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5. Lessons From Zarephath Graduate School (1 Kings 17:7-16)

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After a while, the stream dried up because there had been no rain in the land. The Lord told him, “Get up, go to Zarephath in Sidonian territory, and live there. I have already told a widow who lives there to provide for you.” So he got up and went to Zarephath. When he went through the city gate, there was a widow gathering wood. He called out to her, “Please give me a cup of water, so I can take a drink.” As she went to get it, he called out to her, “Please bring me a piece of bread.” She said, “As certainly as the Lord your God lives, I have no food, except for a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. Right now I am gathering a couple of sticks for a fire. Then I’m going home to make one final meal for my son and myself. After we have eaten that, we will die of starvation.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go and do as you planned. But first make a small cake for me and bring it to me; then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not be empty and the jug of oil will not run out until the day the Lord makes it rain on the surface of the ground.’” She went and did as Elijah told her; there was always enough food for Elijah and for her and her family. The jar of flour was never empty and the jug of oil never ran out, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

1 Kings 17:7-16 (NET)

What is God’s process for preparing a man or woman of God—someone he can use greatly?

It has been said that there are two primary ways to grow spiritually. The first way is through spiritual disciplines, but the second way is through trials. God molds the men and women he greatly uses through trials. In 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah challenges King Ahab—declaring that it would not rain in the land except at his word. Then, God sends Elijah to Kerith Valley where he provided food for him through ravens. The word Kerith means “cutting.” God sent him to the “cutting place” in order to train him. There he learned lessons like solitude and dependency—seeking the Lord and trusting him for provisions. But after the stream dried up, God sent Elijah to a new training ground in Zarephath, where God would meet his needs and teach him lessons through a poor widow. In the Hebrew, Zarephath comes from a verb that means “to melt” or “to smelt.”1 After sending Elijah to the place of cutting, he now was going to the melting place—a place where God was going to continue molding Elijah into the man he was called to be.

When God is preparing somebody he will use greatly, he often multiplies trials in his or her life. He first sent Joseph to be a slave in Potiphar’s household, then God sent him to prison. It was after both of these trials that God exalted Joseph to leadership in Egypt and enabled him to save multitudes. Likewise, the place of cutting and melting were essential training places for Elijah. After these trainings, Elijah will confront the prophets of Baal, call for fire to come down from heaven, bring a revival in Israel, and call for rain to return.

We don’t know much about Zarephath. We know it was a village in the Sidonian territory where Queen Jezebel was from, and it was a place of Baal worship. Therefore, it was enemy territory. Because of the name of this city, there probably was an iron plant located in it where iron would be extracted from its ore and then refined by fire to separate the metal from the dross, so it could be used for weapons or other materials. The fire would cleanse the metal from infirmities that made it weak, but also the fire melted the iron so it would be moldable.

Similarly, when God makes a man or woman that he can use, he sends them through pain and difficulties to get rid of weaknesses—sin and compromise that might keep them from completing the tasks that he has called them to complete. But, God also uses the heat of trials to make them moldable. All of a sudden, the person who previously had a fixed ten-year plan for his life, through fiery trials, is now moldable. They are submitted to God’s plan for their life. Though difficult, the place of melting is a tremendous blessing; it is there that he cleanses his people and prepares them for more.

In 1 Peter 4:12, Peter said: “Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you.” We shouldn’t be surprised because it is a normal thing for God to send Christians into the fire. It is there where they grow more into men and women of God—people he owns, ones he can use for more.

When talking to persecuted Christians scattered throughout Rome, Peter used metallurgy terminology in 1 Peter 1:6-7. He says,

This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

The word “proven” is used of testing or refining metal. It comes from the same word group as “tested” by fire in verse 7.2 God uses trials to test whether our faith is real and to purify our faith from infirmities.3 This is the next stage of Elijah’s development, and it is the stage that God sends all of us through to become people he can use greatly.

In this study, we will learn lessons from the furnace. With the previous study, we called it Kerith Valley University (KVU), in line with how others have named the message; therefore, this one is called Zarephath Graduate School, where we get advanced training for ministry. Have you studied there?

Big Question: What lessons can we learn from Zarephath Graduate School?

