The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (2 Samuel 18:5) Please open your Bible at 2 Samuel 18. This is the last message in our series on the life of David—for now. Clearly, we have not reached the end of...
“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.” (1 Kings 17:13)
Our series is about leadership and today we see that leaders ask for great sacrifice, for the sake of greater joy. That was true of Elijah, it should be true of every leader, and it is supremely true of Jesus Christ.
Elijah is in Cherith, a remote place where God hides him, leads him, and feeds him. We ended last time where we read that Elijah “drank from the brook” (1 Kings 17:6).
Here is this man who trusts God and obeys God, and God is providing for him. There is a brook and Elijah is able to drink from it. And when he did, he must have said, “Thank you Lord… every day you provide for me through this brook.” Look what happens next:
When the stream of God’s provision dries up
After a while, the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land… (1 Kings 17:7)
God used the brook to sustain Elijah, and now the means God had used to provide for His servant dried up. Some of us are in exactly this position.
God has provided a stream of income for you through a certain form of work. The work you have done, the business you have pursued has been your brook. But now the brook is drying up. What was working before, isn’t working now. It becomes obvious that you have to move on.
Others are not there yet, but you can see that there is less water in the brook of God’s provision for you than there used to be. You wonder what the future is going to hold for you, and you say, “What happens if this brook dries up altogether?”
Elijah must have expected this. He told the king there would be no rain, and if there’s no rain, the brook will eventually dry up. The dry brook is evidence that God keeps His promise. The same hand that held back the rain, would soon pour out His provision through the oil and the flour.
Time to move on
The Word of the Lord came to him, “Arise and go to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” (1 Kings 17:8)
God has more than one way of supplying what you need. When one means of supply dries up, God will provide another. So what we learn here is to trust the God who provides, not His means of supply.
If you have had a stable and steady job for 5, 10 or 20 years, it’s easy to get the idea that the job that is what provides for you. No, God provides for you. He may do that through the job and if that stream dries up, He will provide for you in another way.
You may say—God has provided a small group for me, a dear friend for me, a healthy church for me, a wonderful ministry for me. These are the means of God’s supply. The way God supplies will change. The brook will dry up. Change will come in your life.
When that happens, God will call you to leave Cherith and go to Zarephath, where He will provide for you in another way. Don’t get fixated on the means of His supply. Trust the Lord who provides, because He never changes.
If you cling to how God has blessed you in the past, you may miss how He will bless you in the future. Clinging to Cherith when God calls you to Zarephath is the surest way to miss God’s blessing.
God says to Elijah, “The brook that was such a blessing to you in the past is not what I have for you now. I’m drying it up.” But there is blessing and ministry for you in a place where you’d least expect it—Zarephath!
Walk in faith and obedience
So [Elijah] arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold a widow was there gathering sticks. (1 Kings 17:10)
Obedience was the pattern of Elijah’s life. When he arrived in Zarephath there was a woman in desperate poverty, gathering sticks on the dump outside the city. Elijah asks her for a drink, and as the woman turns to go and get the water, Elijah says “And bring me some bread” (17:11).
The woman says, “As the Lord your God lives” (17:12). She knows who the Lord is but she is not yet a believer. At this point in the story, the Lord is Elijah’s God, not hers. “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flower in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (17:12).
There she was at the dump outside the city gathering sticks to make a fire. On this fire she planned to bake some bread, with the full expectation that this would be her last meal. Then we have these astonishing words:
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.” (17:13)
Elijah was a prophet. That means he spoke the Word of God. What the prophet says, God says. So the word of the Lord comes to this woman through Elijah, calling her to make a great sacrifice.
Notice God also gives her a great promise: “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 on the earth” (17:14).
Someone might say, “Well, this sounds a bit like the health and wealth gospel to me.” Not a bit of it. God never promised wealth to the woman. The promise was not “Make me a cake and I’ll give you a bread factory.” The promise was “Bake me a cake, and the jar of flour will not be empty. The jug of oil will not run dry.”
God will provide what you need when you need it; not an overflowing jar and an overflowing jug. You can trust Him as you walk with Him in faith and obedience.
Christ Asks for Great Sacrifice for the Sake of Greater Joy
Elijah makes an astonishing ask and gives an amazing promise. He is a type of Christ here. He pictures what Christ would do when He came. He asks for a great sacrifice, and He offers the promise of great joy. Elijah comes to the city gate and he sees this woman who is near death:
Christ comes to us as people in great need
Whatever your bank account says, we are all facing death. All of us are on our way there, as much as this woman was, though for some of us it is further away.
