Charles R. Swindoll
Pastor at Stonebriar Community Church
Boot Camp at Cherith
1 Kings 17:1-7
“I am going to cut you down to size!” If I heard that once during the ten weeks I spent in a U.S. Marine Corps boot camp over forty years ago, I must have heard it a dozen times. As I recall, those words formed the theme of the opening speech, delivered with passion, by a man I quickly learned to obey. Those words still play back to me in my mind, and the shrill tone of my drill instructor’s voice remains a vivid memory. He meant every word he said, and he kept his promise.
There we stood, an unorganized, ragtag bunch of seventy or so young men of every conceivable size and background, thrown together in a strange place, having no idea (thankfully) what was ahead of us. During the months that followed, every shred of self-sufficient arrogance, every hint of independent spirit, and all thought of rebellion was scraped away. Any indifference toward authority was replaced by a firm commitment to do only as we were told, regardless. We learned to survive in the crucible of intense, extreme training that has characterized the Marine Corps throughout its proud and proven history.
The disciplined regimen of boot camp — day after day, week after week — brought about remarkable changes in each one of us. As a result, we left that place completely different than we were when we arrived. The isolation of our location, the absence of all soft creature comforts, the relentless, monotonous drills and demanding repetition of inspections, the tests that forced us to encounter the unknown without showing fear (all mixed with the maddening determination and constant harassment of our drill instructor), yielded powerful dividends. Almost without realizing it, while learning to submit ourselves to the commands of our leader, we ultimately found ourselves physically fit, emotionally stirred, and mentally ready for whatever conflict might come our way . . . even the harsh reality of facing the enemy in combat.
The kind of raw recruit training is precisely what the Lord had in mind when He sent His servant Elijah from the court of King Ahab to the brook Cherith. Little did the prophet know that his being hidden away at Cherith would prove to be his boot camp experience. There, he would be trained to trust his leaders so that he might ultimately do battle with a treacherous enemy. To accomplish this, the Lord would “cut him down to size” at Cherith.
“And the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook of Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. And it shall be that you shall drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.’ So he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan” (1 Kings 17:2-5). As we read those words and try to imagine the original setting, we begin to see the surprising nature of God’s plan. The most logical arrangement, seemingly, would be to keep Elijah in the king’s face — to use the prophet as a persistent goad, pressing the godless monarch into submission, forcing him to surrender his will to the One who had created him. After all, none of King Ahab’s advisors and counselors had Elijah’s integrity. There was no one nearby to confront the king’s idolatrous ways or his cruel and unfair acts against the people of Israel. It only made sense to leave Elijah there in the court of the king.
So much for human logic.
God’s plan is always full of surprise and mystery. I have written of this at length elsewhere, so here I will only underscore the fact of the recurring, seemingly inexplicable plan of God. While we might have chosen to leave Elijah there, standing toe to toe with Ahab, such was not the Father’s plan. He had things He wished to accomplish deep within His servant’s inner life, things that would prepare Elijah for encounters that might destroy a less-obedient, less-committed, and less-prepared servant. Hence, God immediately sent him away to a place of isolation, hidden from everyone, where he would not only be protected from physical danger but would also be better prepared for a greater mission.
For the godly hero to be useful as an instrument of significance in the Lord’s hand, he must be humbled and forced to trust. He must, in other words, be “cut down to size.” Or, as A. W. Tozer loved to say, “It’s doubtful that God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”1 It has been my observation over the years that the deeper the hurt, the greater the usefulness.
Often in the Old Testament the original names of places carry symbolic meanings. This is certainly the case with this Hebrew term “Cherith.” Although today no one can identify the location of that brook, we do know that it derived its name from the original verb Cha-rath, which means “to cut off, to cut down.” The word is used both ways in the Old Testament: as in being cut off from others or from the blessings of a covenant; and also of being cut down, as one might cut down tall timber. Thus, while at Cherith, the man who had been spokesman for God as he stood before Ahab would be “cut off” from all involvement and activities that might prove stimulating to him. At the same time, Elijah would be “cut down” to size as his Lord used that uncomfortable situation to force him to trust Him for each day’s needs.
