Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Perspective: God in the Forefront

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Dannah Gresh: During hard times, there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid. Mary Kassian says . . . 

Mary Kassian: The temptation when we encounter difficulty is to forget God. We fail to remember Him. It’s when we reach the bottom of ourselves and our own resources and our own strength that God often pours out His most precious blessings.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Brokenness: The Heart God Revives, for Monday, May 18, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: So how are you doing? I know the last few months have been different for all of us. But how are you? No matter what your circumstances may have looked like over the past few months, for sure, there's been a lot of talk about all the economic challenges, fallout, and hardships related to COVID-19. That's affect different people in different ways.

Maybe you kept your job as an essential worker, or you've been able to work from home Maybe you've been without a job. If you live in the United States, maybe you've been the recipient of some government stimulus funding. But so many people are trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Or perhaps you, or someone you know is barely scraping by, wondering how you are going to put food on the table.

Today we’re going to hear about a woman who was exactly in that situation. This message is from a past True Woman conference. Thousands of women gathered in a convention center to hear from God’s Word and worship Him together. My long-time friend, Mary Kassian, who is also an author and speaker, gave a message called "Living from the Bottom of the Barrel.” Let's listen.

Mary Kassian: I was at California once. My husband and I went there on vacation, and we wanted to go for a hike in the Mojave Desert. It was springtime, and I was actually surprised at how beautiful the desert can be in spring.

Being Canadians, and not having deserts in Canada, we were a little bit unwise in how we packed our preparatory backpack. Of course, my husband was in charge of that. Brent was going to pack the backpack. So I said, “Okay, don’t forget the water.” He threw in the water.

He said, “I’d better take my knife.”

And I said, “Okay, why are you taking your knife?”

He said, “Well, there are snakes in the desert.” I don’t know how you battle snakes, but my husband thinks it’s with a pocketknife! (laughter)

So we went on this hike, and we were going to hike to this oasis—it was about fourteen miles. When we started out, it was overcast—about eighty-five degrees—a little bit muggy, but not too bad. And then the sky cleared, and I started shedding layers—and I didn’t really have that many to begin with, truthfully.

I started to get really, really thirsty and parched. So I asked Brent to pass me a bottle of water. I took my bottle of water, and I drank it all. About ten minutes later I said, “Pass me some water.” He gave me another water, and I was sipping away on that water . . . and it was getting hotter and hotter and hotter.

I said, “Pass me another water.”

He reached into the knapsack, and he said, “That’s all I brought for you.”

I said, “Two waters? We’re in the desert! You only brought two waters?”

He said, “Here, you can have mine; I only brought one for myself.”

So he gave me his water. I was drinking that water, and then came to the end of that water, and we had no water left. And my fingers were getting all plump like sausages, and my feet weren’t really fitting in my hiking shoes anymore, because I was swelling all up like a balloon, because I had no water.

Is that what happens when you get dehydrated? (I don’t know; I’m from Canada.) But it’s disconcerting when you’re parched and you’re thirsty and you reach out for water—only to find out that you’ve come down to the bottom. Your bottle is empty; you’re down to your little sip left at the bottom—there’s nothing.

You know, that’s what happens in life sometimes, isn’t it? We reach the bottom. There are times when we hit empty, when our circumstances take a change for the worse, or when life presents us with unexpected difficulties—when we’re overextended, when we’re stressed, when we’re burned out. 

There are times when we reach down into our reserves to find that little bit of extra energy or strength or courage or comfort or peace . . . only to discover that we are drained and we’re running on empty.

We’re going to be talking about living from the bottom of the barrel. Although the bottom is a difficult place to be, the Bible teaches us that it is the place where we can truly experience God’s provision.

It’s when we reach the bottom of ourselves and our own resources and our own strength that God often pours out His most precious blessings. See, we all go through those times of being stretched so thin that we have got nothing left.

God doesn’t want us just to survive; He wants to teach us how to thrive during those times, and we can do that if we adopt the right mindset.

