Faith Beyond the Norm
When you think of faith, what do you think of? Is it a certain body of doctrine? A certain level of belief in something? What do you think normal Christian faith involves? I think we would agree that the typical or normal faith believes in God and His power. The average believer knows that God has the power to save us and believes that God has the power to lead us and to help us in difficult times. The average person at least believes this in principle. When you listen to average believers praying you sometimes wonder if that belief is a little shaky. We tend to pray in generalities. We ask God to “bless”, “move”, “comfort” and so forth. Our prayers in fact are often so general that we have trouble telling whether or not God has answered them.
Do you think God is satisfied with “normal faith”? I don’t think so. The “heroes” of faith that we read about in Hebrews 11 were all people who were bold in their faith. They dared to believe that God could do the seeming impossible. Like a high school student getting their ACT scores back wants to be better than the norm, I think God would like us all to be a above the norm in our faith.
This morning we are going to look at an example of faith that is above the norm. We continue our look at the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17 and our hope is to learn from his example so that our faith will be strengthened.
If you recall, Elijah came onto the Biblical landscape seemingly from out of nowhere. He was fueled by a passion for God’s honor. He confronted King Ahab who had been actively leading the nation deeper and deeper into idolatrous worship. Elijah told Ahab that there was going to be a drought until Elijah prayed for the drought to end. This in itself is a bold act and a strong declaration of faith. Elijah was confident that God controlled the weather, the seasons, and the circumstances of life.
God sent Elijah off into hiding. He was sent first to a brook where he was fed twice daily by ravens. When the water in the brook dried up he was sent to the home of a widow in Zarephath. Elijah asked her for some water and a little bread and the woman informed him that she not only had nothing to spare but she was about to eat the last crumbs of what remained and then she and her son would most likely die.
Elijah promised the woman that if she would, in faith, give him some of her food, then God would make sure she always had enough oil and flour to take care of herself, her son, and even the prophet. This is another bold declaration by the prophet. The woman believed, shared, and was provided for by the hand of God.
This is where we pick up our story. As we examine this story about the death and resurrection of the son of the widow of Zarephath we want to try to discern some characteristics of a faith that is above the norm.
Elijah Had a Faith That Endured False Accusation
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?”
Let’s paint the scene. We are told that these events happened “some time later”. In other words, Elijah had apparently been staying in the upstairs room of this woman’s home. Every day this woman witnessed the miracle of God provided enough flour and oil for the needs of the day. While others were starving from the drought, this woman and her son were well cared for because of the blessing given to them by God through the prophet Elijah.
We don’t know what happened to the boy. The more literal translation of the text says, “After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.” (ESV). It appears that was a sudden illness that quickly took the boys life. We wonder, was Elijah gone for the day?
Keep in mind that this woman’s only son had died. She was filled with grief. She was overwhelmed by emotion. She very likely was angry and perhaps felt life was no longer worth living. So when she saw Elijah she didn’t turn to him for comfort, she seems to turn ON him. She said, (I wonder if she screamed) “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” When people can’t see God they often take it out on God’s people.
In this time of heartache she turned on the very one who had been used by God to save her life and the life of her son. She is quick to blame Elijah (I wish you hadn’t come) and even seems to blame herself (“did you come to remind me of my sin?”). In times of conflict and heartache we are often quick to look for someone to blame. Blaming someone else seems to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense. Sometimes we blame others and at other times we blame ourselves. It is common to strike out rather than to look up.
If you talk to people you will learn how often this happens.
- A Physician cares for a family for generations and the family turns around and sues him because a loved one dies.
- An Employer bends over backwards to take care of his employees and then is sued by a former employee
- A teacher tries to show love to her students and is charged with sexual abuse
- A Pastor marries, buries, baptizes family members but all of that is quickly forgotten when there is a disagreement in the church.
- A Parent sacrifices over and over for a child and then the child says they want nothing more to do with the parent.
The thing that is impressive about Elijah’s faith is that he doesn’t defend himself, he doesn’t try to explain the situation; he offers no trite sayings. Elijah is falsely accused. I am sure the accusations hurt. But, Elijah is willing to trust God to do the vindicating. Elijah seems to have understood that people are fickle. He must live to please God, not others. Elijah simply says, “Give me your son.”
When David’s son Absalom was directing a coup against his father, David was forced to flee Jerusalem. As he was leaving, a man named Shimei ran alongside the party with David and hurled curses at the King. One of David’s men suggested that he be allowed to kill Shimei. David responded,
If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’ ” 11 And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for theLord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” (2 Samuel 16:10-12 ESV)
David entrusted himself to God. He did not take these offenses personally. Did they hurt? Sure they did! Does it hurt when people we have sacrificed for turn on us? Yes, it hurts terribly. However, the person of above the norm faith doesn’t strike back . . . they entrust themselves to God.
It Was A Faith That Tapped Into God’s Power
Elijah took this boy up to his room and the first thing he does is pray. “O Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” (v.20) I am encouraged that Elijah was confused by these circumstances also? I appreciate his honesty. What makes Elijah faithful is the fact that he turns to the Lord rather than away from Him. He is confident that there is an explanation . . . he just doesn’t know what it is.
We are told that Elijah, “stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, “O 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.” There is no explanation as to why Elijah does this. Before this point in the Bible there is no record of someone being raised to life. Yet, it sure seems clear that this is what Elijah wanted God to do when he took the child from the widow.
Why did he lay upon the boy? I have to believe that in Elijah’s time of prayer, he believed this is what God was telling him to do. I don’t for a minute think Elijah believed that every dead person should be immediately resurrected to life. He did however believe that THIS dead person was to be resurrected.