The Lesson of Bad First Impressions

“Get up, go to Zarephath in Sidonian territory, and live there. I have already told a widow who lives there to provide for you.” So he got up and went to Zarephath. When he went through the city gate, there was a widow gathering wood. He called out to her, “Please give me a cup of water, so I can take a drink.” As she went to get it, he called out to her, “Please bring me a piece of bread.” She said, “As certainly as the Lord your God lives, I have no food, except for a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. Right now I am gathering a couple of sticks for a fire. Then I’m going home to make one final meal for my son and myself. After we have eaten that, we will die of starvation.”

1 Kings 17:9-12

Now, no doubt, when Elijah heard God say, “Go to Zarephath!”, he probably wasn’t excited. As mentioned, Zarephath was in Sidon—a Gentile territory—where they worshiped Baal. It was also Jezebel’s hometown. But to make it worse, God said to Elijah, “I have already told a widow who lives there to provide for you.”

Widows in that society were the poorest of the poor. Typically, if a woman lost her husband, she would have to return to her father’s house to be provided for, resort to begging, or go into prostitution. For these reasons, they were commonly neglected and shunned by society. That is why James 1:27 says that pure and undefiled religion cares for the orphans and the widows—the most helpless. Therefore, when Elijah heard this, he couldn’t be excited about his next step. One might consider it shameful to be helped by an impoverished widow. Nevertheless, it was there that God promised to meet his needs.

When he got to the gate of the city, he saw a widow. He probably thought to himself, “This must be the one God has called to meet my needs.” When he met her, he asked for some water, which was probably a test to discern if she was the right one (v. 10). After she agreed, he also asked for a piece of bread (v. 11).

What happens next must have further shocked Elijah: The woman who was supposed to provide for his needs during the famine said she didn’t have enough for him. She was preparing her last meal before she and her child would starve to death (v. 12). The drought Elijah prayed for was not only affecting Israel but also the surrounding nations—people were in dire situations.

Common Preparation for God’s Ministers

Again, this must have shocked Elijah. Maybe, he initially thought to himself, “God, I thought you were going to meet my needs? What have you gotten me into? Why did you lead me to Gentile territory when I could have been in Tishbe with my family and friends? God, what have you done?” This might be a normal response for someone who was expecting God to lead them into pleasant green pastures instead of a melting place. However, it must be understood that this is a common experience in the life of faith—one God uses to prepare his ministers. This is the lesson of bad first impressions, which many crumble under when initially experienced.

For example, God said to Abraham in Genesis 12, “Leave your father’s house and your family and go to land I will show you. There I will make you a great nation and I will bless you. I will also bless those who bless you.” No doubt, Abraham thought to himself, “This sounds great! I will go!” But when Abraham got to the promised land, there was a famine (Gen 12:10). Again, this was probably met with shock and disbelief. Maybe Abraham thought, “God, I left my homeland for this! I don’t have anything to eat. I can’t even feed my family!” Abraham, who at that time was young in the faith, decided to leave Canaan and head to Egypt. Abraham failed the test of bad first impressions by taking things into his own hands.

When Abraham stepped out of God’s will, he entered a worse situation where he felt he had to lie to protect himself from being killed. Since his wife, Sarah, was attractive, he told the Egyptians that she was his sister so they wouldn’t kill him and take her. Abraham’s lie led to Pharaoh taking Sarah to be his wife.

We also saw this test with Israel. Through Moses, God called Israel to follow him to a land flowing with milk and honey. But after leaving Egypt, they experienced bitter water and a lack of food in the wilderness—prompting them to complain against God and want to go back to Egypt. Israel, like Abraham, failed the bad first impressions test.

With Israel, even after they made it out of the wilderness and got to the promised land, they experienced the test again. The land was truly flowing with milk and honey; however, there were giants there. Out of fear, they declared that they couldn’t conquer them and again wanted to return to Egypt—failing the test of bad first impressions.

Even Christ who was filled with the Holy Spirit after his baptism was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan (Matt 4:1). When God is leading something, we tend to think everything is going to be great, and when it isn’t, many struggle with disillusionment, fear, and sometimes anger. However, the bad first impression is a common test God uses to train his disciples.

Many of us have experienced the bad first impression test before. We wanted a new job because the place we previously worked stopped being a place of joy and instead became a place of frustration. We prayed and prayed, and God finally opened the door for what looked like an ideal job. However, when we started, we found out it wasn’t so ideal. The boss was overbearing; we didn’t get along with our co-workers. When considering the cost versus benefit, we soon realized our new situation wasn’t that great. We may have even said to ourselves, “I should have stayed at my last job!”