You see, there was one problem at this point: Elijah was a spokesman, but he was not yet, truly, a man of God. Let’s examine why I say that. In 1 Kings 17:1 the writer describes Elijah as simply “Elijah the Tishbite.” He came out of nowhere and suddenly stood before the king to deliver God’s message. But by verse 24, as a result of his basic training experiences at Camp Cherith, he is addressed as “a man of God.”
At the beginning of the chapter he is simply Elijah from the town of Tishbeh, somewhere in Gilead. But by the end of the chapter he emerges as a man of God. In between verses 1 and 24 is what I like to call Elijah’s boot camp experience. So let’s look at what that experience meant in the prophet’s life.
The Prolonged Drought
When he first comes on the scene, Elijah, as God’s mouthpiece, stands before King Ahab and announces that a drought is coming. But this will be no ordinary drought.
“Now Elijah the Tishbite . . . said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word’” (1 Kings 17:1). This simple, unknown spokesman, the man from nowhere, stands before the most powerful man in the land, whose domineering wife, Jezebel — the power behind the throne — is determined to rid Israel of all the prophets of Jehovah. Jezebel “destroyed the prophets of the Lord,” says 1 Kings 18:4, killing them off as carelessly as she would swat flies. Nevertheless, Elijah, standing in front of Ahab, states unequivocally, “There will be a famine for years.” And by announcing his source of information as “the Lord, the God of Israel,” he is clearly defying Ahab’s self-appointed importance.
Between the lines, of course, Elijah is saying, “Let’s get this straight right here and now, Ahab! You are not the most powerful person in the land. That position is reserved for the living God of heaven, Jehovah, who is the sovereign Ruler over all. Can you stop the rain? No way. But He can. He can lock up those rain clouds for as long as He chooses.” In fact, the prophet holds nothing back as he announces, “There will be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
As I try to put myself in Ahab’s sandals, the word that grabs my attention in Elijah’s statement is “years.” The people of Israel could withstand a drought for a few weeks, perhaps even a few months. The wells would not dry up immediately, and the natural cisterns in the rocks, storing up rainwater and runoff, would tide them over during normal dry spells. Lack of rainfall in that arid region would not have been unusual. But we’re not talking about weeks or months. We’re talking about years. “There will be no dew or rain for these years,” said Elijah. “Not until the Lord God directs me to give the word will relief come.”
There’s no getting around it. This is a life-threatening pronouncement.
Now at this point I have to think that Elijah wanted to hit the streets running, declaring doom from house to house, warning the people: “God is trying to get your attention! Listen to the word of God! There is going to be a lengthy, devastating drought!” But God didn’t tell him to do that. Instead, God sent His prophet to spend some time in isolation at boot camp.
In doing so, God moved Elijah from the palace to His personally chosen hideaway, from the public forum to the private haven, from the sunlight of activity to the shadows of obscurity.
Into the Shadows
Any recruit who has been through boot camp can tell you that every hour of the day someone is ordering you where to go, when to be there, what to do, and how to survive. That’s a vital part of basic training. And God did the same for His prophet. He told Elijah exactly where he was to go, what he was to do when he got there, and how he would manage to survive. How strange the plan must have seemed to Elijah.
The first thing he was to do was hide.
“Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan” (1 Kings 17:3).
“Hide myself? I’m a prophet! I’m a palace man. I’m out there in public proclaiming your Word. You seem to forget, Lord, I’m called to preach.”
No, God told Elijah. Not this time. “Hide yourself,” God said.
The Hebrew word here suggests the idea of concealment, of being absent on purpose. “Conceal yourself, Elijah,” God said. “Absent yourself in secrecy.”
