Connect: Prepare the Way (Part 1)

This morning, we’re going to continue our message series entitled ‘Connect’.  In it, we’re going to begin to learn who God really is and what He is like and how we can connect with Him.
Last week, we were reminded that our God’s alive and that we are His witnesses.  We were challenged to be like King Josiah who turned to the Lord with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength such as no king before nor after him ever had before.
This week, we’ll be taking a look at different connectivity issues that we have with God and begin to learn from the life of a man who set a great example in how to stay connected with God and especially how to prepare the way for God to move mightily in and through a life.
Connecting with God is a matter of us obediently choosing to keep ourselves connected with Him.  We do this by means of keeping our communication lines connected at all times (praying, listening, Bible reading, meditating, etc).  We’re going to dig into each of these practical things later in this series.  What keeps us disconnected from God is either sin in our lives or choosing to chase after something or someone other than Him.  Basically, either being connected or disconnected from God is always our choice and our responsibility.  God is always speaking and always attempting and desiring to connect with us.
Let’s use the analogy of a cell or wifi connection; after all, God is the very first one to wirelessly communicate with people.  When you need to do something or speak with someone about something and there is no connection, you’re stuck and you can’t do what you needed to or speak with someone that you needed to at all.  That’s how it is with God when we’re not connected to Him.
Sometimes even more frustrating than having no cell or wifi connection is having a spotty one.  When you need to do something, such as receive or send a text message or email and it begins to download or send, then gets interrupted, then you have to start all over, it gets frustrating and you can’t do what you needed to.  Or, for example, when you need to speak with someone and you can only hear bits and pieces and keep having your call dropped, it gets frustrating.  What you wanted to speak either gets distorted or unheard altogether.  This is also true with God when He is trying to speak to us or leading us to do something.
Because of this, we often miss out and sometimes even entirely miss God’s warnings that would have saved us a lot of time and grief if we had maintained a good, solid connection with Him.  We miss out on His calling and purposes with different opportunities at times because we are not connected with Him.  We also might be waiting on God for something and warring for something that we heard Him promise us and get frustrated with Him when He seems to be moving in a different direction in our lives because we only heard it in bits and pieces and misunderstood what He was speaking.
When it comes to connectivity issues between us and God, it’s never an issue on His end.  The fact is that the Lord is always waiting for us to choose to turn to Him, to forgive us when we confess our sins, to give us direction when we seek it, to speak to us when we listen, to empower us when we are weak, to fill us with His Spirit as we ask, to provide a way out of temptation when we look for it.  It’s a matter of choosing to be fully committed and connected to Him.
At times, we all experience connectivity issues with God.  When I’m feeling dry or disconnected from God, I’ve learned from Psalm 139 to ask the Lord to search my heart and to show me if there is any offensive way in me and to lead me into His everlasting way.  I would be so bold as to say that 90% of the time, God reveals an area of sin or an attitude in my heart that I need to ask forgiveness for and then to repent, or choose to turn away from that sin or attitude again.  I don’t try to find out what is wrong with God, I try to find out what is wrong with me.  I turn to Him and ask for Him to reveal why I’m feeling distant or dry and what He is doing through it.  After all:
2 Chronicles 16:9
For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
The eyes of the Lord are roaming the earth not to find the people that His heart is fully committed to, but rather roams the earth to find the people who have chosen to have hearts who are fully committed to Him.  God is actively seeking after those who choose to be committed to Him.  His desire is to connect with them and to strengthen them.  Just as we learned last week, WE are His witnesses.  As we turn to Him and away from ourselves, He finds us.
A relationship with God is very similar to the relationships which we have with each other.  A healthy relationship requires two each doing their own part.  Now God has done everything that He possibly can to prepare the way for a relationship with us.  He gave up Heaven to come to earth and pay the price for our sin, then rose again to life to prepare a way for us to now and forever have a relationship with Him.  Because of His sacrifice and through our faith in it, He doesn’t hold our sins against us or treat us as our sins deserve.  The question, then, is are we doing all that we possibly can to connect with God and maintain a healthy relationship with Him?  God prepared the way for us to have a relationship with Him.  Now are we preparing the way for God to move in and through our lives?
This week, we’re going to take a look at another king; one quite opposite of Josiah as this one disobeyed and angered the Lord more than any king before him; king Ahab.  We’ll find once again, however, that even in the midst of an entire nation full of evil and wickedness, God can still use one man connected to Him to turn everything around.
1 Kings 16:29-34
29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.
Then, I love what is recorded following this account of king Ahab.  It’s one single and simple verse that doesn’t even seem to fit in, but I believe that God had this written and recorded like this for a purpose.  The verse states this:
34 In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun.
Even given the circumstances that the nation of Israel found themselves in, God is still faithful to His word and works through those who are willing to obey Him to have it come to pass.  Though a simply stated fact, this was no small feat to accomplish.
1 Kings 17
1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

