HILLS & VALLEYS: Wild Growth    1 Kings 17:1-7      

If you have a picture in your mind about what a prophet is like, might I suggest to you that the biblical image might ruin your idyllic view.  Prophets, in the Scriptures, weren’t people who had their own TV show, weren’t people who made a lot of money, they weren’t people who flew around and had large followings.  They were sort of fringe folks.  They were the people that were on the outside of the norm, as far as faith went.  They were people that took off their clothes and preached naked. They were people who cooked their food over a flaming pile of dung.  They were people who married a prostitute to make a point.  The prophets were on the fringes of faith.  They were sojourners.  They were wrestlers.  They were people who had to fight for their faith.  Far from being stable, they were people who doubted God.  If you read through the prophet Isaiah, if you read through Jeremiah, oftentimes you’ll get this lament, “God, where in the world are you?”  Sojourners—physically and spiritually.

Elijah, who we’re starting our series on today, was no different than those other ancient prophets of Yahweh.  His life is full of ups and downs, of hills and valleys.  We’ll see next week that Elijah sees the dead raised.  He sees fire called down from heaven to wipe out the prophets of Baal.  Then after that, he runs for his life for fear of Jezebel, this wicked queen.  He hides in the desert.  He laments that he was ever born.  He contemplates taking his own life.  He’s a prophet who tastes joy and sorrow.  Immense success and incredible defeat.  He is a prophet who has great faith in God and doubts God.  He’s a prophet of both the hills and the valleys.

One of the things I love about Elijah is that he was a lot like us.  I can remember the day my youngest son Reid was born.  We were sitting in the hospital.  Had this beautiful, healthy baby boy.  In the door walked my mom and dad.  My mom had an undiagnosed brain condition and was about halfway through a rapid decline, an illness that would eventually take her life.  She was holding my dad’s arm as they walked in because she was too weak to stand up.  She sat down on the couch and we handed her Reid.  We propped her up a little and positioned her to hold Reid.  I can remember sitting on that hospital bed, with Kelly, thinking to myself, “Am I suppose to be happy or sad right now?”  Am I suppose to be ecstatic that we have a healthy baby boy, who’s crying, who’s screaming, who’s pooping?  Or am I suppose to be grieving because I’m not sure how long this moment with my mom is going to last?  Have you ever been there?  Where you just looked at life and it wasn’t clear cut?  It wasn’t life was good or life was bad.  Oftentimes life is a mixture of both, isn’t it?  Can we be just a little bit excited this morning that God doesn’t intend to lead us on a journey that isn’t human?  Part of the human journey is to wrestle with….God, some things in life are really good and some things in life are really bad and You’re in the midst of it all!  I don’t know how to tease it all out and I don’t know how to make sense of it, but, God, I just know that You’re on both the mountaintop and the valley low.  I know that you’re in the joy and the lament.  I know that you’re in the faith and in the doubt.  God, I know that you’re in it ALL some how.  I love that we, as followers of Jesus, get to gather around our heroes of the faith who were not men and women who had it all together.  They are men and women who sometimes step out boldly and act boldly, and other times, run for their lives because they’re scared to death!  They’re people who celebrate on the mountaintop, and they’re people who grieve in the valley low.  {Lean in for a moment.}  The story of the Scriptures is not that much different than your life, because we experience both of those, don’t we?

If you have your Bible, I invite you to open to 1 Kings 17.  It’s where we get introduced to the prophet Elijah.  His life is a rollercoaster.  Hills and valleys.  Success and defeat.  Joy and lament.  Faith and doubt.  Listen to the way his journey begins.  It’s just like he sneaks out of nowhere for this sneak attack into the Scriptures that will be carried on, even into the book of Revelation as we’ll see.  Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe {All you need to know is that Tishbe is nowhere!  It’s been wiped out.  People don’t even know where it was really located.  Elijah comes from a nowhere town.  Some people would argue it’s not really a town; it just means ‘sojourner.’  It means ‘wanderer.’  Either way, what the Scriptures want you to know is that Elijah is a nobody.  He bursts on the scene to talk to somebody.} in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, {Some translations say ‘whom I stand before.’} there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 

