Finding Life in the Midst of Tragedy

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INTRODUCTION

I’m going to be sharing with you a story from the Old Testament tonight. A story that involves one of the major prophets of the Bible – his name is Elijah. We’re going to peek in on Elijah as recorded in 1 Kings 17. As the chapter opens we learn that Elijah has just declared to King Ahab (the current king of Israel) that there will be no dew or rain in Israel until Elijah gave the word. King Ahab is described only a few verses earlier as one who did evil in the sight of the Lord (even more than the other kings before him) and the nation of Israel followed the example of their king. This message from Elijah comes as a judgment from the Lord in response to the nation turning away from Him.

Shortly after that Elijah is led by the Lord to a place called Kerith Brook which is a small creek emptying into the Jordan river and there he is fed by ravens. There’s whole message that can be given on this time in Elijah’s life but that’s not where we’re going to camp this evening.

Eventually the brook dries up because of the drought on the land and God sends Elijah to a village named Zarephath where, God says, He has instructed a widow to feed Elijah.

As Elijah arrives at this village he sees a widow gathering sticks and asks her to bring him water in a cup and as she heads to get it Elijah calls after her for her to bring him a bite of bread as well. Keep in mind that by this time water is extremely valuable because of the drought and this women is a widow. She turns to Elijah and says,

“I swear by the LORD your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die” (v12)

Elijah’s response is for her not to be afraid but to go ahead and cook the meal BUT to bring him a little bread first then use what is left to prepare a meal for herself and her son. Elijah assures her that God has promised there will always be a little flour and olive oil left in her containers until the time when the God sends the rain again.

So the woman did as Elijah had said and the three of them continue to eat because of the miraculous provision of God for many days.

Again, I could share a message on this incident in Elijah’s life but today I’m just using it to give you some background. We’re not going to camp here either.

However, I want you to observe something so far in what I’ve shared with you. Things have been pretty tough so far in Elijah’s life. They were pretty tough in the widow’s life and for her son as well (in fact they were about to have their last meal before Elijah showed up). Yet, even though things were tough, God has miraculously provided. Everything seems to be okay, food is plenty, things are getting better and then “bam!” tragedy hits!

ILLUSTRATION: A new kind of plane was on its first flight. It was full of reporters and journalists. A little while after takeoff, the captain’s voice was heard over the speakers. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be your pilot for this plane’s historic first flight. I can tell you the flight is going well. Nevertheless, I have to tell you about a minor inconvenience that has occurred . The passengers on the right side can, if they look out their window, see that the closest engine is slightly vibrating. That shouldn’t worry you, because this plane is equipped with four engines and we are flying along smoothly at an acceptable altitude. As long as you are looking out the right side, you might as well look at the other engine on that side. You will notice that it is glowing, or more precisely one should say, burning. That shouldn’t worry you either, since this plane is designed to fly with just two engines if necessary, and we are maintaining an acceptable altitude and speed. As long as we are looking out the plane, those of you on the left side shouldn’t worry if you look out your side of the plane and notice that one engine that is supposed to be there is missing. It fell off about ten minutes ago. Let me tell you that we are amazed that the plane is doing so well without it. However, I will call your attention to something a little more serious. Along the center aisle all the way down the plane a crack has appeared. Some of you are, I suppose, able to look through the crack and may even notice the waves of the Atlantic Ocean below. In fact, those of you with very good eyesight may be able to notice a small lifeboat that was thrown from the plane. Well, ladies and gentlemen, you will be happy to know that your captain is keeping an eye on the progress of the plane from that lifeboat below.

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations very similar to that plane flight. Everything around us seems to be falling apart and the person in charge seems to be as remote as the captain in the raft on the ocean far below.

