As COVID-19 brings the world to a virtual standstill, many anxious Christians are properly reassuring each other that God will lead us through these scary and uncertain times. But when we read the biblical accounts of plagues, disasters, and other crises, we find they’re usually associated with some kind of punishment or judgment from God. Is that what’s going on in our world right now? Perhaps. And if so, why are faithful Christians affected by illness or economic difficulties? Let’s look at how this situation might relate to us on a more personal level, based on a similar situation in the life of Elijah.
At a time when evil King Ahab led Israel away from the Lord, Elijah arrived with a daunting message from God to get their attention: they would face a devastating drought that would last for several years (1 Kings 17). Much like the Coronavirus pandemic today, the adversity crippled their society and the situation was extremely grave.
What did Elijah do during these years of crisis? Interestingly, the Lord asked him to begin with a period of self-isolation! God told Elijah to camp alone by the brook Kerith (v3). We don't know whether Elijah was frustrated by this period of solitude, thinking he would be better used in his "regular" ministry -- or whether he used the "alone time" to deepen his relationship with the Lord. We do know that he trusted God and followed His instructions. Elijah was miraculously fed, and he drank from the brook, a natural water supply.
It looked like things were going OK for Elijah, but the brook soon dried up from lack of rain (v7). The Lord had stopped the rain while dealing with Israel’s sin, but the hardship affected Elijah as well. Why would the Lord allow this to happen to a faithful servant?
Sometimes when God is dealing with others, our personal lives are also affected. God may allow hard times or disease to get the attention of those who have turned away from Him, but Christians may experience suffering along with them. Just like Elijah’s water supply, our natural means of supply – our “brooks” – may dry up. Our jobs, our health, our friends, our recreational activities are all “brooks” that are affected right now by the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is God letting this happen to us? Here are a few possible reasons.
1. Growing our faith
Believe it or not, dried-up brooks can be an answer to prayer.
Wait… an answer to prayer?!
James 5:17 tells us that Elijah prayed earnestly for no rain so the nation of Israel would turn to the Lord. And God answered Elijah's prayer. But when the rain stopped, one of Elijah’s own major resources dried up. Similarly, most of us have often prayed that the eyes of unbelievers would be opened to see God. Perhaps this current pandemic is an answer to those prayers -- but at the same time, we will be tested.
Going through hard times may seem like a low point in life, but God will use these times to build our trust in Him. Trials strengthen our faith. James put it this way: “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” (James 1:2-3).
2. Preparing us for new avenues of ministry
God may use dried-up brooks to prepare us for change. Elijah had to move to find water. God's plan for Elijah was relocation, and he was transferred to the pagan town of Zarephath. This new location was more challenging. Elijah lived in the lowly home of a poor, Gentile widow. As far as we know, there were no other believers nearby for fellowship. He stayed there for "many days" (1 Kings 18:1).
Surely this change of address would not have been something Elijah pursued on his own. But God used a dried-up brook to motivate Elijah to a new area of service, and his presence ministered to the widow and her family (1 Kings 17:14-24).
God may do the same in our lives. Even if we feel like we’re living a “solid Christian life,” God may be looking for more from us -- or from our church. It’s safe to say most of us don’t pursue change, but perhaps the Coronavirus situation is opening our eyes to new opportunities for personal outreach in our community. Or maybe a break from our normal church procedures is giving church leadership a completely different viewpoint on how to best serve their congregations. Already many churches around the world are being “forced” to ramp up their online ministries. This change will ultimately lead to a much greater “cyber-church” presence in our WiFi-driven society.
If the Lord permits any job, activity or relationship in our lives to dry up, we can trust that it’s all part of His plan.
3. Linking us with suffering
God may allow dried-up brooks in our lives to link us with the sufferings of others. The nation of Israel was brought to its knees by the prolonged drought. Why should Elijah completely escape this national crisis? Although Elijah was not personally to blame, God let him experience some of the suffering.
In the same way, God may allow us to experience the same hardships as others so we’ll be able to empathize with the hurting people of this world. We’re more likely to be motivated to reach out to them with understanding, caring, and the love of Christ.
4. Learning to trust
Even when he was facing a drought and no water supply, we never read of Elijah being anxious or afraid. He followed where the Lord led him. God knows our every need and limitation. As we journey through this current pandemic, struggling economy, and whatever else may come, let’s put our trust in God and be open to the changes that He may have in store for us.
Psalm 34:19 - The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
- Ron Reid
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