A little bit of background is necessary. David was one of the great kings, arguably THE greatest king, Israel ever had.  After him we had King Solomon.  After Solomon, there was a split between the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom.  The Northern Kingdom had a line of notoriously, really, really terrible kings.  They were evil.  Ahab, who Elijah bursts onto the scene in the Scriptures and stands before, is the most evil up into this point.  Look at 1 Kings 16:30 — Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.  Not exactly something you want on your resumé.  But Elijah bursts into his chamber, bursts into his palace and he has an announcement.  I’m not sure if he rehearsed it and thought through it.  There will be…..he’s like what do I emphasize?  There will be NO rain.  Or there will be no RAIN.  Or there will be no rain for THREE YEARS.  I don’t know, but, somehow, with his knees shaking, stands before one of the most powerful men in the world at that time and says, “The rain?  It’s done until I say it rains.”  One of the things you need to know about Ahab is he started to worship the god Baal.  Baal was the god of the rain.  Elijah steps into the chamber of the king and not only declares there’s going to be a drought, you’re in pretty big trouble until I say you’re not in trouble, BUT this is a war of the gods.  Yahweh versus Baal.  Who’s going to win out?  Who’s the most powerful deity in the world?  Is it Elijah’s God, Yahweh or is it the god Baal?  We’ll see how that story plays out in a few weeks.  He stands there and tells the most powerful man in the world it’s not going to rain.  It would be like you going to stand in front of John Elway and telling him, “The Broncos aren’t going to win a game for the next three years! They might not.”  Or….it would be like standing in front of Donald Trump and saying, “No Republican is going to get elected for the next three years!”  {I’m not making a political comment….just get that picture in mind.}  Standing before the most powerful person and saying something that there’s no way they want to hear.

The next verses start to make sense when we catch that.  Verse 2 — Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah:  “Leave here, turn eastward and hide {I love this! Such practical, spiritual advice.  You’re going to want to get out of here; you’re in big trouble!  I don’t know if God said like, man, what were you thinking?  You should not have done that.  We’re not quite sure if Elijah is reporting what God has said, or, if you go and read James 5 where it talks about Elijah, it seems like this is sort of Elijah’s idea and God’s like, dude, RUN!  I’ve got plans for you and you’re about to be extinguished!} ….in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  

If you know anything about biblical narrative and types and archetypes and imagery, you know that east is east of Eden. It’s east of God’s perfection.  It’s east of God’s design.  It’s the wild.  Elijah emerges from obscurity to stand before the king and make a bold announcement and then immediately, he’s put back into obscurity.  If I’m Elijah, I’m going, hey, God, I had a plan.  It was to stand before the king and make this announcement, and then you were going to prop me up, and then I was going to speak on your behalf, and I was going to call the Northern Kingdom of Israel back to you.  I think maybe God says yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a great plan….Run!  Hide!  Get into the desert, eastward!  Go back, Elijah, to the middle of nowhere.  If I’m Elijah, I’m thinking to myself, “God, we’ve got business to take care of.  Why are we wasting time at the Kerith Ravine?”  The truth of the matter is, friends, the wilderness often feels like wasted time, but it’s really training ground. For us it feels like ‘God, where are you and what are you doing?’ but for God, it’s times where he shapes us and molds us and makes us into the kind of people that can walk with him and taste the joy that he has for us.

The wilderness—we often think of it as wasted time—is where we come face to face….our will and God’s will.  It’s where God’s will wins out, because our resources are so depleted.  Our willpower, our gifting, our ingenuity….there’s no way those things get us through the wilderness.  In the wilderness, we MUST face our weaknesses and surrender our illusions and our pretenses.  We surrender our way through the wilderness; we don’t beat our chest through it.  If you’ve ever walked through the wilderness, if you’ve walked through those dry seasons, those dry times, you know that that’s true.  Fundamentally, this wilderness has to do with breaking through the barriers that we have built—sometimes through our own successes, sometimes through the lies we believe, sometimes through our failures.  It’s breaking through the barriers we’ve built and rediscovering life and rediscovering God, and oftentimes rediscovering faith.