Note however that Elijah did what God wanted him to do and nothing happened! He had to do it three different times! How often faith is like this. We do what is right but it doesn’t seem to “work”. True faith doesn’t waiver because results aren’t as expected. True faith keeps going. You can’t help but wonder if the three times was designed by God to point to the three days Jesus would be in the grave before rising from the dead.
Whatever the reason for Elijah’s methods, we know that he had confidence in God’s ability and power. Elijah had faith that God could raise the dead.
It Was a Faith That Was Nurtured Over Time
There is something that is not mentioned specifically in our text. In verse 19 we are told the Elijah took the boy to the upper room “where he lodged and laid him on his own bed”.
I believe this was a place where Elijah regularly prayed. In the time of crisis Elijah went to the place where he met regularly with God. Faith cannot be mustered up in a time of crisis . . . it must be cultivated and grown through a regular relationship with the Lord. Just as we learn to trust people (or not trust people) over time, so we learn to trust God over time. We come to trust a coach when we begin to see that they know what they are talking about. We trust a parent as we start to see the wisdom of their advice. We trust a mentor because we have learned that they are guiding us with wisdom. In the same way, we learn to trust God as we discover His trustworthiness in the common things of life. Beyond the norm faith begins in the common areas of life,
- morality (we dare to buck the trend and save sex for marriage and remain faithful to our spouse)
- finances (we say no to things we can’t pay for and don’t need and give a tithe of our income to the Lord)
- conflict (we don’t strike back and we dare to forgive)
- priorities (we make time for worship even when other “important” things press for our time)
As we trust Him in these everyday decisions we will discover His faithfulness and we will discover that we can trust Him for the big things. When we learn to distinguish His voice from the voice of the world, we will be able to hear His voice when things are crashing down around us.
Take Home Lessons
So, what is it we are to learn from this text? Is the message that we should lay on top of dead people and pray for them to come back to life? No . . . I don’t think that‘s the message. People die. That is the natural course of life. However, there are some important lessons.
First, we need to see the greatness and power of God. In Ephesians 3:20 Paul says God is the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,”
Jesus told us, “Have faith in God, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22-24)
I don’t think Jesus was telling us that are were supposed to be walking around performing impressive miracles all the time. He is telling us that there is an untapped power in prayer. He wants us to understand that when we tap into the power of God, great, extraordinary, even unthinkable things can happen. When we cultivate a faith relationship with God that is free of self-interest and focused on God’s glory, we will be led by His Spirit to pray for great things and see great results.
Will we see people raised from the dead? Probably not physically, but we would certainly see people raised spiritually. If we prayed for lost people and did so with fervent and persistent faith, we would see hardened sinners transformed by the power of God. We would see people caught in the snare of drugs delivered. We would see families reunited, friendships restored.
As you sit here this morning there may be a situation in your life that seems too big for you. Perhaps there is a relationship that seems irretrievable, a financial burden that seems insurmountable, or a choice that has you paralyzed by indecision. This text reminds us that God is at our side. We must not judge by circumstances. God is sufficient for every need. He can do BEYOND what we can ask or imagine.
Your need today may be that of a personal and spiritual resurrection. Maybe you realize that you are lost and aimless. Perhaps you recognize that even on your best days you miss the mark of God’s call to holiness. Maybe you are on the verge of giving up. Perhaps you have been blaming everyone for your problems because you feel it is your only hope of relief. There is another alternative! Turn to the Lord. He has the power, through the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, to raise you up, to make you new, to give you a new beginning. If you will turn to Him, if you will put your trust and reliance in Him, He will make you new.
Second, this account shows us our need to apply beyond the norm faith is in our interpersonal relationships. One of the areas where our faith is often the most flawed is in our relationships with each other. We are offended and we strike back. We are attacked and we become vicious. Things don’t go our way and we resort to the ways of men to accomplish our purposes. Instead of relying on God, we determine to make things happen by our own devices.
The faithful person wants to let God’s love flow through them even when they are attacked. We must submit to His will even when things don’t go our way. We must resist the urge to resort to the Devil’s methods and instead resolve to show faith by treating even the antagonist with love.
Finally we are reminded that extraordinary faith is nurtured in the quiet times of our lives. We will never have mountain-moving faith until we become acquainted with God in the quiet place. We will never hear His whispers if we don’t learn to tune our hearts to the frequency of His love. We will never understand His will until we wait upon Him. Just as it is hard to have a great relationship with your spouse if you don’t spend time with them, so you can’t have a great relationship with the Lord unless you spend time with Him.
I encourage you to address this area of your life. Get serious about cultivating your relationship with God. Discipline yourself to listen to His Word. Make time for prayer. Find a quiet place where you can be honest before God about your struggles, your fears, your frustrations and listen as He applies His Word to your daily living. I find it helpful sometimes to write out prayers because it helps me to focus. The point is that we must nurture that relationship with God in our daily lives so that it will be in good shape in the time of crisis. Hard times come to everyone. The person who responds with great faith is the one who has developed that faith over time.
So, how do you measure up in the area of your faith? Do you have a “normal” faith? If you do, are you satisfied with a normal faith? I’m not. I believe God wants us to trust Him boldly so He can demonstrate His greatness. I believe God wants us to follow Him with abandon so that He can use us for His purposes. I think God is looking for people who have a faith that is beyond the norm. A faith that is steady, sure, and ready for anything. I want to be that kind of person. I hope and pray that you want to be that kind of person also.