If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to 1 Kings 17. I’m going to be reading verses 7–16, but let me just set the background here for you. The passage we’re going to read tells the story of a woman who lived in Greece, in an ancient Greek city. It was along a rocky Mediterranean coast.

The countryside around this city was beautiful. It was dotted with fruit trees and oranges and lemons and all sorts of exotic fruit. A few miles inland were the mountains of Lebanon, which were renowned for their beauty—gorgeous mountains with massive, massive cedar trees, fragrant cedars.

They were a source of building supply. They were actually the cedars that supplied Solomon’s temple—the mighty and beautiful cedars that built his home and his temple. Then there were the waters—the teal blue waters. They were beautiful waters of the Mediterranean.

In those waters were murex shells, which had this strong purple dye, and they were used in the textile industry in the area. The port was bustling in this city, the trade industry was growing, and the economy was strong.

Politically, the king of the region had secured peace and security for the region by arranging the marriage of his daughter Jezebel to the neighboring King Ahab of the nation of Israel. So life was good in this city for the people in this country of Sidon. And life was good for the woman in our story.

She had a husband; she lived in town. She probably had a quaint little house, and she had a beautiful baby boy. She started out in life with all these hopes and expectations, and life was good. Things were going well for her until tragedy struck, and her life began to unravel before her eyes.

We don’t know what happened; Scripture doesn’t tell us. We don’t whether it was an accident at the docks or a heart attack or cancer, but, for whatever reason, this woman’s husband died, and her life was thrown into chaos. She became a single mom with a small child to raise and support.

Somehow, over the next few years, she managed to cobble together her life and make life work. Maybe she took on some contract work of weaving or dyeing textiles. Maybe she just volunteered. Maybe she rented out a room in her house. We don’t know what it was that she did. 

Finances were tight; she was lonely, probably, and tired, but she managed to hold it all together. That is, until the economy crashed. Spring came, but the rains didn’t come. No rain meant no crops. The fruit and cedar trees were shriveling up, and so was the economy.

And it wouldn’t have been so bad if they could have imported food from another region, but the whole area was struck with the crippling famine. Trade and commerce, which were so robust in the area, came to a grinding halt.

So this woman didn’t see it coming—or maybe she did see it coming, but it didn’t lessen the sting when it actually happened. She lost her means of support. She wasn’t able to get food anymore; she wasn’t able to provide for her son anymore. Maybe she got laid off; maybe she lost her job.

The economy was bad—it was really bad—and no one could afford to give them handouts. She had no husband, no friends, no family to turn to, no job, and she had hardly anything in her cupboard. She tried to ration what she had left—the remaining food supply—to portion out a little bit for each day, but it wasn’t long until all the dried fruits and vegetables were gone.

She did have a small jug of flour and a jar of oil left, so she and her son began to live on bread and water. Every day as she flattened and baked her little cake that she was going to feed to her little son, she prayed for rain. But every day, the sun blazed hotter and hotter until one morning, the inevitable happened. 

She reached into her supply of flour and her supply of oil and hit the bottom. And I can imagine, as I’m imaging this woman’s life and the reality of it (this isn’t an abstract story; it actually happened), that she probably also hit the bottom of her emotional barrel and started to come apart at the seams.

Life had dealt her so many hard blows; she just couldn’t handle it anymore. Death would be a welcome relief. So from the dusty backyard, her little son cries out, “Mama. Mama! When are we going to eat?” And stifling her sobs, the woman replies, “It won’t be long, son. I just need to go and get some sticks for the fire.”

She can’t bear to tell her boy that it’s going to be their last meal. Slowly and with a heavy heart, she makes her way out to the edge of town and starts to gather sticks. And that’s where 1 Kings 17 picks up her story. Let’s read, beginning from verse 8:

Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah], "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink." And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." And she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

And 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. 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 upon the earth.’” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah” (vv. 8–16).