What Elijah might view as wasting time, God views as training ground.  He always has.  Think about it, if you read through the Scriptures, wilderness is going to be a theme all throughout. Abraham/Abram — Called to walk with God.  Called out of Ur and into the wilderness, the desert.  He’s a wandering man.  It’s where he learns to actually listen to God.  Coming out of a culture of idolatry, he’s shaped in the wilderness.  The Israelite people — They come out of slavery in Egypt, go through the Red Sea, and spend forty years wandering around in the desert.  But that wandering is not wasted time.  You go read Deuteronomy 6-8 and what you’ll see is it’s training ground.  They are becoming the people of God.  Later on in their story, you see Israel led into exile.  It’s where they learn to hear God’s loving voice again and respond to the overtures of divine love that are being showered down on them.  Jesus — Born.  Lives thirty years.  Is baptized in the Jordan River, this sort of archetype of Israel’s journey, comes out of the water, comes through the water and is led into the wilderness.  He’s led into the wilderness by the Spirit of God, being prepared for ministry.  The Apostle Paul — Comes to faith in this ecstatic, spiritual experience on the road to Damascus.  Sees a blinding light and suddenly all the coins sort of drop in his spiritual self, he comes to know Jesus and then spends three years in Arabia trying to unpack everything he knows about the Old Testament Scriptures and combines it to see Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of it all.  Three years.

What I often call lack of progress, God calls preparation.  I love….I love…I’m borderline addicted to “up and to the right.”  I love progress.  I love seeing progress in our church.  I love seeing progress in the businesses that we run.  I love seeing progress in my own spirituality, but {will you lean in a second and even look up at me?} for God, oftentimes, preparation is more important than progress.  There’s times where he will say, hey, it’s not wasted time, it’s training ground, because you’re not ready yet.  You’re not who you need to be in order to step into what I’m inviting you to do.  I love the way this French guy says it: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.  We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.  Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”  Oh!  That is a word for a chaotic, frazzled, disconnected generation, is it not?  Trust in the slow work of God.  In a day and time where you can get a Master’s Degree in three months, trust the slow, intentional work of God.  His work is, in one word, your formation.  It’s who you’re becoming.

Listen to the way Paul says it in the book of Romans 8:28-29 — And we know that in all thing God works for the good of those who love him,   {He doesn’t say that everything that comes into your life is good.  He says God works good out of everything that comes into your life.} …who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,  {What is God working all things towards?  Conforming you into the image of Jesus.} that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  I don’t have any time to tackle even a portion of that last verse; we could do a whole series on that.  God’s goal in everything is who you are becoming.  The wilderness refuses—will not let—to let you continue with business as usual.  The wilderness is disruptive, it’s disorienting, and that’s it’s power.  It’s disruptive, it’s disorienting, and it will not let you just continue as is.

I was reading through some of our prayer requests. {Our elders and staff pray through those and we count it a joy to journey with you in that.}  I was praying through those this week and I thought, “Man, there’s a lot of people in this space that are walking through the wilderness.”  Sometimes it looks like a health concern you don’t have answers to, or a diagnosis that you’re praying against.  For some of you, it looks like relational strife….there’s things that you just can’t quite work out.  Others of you, it’s working through abuse, some things that happened to you in the past and some pain that you’re carrying and you’re going God, I don’t know what to do with this.  There’s people in this room that have businesses that are on the fritz and jobs that are inconsistent and you’re wondering where that next paycheck’s coming from.  Those are the wildernesses of life.  These are the places where we go hey, God, what are you doing here?  I thought we were on a road.  I thought we were on a trajectory.

Then there’s some of you that are more like a spiritual valley, where you’re going God, I’m not even sure that you’re real and that you’re there.  God, I don’t doubt that you’re there, but I have major questions about why you didn’t show up the way I hoped you’d show up.  You’re just asking these questions that are part of being human and part of walking with God.  St. John of the Cross would call it the Dark Night of the Soul.  And it’s these wildernesses that operate as training ground for us.  We may not like them and they may be really painful, but God is up to something in the midst.  He’s so creative….As Amy Carmichael said, “He refuses to waste his kids’ pain.”  So he weaves, he works it for our formation and, ultimately, our good.