Or maybe we prayed for some other open door—to get into a good university, get an internship, get a new house, or even get married. When God opened the door, we thought it would be amazing; however, later we found out it was difficult, and the failed expectations caused great heartache. It might have even made us regret pursuing the door or possibly made us angry at God and doubt his love. This is the test of bad first impressions. This is a common experience in the melting place. It tests the validity of our faith. Do we really trust God, even when things aren’t as we thought they would be?

Common Responses

What are common responses to the test of bad first impressions? From Elijah and the widow, we can discern two of them. When Elijah asked the widow for food, in verse 12, she replied,

As certainly as the Lord your God lives. I have no food, except for a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. Right now I am gathering a couple of sticks for a fire. Then I’m going home to make one final meal for my son and myself. After we have eaten that, we will die of starvation.

She used the name “Yahweh” which was Israel’s covenant name for God. This suggests that she knew or worshiped the same God as Elijah, and it also may suggest that she knew who Elijah was. Ahab was looking everywhere for this man.

When she looked at her circumstance, she said, “I’m about to die, I can’t feed you.” But Elijah looked at the woman and said, “Trust God! If you feed me first, then God will provide your needs.” The woman saw her meager circumstances and impossibilities, but Elijah saw God and the possibilities.

What do we see when encountering the bad first impression test, when encountering an unexpected trial? Do we see God and the possibilities or the difficulty and impossibilities? The woman saw the impossibilities which made her hopeless. But Elijah saw the possibilities and therefore was hopeful.

What is our response in an unexpected trial? Often, the young believer only sees the trial and the potential negative effects that might result from it—causing fear, anxiety, and possibly anger at God or others. But a maturing believer sees it as an opportunity for God to do the miraculous—a time for increasing his or her faith.

How do we respond when taking the bad first impressions test? Like Abraham, do we head to Egypt? In the Bible, Egypt is often a picture of evil and worldliness. Some, when experiencing the unexpected trial, feel like God deceived them or doesn’t love them, so they run to what’s familiar—the world. Maybe they run to the bar to get drunk or to an unhealthy relationship, or to some other addiction. Instead of trusting God and persevering through the trial, they run away from him. For a season, they may even drop out of church or stop serving in a ministry.

How do we respond when encountering the first impression blues?

Application Question: How do we pass the test of bad first impressions?

1. To pass the test, we must expect it.

Again 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Peter said, “Don’t be astonished or think something strange is happening!” If one gets married and thinks everything is going to be pure joy, most likely he or she is in a for a big surprise. If one lands his dream job or gets into his choice university and thinks it will be smooth sailing, he or she will be shocked. God’s ultimate purpose is to make us into the image of his Son (Rom 8:28-29), and trials are a necessary part of that preparation. We shouldn’t be surprised at trials; in fact, we should expect them to come. This isn’t pessimism. It is understanding that in this world we will experience hardship, but Christ has overcome the world. And he will help us do so as well (John 16:33).

James 1:2 says, “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials.” James says “when” you encounter trials, not “if.” Trials will come, and we shouldn’t be surprised by them. We should expect them. Typically, we’ll fail any test we’re not expecting.

2. To pass the test, we must give thanks when encountering it.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And as James mentioned, we should “consider it nothing but joy” (Jam 1:2).

Giving thanks takes our focus off the trial and refocuses it on God and his purposes in the trial. He is in control. If we don’t give God thanks in the trials, anxiety, fear, and anger will push us away from God and possibly others—potentially making the trial worse and making it last longer. Failing the test commonly leads to intensifying, extending, or repeating it. Israel failed the test in the wilderness by complaining, and they failed it in the promised land by doubting God and complaining against him as well. When they failed in the promised land, it led to their wandering in the wilderness for forty years. To pass this test, we must practice giving God thanks in it.

3. To pass the test, we must persevere in it.

The normal response is to quit the trial or run to Egypt. Both of these responses come from not trusting God. Sometimes it is God’s will to remove the trial, but most times it’s his will for us to persevere through the trial. The Good Shepherd commonly leads his sheep through the valley of the shadow of death and comforts them while in it (Ps 23:4). The valley, with its shadows, typically causes fear for sheep, but God protects and guides his sheep with his rod and staff. James 1:4 says, “And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.”