The Bible is full of stories of people who hit the bottom of the barrel, like Joseph who was thrown into the bottom of a pit, or Paul and Silas who were thrown into the bottom of a prison cell, or the three friends who were thrown into the bottom of a furnace. Or how about Samson who reached the bottom of his strength, or the disciples who had no fish in the bottom of their nets? We can empathize with these people, can’t we? Because we know what it feels like to hit the bottom. I do . . . do you?

At times, life disappoints us, friends hurt us, family relationships get messed up, children rebel, businesses fail, churches get caught in conflict, we get sick, tragedy strikes. It’s not just the negative events of life that can deplete us. It can be the positive events, too, like weddings or babies or moving into a new house. Right, Amanda? There’s my daughter-in-law, who just did that last weekend. We get stressed and overwhelmed with all the demands of life, and we can hit bottom.

And the woman of Sidon learned some lessons from Elijah about bottom-of-the-barrel living. By the time he met her, he was accustomed to living with very little.

Elijah was a prophet of God during a time of wide and unprecedented evil and godlessness in his society. The Bible tells us that King Ahab, the reigning king at that time, did more evil in the sight of God than any of the kings who came before him.

Not only that, to add insult to injury, he married Jezebel and followed her into Baal worship and led the entire nation of Israel to worship Baal. Now, the Semitic word for Baal literally means “lord” or “master.” And Baal was the god who was supposedly responsible for sending the rain, particularly when he slept with the goddess, Ashterah—or Asherah—the goddess of earth and fertility.

Baal worship was essentially worship of nature and worship of sex. It was believed that humans could help Baal out by participating in orgies and in sex with sacred prostitutes and through magic and through rituals and through human sacrifices—in particularly, killing babies.

Worship of sex, promiscuity, worship of nature, slaughter of babies . . . things that we’re not all that unfamiliar with in our culture as well. Elijah confronted King Ahab about his sin, and he pronounced that judgment would come in the form of a drought.

The Lord God, the true God—He would withhold the rain. [Elijah:] “It doesn’t matter what you do—it doesn’t matter how much you cry out to Baal—God is the God of the rain, and He is going to withhold it.”

Then Elijah hid himself beside a brook in the mountains, and he survived on water from that brook and on the scraps of bread and meat that the ravens dropped off every morning and evening.

Queen Jezebel went crazy! She started a manhunt for Elijah, she put a bounty on his head, and then she proceeded to kill every prophet of the Lord she could find. And this went on and on and on for quite a long time.

Then the brook dried up, and that’s how Elijah ended up on the widow’s doorstep. By that time, he was accustomed to living at the bottom of the barrel. His life demonstrates for us that the first thing you need to make it through tough times is the right perspective.

Perspective is often the very first thing that we lose when we face difficult situations . . . like that woman of Sidon. There she was, she was gathering sticks—feeling very sorry for herself. She was past the point of desperation, ready to die.

Her perspective on the drought and on the economic crash and on the dire situation was markedly different than Elijah’s perspective on it. Perspective is the way that you see something, the way you view life—your point of view. It’s your frame of reference.

Putting something into proper perspective means that you recognize its true importance in the grand scheme of things. I want you to notice the difference between the widow’s perspective and Elijah’s perspective.

Take a look at 1 Kings 17:12, and note her words. She says to Elijah: “As the LORD your God lives . . .” This suggests that she must have recognized that Elijah was the prophet from Israel (perhaps by what he was wearing), but Yahweh, the LORD, was not her God. It was “the LORD, your God.” This was Elijah’s God.

This was not the woman’s god. She did not know Yahweh God; she was just using the name of Elijah’s God to swear that she was telling the truth and to swear that her life was really bad and she was in a bad situation, and she didn’t have anything much to give him.

Elijah, on the other hand, referred to the Lord (in verse 14) as “the LORD, the God of Israel,” and (in verse 21) as, “O, LORD my God!” He had a personal relationship with the Lord. He knew God, and he was confident that God would provide—as He had promised.