Let me show you how this happens in the life of Elijah.  1 Kings 17:2-3 — Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  So go hide in the Kerith Ravine.  It’s a little dot on the map and we have no clue where it is today, but the word ‘Kerith’ literally means ‘to cut down.’  It’s not so much about where Elijah is going, it IS about that, but it’s about the journey that Elijah is on.  In order to be built up, he must first be cut down.  In order to be great, he must first be humble.  In order to carry the message of God, he must become a man of God.  I love the way that A.W. Tozer said it:  “It’s doubtful that God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”  Or until He’s allowed him to be hurt deeply.

The truth of the matter is that if dependence is our objective, weakness is an advantage.  If dependence is the objective, weakness is actually an advantage.  Our greatest benefit, the greatest thing we might bring to the people around us and to the Kingdom of God, might be found in our deepest pain.  The things people need from you most may not be your strengths and everything that you have all together and the things on your resumé you’d love to bring to the table.  God may look at you and go that’s all great, that’s all wonderful, but what I want to use is the darkness and the hurt and the pain.  You can say that the flip side of that is beware of your strengths, because those are places you most likely will overlook God.

He’s going to the Kerith Ravine.  Things are getting cut down in the wilderness in the life of this prophet, Elijah.  We’re going to see two things in his life, two things that shape our life and walk with God as well, but two things God uniquely does in the wilderness.  One is He brings us to this place where our hands are finally open and we go, “Alright, God, Have. Your. Way.”  When I was a backpack guide, for four years in college, I spent a lot of time in the wilderness in Colorado so I have a great affinity for the outdoors.  I’ve seen God move and work in the lives of people in ways that I never imagined, through the wilderness, through silence and just listening. During guide training we had tricks we’d play on each other.  One of those was any time we’d come to a stopping point, we’d sneak and hide rocks in each other’s packs.  Before you left, you’d search your pack to be sure that there weren’t any rocks in it.  I remember that once in a while you’d see somebody who was sort of limping along and you’d know that there were a few rocks in the bottom of their pack that were packaged there so they couldn’t see them.  We’d sit back and absolutely love it.  We’d love getting to the end of the trail or the end of the week and watching people unpack their packs and being like, “What are these rocks in our pack?!”  I think a lot of us have some things that we carry that weigh us down.  Maybe this morning God says, “Man, I’d love to cut some things down in your life.”  I’d love to invite you to release some things that you’re carrying that aren’t for your good and aren’t my design for you.

The main thing that’s cut down in the life of Elijah?  Control.  He’s told by God, “You go here and you do these things,” and in order to follow God, he’s got to relinquish his control.  We LOVE control, don’t we?  I saw it Friday night at dinner with my family.  We have three kids so there’s always a tie-breaker with where we go to dinner.  My youngest son Reid had voted for Qdoba. My daughter Avery voted for Smashburger.  My oldest son Ethan was the tie-breaker and he voted for Qdoba. The boys banded together and did it for me.  My daughter was devastated.  She’s probably the sweetest person that ever walked the face of the earth and she was not having it.  We went through the line in Qdoba and asked her what she wanted for dinner.  “I don’t want anything!”   “You’re not going to eat anything?”  “Nuh-uh! I’m not hungry anymore.”   She sat with us and ate a few chips off of Kelly’s plate, but she ate next to nothing.  I’ve got to be honest, there was something inside of me that was going, “YES! A strong-willed girl! I love it!”  Remind me of this when she’s a teenager!  But she wanted to hold on to control; she wanted to decide where we went.

We don’t get to choose the wilderness.  We can’t analyze or rationalize the wilderness away.  We can’t outwit it.  We can’t outlast it.  We can’t out play it.  Going through the wilderness requires a major softening inside of us.  It requires our surrendering our intellectual arrogance and accepting the ambiguity with humility.  We don’t get to control it.  We don’t get to control how it comes; we don’t get to control how it goes; we don’t get to control what we produce when we’re in it.  We don’t get to force our way through it.  It breaks down every semblance of control we long to have, and are often under the illusion we do.  The wilderness doesn’t make us small, it reminds us that we are.

What does Elijah do?  Look at verses 4 and 5.  You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.  So he did what the Lord had told him.   {How do we release control in the wilderness?  We follow that voice of God.  We’re obedient in the wilderness.  The wilderness is not a time we get to check out and say, “God, you didn’t come through for me the way I wanted you to, so I’m out too.”  It’s our time to say, “God, what you ask of me, I will do.”  It goes on.}  He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, {That’s the third time he said ‘east.’  The narrator might want us to know where it is, right? It’s east of the Jordan, east of Eden, it’s in the wilderness, it’s in the wild.} and stayed there.

