I feel for Elijah. It wasn’t easy being the prophet of Yahweh under the reign of Ahab. We’re told the king “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30). Elijah starts his prophetic ministry by bringing the unwelcome news that Israel would suffer a drought, which would not be removed until Elijah said so (1 Kings 17). This puts the prophet in immediate danger. Far from holding himself and his evildoing responsible for the drought, Ahab considers Elijah the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17).
God protects Elijah by sending him to live by a brook east of the Jordan River. He provides food by sending Elijah ravens bearing bread and meat. It’s as if God is tangibly showing Elijah that although he had delivered a hard word and the king sought to take his life, Elijah is under the tender care of his God.
Then the brook dries up. The land is in drought, after all. God commands Elijah to leave the comfort of his brook and ravens and journey into Zarephath—pagan country—where a widow will feed him.
The widow he finds there has little to offer; she tells Elijah she has some flour and oil, enough to make one cake, but once that’s gone she expects she and her son will starve to death. Elijah audaciously asks her to make him a cake anyway. But he promises that her jug of oil and her flour in the jar won’t run out until Yahweh sends rain. The widow believes him, and God miraculously keeps Elijah’s promise. Elijah and the widow’s household survive for days on one jar of flour and one jug of oil.
Although the oil doesn’t run out, Elijah faces another test of faith when the widow’s son falls ill and dies. Why would God protect them from starvation only to allow the child to get sick and die? It’s too much, I say to myself, when I read this. God is asking too much of Elijah and the widow.
But this tragedy causes Elijah to press into God rather than withdraw. He takes the boy to his own room, where he cries out, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even on the widow with whom I sojourn by killing her son?” (1 Kings 17:20). He begs God to let the boy live. And God brings the boy back to life.
What God Wants from You
When walking through a series of difficulties, I fall into a pattern. I desire to trust God, so my response to the first trial is full of faith. Then a second one comes along, and I’m a bit shaken. I’ve already shown God I trust him, so why is he demanding further proof? A third or fourth tragedy offends my sense of proportion and uncovers the false belief that I expected my initial trust to exempt me from further trials.
A third or fourth tragedy offends my sense of proportion and uncovers the false belief that I expected my initial trust to exempt me from further trials.
This kind of mindset reveals a misunderstanding of what God desires from us. He’s not looking for us to prove our faith so we don’t have to exercise it anymore. Trusting God isn’t a lesson we learn in order to move on to something else. It’s a practice of the heart we develop so we can apply it to every changing circumstance in our life. It’s a muscle we must keep flexing to keep it strong. It’s the basis of an ongoing relationship.
Though the trials that come into our life bear evidence of the terrible fallenness of our world, God is able to redeem those trials for his glorious purposes. He uses them to purge our lives of deadly self-reliance and replace it with the riches of his grace. He uses them to draw the body of Christ together, to let one part of the body meet the other’s needs. He uses them to drive us to our knees, and he meets us there.
As long as God is with us, being strong in our weakness and feeding us in the wasteland with the food of his promises, it’s impossible for him to ask too much of us, since nothing is too much for God.
What God Wants for You
If God hadn’t called Elijah into ever deeper, ever more demanding trust, Elijah wouldn’t have seen God’s tender provision or death-defying power. He would’ve missed the story God was telling—not just with Elijah’s prophecies, but with his life.
In each of the miracles God performed, he revealed something about himself. When he brought the bread and meat, he revealed himself to be the same God who had provided manna and quail to his people in the desert. It was a way of saying he was with Elijah, just as he had been with Moses.
When God miraculously increased the widow’s oil and flour, allowing them to survive for days on what should have made just one meal, he foreshadowed the One who would multiply loaves and fishes to feed thousands. He set the stage for Jesus to demonstrate his deity—that he is the very God who had multiplied food for Elijah.
God doesn’t change. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). The God who asked Elijah to trust him when he piled hardship upon hardship is the same God who asks you to trust him today. He wants you to see the glory of God, glory that can only be seen when he overcomes what we cannot. The same God who fed a discouraged prophet is the God who will sustain you when you think you can’t go on. And the God who restored to the grieving widow her greatest treasure, who undid the sting of death with his power, is the God who will one day raise you to reign with him.
Editors’ note: Betsy Childs Howard is the author of Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed (Crossway, 2016). She will be leading “Walking with Others in Seasons of Waiting” at the 2017 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders, January 30 to February 1.