4. To pass the test, we must focus on developing our faith while in the trial.

Again,1 Peter 1:6-7 (NIV) says,

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

In comparing our faith to gold being purified by fire, we must remember that fiery trials come to refine our faith as well—to make it free from impurities and strengthen it. During the trial, we must work on getting rid of anything displeasing to God. When a metal is put into a fire, the fire brings out the impurities which weaken it. Trials do the same for us. What is showing up during our trial? Is it complaining or discord with others? Is it a lack of trust in God? Is it a desire to return to some sin by rebelling against God? As God reveals the impurities through the fire, we must confess them and turn away from them. God desires to purify us and make us stronger through the fire—making us stronger for his work. Therefore, in the fire, we must focus on our faith.

Certainly, there may be many practical things we need to take care of in the midst of a trial—family, finances, health, etc.—but we must realize the main thing is our faith. Through the trial, God wants to build our faith and Satan wants to destroy it. The test of bad first impressions will challenge our faith—so we must be prepared for it.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced the bad first impressions test—where the place God led you wasn’t what you expected in a negative sense? What was your response? What sinful tendencies often show up in your life when encountering an unexpected trial? How are you working to get rid of them?

The Lesson of the Scarred and Broken Minister

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go and do as you planned. But first make a small cake for me and bring it to me; then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not be empty and the jug of oil will not run out until the day the Lord makes it rain on the surface of the ground.’ “She went and did as Elijah told her; there was always enough food for Elijah and for her and her family. The jar of flour was never empty and the jug of oil never ran out, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

1 Kings 17:13-16

What does Elijah learn next? In the cutting valley, Elijah learned that God could meet his needs, but in the fiery place, God showed him that he could be a blessing to others. See, Elijah told the woman who was about to eat her last meal and die that if she provided for his needs, her jar of flour would never be used up until it rained on the land.

Elijah was called to teach this woman the same lesson that he had already learned. After Elijah obeyed God by rebuking Ahab, the Lord miraculously provided daily food for him through ravens, and now, Elijah was going to help the woman learn the same lesson. Elijah essentially tells the woman: “If you obey God by providing for me, he will miraculously provide for you and your child every day.” And that’s exactly what happened. Every day the widow went into her cabinet and experienced a miracle. God didn’t give her a bunch of jars so she could store up. Every day within the jar, there would be just enough for her, her son, and the prophet to eat. It was the same miracle that Elijah experienced in the valley, as birds brought him just enough for his daily bread.

Trials Come So We Can Teach Others

This test was not only important for the widow but also for Elijah. In it, he learned that his previous trial came so he could better help others. Have we learned that? Do we understand that God sends us through trials so that we can teach somebody else and help them go through similar situations? Often, our scars from past injuries are lessons that we are meant to use in teaching somebody else. Consider what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:3-6:

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort that you experience in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we also suffer.

Paul said, “The reason I am going through these hard times is for others. God comforts me so I can comfort others. He teaches me perseverance in trials so I can help others persevere through similar ones.” This is something God teaches us in the “fiery place”—the place of melting.

In a trial, we typically become self-centered—everything is about us. It’s hard for us to realize that God’s plan for our trial is bigger than us. It’s also happening to us for the sake of others. When we’ve learned this lesson in the fiery place, we realize trials come to prepare us for a greater ministry.

Power in Weakness

With that said, Elijah also learned that he could be a blessing to others, even though he had lack himself. He was desperate, and yet God would deliver the widow through him. After asking God to remove his thorn in the flesh, in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul said:

But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul learned that when he was weak, he was often more effective at ministering to others, as God’s power rested upon him. Are we sick, tired, or weary? Do we have financial lack? Emotional lack? These are often times when God can move through us the most.

It was before Peter denied Christ that the Lord said to him, “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). After Peter returned from his failure, he would be even more effective in his ministry. In fact, Peter wrote a whole book about fiery trials in 1 Peter. Similarly, it was Christ’s death that made him most effective. He brought the world salvation through his death—his brokenness.

It was the fact that Paul was shipwrecked, beaten, cursed, stoned, and impoverished, among many other hardships, that made him one of the greatest apostles (2 Cor 11). God’s power moved greatly through his many hardships. In fact, many of the greatest pastors who ever lived struggled with things like depression. Charles Spurgeon had weeks where he wouldn’t get out of bed because of depression. God delights to use scarred and broken ministers.

Tips for Broken Ministers

Application Question: How can we learn the lesson of the scarred and broken minister?

