Speaker: Ligon Duncan
Text: 1 Kings 19
Title: The Underestimated God: God’s Ruthless, Compassionate Grace in the Pursuit of His Own Glory and His Ministers’ Joy
I tell you what they don’t go for the snappy soundbite titles these boys! This one was definitely up there for the “whose sounds most like a puritan work” award. Anyway, I had heard pretty disparaging remarks about this man’s ability to hold an audience before he came up to speak. Nobody was personally critical, I hasten to add, but, apparently, a couple of years ago he had pretty much bombed on some topic to do with the Patristics (google them). It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the two men seated next to me throughout this message were cringing in repentant embarrassment by the end as I was left incredulous as to how they could have provided me with such misinformation. This has to be the most gloriously encouraging sermon (although there were parts I strongly disagreed with) that I have heard for many, many years. It lifted my soul and it is no exaggeration to say that this message gave me renewed vigour for my ministry and my future in church planting. Others have listened to it online and wondered what I am making such a big fuss about, but I can tell you that it spoke in to my life in such a powerful way that all other messages I heard paled into insignificance during my time away. Listen to it here online.
I think this sermon moved me so profoundly for a number of reasons:
1. I came to this conference extremely tired and in need of a break.
2. I had experienced an intense few weeks prior to the conference. 7 people had been saved, 2 men stabbed to death on the scheme, another man mugged on the steps of the church in front of us, I had to stop a knife fight outside the building, one of our contacts who had professed faith but drifted – overdosed and died and one of our young “pre-interns” had returned back to his criminal way of life after having been clean for 6 months. Most of these events occurred on Easter weekend and I flew out to the US the next day. I arrived (after 24 hours because of delays) practically on my knees and every last ounce of spiritual energy drained from my body.
This was his (almost) opening line:
Discouragement is no stranger to the lives of faithful pastors and Christians. (I almost laughed out loud at this)
His point was that there are things we need to learn through these times. Most importantly, we learn what we truly believe through the moments of crushing discouragement. During these times we find our where we truly rest and where our treasure really is hidden.
Discouragement = Forgetting God. Not only that, forgetting that He is Good.
What are your greatest losses in life? Your desire and yearnings? Hopes and treasures unobtained or removed from you? How we respond may be the most important thing we do in life. Elijah was a man of power comparable to Moses and he yearned for good and great things, and yet his hopes were dashed despite his great ministry. There are lessons here;
- Even people who believe in God’s sovereignty can fail to believe that the Lord is good. In 1K.18 he has just kicked butt (my words) and even outran a chariot! Then a messenger brings word from Jezreel – who remains unimpressed by all these displays of power – and makes a promise to kill him. We read, incredibly that in v3 he was afraid for his life despite all that had occurred previously! How had a man who had faced down 100’s of false prophets suddenly become frightened by a woman (although those who know some of the ladies on our scheme could answer that)? The point was he was disheartened and discouraged. But why? Verses 10 and 14 tell us. He had wanted a revival in response to the miracles against the prophets of Baal. Yet, all he got was a death threat and so he realised that the dream he had was not going to happen. The realisation of this crushed his spirit.
Likewise, which of our prayers and hopes have been left unfulfilled? A big church? A more effective ministry? Greater response to our preaching and/or evangelism? When these things don’t work out according to our desires, they can crush us and ultimately show up where our hearts truly lie. For Elijah, he was crushed, his dram was in tatters, and so he ran.
- Even people who fight against idolatry can succumb to it. Elijah had forgotten about the very God he had been preaching about! The root of his depression was theological and not psychological. His own name means “God is Lord” and yet he appears to have forgotten this! 11-14 is a picture of what Elijah wanted for the nation and yet God is not in this dream. It didn’t happen in the spectacular way he wanted. Ligon used a great phrase here: “God is in the whisper” and so he sends Elijah to Syria. Unfortunately, for Elijah, revival is going to happen through Elisha and a Pagan and not him! He found himself in a similar position to Moses who got to the cusp of the Promised Land but never entered in.
God doesn’t always give us what we want and, in fact, he will often ruthlessly crush our idolatries in order for us to receive a greater joy. Remember Elijah had told Israel to forsake her idols and trust in the Lord. Here he was experiencing his own message for himself! How true that is for us as people who minister his word. We must preach and allow the Spirit to apply to our own lives if we are to expound with power to others. Elijah wanted God to be exalted but God wanted it done in a different way – His way. Remember the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane knew the joy and pain of this when he exclaimed: “not my will but your be done”. That was a battle of idolatry that Christ clearly won.
So, God ends Elijah’s ministry and it didn’t look good for him – he’d had his day. In fact the Lord rebukes him by questioning, “What are you doing here?” How fair was this on a faithful and loyal servant? Yet God loves him and shows him by sending him an angel to cook breakfast and by a demonstration of His glory. But Elijah wasn’t interested – he just wanted to die!
In Luke 9v28 we meet Elijah again. Here he gets a glimpse of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was in this moment he came to realise God’s plan was not his plan. God wanted more than the Northern Kingdom to repent – he wanted the nations. I wonder what Elijah said to the Lord upon his return to heaven? The plan upon which he had built his own hopes upon seemed puny in comparison. He thought that God had taken his dreams away and yet he couldn’t have been further from the truth. THIS IS OUR GOD! He will not leave us in our disappointments and he has a plan for the everlasting joy of His elect. Believe that!
In our darker moments we must hold on to these great truths. Our dreams and visions for our ministries pale into insignificance in the face of His glory. He has made us to endure through the difficult times and one day we, too, will see Jesus face to face and in that moment true, glorious understanding will come. We press on.