Everyone faces tragedy and it usually catches us unawares. In today’s text, we’re going to learn the truth about tragedy, and crises in our life. You see, tragedy can either make you bitter or better – it can result in life or death – it can kill us or it can grow us. The difference lies in what your perspective of the tragedy is, the difference lies in how you respond to the tragedy, ultimately the difference lies in what you choose as the outcome of the tragedy. Tragedy can turn you to mush, it can make you sour, it can make your world seem bleak, it can turn the things you like into things you hate, it can change your brightest days into the darkest nights, it can squash incredible potential into dismal failure, it can take a beautiful smile and turn it into a woeful frown, it can turn an angelic face into a prune face. Tragedy can do all these things but it doesn’t have to!! Nobody likes tragedy, nobody likes it when a crisis strikes, and nobody likes it when all of a sudden something bad happens. But the truth is – and I don’t know if you’ve discovered or not – but we cannot and will not go through life tragedy free! Tragedy for some of you may be…(start to describe different tragic incidences that occur in peoples lives) No matter what the crisis, or tragedy is that you face in life you do have a choice in how you will respond and your response will determine the effect tragedy has on your life!! Let’s pick up Elijah’s story again…

Read 1 Kings 17:17-24

1 Kings 17:17-24 (NIV)
17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” 19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” 22 The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!” 24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

The crisis (vs. 17-24)

The widow and her family (along with Elijah) were living in plenty amidst the dreadful drought around them and were enjoying the blessings and provision of God when…

The widow’s son becomes ill and grew (gradually) worse and worse until he finally stopped breathing
Isn’t it odd that the widow only went to Elijah when her son died? Why didn’t she go to Elijah when he first became ill?

The widow’s response to the tragedy (vs. 18) (she complains – choosing the path of bitterness)

The widow goes to Elijah (with her son in her arms [suggesting that the boy is fairly young]) and complains.

In her complaint:

a. She accuses Elijah of having something against her
b. She acknowledges there is sin in her life.
c. She assumes her son’s death is to remind her of her sin.

Three things are happening here in her response that result in becoming a bitter person…

a. Looking for someone or something else to blame
b. Beginning to blame yourself.
c. Trying to explain why it happened and making assumptions for the cause “There has to be a reason!!”

Elijah’s response (v. 19-21) (takes the tragedy to God)

a. Requests the widow to give him her son.
b. He took her son (from her arms) up to the upper room (where Elijah was staying) and laid the boy onto his bed.
c. Elijah first cried out to the Lord (vs 20)
i. Acknowledged the Lord as His God.
ii. Asked God whether it was Him who brought this tragedy on the widow.
“Poor Elijah must be getting a complex by now! Everywhere he goes tragedy seems to follow!”
d. Then Elijah stretched himself out on the boy 3 times and CRIED out to the Lord “O Lord MY God, let this boys life return to him.

What are the lessons learned from here?


a. Sometimes you have to give up in order to get up

• The widow had to give up her boy in order for God to do his work.
• Elijah had to give up the boy to God and His will.
• Stop trying to explain it, stop placing the blame on others and yourself but give up your crisis and your tragedy to God so that He can accomplish His work in spite of the tragedy!!
• Giving up does not mean quitting! I’m not saying that when a financial crisis hits that you quit your business. I’m not saying when you’re having marital problems that you quit your relationship. I’m not saying that when you lose a loved one you quit living and loving. I’m not saying that when you experience a miscarriage that you quit trying to have a baby. I’m not saying that when you are betrayed you quit trusting!!

What I am saying is that when tragic things happen don’t complain, don’t gripe, don’t wallow in self-pity and despair, don’t blame others for what has happened, don’t try to explain what happened, don’t choose all those things but instead choose to give your tragedy over to God and say, ” O Lord my God I don’t understand it, I don’t comprehend it, I don’t like it, and I certainly didn’t want this to happen but I’m making the choice to give this tragedy over to you, I’m choosing to let go of the hurt, the pain, the sorrow, and the anguish it has caused me, this tragedy is going to make me better not bitter!!”
• Elijah didn’t wail and moan with the woman and become bitter about what happened to the boy. Elijah didn’t go off and start blaming himself and others for what happened. Elijah simply said, “Give the boy to me” and then gave the boy to God.
• Here’s an important question…If you don’t believe in God, In Jesus, in the Holy Spirit then whom are you going to give your tragedy to?

b. You give up your tragedy to God through faith filled, persistent prayer that invites God to have the last say in your crisis.