One of the most difficult commands to hear, and one of the hardest commands to obey is the command to hide. The admonition to go off and be alone, to get away from the public spotlight, to drop back and deliberately remain hidden. this is especially true if you are comfortable in the limelight, an up-front kind of person, one who is obviously gifted with leadership abilities. It’s also true if you are a doer. A get-the-job-done kind of person.
You may be a capable woman, whether homemaker or career woman. Then, suddenly, you are snatched from your world of endless activity and effective involvement. God says, in no uncertain terms, “Hide yourself. Get alone. Get out of the limelight. Get away from all those things that satisfy your human pride and ego and go live by the brook.”
Sometimes sickness forces such a change. Sometimes we reach the peak of our energy output and begin to burn out, or we are about to do so. Sometimes God simply removes us from one place and reshapes us for another.
God had two reasons for commanding Elijah to hide himself. First, He wanted to protect Elijah from Ahab; and second, He wanted to train him to become a man of God. When God says to us, almost out of the blue, “Hide yourself,” He usually has both purposes in mind: protection and training.
The first thing God does after He sends Elijah to Camp Cherith is tell him how he’s going to survive. This is going to be a tough and lonely experience, a survivalist adventure; therefore, God gives Elijah this remarkable promise: “And it shall be that you shall drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there” (1 Kings 17:4).
The ravens will be God’s catering service, bringing provisions to His prophet. “The ravens will bring in your food, Elijah.” Isn’t that incredible?
Imagine what a conversation with Elijah might have been like at that point. As he leaves Ahab’s palace and heads down the street, knapsack slung over his back, someone calls out, “Where are you going Elijah?”
“I’m outta here . . . on my way to the hills.”
“Where are you gonna stay?”
“Some place called Cherith. There’s a small brook running through it.”
“Cherith? Where’s that?”
“I’m not really sure. God’s gonna show me. I thinks it’s over there, east of the Jordan somewhere.”
“What are you gonna do there?”
“Well, for one thing, I’m gonna drink from the brook.”
“The brook! What will you have to eat?”
“Actually, God told me the birds are going to bring my food.”
God makes provision for Elijah’s physical welfare during this time of seclusion. But He also provides for his spiritual welfare. God knew what Elijah needed; therefore, the silence and solitude were to be essential parts of his boot camp experience.
- W. Pink, writing on Elijah, says this: “The prophet needed further training in secret if he was to be personally fitted to speak again for God in public . . . The man whom the Lord uses has to be kept low: sever discipline has to be experienced by him . . . . Three more years must be spent by the prophet in seclusion. How humbling! Alas, how little is man to be trusted: how little is he able to bear being put into the place of honor! How quickly self rises to the surface, and the instrument is ready to believe he is something more than an instrument. How sadly easy it is to make of the very service God entrusts us with a pedestal on which to display ourselves.”2
In essence, God said to Elijah, “You need to get out of the spotlight. You need to come up in the mountains, alone with Me, where you can hear My voice clearly. We need more time together, Elijah, and you need more training.”
The good news is this: Without one moment’s hesitation, Elijah obeyed. He didn’t even ask why.
“So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan” (1 Kings 17:5). Notice the wording here. He went and lived by the brook Cherith. It’s one thing to take a day trip off the beaten track, or to go camping for a weekend, or even to spend two or three weeks backpacking in the wilderness. Such adventures offer all the delights of being away from the cares of the real world for a time, even as you have the comfort of knowing that your lifeline to civilization is still there. It’s quite another thing to live in the wilderness, alone, for an extended time. But that’s exactly what Elijah did for months, possibly the better part of a year. God said, “Go there. Settle there. Live there.” And that’s what Elijah did.
Would you accept such an assignment from God with such immediate obedience? How many of us would say nothing except, “Yes, Sir. I trust You completely. I don’t need the spotlight to survive.” Or do we enjoy only comfortable and active Christianity?
While there is certainly nothing wrong with being a leader or fulfilling the role of spokesman for God, how easy it is to become addicted to the public forum, or to feel that we are indispensable to God’s plan. How easy to neglect, ignore or overlook those occasions when we need to pull back, regroup, rethink and renew our souls.