Elijah directly points us to Jesus Christ. He comes into our situation of great need and calls for a great sacrifice, promising greater joy…
Christ calls for great sacrifice
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
You may say, “I guess that is for the seriously committed—people like Peter James and John.” No, the Bible says, “Jesus called the crowd with his disciples and said to them…” Christ’s call to a life of sacrifice is the headline; He never hides it in the small print.
Christ promises greater joy
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
I have been moved by the story of Adoniram Judson, the great American missionary to Burma, born in 1788. He fell in love with Ann Hasseltine, and wrote to her father asking for his consent to their marriage, knowing that a missionary life in Burma was full of danger. Here is what he wrote:
I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean… to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls… and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair? 
What would you have said in response to that letter? God gave me two wonderful sons, and now three weeks ago I have a granddaughter. What if 20 years from now, God were to bring a 21st century Adoniram Judson into her life? I hope I would say “Yes!” What about you?
The German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, famously said:
When Christ calls a man He bids him come and die. 
“If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24-25). What does that mean? Taking up your cross means that you consider yourself dead already.
This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian: You died. Your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). If you count yourself dead already, all that you have has already been released. All that you once owned is now in the hands of God. It has already passed from you.
If you count yourself dead already, you will no longer ask, “What am I going to do with my life?” A Christian is a person who has already given that up—I died. The Christian asks a new question: “What does Christ want to do with this life? What is the best I can do for my God?” That is a totally different question and it leads to a radically different life.
Leaders Ask for Sacrifices
What is the best that you can do for your God?
For some of you, your best may mean making twice the salary and giving half of it away. If God enables you to do that—go for it! Think of how much you could contribute to the advance of the Gospel, here and around the world, over the next 10 years.
For some of you, your best may mean making half the salary and loving Christ in a simpler lifestyle. Think of the power of a testimony like that in this suffocatingly materialistic world.
For some of you, your best may mean moving to southeast Asia to use your professional teaching, medical or business expertise to build a platform from which churches will be planted among 250 million Malay speaking Muslims in 10 countries. A team left yesterday to meet with Asian church leaders to identify what The Orchard can do to bring the Gospel to communities of people who desperately need Jesus.
We will be looking for people from this congregation who are willing to go and serve for a year, two years, even more. This is not for the purpose of providing travel experiences for Christians. It could mean that someone here becomes The Orchard’s first missionary martyr. But if you count yourself dead already, that will not deter you.
A challenge to all fathers
What are you asking of your son or your daughter? What is the vision you are setting before your son of what life is all about? What life commitments you are asking of your daughter?
The default pattern in an increasingly godless culture is to ask our children what they want and try to give it to them. If your approach to parenting is to ask your children what they want, then you are not leading.
Leaders ask for sacrifices, so what are you asking of your son? What are you modeling for your son? What model are you giving of a life that takes up the cross and follows Jesus, that is so authentic and so real that he says, “I want a piece of that!”
And what promise are you speaking into your son or daughter’s life? Did you hear the promise in Adoniram Judson’s letter to his future father in law? “Can you consent to see her no more in this world? But the next time you see her, she will be wearing a crown of glory.” Leaders call for great sacrifice for the sake of greater joy.
3 asks for the congregation
You have called me to lead the congregation as your pastor. If your pastor is worthy of the name of Christ, I must ask for great sacrifices for the sake of greater joy, and lead by example in making them. Leaders ask, and I am going to ask of you today:
- An ask to serve
Over these last weeks, the campus pastors have been asking you to serve. What is your response? What have you done about this? What will you do today? You want the church to be a serving body, not a store for consumers. I am asking you to consider how you will serve.
- An ask to give
Many have established a pattern of regular giving as a defining mark of obedience to Christ. What about you? Does that describe you? Or have you not gotten around to that yet? Elijah’s words to the widow hold the key to faithful giving;
“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.” (1 Kings 17:13)
The only way to give in an economy under pressure is to give what God is asking of you first. Set aside what you will give first, then work out what it will take to live on the rest.
Karen and I have a simple way of doing this. We have two bank accounts: One for living and one for giving. As soon as my salary comes into the account for living, a percentage of what comes in, goes out into the account for giving. And then out of the giving account, we give to ministry, primarily through the church.
You don’t have to do it with two accounts, but I urge you to have a plan for giving. If you try to give out of what is left at the end of the month, you will never do what God is calling you to do.
Faithfulness in giving will mean facing some tough questions:
Does what we give reflect a life commitment of our family to make the Gospel run here and around the world?
