one more thing.  (7)When he’s rested, fed and watered the angels tells him he has somewhere to be.  Now he’s not ‘hangry’ he has a journey to go on.  So he ate and drank again(8) and journeyed 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, the mountain of God, or Sinai as we know it better.  The very mountain where the covenant was made with Israel after the exodus from Egypt.  Where Moses met with God, Elijah will meet with God.  There, Elijah goes into a cave and spends the night – gets another nights rest (Don’t you love the unhurried, patient, caring nature of God, he’s not rushed, he’s not stood rolling his eyes waiting for the tiny finite mortal to get on with it!).

And the next morning God speaks “What are you doing here Elijah?”   It’s an odd question isn’t it?  I wonder how you hear it?  Some suggest it’s a rebuke but it can’t be can it?  God has led him there, fed him to give him the strength to meet him on the mountain of God.  Why would he do that and then rebuke him for being there?  That would make God capricious and unfair and he’s not.

It’s not a rebuke it’s an invitation; Elijah share with me your disappointment and despair.  Tell me how you feel.  God is inviting Elijah to pray.  Elijah pour out your heart to me, tell me how you feel, tell me how you’ve got here, to this point?  That is gracious loving care from God for his prophet.

And Elijah does, he pours out his heart to God (10)“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.  The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.  I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”  On the mountain where the covenant was made, with the God who made the covenant with his covenant people, Elijah shares how Israel have broken the covenant.  Some people accuse Elijah of having a pity party, but look at his words, who have Israel sinned against?  They have rejected God’s covenant, torn down God’s altar, and killed God’s prophets.  Elijah isn’t self-focused, he’s passionate about God and his glory and so when Israel reject God it breaks Elijah’s heart. He’s a covenant watchdog and yet Israel keep breaking the covenant, ignoring the warning and the discipline.

If we feel any less when people reject Jesus, or shipwreck their faith, we have professionalised our faith and fail to share God’s passion for his glory and his compassion for the lost.

And what does God do?  God listens.  God graciously, tenderly and lovingly meets with Elijah.  He doesn’t tell him to man up.  He tells him to go to the mouth of the cave and experience a Moses like encounter with God.  And God appears to him not in the hurricane force winds, not in the earthquake or the fire.  Not in any of the spectacular or pyrotechnic but in the gentle whisper.

What is it that Elijah needs?  Elijah needs physical food and rest and God provides it.  And Elijah needs a fresh encounter with God and God meets him and provides.  God’s not done but that’s for the next session for now I want us to see God’s care, to feed and feast on it.  Because I think it’s something we can so easily miss or forget about God.  God doesn’t want his people to serve to the point of burn out either physically or spiritually.

Jesus in his earthly ministry often withdrew from the crowds to recharge and spend time alone with God.  When Paul writes to Timothy ministering in Ephesus in a church that needs all kind of reform and where false teaching and its impact needs confronting he reminds Timothy that he needs to be nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed again and again and again.  As well as exhorting him to drink a little wine for his stomach and his frequent illnesses.

God cares about his people.  He provides for us.  He doesn’t set unrealistic expectations of us.  If we’re going to serve him we need to care for our physical needs, by resting and eating, and we need to care for our spiritual needs – taking time to be with God, to behold Jesus, to pour out our hearts to him in prayer.

I don’t know where you are.  But my hunch is that for some of us the physical tank is running low.  The warning light is blinking showing low fuel on your spiritual tank because you’ve just been busy doing, doing, doing.  Can I ask you to stop requiring of yourself what God does not require of you.  Don’t be like our society that binge rests so it can binge work.  See the God who provides food and rest for Elijah, and meets with him to refresh him so he can continue to serve with his expectations reset and his vision renewed.

Maybe this morning you need to ask God to show you again who he is in all his loving compassionate generosity.  Maybe you need to repent of serving a slave driving deity in the image of our societies management style, rather than the God who in love provides salvation and calls us to rest and to look forward to eternal rest.  Perhaps you need to repent and change your attitude to food and sleep and prayer and time with God.

God wants us to trust him, to know him, to enjoy him, to find our rest in him.  To experience his provision and serve him passionate for his glory because we have tasted and seen that he is good all the way down.

Why not pray about that now?

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