Whether in the palace or in private, Elijah was ready to serve His Lord. Whether in the spotlight or in silence, he was satisfied to be lost in the secrecy of the quiet hills beside a brook east of the Jordan. And there, God supplied his needs.
“And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook” (1 Kings 17:6). What an incredible experience that must have been! A bit of bread and meat in the morning, another small sandwich in the evening, and throughout the day the cool, refreshing water from the brook. If you’ve ever traveled in Israel and the area across the Jordan, you know how precious water is in that land at any time, let alone during a time of drought. Yet God provided His prophet with a fresh, trickling brook of water. Any time he wanted to, he could get down on his belly and cup his hands around that cool, sweet water of life in that dry and thirsty land.
But we can’t always live by the bubbling brook. This is not Fantasyland, remember; this is hard-core boot camp. Times of extensive training and intense testing are required courses in God’s character-building curriculum.
“And it happened after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land” (1 Kings 17:7).
One morning Elijah noticed that the brook wasn’t gushing over the rocks or bubbling as freely as it had in days past. Since that single stream of water was his lifeline, he checked it carefully. Over the next few days he watched it dwindle and shrink, until it was only a trickle. Then one morning, there was no water, only wet sand. The hot winds soon siphoned even that dampness, and the sand hardened. Before long, cracks appeared in the parched bed of the brook. No more water. The brook had dried up.
Does that boot camp experience sound familiar to any of you? At one time you knew the joy of a full bank account, a booming business, an exciting, ever-expanding career, a magnificent ministry. But . . . the brook has dried up.
At one time you knew the joy of using your voice to sing the Lord’s praises. Then a growth developed on your vocal chords, requiring surgery. But the surgery removed more than the growth; it also took your lovely singing voice. The brook has dried up.
You finished college, stepped into a promising profession, and surrounded yourself with stimulating, gifted individuals. At the zenith of your career, things changed. Money got tight. Your best friends moved away. Most are now gone and the future is bleak. The brook has dried up.
Your company has moved you to another location, and you’ve had to leave the church that has been home for many years. The great music you once enjoyed is but a memory. The pulpit ministry is weak. Your kids are dissatisfied. The brook has dried up.
Your partner in life has grown indifferent and has recently asked for a divorce. There’s no longer any affection and no promise of change. The brook has dried up.
I’ve had my own times when the brook has dried up, and I’ve found myself wondering about the things I’ve believed and preached for years. What happened? Had God died? No. My vision just got a little blurry. My circumstances caused my thinking to get a little foggy. I looked up, and I couldn’t see Him as clearly. To exacerbate the problem, I felt as though He wasn’t hearing me. The heavens were like brass. I would speak to Him and nothing came back. My brook dried up.
That’s what happened to John Bunyan back in the seventeenth century in England. He preached against the godlessness of his day, and the authorities shoved him into prison. His brook of opportunity and freedom dried up. But because Bunyan firmly believed God was still alive and working, he turned that prison into a place of praise, service and creativity as he began to write Pilgrim’s Progress, the most famous allegory in the history of the English language. Dried-up brooks in no way cancel out God’s providential plan. Often, they cause it to emerge.
Lessons for Elijah And Lessons for Us
Elijah was in a tough spot. A life- threatening spot. The brook had dried up. Had God forgotten His faithful servant? Has God forgotten you? Has He left you all alone?
Before going any further, this is a good place to pause and reflect. Two lessons come to mind as I consider this segment of Elijah’s life. First, the God who gives water can also withhold water. That’s His sovereign right.
Our human feelings tell us that once our faithful heavenly Father gives water, He should never take it away. It just wouldn’t be fair. Once God gives a mate, He should never take a mate. Once God gives a child, He should never take a child. Once He gives a good business, He has no right to take that business. Once He provides a pastor, He must never call him elsewhere. Once He gives us growth and delight in a ministry, He has no right to step in and say, “Wait a minute. There’s no need to grow larger. Let Me take you deeper instead.”