1. To learn the lesson of the broken minister, we must trust that God is preparing us for a greater ministry through our trials; otherwise, we might give up while going through them or become further injured by them.

Hebrews 12:7, 11-12 says,

Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? … Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.

If we don’t see God’s hand over our trial and realize he is disciplining us—training us to have more “peace and righteousness” (v. 11)—instead of strengthening us, the trial might break us. The writer warns us to strengthen our hands and feet, “so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed” (v. 12). It is possible for us to become further injured through our trials instead of stronger and more equipped to serve others through them. We must realize God is preparing us for a greater ministry through trials, so we don’t quit or become further injured by them.

2. To learn the lesson of the broken minister, we must be willing to serve others, even while we’re still struggling.

Some people feel like they need to be perfect before ministering to others. However, God often prefers the broken, and often breaks people so he can use them. Yes, we may be going through our own difficulties and feel like we should focus on ourselves before caring for others. However, God often moves most powerfully through a person who is struggling with depression, cancer, or even someone fighting a besetting sin. God allowed Paul to have a demon in the flesh and would not take it away, so God could manifest his powerful grace in his life (2 Cor 12:7-9). God will often do the same with us, as we step out in faith in our weakness.

3. To learn the lesson of the broken minister, we must be ready to serve others who have experienced similar trials to ours.

Did we experience a difficult church situation? We must be ready to minister to disillusioned Christians. Did we experience a lot of pain and discord in our family? We must be ready to serve others with difficult family backgrounds. Do we struggle with depression? We must be ready to help those struggling with experiencing joy or even wanting to live. Did we struggle with antagonism towards the faith and at times doubt it? We must be ready to help those who likewise are skeptical about the faith. In the melting place, God teaches us that our misery often becomes our ministry.

4. To learn the lesson of the broken minister, we must be careful of shame.

Often, Satan keeps people from being used by God in their brokenness by making them feel ashamed about their scars and brokenness, and therefore they never share their story with others. There are many people in the church who are hiding from their ministry by denying their past experience and rarely, if ever, sharing it because of shame.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen God use your brokenness or use you in seasons of brokenness? What pain are you experiencing now, or have experienced in the past, that you expect God to use in ministering to others? How does shame commonly hinder God from being able to use our difficult experiences to heal us and others?

The Lesson of Interdependence

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go and do as you planned. But first make a small cake for me and bring it to me; then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not be empty and the jug of oil will not run out until the day the Lord makes it rain on the surface of the ground.’” She went and did as Elijah told her; there was always enough food for Elijah and for her and her family. The jar of flour was never empty and the jug of oil never ran out, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

1 Kings 17:13-16

Not only did Elijah learn that God would use him to meet the needs of others, even in his brokenness, but also that God would use others to meet his needs. This is often a hard trial to learn because we all tend to struggle with pride, which keeps us from wanting to depend on others. But Elijah needed to learn both that he had a blessing for the widow and the widow had a blessing for him.

In this trial, Elijah experienced interdependence. This is exactly what God teaches about the members of his body—the church. In 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, Paul said this about the Corinthians who were called to help the struggling church of Jerusalem. He said:

For I do not say this so there would be relief for others and suffering for you, but as a matter of equality. At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Since the Corinthians had resources, it was God’s will for them to help others who did not. And when Jerusalem or other churches had resources, they would supply the Corinthians’ lack. There was to be an equality—a mutual dependence upon one another. God’s will is that his church would be interdependent. This means that when we have plenty, whether that be emotional, social, spiritual, or financial, God has given it to us to help and bless others. And at the same time, when we have needs, others will commonly be the answer to our prayers.

With that said, interdependence is not a license to be bad stewards of God’s resources. On the contrary, we can only bless others if we have been good stewards—not wasting God’s gifts. In Ephesians 4:28, Paul said, “The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need.” The person who previously stole needed to work to not only meet his needs but also to have something to share—that meant he needed to save and not waste his excess.

In the melting place, God takes people who are independent and knits them together with others—he forms them into his body. This is what Paul was teaching the Corinthians doctrinally in 1 Corinthians 12:21: The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor in turn can the head say to the foot, ‘I do not need you.’”

Likewise, the military uses trials to teach soldiers the same lesson. When men and women go into basic training, they are individuals, with their own styles and unique differences. But by intentional and rigorous training, including suffering together and enjoying successes together, they are formed into one. This is a lesson God’s disciples learn when they go to the fiery place as well. When God allows suffering to happen in a local church or the church in a nation, this often bonds them together, breaking denominational and doctrinal differences. Suffering can bond the local church and individuals in the local church.

