Friday, July 19, 2013

Have Mercy on Those Who Doubt

Today is our final day in our 28th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  1 Kings 17-18; Jude; Psalm 119.

Jude 1:22 tells believers to "have mercy on those who doubt."  What an encouraging thing!  We can have mercy on doubters because we know that God also shows mercy to those whose trust is a little shaky at times.  Just as Jesus showed kindness to "Doubting Thomas," He is kind to us when our faith falters.

In 1 Kings 17:1-7, Elijah finds himself in the middle of a drought that has been brought on by his own prayers.  God is judging the kingdom of Israel because they followed King Ahab in their rebellion against God's truth.  The Lord whisks Elijah away to the brook Cherith and feeds him miraculously.  Every day, ravens bring the prophet bread and meat to eat.  (I wonder if they actually just brought bread, and they themselves were the meat.)  During this time, Elijah learns to trust in God's provision.  It doesn't make sense for ravens to daily feed you, but God often does things that don't make sense to us.  This prepared Elijah to trust God even more radically when the next test came.  God has mercy on those who doubt by giving them tiny proofs of His goodness all along the way.

Then, in 1 Kings 17:8-16, God calls on Elijah to ask a poor widow to sustain him in the drought.  This takes a lot of faith on Elijah's part.  Imagine asking someone who has nothing, to give you their last bit of bread!  Imagine the gall it took for the prophet to ask the widow to feed him first--before she fed herself and her dying son!  This took a lot of faith on Elijah's part.  But God had already had mercy on his doubt, and had proven Himself to Elijah by providing food from ravens.  In this little story, the poor widow exhibits more faith than does Elijah--for she puts her own life and the life of her son on the line as an act of obedience to God.  And the Lord shows himself faithful.  He sustains them all by miraculously multiplying her flour and oil.  From that point onward, whenever that widow or her son ever had cause to doubt, they only needed to remember how God had sustained them in the past.  When doubt creeps into your life, all you must do is remember how God has been faithful in the past--and trust Him to continue in His faithfulness into the future.

Sometimes, even that seems impossible.  Disaster strikes and wipes away any semblance of faith that we once had.  Imagine how the widow feels when her son that God had rescued from the drought, becomes sick and dies!  She must wonder why God would save him, only to take him from her.  Her faith tested to its limits, she rails against Elijah.  
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!”  (1 Kings 17:18*)
I wonder if the man of God understood at the time that she wasn't really angry with him?  She was actually bitter against God, and Elijah was simply the closest person to God that she could attack.  Spiritual leaders need to remember this when they find themselves the target of assaults from their own people, those that they have nurtured and taught along the way.  Often, the barrage of doubt, fear, and hatred isn't really against them, but against the Lord, whom they represent.  Here, God calls on Elijah to "have mercy on those who doubt."  Even though he has been subject to her attack, still he must minister to her needs.

I can remember many times in ministry when I took the brunt of verbal attacks from church members who were in painful places in their own lives.  It's a difficult thing to do, but God blesses greatly when you are able to mentally separate that person from their own stress reactions.  You can love them through their own foolish outbursts.  You can endure the cross of their hatred, recognizing that their animosity is actually against God, who they believe to be the cause of their pain, and not really against you.  

I can also remember times when those same people who had attacked me, and who never received anything but love from me in return, felt the freedom to call me in the middle of the night when tragedy struck in their families.  And, rather than recalling the verbal blows that they had dealt me in the past, God called me to do a pretty tough thing and forgive them.  God had me to minister to the very people who hurt me.  The good news is that in times like this, God has mercy on those who doubt.  God showed mercy to me.  He stilled the questions and fears in my own heart and allowed me to show His grace to those who had attacked me.

Elijah does the same thing.  He could have said, "How dare you accuse me?  Isn't it because of my presence in your household that the Lord has sustained you through the drought?"  Instead...
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. 20 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?” 21 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.” 22 And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 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.” 24 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 17:19-24)
 I believe that when we hurt, God hurts for us, and with us.  But when we doubt, God gives us supernatural faith that sustains us beyond our own abilities.  He allows us to believe things we couldn't otherwise believe.  He allows us to do things that we could never do, except that God has mercy on those who doubt.  When faith seems difficult for you, remember what God has done for you in the past, and trust Him to act on your behalf in your present situation.  When it's hard for you to show mercy on those who doubt, just remember how God has shown mercy to you in your difficult times.  Be prepared to love those people who aren't ready to receive your love or the Lord's love.  Because He has mercy on them during their times of doubt as well.

*All scriptures taken from the ESV.

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