When we hit a tough spot, our tendency is to feel abandoned, to become resentful, to think, How could God forget me? In fact, just the opposite is true, for at that moment, we are more than ever the object of His concern.
Now I don’t know how Elijah felt or what he thought when he first saw that dry streambed, but I do know from experience that when our brook dries up, two things are certain: (1) God is still alive and well! and (2) He knows what He’s doing!
Three verses from Isaiah’s pen ministered to me at a time when my brook had slowed to a trickle, then finally dried up. These verses became an encouraging reminder of who is in control, and they stopped me short of becoming resentful.
“But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me’” (Isaiah 49:14-16).
“The Lord has forsaken me . . . He has walked away. . . He has totally forgotten me.” Ever said that? Of course you have! How about on Monday morning? You’ve just come off a glorious weekend retreat. Time in the Word. Great worship. Sustained, in-depth fellowship with other believers. Lots of laughter. Meaningful prayer. Your brook is flowing rapidly. Then comes eight o’clock Monday morning back home, and your whole world caves in. “The Lord’s forgotten me. He’s completely left the scene.”
But God says, in the midst of your dried-up brook, “You are written on the palms of My hands. You are continually before me.” Then He uses that wonderful image of a young mother with her new baby . . . and He surprises us with a realistic reminder: “Can a woman forget her nursing child?” You wouldn’t think so, would you? But look at the stories in the news, and you know how many women do exactly that. Babies left in garbage dumpsters. Tiny babies abandoned — sometimes even abused or tortured or murdered. Yes, as unimaginable as it seems, even a mother can forget her nursing child. But here’s the clincher: Not God. Not God! He will never forget us. We are permanently inscribed on the palms of His hands.
Stop and glance at the palms of your hand. Now, imagine they are God’s hands and that you are right there. The Amplified Bible renders Isaiah 49:16 this way: “I have indelibly imprinted (tattooed) a picture of you on the palm of each of my hands.” Our ways remain continually before Him. Not one fleeting moment of life goes by without His knowing exactly where we are, what we’re doing and how we’re feeling. God never has to frown and look around, saying, “Now where in the world did Chuck go? I’ve misplaced that man again.” Oh, no. I’m right there in the palm of His hand. And so are you.
And when we end up beside a dry streambed, He never has to admit, “Oops, now how did he wind up there?” No. God says, “That’s right. That’s exactly where I want you. Yes. Perfect.”
“But it hurts, Lord. I remember when times were so much easier . . . when I drank from this brook. I feel so displaced.”
“I know it, but it’s where I want you. I see you there. I haven’t forgotten you. Trust Me through this.”
I can still remember when I went through the transition, back in 1994, of leaving a magnificent, almost twenty-three-year ministry in Fullerton, California, and beginning a whole new career at Dallas Seminary. What a change. I left pastoring a vibrant, growing, cutting-edge local church, surrounded by a staff of over twenty men and women God had called to work alongside one another, to work in an academic setting with folks I hardly knew. (Great people — just like the ones I’d left — but we didn’t know one another.) We left a home our family had lived in for years, long-established. roots, easy-going relationships and familiar daily routines. My once-bubbling brook was drying up. Everything familiar was only a memory.
And talk about lonely! My wife, Cynthia, stayed in California to continue her leadership at our Insight for Living ministry, to sell our wonderful home and then to pack up our belongings and handle all the other details connected with such a major move. Meanwhile, I was working in Dallas and staying in a tiny garage apartment, thanks to the generosity of some wonderful friends. Cynthia and I saw each other on weekends, usually, but sometimes our responsibilities wouldn’t allow even that. How displaced I felt . . . and occasionally, strangely abandoned by God. Every now and then my mind played tricks on me. I’m all alone! I thought.
My brook dried up.
