Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Difficult Places

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” (1 Kings 17:2-4)

I’ll never forget the Easter when the power went out in the church. Resurrection day had dawned dark and blustery. The heavy rains had stopped by the time I made the drive to the far west side of Houston where I served a shrinking congregation as interim pastor. The place sometimes left a pall of depression on me on an average week and this dreary Easter seemed par for the course. Things didn’t get much better when half way through the Sunday school hour the lights went out in the building.

On that Holiest of days, the most celebratory Sunday of the year, I was on the brink of bitter. When the lights went out I groused silently that it seemed a fitting metaphor for the entire church. I despised my place. Not the people – the place.

Meanwhile on the other side of town, in stunning contrast to the struggling place where I served, my wife was serving on the staff of Houston’s First Presbyterian Church. I frequently went to First Pres events and special services. It is easily one of the finest churches in the country. Moving back and forth between my interim Sunday morning ministry and the ministry of First Pres was like being whipsawed between two entirely different worlds.

I loved my work, the preaching and teaching and shepherding people. I didn’t like my place. I was regularly exposed to the resources and talent and facilities of another place, and in my small hard heart I complained. I allowed my lust for someplace else to be stoked, while throwing fuel on my discontent with the place God had given me.

Maybe some of you are doing work today that you love, but you’re doing it in a place you can barely tolerate. As hard as it is for us to learn, the place God gives us to work is just as significant as the work itself because every place is a setting in which God wants to be present. God may put you in a difficult place, but there is grace to be found even there.

The power of Elijah’s words and deeds are unmatched in the pages of the Old Testament. But his impressive prophetic resume is marked by difficult and obscure places. He is a Tishbite from Tishbe (where is that?). He engages a wicked King in direct confrontation and then goes to hide in a ditch somewhere east of the Jordan; not an enviable post for an up and coming prophet.

But in that place of hiding, out of the way, removed from the action, God was present. God provided water from the brook and meat delivered by ravens. And when that water dried up, God had another place waiting. Another place and another plan.

Even in the difficult places God provides a brook to sustain us. This doesn’t make the place less difficult, but it does make it more holy. There are no God-forsaken places, and that includes the place where you are today.

Even in the difficult places, O God, your grace is real. Help me to see the brook you’ve provided in my own place, the sign of your presence and care that sustains me in dry seasons and barren places. Help me to re-vision my place as a place where you are actively working out your purposes. Amen.

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