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Entries in Complaining (2)


When The Godly Are Discouraged II

1 Kings 19:9-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 7, 2018.

When we last left Elijah, he was in an extremely depressed and discouraged state.  He felt like a failure and wanted to die.  Instead of giving Elijah what he wanted, God sends an angel to strengthen Elijah and send him to Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai, in order to meet with the Lord.  Today’s passage opens with Elijah’s arrival at the mountain, and what he finds there is what all of us need to find during the wilderness times of our life.  Yes, Elijah meets with God.  However, he also receives a revelation of just how God operates.  Have you ever felt like God wasn’t doing what He should be doing?  Have your expectations been one thing, but reality is quite another?  It is important to recognize that our human perceptions, of what is happening and how things are going, usually misunderstand God.  All people who want to be righteous in this world will have to face this reality and learn to let go of those thoughts that have caused us to want to quit living for the Lord, or at least quit living.  When we are discouraged, we need to get alone with God and seek Him until He gives us what we need to continue on the path that He has put before us.

God let’s Elijah vent

In verse 9 we see that Elijah has arrived at the mountain.  He goes up on it and finds a cave to shelter in for the night.  This is the same mountain where Moses met with God when Israel was coming out of Egypt.  Some have even speculated that this cave might be the same “cleft in the rock” that Moses hid in as God revealed Himself to him.  Regardless there is a clear parallel going on between the two accounts.  In part one of this passage we saw that God cares about the godly when they are discouraged.  He had sent an angel to minister to Elijah in body, and with instruction of what to do next.  Here we also see that God gives room for Elijah to continue venting his emotions.  Yes, Elijah feels like a failure and wants to quit, but there is more to it than that.

God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”  We could think of this as a silly question because it appears that the angel is the one who told Elijah to journey to Horeb.  However, the angel found Elijah over 115 miles south of Jezreel in the wilderness of Beersheba under a broom tree praying for God to kill him.  There is no indication in the text anywhere that God sent Elijah there.  Instead, every indication is that he is discouraged and afraid of the threat of Jezebel.  So God’s question is not silly, it is extremely important.  Elijah is not where he is supposed to be.  The prophet of the Lord, who had gone so long trusting the Lord and obeying His every word, now is struggling.  He seems to have run off to Horeb, much like Jonah jumped on the ship, although for very different reasons.  It is important for to stop and allow the Holy Spirit to ask us this question from time to time.  What am I doing here?  Am I where God wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do?  Or, have I become too discouraged and fled away from the work that He has called me to?  Some have abandoned spouses, children.  Some have abandoned churches and fellow believers.  We may even have abandoned the mission that Jesus has given us in our daily life.  In such cases, you need to understand that God confronts Elijah in order to get him back on track.  God cares about Elijah.

However, we don’t have to be in the wrong place doing the wrong things to ask this question.  Even those who are trying to be faithful to God need a reminder from time to time why God has them where they are and what they should be doing.  We get into ruts and run on auto-pilot at times.  This may keep things going, but it can also cause us to lose sight of what God’s call is for us.  May all we do be for God and to His glory.

This question opens the door for Elijah to explain just what is eating him inside.  His complaint to God begins with the contrast between his faithfulness to the God of Israel and the unfaithfulness of the other Israelites.  The children of Israel had abandoned God’s covenant (vs. 10).  This word translated as “forsaken” has the idea of being untied and let to go free.  Israel had made a covenant with God and thus they were obligated or tied to keeping the covenant.  However, most people in Israel in those days had cut off or broken those ties, whether externally or internally.  They had come to a point where they no longer felt obligated to keep the Law of Moses.  Now, for them to abandon the Law that God had given is to abandon God Himself.

Do we understand that at the heart of the Bible is the revelation that the Creator is an abandoned and forsaken being?  God understands the heart of the forsaken and abandoned person because He has been in that position for a very long time.  Jesus Himself represents the perfect picture of the Father, when he is executed in public as an outcast of His people.  In contrast to Israel’s abandonment of God is Elijah’s intentional zeal towards the Lord.  Elijah had bravely and zestfully followed the covenant of God and had stood with the God of Israel during His time of abandonment.  Do we not have such a condition in our nation today?  All across this nation, people are daily abandoning God.  Of course there are many who are being saved and taking a stand with Jesus.  Yet, my emphasis is this question.  Will you stand with God during His time of public abandonment and even public crucifixion?  It is not an easy thing to do and is very discouraging at times.  Indeed, we cannot do it in our flesh and by sheer will power alone.  We need the help of God Himself to enable us by His Spirit.