How do we release control in the wilderness?  Well, we’re obedient, one.  But we also embrace this space of silence….solitude.  What happens in the wilderness?  Nothing!  That’s the point and that’s the power.  In a world where our noise level is consistently elevating, how do we reclaim pieces of our soul that get rotten?  It’s so easy to continue to respond the way that we always did with the old patterns that are sunk into our bodies.  When somebody wrongs me, this is what I do.  When my kids tick me off, I respond in anger.  When I don’t get my way, I become bitter.  We can go on and on and on like that for years.  But silence and solitude is the great teacher that gets beneath just our biological responses to our soul where God can do some work in us and heal what’s broken.  I love the way that AJ Sherrill, who was with us a few months ago, said it: “Stillness is the forgotten teacher within a society of perpetual movement.”  Creating space to hear God is one of the most powerful things we can do and one of the things we do least.  If you’ve ever tried to be quiet and just listen to God, you know how difficult that is.  You start to realize real quickly how tied up your insides are.  If you just try to be quiet for a few minutes every morning, what you’ll start to realize is the narrative that goes on in the back of your head is running all the time.  Anybody with it?  Have you seen it?  This is just a side note: When you want to be silent and still before God for a while, what you should probably do is just have a notepad there so that when thoughts come to your mind you can write them down and get them out of your mind and on the paper and get back to being with God.

Silence and solitude bring a freedom because we start to be able to actually identify those faulty narratives that are running constantly in the back of our mind and controlling us even though we don’t know it.  So when we’re silent, we can say, “God, listen, I’ve got this thought in my head that I’m just not good enough.”  God, I’m starting to identify that what goes on in the back of my mind when I’m still and silent, the thought that spins up is guilt and shame.  Silence is powerful because we get to identify what’s always there but we rarely notice.  It allows us to see the fact that if you try to be quiet and try to be silent what you’ll start to realize, if you’re anything like me, is that you’re pretty hurried and pretty worried.  It’s God saying, “Will you let that go?  I can handle that.”  It’s the power of the wilderness.  One of my questions for you today is what is Jesus inviting you to release, to relinquish?  Worry?  Expectation?  Shame?  Bitterness?  Anger?  What are those rocks in your backpack that are weighing you down and not doing you any good? The wilderness is not wasted time, it’s training ground.  Elijah, being silent and being obedient, starts to be cut down in the most beautiful of ways.

Here’s how the story continues in verse 6.  The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.  How many of you would have like to have seen footage of this?  You wonder if Elijah’s putting in orders.  Ummm, could we do carne asada for dinner?  For bread, could we do a tortilla?    I don’t know how it played out, I just know that once Elijah is cut down and in the wilderness and his hands are open to relinquish things that he’s been carrying, they’re also, ironically, open to receive what God is delivering.  These go hand-in-hand.  God’s training ground in the wilderness of our life is both the things we give up and it’s the things we receive.

I’m reminded, in reading through the gospels, that one of the strangest passages for me is Jesus isn’t welcomed in his own hometown of Nazareth.  Have you read that passage?  Where his own people don’t want anything to do with him because they knew about his life, they knew about his upbringing.  Oh, this is Mary and Joseph’s son and he’s got all these brothers….  He’s not welcomed in his own town and here’s what it says about his ministry in his own town of Nazareth:  And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matt. 13:58)  They just weren’t open.  It wasn’t that God didn’t want to deliver and it wasn’t that God wasn’t delivering, they just weren’t able to receive.

I thought about that as I was watching the Broncos play last Monday night.  And I saw Case Keenum drop back in the pocket.  Twenty-three seconds left in the game.  Broncos down by four, needing a touchdown in order to win.  He had a receiver open right along the sidelines to win the game.  And $18 million bought us a little bit of a too-high pass that lost the game.  I know one play doesn’t lose the game, but this one did! {Ryan shows video clip.}

Look up at me for just a moment.  God never misses.  God never misses. But we often have our hands way too full to receive what He wants to bring.  What the wilderness does is it sometimes pries our fingers off of things, that we love and hold dear, so that it can deliver something better. It’s the same reason that Jesus asks this paralytic man sitting (John 5:6).  He asks him this weird question:  Do you want to get well?  Because He knows that whether or not he receives……not that God isn’t delivering, but whether or not this man wants what Jesus is pouring out.