– Elijah invited God to have the last say in this tragic circumstance and was persistent in his invitation.
– How often do you invite God to have the last say in the midst of your tragedies and crises?

• What was God’s response?

c. The Lord’s Response (vs.22-23)

a. The Lord heard Elijah’s cry
NOTE: The Lord’s response hinged on Elijah’s reaction to the tragedy!!

b. The boy’s life returned to him AND he lived.
Two miracles occurred here:
i. He was resurrected from the dead
ii. His original sickness that had caused his death was healed!

c. Elijah picked up the child and returned him to his mother.
i. She was consoled and declared, “Now I know you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”
What will be the Lord’s Response to your tragedy? I don’t know exactly what he will do in your case but I do know this…
a. He will respond to your cry!
– His response will hinge on your reaction to your tragedy! Are you going to give it up to Him so that He can have the last word?

b. He will return life to you and you will grow and minister to others!!
John 10:9-10 (NIV)
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

– Those who have made the choice of tragedy making them better are those who have learned to see things from an eternal perspective. They have grown through their tragedy and their life has become more fuller and richer. But that’s not all – they now are able to be agents of God’s grace when someone else faces a crisis or tragedy and they can say like Elijah – “Give it to me and we’ll give it to God!”

c. God will be glorified by His response!
John 9:1-3 (NIV)
1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

John 9:24-25 (NIV)
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

The over-comer says…
“My marriage was failing, I was almost bankrupt, my loved one died of cancer, my wife got really sick, I lost my best friend, I failed my exam, my son ran away but I will not quit, I will not creep around in the depths of bitterness, I’m not blaming and I’m not explaining I simply give it over to God and trust Him and believe in Him and hope in Him, and persist in my prayers to Him and this tragedy will not make me bitter but make me better, it will not defeat me but instead complete me, because God will have the last say in my marriage, in my finances, in my health and the health of my loved ones, in my relationships, in my school, in my workplace, in my home, in my family – I once was blind – but NOW I SEE!” Give glory to the Lamb of God, and the Lord of Hosts for He is glorified in His response to our tragedies!!!

CONCLUSION

A daughter complained to her father about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed like every time one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In one he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs, and the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word. The daughter impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. In about 20 minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her he asked, “Darling, what do you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled as she tasted it and smelled its rich aroma.

She humbly asked, “What does it mean Father?”

He explained that each of them had faced the same adversity, boiling water, but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. But after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you,” he asked his daughter? “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?” (I received this in an email from a friend with no given source)

How about you? Are you the carrot that seems hard, but with pain and adversity do you wilt and become soft and lose your strength? Are you the egg, which starts off with a malleable heart? Were you a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a divorce, or a layoff, have you become hardened and stiff? Your shell looks the same, but are you bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and heart?

Or are you like the coffee bean? The bean changes the hot water, the thing that is bringing the pain. When the water gets the hottest, it just tastes better. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and make things better around you. How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?

Do you give your tragedy, your crisis, your trial over to God and surrender to what his last say will be? Do you give God the opportunity to make you better through tragedy. Do you receive the life that only He can bring?

The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian church…

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV)
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

And near the end of the same letter…

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Today, I have no doubt that there are some of you who are sitting here who are bitter because of something tragic that has happened or is happening in your life – maybe you are facing a crisis that seems like it will be the last straw – the thing that is going to break you. Perhaps you’ve been blaming others, or blaming yourself. Maybe you’ve been trying to explain why this awful thing happened or looking for an explanation from someone else. Friends, if that is you tonight then I want to tell you that you do have a choice. Yes the tragedy has hit, the crisis has exploded in your face but you DO HAVE A CHOICE in how you will respond. And I want to invite you tonight to choose better rather than bitter. Choose life rather than death. I invite you this morning to say, “O Lord my God, I give up this awful tragedy, this crisis to you – I am no longer going play the blaming or explaining game, but I am going to give this crisis over to you and I want you to have the last say!” If that is you tonight will you raise your hand…

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