Elijah points out that they had not only abandoned the covenant, but they had also torn down God’s altars.  They weren’t content to quit worshipping the God of Israel.  They also had to tear down the altars to make it difficult for others to keep worshipping Him.  Altars represent the place where we meet with God and deal with sin, but also enter into intimate fellowship.  Today, we do not build up rocks and sacrifice animals to draw near to God.  However, by faith and through prayer, we approach God, confess our sins, and enter into intimacy with Him.  Don’t follow those who are tearing down the altars in their own life, and making it hard for others.  Be a person who is faithful to have your own altar of prayer before the Lord in your daily life.

Lastly, Elijah points out that they have killed the prophets of God and Elijah was the only one left.  On top of that they were trying to snuff out his life.  Even worse than their sin, they had killed the prophets of God.  All who seek to be righteous in a time when society is headed in the other direction will feel like a person who has been driven into the wilderness of society and then hunted like a fox on the run.  Whether metaphorically or literally, all who seek to follow the Lord will feel like society has released its hounds to seek them out and destroy their lives.  Sometimes these hounds have official titles, like Attorney General, and use the cover of law to hound those who are trying to serve God.  They hound little old ladies who have the audacity to try and run a business in a way that pleases God.  This is a discouraging place to get to.  But don’t forget that God cares about the righteous, especially when they are discouraged.  He has not abandoned you.  As God told Joshua, I will not leave you nor forsake you, so Jesus says to those who will follow Him, “I am with you , even to the end of the age.”  Friend, God knows it is hard.  He even shows us through Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that this discouragement is a necessary part of following Him.  Lay down those fears and anger at His altar and take the nail-scarred hand of Jesus.  Let Him lead you forward.

God reveals Himself to Elijah

It is not that Elijah hasn’t known God.  Rather, he has some misperceptions about God that must be dispelled.   In verses 11-14 we are given a scene where the Lord tells Elijah to come out onto the side of the mountain before the Lord.  The text says that the “Lord passed by.”  As I said earlier there is an intentional parallel between this account and the account of Moses in Exodus 34.  In Exodus 34, Moses actually sees a receding glorious form.  But here, Elijah does not see a form.  Instead he sees all manner of natural forces coincidentally happening one after the other.  In the end Elijah only hears the voice of God, but that is enough.  There is a part of all of us that would demand that God come down from the heavens and show Himself to us all.  We can kick and scream that it isn’t fair that God doesn’t make it more obvious.  However, all throughout the Bible, we see that those who saw the greatest miracles and proofs of the greatness of God often didn’t serve him any better.  They were just as quick as we to get discouraged in the days and weeks after the amazing acts of God.  Woe to the person who needs God to come down out of the heaven because when He does come down, it will most likely be too late to get things right.  But, blessed is the person who doesn’t see and yet believes.  Such a person will find the Lord gracious in his time of need.

This scene teaches us something about God.  Elijah had expected something great to change the fortunes of Israel.  So God sends him a ferocious wind that is breaking rocks off the side of the hill.  Yet, it says God wasn’t in the wind.  Next an earthquake shakes the mountain, and yet, God is not in the earthquake.  Lastly a fire roars up the side of the mountain, and yet again, the Lord is not in the fire.  Now, on one hand it is clear that God is orchestrating these “natural” events.    However, each time Elijah thought, “Surely God will speak now.”  But God was silent in between each powerful event.  Elijah wanted God to keep doing big and great things, and these three signs symbolized what was in Elijah’s heart.  Yet, God wasn’t in those things. 