Elijah comes bursting in on the scene.  Everything that we know about Elijah comes after this verse.  We know nothing about his background such as where he came from, who his family was, or what his training was.  He comes before the king of Israel and makes a very simple and bold claim: that He serves God and that there won’t be any rain or dew until he says so.  We do, however, begin to learn much about Elijah following this claim including that fact that both couldn’t be more true.

In the next few verses, we gain an incredible amount of insight about who Elijah is and about his character.  One of the ways in which we can learn to personally stay connected with God and see Him move through our lives in power, is to learn from those who were able to successfully do so themselves.  God recorded the lives and events of such people in His word for this purpose.  Of course, He also included their failures for us to learn from and not to make the same ones ourselves.

2 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

5 So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

First of all, we see that Elijah was fully committed to the Lord.  He clearly was able to hear God’s voice and was fully obedient in following it.  We see here that what the Lord was asking Elijah to do was not exactly an easy or appealing thing to do.  However, he didn’t question God or even doubt that he heard correctly.  He went to the ravine and enjoyed some fine dining courtesy of a muddy, drying up brook and some rotting animal carcass flown in direct via raven.  I imagine that Elijah must have been a Jeremiah Johnson kind of guy.
I think that an important lesson for us today from this is not only to reflect on Elijah’s true obedience, but to gain a more accurate insight of God’s provision and blessing.  God is our provider.  However, I think that too often we have a misunderstanding that God’s provision to meet our needs will come only as the best and finest in life.  We consider it only to be His provision when it is bountiful and greater than what we are used to.  Although God does certainly choose to abundantly bless His people, we also can’t neglect the fact that His provision could also be a bit lean and limited to exactly what we need, not exactly how we would want it, and without much to spare.  We have His promise, however, that when we are faithful in the little things, He will trust us with even greater things!
There is a great lesson in this because we see that Elijah didn’t grumble or complain about how God had planned to take care of him.  Elijah trusted that God knew best and that it was in his own best interest to just follow and obey.  This degree of obedience in Elijah’s life during this season prepared the way for Elijah to be a witness of an even greater miracle of God.  Our obedience to God’s word is a key that prepares the way for God to do things in and through our lives that are greater than we could even ever imagine!

7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

I believe that we might be witnessing here a bit of an initial connection issue between God and the widow.  God ensured Elijah that He directed this widow to provide him with food, right?  However, her faith and willingness to provide food seem a bit lacking.  After all, she’s firmly believing that this will be her and her son’s very last meal and isn’t intending to share it.

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

Though the widow was having a personal connection issue with God, Elijah was able to communicate God’s will to her because of his solid connection with Him.
15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

Here, we see the all too common Biblical principle of being obedient in giving first to the Lord, and having faith that He will meet your needs with an abundance.  In doing so, we acknowledge that God is our provider.  God sees our obedience in this matter and our full commitment to Him and responds to it.  Elijah was faithful with the little provision that he was given earlier and through his faith, was able to not only receive an abundance, but also share that abundance through another family.  Had either Elijah or the widow chosen to be disobedient to what God had requested, this miracle very well may not have taken place.  They had full trust and confidence in His word and it accomplished exactly what it had stated He would do.
Of course, we know that even after preparing the way and witnessing incredible miracles personally from the hand of God, life still has its difficulties and struggles…
17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
What do have a tenancy to do when things go wrong?  Blame something or someone.  In this case, she blamed Elijah accusing him of coming to remind her of her sin and to kill her son.  Of course, we know Elijah and the Lord a bit better than this.

19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”

24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

We see that Elijah witnessed yet another incredible miracle – the dead raised to life.  This event revealed doubt that still lingered in the widow’s heart regarding Elijah and his words even though she had already witnessed God’s miraculous provision for her.  However, this event not only revealed her doubt, but also prepared the way to finally remove her doubt.  We also learn from this event that when we stay connected to God, He hears our prayers and responds to them.
Next week, we’re going to continue to follow Elijah and gain insight on staying connected to God and who God is.  This week has set the stage, but next week, we’re going to see a powerful display of what God can do through a single life when we prepare the way for Him and stay connected with Him.
In closing this week, if you have been noticing some connection issues with God or just want to know God better, let’s close in prayer and expect great things from a great God!