I love it….these ravens come and deliver bread and meat, a well-balanced diet, out of absolutely nowhere.  If you’re anything like me, I often measure God’s provision based on my circumstances.  Hey, God, here’s what you might bring because here’s what I have available to me.  What God says is that’s cute, that’s funny, but I own the cattle on a thousand hills and I can bring something out of nothing.  Your circumstances are not a measure of my provision.  I can do whatever I want.  It often feels a little bit mysterious, but aren’t the things our soul longs for mysterious anyway?  The things that actually feed our soul are things we can’t see, can’t touch, can’t….  They’re only things we know intuitively.  Sometimes the bread and meat delivered by the raven is somebody who puts their arm around you and says, “I’m here for you.”  Sometimes it’s a note you get in the mail.  Sometimes it’s food that’s delivered at your door.  Sometimes it’s a song that we sing during worship where we remember the truth about who God is and it’s like ravens bringing meat.  Is this just me or does this……yeah.  That God’s provision is often mysterious that I’m so full that I can’t receive it sometimes.

Elijah learns that the life of faith and the life of trust is something that’s built in the crock-pot, not in the microwave.  So he goes and it says he lives in the wilderness.  He doesn’t just go for a brief time.  He sees God’s provision day after day after day after day after day after day and eventually goes, “Huh! There’s a theme here.  God, you can be trusted.”  He receives provision in the wilderness.  He develops trust in the wilderness.  He’s able, I think….it doesn’t say this in here, but as you see God’s hand day after day after day after day, at some point you must go, “This God’s for me.  I think He’s for me.”

So he receives provision, he develops trust, and he embraces love.  I love the way the great author, Henri Nouwen, put it:  “The challenge is to let go of fear and claim the deeper truth of who I am.  When you forget your true identity as a beloved child of God, you lose your way in life.  You become scared and start doing things not freely, but because of fear.  But when you make space for God in in your life and begin to listen to God’s loving voice, you suddenly start to realize perfect love.”  Here’s the thing, friends, Elijah comes to the place where he’s still unsure of all that God’s doing.  He’s unsure of why he’s in the wilderness and why he’s being cut down.  He doesn’t have answers to everything, he just knows two things:  1) God loves me and 2) God’s trustworthy.  And that’s it!  In a time when we want to, like Job’s friends, explain away everything that happens in life.  You’ll have people that say, I call it, spiritual garbage….things that aren’t true but sound good.  Everything happens for a reason.  Here’s exactly what God’s doing.  All these things.  I think there are two things we can be sure of in the wilderness:  1)  God loves me.  2) God’s trustworthy.  I don’t know about anything else sometimes, but those are enough.  Those two things are enough.

I love the way Paul puts it in the book of Romans (5:3-5) — Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, {Or read it ‘wildernesses.’} because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  For some of you, that’s why you’re here today.  I’m convinced of it.  That’s why you’re here today.  You’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death and your question is Why? and God’s answer is Who is with you?  Will you receive it?

This section ends at verse 7 {and we’ll land the plane here} — Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. {If I were Elijah, I’d be shaking my fist at God.  “You brought me out here!  You provided and now the brook is dried. You answered my prayer for a drought!”}  Then the word of the Lord came to him:  “Go….”   The dried brook is not a lack of God’s provision, it’s an insertion of God’s direction.  The brook’s dry.  The season is over.  Dried brooks don’t nullify God’s provision, they providentially move us to the next season.  Elijah could get frustrated that he can’t recognize what God’s doing, but instead he just listens to God’s voice and he decides to go.  Sometimes season of pain and season of lament start to get comfortable.  Even though we hate them, we know them.  Oftentimes that brook dries up and it’s not because God’s bad and it’s not because God’s evil, it’s because He’s moving you to that next season.  Same thing he did with Elijah.