It seems that Elijah had gone back into the cave, probably in order to survive the natural disasters that kept striking.  Then it came, a still, small voice that Elijah could barely hear.  He goes out on the side of the mountain and there that still, small voice says the exact same thing that God said at first, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”   Elijah will answer in verse 14 exactly as he did back in verse 10.  But something is different now.  God has shown Elijah something that he didn’t see before.  Yes, God can bring down fire from heaven, He can send hurricanes, earthquakes, and great fires.  In fact, the Bible says that in the last days God will send such devastating things to those who dwell on the earth.  And in general, they won’t hear Him in it.  They won’t repent and turn back to God.  You see, if your heart is in the right place, you only need to hear a still, small voice, just a whisper to believe.  You only have to hear of the Son of God hanging on a cross at Mt. Calvary and in that moment a still, small voice is in your mind whispering, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  Yes, God can do big things.  But people who respond to such big things run out of devotion quick.  But, those who respond to the still, small voice are those who can walk through the fire with Jesus.

God gives Elijah the next tasks

Now that Elijah is listening and has a better understanding that God has His own way of doing things, and it isn’t always a cosmic display of power, God gives him the next mission.  Elijah has travelled over 300 miles to hear God tell Him to go back to where he was and go to work.  However, don’t be discouraged.  Sometimes we have to travel an extra 40 years in the wilderness in order to get our hearts in the right place.  God cares about His servants and works with us in our weakness.  He is willing to travel with us during those times when we are discouraged and have our hands hanging down, or even when we are going away from our place of duty.  May God help us to not run from our place of duty.  But, instead, may we learn to stop and retreat into our prayer closet.  We need not go to a particular place miles and miles away.  We only need to go to a particular being and wait upon Him to give us what we need.

The task that God gives Elijah is to anoint Hazael as King over Syria and to anoint Jehu as King over Israel.  Clearly God is letting Elijah know that the time for King Ahab’s rule is coming to an end.  Ahab and Jezebel have refused to repent and thus God will remove them in His perfect timing, not Elijah’s.  Lastly God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha as a prophet in his place.  This would have been a very encouraging word to Elijah.  All people who spend the strength of their life laboring in blood, sweat, and tears at the work of the Lord wonder, “Whose gonna take my place when I’m gone?”  Is this the last generation?  Is it all going to end with me?  Has it all been for nothing?  Ultimately, we are to trust the Lord.  He is always faithful to raise up workers in every generation who desire to be faithful to Him in fact let us notice verse 18.

God corrects Elijah’s perception that He is the only one left.  God tells him that He has reserved 7,000 who have not bowed down to the idol of Baal.  The word reserved is connected to the term remnant.  But it emphasizes an action of God.  God had left for Himself 7,000 people in Israel who had not abandoned Him.  Elijah wasn’t alone and his faithful service to the Lord was more encouraging to those 7,000 than he could know.  Throughout history the wicked have devised acts rebellion against God.  The righteous always refuse to join with them in their folly.  Like those who in the end times will refuse to take the mark of the beast, so God’s people of every generation have refused to take on the actions of the rebels.

May we recognize that we do not perceive things as they truly are.  We can only see the outside and that is often masked and pretended.  But God sees the heart.  Even today, He has way  more than 7,000 globally who are refusing to bow their knees to the spirit of this age.  Let us resolve to be just such a remnant that the Lord has reserved for Himself in our generation.

godly discouraged II


Complaining Vs. Encouraging

Today we will look at Malachi 3:13-18 and in this section we see two very different kinds of people.  We could call the first group complainers and the second group encouragers, but it goes deeper than that. 

Have you ever recognized how God doesn’t work on our time schedule?  It is easy for us to become discouraged by what we see or don’t see happening around us.  When you add to that a sense that God should be doing something on your behalf, well, it is exponentially worse.  So what do we do with these discouragements?  First we should recognize that these times are testing us to reveal what really is in our hearts and what we will do with it.  Will I allow God to reveal the junk in my heart and then will I ask Him to scrape off the scum that rises to the surface in these “melting pot” times?  That is the question.

Complaining Harshly Against God

Complaining and murmuring were common descriptions of Israel when they were in the desert.  Perhaps you may think that this is a good thing that helps make things better.  But, God said that it is destructive and its source is unbelief, or lack of trust.  Of course, most of the Israelites perished in the desert because of their unbelief.  It is interesting that the very thing they were complaining about happened because of their complaints and those who didn’t complain made it through the desert.  All of Israel went through the same difficult circumstances, but most let unbelief rule in their hearts and complained harshly or strongly against God.  In these moments it is made clear that no amount of evidence to the contrary would make these people trust.  They had a trust issue and instead of seeing that and letting themselves be taught to trust by a loving God, they chose to fight against Him and brought upon themselves the very thing they accused Moses and God of doing: killing them in the desert.