In the valley, disciples learn solitude and dependence on God. In the furnace, they learn to depend on others. Before they entered the fiery place, they were very independent. Maybe, they went to church, but they weren’t really part of the body. In the furnace, they learn that being attached to the body and serving her is a necessity.

Application Question: How can we tell if we have learned the lesson of interdependence from the fiery place?

We can tell by asking ourselves these questions:

1. How do we respond to people who are in need—people who need someone to talk to or are going through a hard time? Are they a burden to us—where we don’t have time or are too busy to minister to them? Or is it a blessing to serve them?

Elijah and the woman learned that there was a mutual blessing through ministry. The woman learned it was truly a blessing to give because God often gives back and there is joy in it. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.” And Elijah learned that God often chooses to send his blessings through others.

2. How do we respond when we are in need or struggling? Do we keep it a secret, or do we openly share so we can receive prayer and the corresponding grace?

In the fiery place, Elijah learned he did not always need to be the one giving, that he needed others, and it was OK to ask for help. Unfortunately, many are too prideful to share their needs and problems, and therefore always lack the grace and healing God gives through his body. Through God’s body, he provides us with wisdom, love, healing, and often practical resources. To reject the body’s help is to reject God’s grace. Elijah willingly shared his need, even though he was asking help from a poor widow which would have been shameful. James 5:16 says, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.”

3. How dependent are we on the church?

People who have been molded at Zarephath learn, like Elijah, that they need God’s people every day. Therefore, they are faithful in small groups and church ministry not only to serve but also to be served. They realize they can’t make it on their own. They realize they need other believers and that other believers need them. Hebrews 10:24-25 says:

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

As mentioned before, those who have not learned this lesson probably rarely attend church and church activities or only come to receive and not to give. They are often in the pew but rarely seek to serve and bless others.

Have we been to Zarephath for advanced training in ministry? Have we learned the lesson of interdependence? Or are we still independent, lone-ranger Christians?

Application Question: What has been your process of growth in the area of interdependence upon the body of Christ—both in being served and serving others? Did you previously struggle with independence—including mere church attendance? How is God currently calling you to grow in serving others and allowing yourself to be served?

Conclusion

When preparing men and women he can use greatly, our God often multiplies trials. Like with Elijah, he takes them from the cutting place to the melting place, from Kerith Valley University to Zarephath Graduate School—to get advanced training. It is at the melting place that God gets rid of infirmities and weaknesses in our faith to make us stronger, so we can better serve others. It’s where he removes wrong attitudes and actions to make us more into his image. Have we been to the melting place to prepare for further ministry?

  1. Have we learned the lesson of the bad first impression? This is a common step in the life of discipleship. We shouldn’t be surprised when God leads us to difficulties. Even Christ was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1). In the trial, we must focus on God and not our circumstance. We must trust God, even when our circumstances don’t make sense.
  2. Have we learned the blessing of the scarred and broken minister? God uses broken vessels to minister to others. In fact, he sends us into trials to equip us to comfort others. In addition, our weaknesses are not necessarily a vice; by God’s grace, they can be channels of blessing—channels by which God’s blessings flow to us and others.
  3. Have we learned the blessing of interdependence? If Elijah and the widow walked alone, they would have been in lack and would have missed much of God’s grace. Maybe, they both would have died. Sadly, many Christians often miss God’s grace for lack of depending on others. When we have learned this lesson, we will joyfully serve others and allow others to serve us as well.

Application Question: What stood out most in the reading and why? What questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Prayer Prompts

  • Pray that God would help us trust him when encountering unexpected trials and that he would enable us to be faithful and thankful.
  • Pray that God would use our trials and weaknesses to glorify himself, equip us, and bless others.
  • Pray that God would unify the church and empower us to faithfully serve, encourage, and strengthen one another.

Copyright © 2022 Gregory Brown

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1 Charles R. Swindoll. Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility (Great Lives From God’s Word 5: Profiles in Character from Charles R. Swindoll) (Kindle Location 532). Kindle Edition.

2 Grudem, W. A. (1988). 1 Peter: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 17, p. 69). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

3 Grudem, W. A. (1988). 1 Peter: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 17, pp. 68–69). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life

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