Summary: God’s grace is spectacular… even when it isn’t
Fourteen years ago I was a struggling bi-vocational church planter. Because our church plant had gone through some tough times, we were meeting at our house over the summer and praying for God’s direction. During that time I got a phone call from Denny Howard, who was the pastor here at TFC, asking if we would be willing to consider merging our church plant with Thornydale.
After Mary and I met with Denny and Anita, we decided we’d give it a test run. Thornydale already had plans to go through the 40 Days of Purpose program, so we decided that our two groups would jointly participate in that program and then see what God would lead us to do from there.
Since our church plant had saved some funds, we decided that we would use those funds to send out a mass mailing of thousands of postcards to our community. The company that we used to assist us in that process assured us that we could expect a certain percentage of the people that received those postcards would respond by visiting the church, so we were really excited about the prospect of the possibility that we could see dozens or even hundreds of visitors over the next few weeks after the mailing.
To our great disappointment, those expectations weren’t even close to being met. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but I don’t think we had more than a handful families that ended of visiting as a result of the mailing.
Over the years, we’ve attempted a few other big events or programs that we had very high hopes for, only to face similar disappointments.
And I suspect, based on my conversations with other pastors, disappointment is one of the regular hazards of being a pastor. Many times, I think we’re our own worst critics and we get home on Sunday afternoon wondering if all the work we did during the week to prepare and deliver our message actually made any difference whatsoever, since we rarely get to see concrete results.
But I know that pastors aren’t the only ones who experience that kind of disappointment. I think to some degree or another every single person, and even every single disciple of Jesus, is prone to wonder if living a life of obedience to Jesus is really worth it. Perhaps on more than one occasion you’ve said something like this:
• I’ve tried to be the very best employee that I can be and work as if working for the Lord and not for men, but I haven’t gotten a raise or a promotion in a long time.
• We’ve tried the very best we can to make Jesus the center of our marriage but we still fight and argue from time to time.
• We’ve done our best to raise our kids to love Jesus, but they have still rebelled and are far away from God right now.
• We’ve tried to apply Biblical principles with our finances, but we still struggle to pay our bills every month.
• I’ve prayed for and shared the gospel with a family member or friend, but they don’t seem to want anything to do with Jesus.
Any of those sound familiar? If not, then congratulations. But for the rest of us this morning’s message is really important if we want to learn how to deal Biblically with our disappointment.
As we’ll see this morning, one of the main reasons that we have that kind of disappointment is that we have unrealistic expectations. And, as I’ve shared before, I think the church bears some responsibility for that. In our desire to see people commit their lives to Jesus, which is obviously an appropriate goal, we have sometimes tried to “sell Christianity” by implying that a relationship with Jesus is going to fix every problem in life. There is a sense in which that is ultimately true, but in the meantime in our lives here on earth, Jesus has promised no such thing.
But we’re actually in very good company. This morning we’re going to look at the account of a great prophet of Israel who was privileged to participate in some spectacular miracles of God. But because he too developed some unrealistic expectations, his disappointment actually developed into depression. His name was Elijah and we see the account of his ministry beginning in 1 Kings 17. This morning, we’re going to look at an event that takes place a little later in his ministry – one that is recorded in 1 Kings 19.
Before we read that account, let me give you a little background. Last week we saw how the commonwealth of Israel was split into two separate kingdoms – the northern kingdom of Israel consisting of 10 tribes and the southern kingdom of Judah, consisting of 2 tribes.