Friends, the wilderness is not about wasted time, it’s training ground where we learn how to relinquish some things, release them to God, and we learn how to receive.  Maybe there’s one thing that you need to receive from God today.  Is it his love?  Is it his goodness?  Is it content?  Is it hope?  Is it a dream that seems to have died?  I’m convinced that we become a sum total of what we both relinquish and receive.  It’s God formation of us.

Yesterday, I saw in my news feed this story that caught my eye.  It was a story about an artist, his name is Bansky.  He’s a graffiti artist and he had a piece of art that was on sale in a gallery.  It sold for 1.4 million pounds, which I believe is roughly $2 million, give or take.  As people were there and the auction just finished, Bansky, I believe, was also there or had somebody there and pushed a button and the piece that had just been bid on went through a shredder.  If you know anything about Bansky, he’s a little bit eccentric, to say the least.  Everybody there is going, “Oh my goodness! This piece of art, not priceless, but worth 1.4 million pounds is absolutely destroyed now!  What are we going to do?”  Here’s the ironic part…..I don’t know this for sure but I would bet my life on it, that Bansky piece is worth more today than it was yesterday!  Because there’s a story.

We often want to keep things perfect, but that’s not what makes for a good story.  There’s a little bit of pain, there’s a little bit of shredding, there’s a little bit of uncertainty, there’s a little bit of regret, and THAT’S what makes it better!  And it’s exactly what the wilderness does to us.  It strips us down, opens us up, and then rebuilds us.  Elijah starts out as a Tishbite from Tishbe.  After his time in the wilderness, he ends—verse 24—a man of God.  God did something in his heart and life as he entered into the barren wilderness.  He does something in your life too when you go there as well.

I wanted to end by giving you some sort of tool, because I know that there’s a number of you that are in the wilderness.  There’s an ancient prayer practice .  It’s called the Prayer of Examen.  It was developed by St. Ignatius Loyola.  It’s basically a way to sort of prayerfully walk through your day and ask God to speak to you.  This prayer often creates a surrogate wilderness, where we walk through life thinking everything’s great and everything’s fine until we pause and then all these things inside of us rise up.  This prayer is a way to cause those things to rise up a little bit so we can deal with them and grow.  I want to spend the next five minutes praying this prayer together.  There’s four phases and I’ll lead you through it, but you can close your eyes.  If you want, you can open your hands, or you can have them down to say, “God, I’m releasing this to you.”  Whatever feels natural to you.  {Ryan walks congregation through the four phases:  1. Awareness   2. Gratitude   3. Review  4. Response}

The Prayer of Examen just starts with an awareness that God is present.  We don’t go to find God, God is here.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, the Spirit of God lives in you.  That’s what the Scriptures say.  Our expectation of God lives in us is that He might have something He wants to say.  Take a moment and recognize God is here.  Bring to mind one thing, just one, that you’re grateful for.  What’s one way God’s been really good to you? Even if you’re in the valley, my guess is there’s one.  I want you to think back over your last few days and maybe this last week.  What are two or three things that sort of immediately come to mind?  Two or three events.  Maybe conversations.  Things you got to experience.  What are a few things that come to mind?  Maybe ask Jesus why those things popped up.  What is it about those things? Within those things, is there an invitation maybe to release some anger, some confusion, some disappointment, some bitterness, some cynicism?  Is there a chance to relinquish or maybe is there a chance to receive?  Is God at work in some way that maybe you missed first time around, but He brought it back this time to say don’t miss it? Then would you ask Jesus what he might be inviting you to do with that?  With that receiving, with that relinquishing.  What’s His invitation to you?

Lord, we know that some people walk through the desert, they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the wilderness and they come out the other side bitter, and then other people come out the other side better.  Lord, we want to both relinquish and receive whatever it is that you want to put into our hands or take out.  We just want to say to you, today, God, we want to be with you.  We want to hear your voice.  We want to live in your way.  We want to live with your heart, and we know that nothing in our life is wasted.  So for my friends in that valley today, I just pray over them….Jesus, would you meet them in that space?  Would they hear your voice afresh and your invitation over them.  God, for all of us, would you invite us to deeper places, where we really deal with the things going on deeply in our soul, both the things we celebrate and the things we lament.  May we bring them all before you, knowing that you see it all anyway.  In the time we think’s wasted, God, would you build something beautiful, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.