For some of us Christmas is a time of loneliness because we are older and have lost many of our family members. Some of us are divorced and feel the loss of that extra family and spouse. Some have lost a spouse, some have lost parents, some may have learned that you or someone you love probably won’t be here next Christmas. How do we deal with this kind of news? How do we cope with the grief that we may feel and the loneliness that is sure to come if it isn’t here already? The world’s way of handling these emotions is to tell us to move on, to get a grip, to get a life, but that isn’t as easy as it sounds. The world’s response is to take a chill pill or to have another drink to forget, have fun, get out there and be happy! I don’t respond to the world very well, I like to reflect and not forget. I like to remember and not pretend I’m happy. I guess that I am just not very good at wearing a mask anymore. If you are also not very good at hiding your feelings of loss and grief then this message is for you. God sends us to the valley of despair for a season of rest and will help us through the loneliness and grief.
In First Kings chapter sixteen we learn about a King named Ahab. He was not a good King, in fact we are told in verse thirty that he was worse than all the Kings before him. In the next chapter a prophet of God named Elijah the Tishbite has been given orders by God to go to this wicked King and tell him that there will be a drought in the land. Let’s read this passage.
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbea in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” And the word of the Lord came to him: “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. 1 Kings 17:1-7, (English Standard Version or ESV).
Being a prophet of God did not always make one popular and often the prophets were tasked with having to tell some wicked ruler that God was not pleased with them. I can’t think of a more daunting task than that and I imagine it was also a very lonely life especially for Elijah. So here he is, telling King Ahab that there will be a drought until he, Elijah, speaks and it will rain. I can only imagine how the King reacted. I imagine that Elijah was laughed at and ridiculed and made fun of, don’t you think? But as time went on and the rain stopped Elijah was probably sought after by the King. God tells Elijah to go and hide so that no one can find him. Now did God say to go where there were a lot of people? No, God said to hide near a brook and the ravens, blackbirds, will bring you food to eat. I can’t think of a lonelier place to be, can you? Just as God placed his faithful prophet into a lonely situation God has placed some of us, His faithful servants, into loneliness. How do we cope in this place of solitude and loneliness? Especially this time of the year, when the world thinks of nothing but parties and gifts and fun and we think of Christ and all His birth has done.
I have been reading an excellent book by Elisabeth Elliot entitled Loneliness. It can be a wilderness. It can be a pathway to God. This woman of faith certainly understood all about loneliness. She has passed away but her life was always lived for God. During her lifetime she was a single missionary in Ecuador and also a married missionary with her husband Jim Elliot to the Auca Indians. Jim and four other missionary men were killed by these Indians and then the widows and others brought the entire tribe to Jesus, a truly remarkable story you can read entitled Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot. After his death Elisabeth knew loneliness. In the course of her life she was married three times and buried two husbands. She knew loneliness inside and out. She knew loneliness as a single woman, a married woman, as a widow, as a single Mother, as a missionary, and her book is full of practical ways to cope with loneliness. The main theme of her book is that loneliness can be a gift to be given up to God for His purposes. I agree with her. I view loneliness as a time of solitude to heal, to prepare for the next chapter that God opens for me, and a time to reflect and regroup. I recommend her book.
So back to our text in 1 Kings, I find it interesting that when God told Elijah to re-enter society it was not to a crowded city but to another place of solitude. So often we think that when we are alone or lonely that we need the noise of a crowd around us to move on in life. We need to get out there and meet people to move out of loneliness. That is world thinking, for Elijah God used a different approach, take a look.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 1 Kings 17:8-16, (ESV).
God sends Elijah from his hiding place to a widow and her son. This is not a wealthy household, no, the widow is destitute. This poor widow was about to cook her last meal and then expected that her son and she would die after eating it. I bet she knew a thing or two about loneliness! This is one of my favorite reminders from scripture how God takes care of those who love Him. Elijah was going to be the widow’s answer to prayer. Elijah was going to reveal to her that God loved her and would take care of her. Oh boy, does God take good care of her, read on.
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. And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” 1 Kings 17:17-24, (ESV).
I will never understand the way God works in our lives. Perhaps that is why I love this story so much. God told His prophet to tell a wicked King that the land he governed was going to suffer and as a result of that, a poor widow and her son suffered greatly. In His timing, God sent His prophet to the widow to keep her and her son from starving. So far I can understand that goodness and so did Elijah. But then God allowed the son to die. That is where Elijah and I both stopped understanding God’s way of doing things. Perhaps it was for the widow to know that God was watching over her. Perhaps it was for Elijah to know that God is in control and he was only the servant. Perhaps it was for us today to know that God is big enough to handle our own situations in life. I don’t know, but what I do know is that God worked in a mighty way for the widow through Elijah. God can work a mighty deed through His servants today if we are willing to let Him.
You are lonely this Christmas and yet if you know Jesus you are not alone. Like Elijah, God is taking care of you. Like the widow and her son, God is watching over you and taking care of you. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to reach out to just one other person or family and be their blessing as Elijah was a blessing for the widow and her son. Perhaps you will be the recipient of a blessing from someone else just as the widow did from Elijah. Either way, I am sure that God is watching over you in this time of loneliness and solitude. Enjoy this time, and think of it as a gift that God has given you. Think of this time as a gift of reflection on the past, the present, and your future. Take time to remember those you have lost but also to remember those who are still here and that you will see better days ahead (Psalm 27:3). Merry Christmas.
Until next time…Katherine