Had God forsaken us? Of course not! Were we abandoned? Not for a split second. Was He aware of our circumstance . . . did He care? Yes! He knew exactly where we were. He also knew that I, approaching sixty years of age at that time, needed another session of basic training at Camp Cherith. He needed to remind me that it was time to learn again to trust Him — and Him alone, in the midst of the adjustments, the loneliness and the unfamiliarity of my surroundings. Everything!
Looking back, I am so thankful for that time of transition. How many things He taught Cynthia and me about Himself. How amazed we are — how thrilled we are — to see how He’s used us here. How grateful! God had not forgotten us.
God hadn’t forgotten Elijah either — over there on the east side of the Jordan beside the brook called Cherith, which had become a dried-up streambed of sand and rock. And here’s where the second lesson comes at this moment in Elijah’s life, because that dried-up brook was a direct result of Elijah’s own prayer.
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months” (James 5:17). According to that statement in the New Testament letter of James, Elijah had prayed that it would not rain, and ultimately, it would not rain for three and a half years. So the dried-up brook was just an indication that the very thing he had prayed for was beginning to take place. He was living in the result of his own prayer.
Have you ever had that happen? “Lord, make me a godly man. Lord, mold me into a woman after your own heart.” Meanwhile, in your heart you’re thinking, but don’t let it hurt too much. “Lord, make me stable, longsuffering, and gracious,” but don’t remove too many of my creature comforts. “Lord, teach me faith, make me strong,” but don’t let me suffer. Have you ever bargained with God like that? We want instant maturity, not the kind that requires sacrifice or emotional pain or hardship. “Lord, give me patience . . . and I want it right now!”
God’s spiritual boot camp doesn’t work that way. It is designed for our development toward maturity, not for our comfort. But self-denial is not a popular virtue in today’s culture.
A short time before Robert E. Lee passed into his Lord’s presence, a young mother brought her tiny infant to him. With tenderness, Lee took the child and held him in his arms, looking deeply into the baby’s eyes. He then looked up at the mother and said, “Teach him he must deny himself”
The seasoned veteran knew whereof he spoke. As Douglas Southall Freeman writes, “Had his [Lee’s] life been epitomized in one sentence of the Book he read so often, it would have been in the words, ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'”3
Our God is relentless. He never ceases His training regimens. He shaves off our hair; He takes away our comfortable and secure lifestyle; He moves us into cramped and unfamiliar quarters, and He changes our circle of friends — just like Marine boot camp!
In the process, He strips us of all our pride! And then He begins to lay the foundation blocks of heroic courage, and a new kind of pride, if you will — the kind that no longer defends us but defends Him. What a magnificent change that is. And how essential in our journey toward maturity! It’s all part of being cut down to size.
Four Lessons From Cherith
Let’s not leave the obscure setting of Cherith with its now dried-up brook and the young prophet’s being made into a man of God without seeing the truths revealed there.
First: We must be as willing to be set aside as we are to be used. F. B. Meyer calls this “the value of the hidden life.”4
This truth is captured vividly in the words of the old hymn: “Speak, Lord, in the stillness, While I wait on Thee; Hushed my heart to listen in expectancy.”5
We must be willing to be set aside so that we can listen for God’s voice in the stillness . . . away from the cacophony of everyday life, away from our own busyness, our own agendas, our own desires. We need to learn the deep and enduring value of the hidden life.
When I think of hidden lives, I think of mothers of small children. I think of compassionate men and women who are now caring for elderly parents. I think of highly capable or qualified individuals, who, it seems, for the time being, are completely useless. I think of students still in the classroom, preparing, preparing, preparing. It’s the hidden life — the life where lasting lessons are learned.
Second: God’s direction includes God’s provision. God says, “Go to the brook. I will provide.”
Vance Havner, in his book, It Is Toward Evening, tells the story of a group of farmers who were raising cotton in the Deep South when the devastating boll weevil invaded the crops. These men had put all of their savings, dedicated all of their fields, set all of their hopes in cotton. Then the boll weevil came. Before long, it looked as if they were headed for the poorhouse.