The widow was familiar with the name of the LORD—capital L-O-R-D in our English Bibles—“Jehovah, Yahweh, the Great I AM,” but she didn’t really know Him. She didn’t know the I AM. This great name—the LORD—is the memorial name He revealed to Moses from the burning bush. The name “I AM.”

“I AM” God! “I AM!” Hosea calls it His memorial name, His name of remembrance: I AM. "This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex. 3:15). The temptation when we encounter difficulty is to forget God.

We fail to remember Him. We forget Him, or at least we forget who He really is. We treat Him like a vending machine. Maybe we put our “dollar of prayer” into the “prayer working” machine, and we press the button to get what we want, and then we get upset and kick it. We give up on God when He doesn’t give us, doesn’t dispense, exactly what we ask for.

We become all consumed with the difficulty. “The problem” occupies all of our time and all our thoughts and emotions. It is all that we see. But when we have a proper perspective on difficulties, God is in the forefront and the problem is in the shadow. He is all that we see.

During hard times, we need to remember God. We need to remember that He is, we need to remember who He is, and we need to remember that we are His. We need to call out that remembrance of His faithfulness to us and to believers throughout all generations.

Dannah: A right perspective comes as we remember God. That’s an important reminder from Mary Kassian, speaking at a Revive Our Hearts True Woman conference. She’ll finish her message for us tomorrow on the program.

Nancy: That tendency to allow our hard circumstances to seem bigger than God. If you find yourself “forgetting” God in the difficulties you’re facing now, what can you do? First be honest. Tell the Lord what you are doing. Ask Him to remind you, as Mary just said, that He is who He said He is, and that you are His. Ask Him to renew your mind, your thinking.

And how do you do that? by saturating your mind in the Word of God; counseling your heart according to truth. That means you have to live in God's Word—reading it, memorizing it, meditating on it, praying it back to God. As you do, God will become bigger in your eyes than your circumstances. 

Then what a great opportunity we have in these day to share with others out of what God is doing in our own hearts—to encourage one another with the encouragement we receive from God's Word.

Dannah: It's kind of like going back to the basics, isn't it, Nancy?

Nancy: Yes. Those basics are the things that anchor our hearts in every season of life. We just can't flourish spiritually without the Spirit of God working the Word of God into our lives, in the context of the people of God.

Dannah: That’s helpful advice. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, maybe you can do sthat by reading on the compassion of God. We have a new booklet from Revive Our Hearts called Uncommon Compassion: Revealing the Heart of God. This month, as our way of saying "thank you" for your donation of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Uncommon Compassion. But we need to hear from you before the month of May is over.

Nancy: Yes, as we've been reminding you these last couple of weeks, every May is an important month for us at Revive Our Hearts. It’s when we close our books on this year of ministry and look ahead to what new outreaches the Lord is going to enable us to continue in the year ahead. Typically, giving to Revive Our Hearts is somewhat slower in the summer months, and so we’re praying that God will provide $750,000 here in the month of May, to help get the new year off to a good start.

Dannah: What would you say to a listener who really wants to be a part of this but who is “living from the bottom of the barrel,” as Elijah and the widow of Zarephath were?

Nancy: I would say, we still need your support. That might not be financial support—it probably won’t be at this time. But you can still join us in praying that the Lord will meet this need in whatever way He is pleased to do. And you can share with others about what you’re hearing on this program or by ways you’re being encouraged through different sources.

Again, let me encourage you to bring your own needs before the Lord, and see how He provides for you in this time. I don’t know if you’re going to have a can of Crisco that never runs out, but you never know!

But if you are in a position where you’re able to donate to Revive Our Hearts, we’d love to hear from you. Just contact us at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call us at 1–800–569–5959. When you donate, be sure to ask for the booklet on God’s compassion, and we’ll be glad to send that to you.

Dannah: Do you know what it feels like to be stretched beyond what you think you can bear? Tomorrow on this program, Mary Kassian reminds us that, with Jesus, we’ll always have enough. I hope you can join us for that. I’m Dannah Gresh, inviting you back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants the Lord to be your God, too. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

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