Can you really say that your first financial commitment (in good times and in bad) is to give to God a significant part of all that He has given to you to be used in His great purpose for the advance of the Gospel?
That is what God calls you to do. And this is not difficult for a person who has taken up the cross and counted him or herself dead already. It is not difficult for a person who has heard the promise that losing your life for Christ and His Gospel is the only way to keep it.
Every time you consider a financial commitment, ask yourself this question: “What would this mean for my giving to God?”
If buying a new house would make it impossible for you to give 10% of your income, why would you buy that house?
If your daughter going to that particular college would make it impossible for you to honor God in tithing your income, why would your daughter want to go there, if she knew that was what it meant?
If taking advantage of an investment opportunity would mean that you were no longer able to release what God has entrusted to you, even if He moved you to do so, why would you put yourself in that position?
If honoring God with your money means selling your house and moving to something smaller—do it, and tell your children why. Teach them to trade the American dream for a life that is laid down for Christ.
Christ says “Whoever saves his life will lose it…” As long as you pursue the American dream, you are losing your life. It is slipping away. What you could have done for Christ at one time, you may not have an opportunity to do for Him in 10 years. You do not want to drift through life and slide into old age a lukewarm Christian.
- An ask to pray
The great missionary William Carey used to say:
Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God. 
This is a time to ask God to do great things for us, in us and through us. I don’t want it ever to be said of me or of our church, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
Let me tell you what is keeping me awake at night. I love this church, as I hope you do, and I am asking: What will it take for this church to leverage its full potential for the advance of the Gospel here and around the world?
My answer begins here: It will take a movement of the Holy Spirit to raise the spiritual temperature in all of our lives. I ask you to join me in praying for that. The Bible tells us that a church can be hot, or cold or lukewarm.
The spiritual temperature of a church is a reflection of the commitment, the sacrifice, the faith, the prayer, the service, the vision, and the passion of God’s people. Great things have happened in the last year.
So much has been accomplished for the advance of the Gospel; so much more is yet to be done. I’m asking God to lay it on the heart of every church member who is not yet giving a significant portion of their income to begin doing so this year. I hope you’ll join me in asking that too.
I’m asking God to lay it on the hearts of those who can to make a large one time gift, making it possible for the Gospel to go on running unhindered. We need at least $6M, in addition to our regular giving.
I will do some asking this summer, but here’s something infinitely better: That God would lay it on the heart of some people to say, “I see that God is at work in this church. I hear the Gospel preached. My soul is fed. I see a passion for the lost. I want to see ministry moving forward unhindered. I want to get behind this church and make that possible.”
If that’s you, drop me a note. I’d love to share some hopes and dreams and prayers for the advance of the Gospel with you.
If you can’t release a large gift now, maybe you would be willing to include the church in your will. What greater joy than to be in heaven and to know that the Gospel is running on earth through what you left behind. If you would consider that, drop me a note. I would love to have someone talk to you about how that can be done and the good that could come of it.
Maybe you will receive an inheritance and you will ask “What can I do with this that will be for the advance of the Gospel?” These are great questions for folks who know that they’ve already died.
Nobody dies wishing they had given Christ less.
Put yourself in the shoes of the widow at Zarephath. She hears this call to sacrifice, and she hears this great promise of God’s provision.
The challenge is simple: Does she believe in the promise of God? She looks at the jar and the jug, and she listens to the promise of God. Then she has to decide which one to trust.
“She went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days” (1 Kings 17:15). What a tragedy if this woman had said to Elijah, “I’d love to help, but I just can’t do it.”
This woman wagered all on the promise of God, and the remarkable thing is that until that day she had not even been a believer! She takes God at His word, acts on His command, and blessing flows into her life in unexpected ways.
Christ calls us to great sacrifice and He promises even greater joy: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
By the way, Ann Hasseltine’s father must have said “Yes” to Adoniram Judson. And Ann must have done so too, because she became Mrs. Judson and went with her husband to Burma. Given Judson’s letter to his father-in-law, I wonder what his proposal was like?
Judson himself was imprisoned and tortured, marched barefoot across the country, and hung upside down. Through his ministry the church was established in Burma, a country where it hadn’t been established before.
Ann had a remarkable ministry, and her story is one of extraordinary courage. She became ill and died after just 14 years of marriage. That was 186 years ago. She has been wearing that crown of glory ever since.
© Colin S. Smith
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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org
 Quoted in David Platt, “Radical Together,” p. 121-122, Multnomah, 2011
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship,” p. 89, Touchstone, 1995
 William Carey, from a sermon delivered in Northampton, England on May 30, 1792