Malachi first points out that they had come to believe that serving God was useless.  It is not clear how public these complaints were voiced.  Perhaps they were mostly thought within the heart, and perhaps voiced in small rooms with few people.  However, this belief was infecting their service to God.  Now we can see how they would continue to obey the command to offer a sacrifice for sin, but then ignore the command that it be without blemish.  They felt it was useless anyways.  However, they continued the “religious sham” because of what it would gain them in the eyes of others.  In their minds, there was no hope in continued service to God.  They no longer looked to God and His Way as an answer, but rather to their own devices and schemes.  Then it gets more specific in the passage.  They believed there was no profit in serving God.  They were not as materially prosperous as they wanted to be.  Meanwhile they could see others who were not obeying God’s command seemingly prospering.  They also believed that it was useless to serve God despite their “mourning before the Lord.”  Apparently they were impressed with their own cries for God to prosper them.  They felt that their fasting and weeping before God to give them material prosperity should have been acceptable to God.  But this wasn’t fixing their “situation” either.  They had made the mistake of thinking that God would accept mere, external duty without inner faith.  They also had made the mistake of thinking God should always materially prosper those who serve Him.  This childish mentality fails to see how times of weakness physically or financially can actually help our character to become more like God and develop spiritual understanding.  It can only see that God is not giving them what they want or think they deserve.

When we let a complaining spirit become the dominant character of our inner life it will blind us to all the blessings we already have and it will spoil any blessings that God desires to give to us.  In verse 15 God reveals some wrong-headed conclusions that they were making.  They are wrong-headed because even though they appeared to be true in the short term, God had clearly stated in His word they were not true.  Unbelief always leads us to live by conclusions that are contradictions to what God has said.  But if we fear God we will not give into such conclusions that are made by our flesh in times of trial.  Instead we will recognize the trap of these “feelings” and cast ourselves on God.  They had come to believe that the proud are blessed.  From God’s Word it is clear that the proud are actually on God’s “Take Down” list.  Pride here is that sense of arrogance and inflated ego.  They saw that the arrogant, inflated people were “getting all the pie.”  They confused this with God’s blessing.  Listen, I see the Christian church in all of this.  Many teachers have risen in the land that promote a gospel that says when God blesses you, you will have money, wealth, and fame.  This is a terrible understanding of God’s blessing.  It is terrible because it messes with the minds and faith of those who are going through difficult times.  It helps them to embrace ideas that are contradictory of God’s Word.  The proud are not blessed.  God will put them down and He will raise the humble.  So where might you want to be?  Next, they believed that the wicked are raised up.  Raised up is the picture of promotion to positions of stature.  Those who sin were being promoted to positions of power politically, economically, and eventually religiously.  But those who try to serve God were being “passed over” and weren’t getting ahead.  Now, again it is all about time.  We want it yesterday and if it isn’t here we are on the phone, sending emails to the complaint department, trying to force our way.  Listen, God can handle your questions, but He won’t put up with unbelief and a heart that embraces contradictions to His Word.  If God has raised up the wicked it is so that they will stick out for judgment.  It is the tall grass that get cut in the day of mowing.  Now what do you want to be?  When a society is under the judgment of God it is practically a curse to be raised up.  Although in the example of Daniel we are shown that God is able, for His purposes, to raise up a righteous man and protect him through times of judgment.  In the end we become envious of the wicked over things that leverage our trust away from God.  Next, their conclusion was that those who tempt God, do so with no consequences.  This phrase “tempt God” refers to intentional blatant disregard for God’s Law.  It tempts God to do something about it.  But when it looks like nothing has happened others looking on quickly think, “why am I still obeying the law?  I’m falling farther behind and they are getting ahead without consequences.”  The next step is to join them in their wickedness, casting off restraint.  These people have come to believe that nothing bad will happen by breaking God’s Word, and quite the contrary, now believe that something good will come from breaking God’s Word.

In all of this we see our own country.  In America many will give lip service to God in politics, economics, and religion.  But, where the rubber meets the road, God is not an answer.  And the person who tries to point to God will be laughed out of the room and have no votes on Election Day.  Wake-up!  We are killing ourselves by giving into such wrong-headed conclusions.  Such conclusions are destroying our country and bringing the judgment of God upon us.

Those Who Fear The Lord

Now verse 16-18 transitions to a different type of person.  The descriptor of this group is “the fear of the Lord.”  They feel the same tensions and difficulties.  They too wonder why the wicked get ahead and the righteous are ran over.  But they have a bedrock belief in God that won’t budge.  With Job they say, “though God slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  Even if God let’s me die, I will still trust Him.  They are afraid of the idea of following anything but God.  Like the disciples of Jesus they feel the tug to walk away, but then where else would they go and who would they turn to?  “No one else has the words of life.”  This fear of the Lord enables a person to remain restrained when all the world around them plunges into the insanity of conclusions that are contradictions to the Maker of our Reality.  Like Israel in the desert, these know that God is bringing them to good, and that even the desert is a place of intimacy.  It is the place where God supplies in ways we could not see nor imagined.  They are the times that deepen our soul and strengthen godly character within us.  It is the refiner’s fire that gives opportunity to say to the Lord, “please scrape off this scum that keeps rising to the surface of my heart.”

Notice that those who fear the Lord talked with each other.  Though it isn’t explicitly stated it is hard to imagine they are doing much other than encouraging each other to keep the faith; encouraging each other to keep walking the Way of the Lord.  We have to find times to encourage each other in God’s Ways and in His Promises.  Our times of Church gatherings should be exactly this.  However, they can be taken over by the unbelieving and spoiled by arrogant and inflated egos.  From such a place run.  Those who fear the Lord will encourage each other.

However, God see this and listens in on these conversations.  It impresses Him to have a Book of Remembrance written to record and give evidence to such conversations of encouragement.  Now, nobody ever feels like God is paying such close attention to their difficulties that He is writing a book about them.  This happens silently in heaven, unnoticed by us on earth.  He is listening and He is intimately concerned with our “working it out.”  Our actions of faith are not always Red-Sea-Parting moments.  Sometimes they are the simple, normal, talking with a friend hashing out why we feel things in our heart and yet why we can’t walk away from the Lord.  Strengthen the hands that hang down!

God says that these people are jewels to Him, and that they are like a son who serves his father.  When the Day of Judgment comes, He will not only just spare these.  But He will take them up as His possession, while the rest are taken away in destruction.  He will spare them the judgment that the wicked are plunging towards.  Now, at the cross and resurrection, Jesus took up those jewels out of the land of Israel.  He called that believing remnant to follow Him into the wilderness as God poured out His judgments on the Egypt that the nation had become.  Later in 70 AD when the nation of Israel was being destroyed, God’s remnant had been pulled to himself and entered into His blessing.  Lest we become arrogant and inflated ourselves, let us recognize that we are in a similar situation today.  Beware lest your life “rhyme” with the life of the wicked 2,000 years ago.  There is a Day of Judgment coming for America and a day of judgment coming for this whole world.  They question is, will God see me as a jewel in that day or is His wrath coming for me?  Do not surrender to unbelief.  Rather, flee into the Word of God and trust His Ways completely, because God will eventually make it clear who are the righteous and who are the wicked.

Scoffers have increased outside the Church and within.  Those who do not fear God within are manipulating the Scriptures to their own desires.  But we must fear God, encourage each other, and warn the perishing.  However, let me warn you.  Warning the perishing will only become more dangerous in this country.  It will take a higher and higher personal cost to warn those who have cast off restraint.  It will seem like it is useless to do so and that those who do are ran over.  However, it is what God has told us to do.  I know this post is long and hopefully you have made it to this point.  If you have then let me plead with you to guard your heart against the unbelief that this society causes to come to the surface.  You don’t know how precious you really are to God.  I don’t say that to inflate your ego.  But to build up your faith in Jesus.  Let’s go forward for Jesus and lay our lives down that other might live.

Complaining vs encouraging audio