But farmers, being the determined and ingenious people they are, decided, “Well, we can’t plant cotton, so let’s plant peanuts.” Amazingly, those peanuts brought them more money than they would have ever made raising cotton.
When the farmers realized that what had seemed like a disaster had actually proved to be a boon, they erected a large and impressive monument to the boll weevil — a monument to the very thing they thought would destroy them.
“Sometimes we settle into a humdrum routine as monotonous as growing cotton year after year,” says Havner, himself a seasoned old saint of God at the time he wrote these words. “Then God sends the boll weevil; He jolts us out of our groove, and we must find new ways to live. Financial reverses, great bereavement, physical infirmity, loss of position — how many have been driven by trouble to be better husbandmen and to bring forth far finer fruit from their souls! The best thing that ever happened to some of us was the coming of our ‘boll weevil.’”6
When God directs, God provides. That’s what sustained Elijah during his boot camp experience.
Third: We have to learn to trust God one day at a time. I know some of you are saying to yourself, “Oh, Chuck, I’ve heard that a hundred times.” But until you’re living it, you haven’t heard it enough. You must learn to live today . . . today. You cannot live tomorrow today, or next week tomorrow.
“The reason so many of us are overwrought, tense, distracted and anxious is that we’ve never mastered the art of living one day at a time,” writes William Elliott in For the Living of These Days. “Physically we do live a day at a time. We can’t quite help ourselves. But mentally we live in all three tenses at once . . . and that will not work!”7
Did you notice that God never told Elijah what the second step would be until he had taken the first step? God told His prophet to go to Ahab. When Elijah got to the palace, God told him what to say. After he said it, God told him, “Now, go to the brook.” He didn’t tell Elijah what was going to happen at Cherith; he just said, “Go to the brook and hide yourself.” Elijah didn’t know the future, but he did have God’s promise: “I’ll provide for you there.” And God didn’t tell him the next step until the brook had dried up.
That leads to our fourth lesson.
Fourth: A dried-up brook is often a sign of God’s pleasure, not disappointment, in your life. Now if you miss that, you miss it all. The dried-up brook is usually a sign of God’s acceptance of us, not His judgment.
Right at the height of his career, when he was becoming known as a great man of God, Abraham was told by the Lord, “Take Isaac and put him on the altar and kill him.” I would say that qualifies as Abraham’s brook drying up, wouldn’t you? Yet God was intensely pleased with His servant Abraham.
Right in the middle of Paul’s remarkably successful first missionary journey, he was stoned at Lystra and left for dead. His brook dried up . . . but that dark day became one of the turning points in his life.
Joseph was thrown into an Egyptian dungeon after being falsely accused and misjudged. During that extremely painful time, Joseph’s brook dried up. Did it mean God was displeased? On the contrary, God was well pleased with his servant Joseph. But He had some things of great value for Joseph to learn in that prison of silence and solitude, removed from the limelight and separated from everyday life in a world of freedom.
Remember, even Jesus our Lord, the sinless Son of God, had to pass through the anguish of Gethsemane.
Our Obstacle Course
Part of every boot camp experience is the grueling, grinding and sometimes daunting obstacle course. It is neither fun nor easy, but its demanding discipline prepares the recruit for whatever situations he or she may face in the future, particularly under enemy fire. In the spiritual life, before we can truly benefit from “the hidden life” that God uses to prepare us for whatever future He has planned for us, we must overcome at least four major obstacles. I think of them as four tough membranes of the flesh: pride, fear, resentment and long-standing habits. Conquering these layers of resistance will prepare us for the future and harden us for combat with the enemy of our soul.
Pride. God begins to work on our pride as He removes us from the limelight. This is part of the necessary process involved in cutting us down to size. Initially, we fight against it, and in our resistance, we may become disillusioned and confused. We struggle because we’ve gotten used to the bright lights of public attention and the ego-satisfying applause, but God persists, as He did with Elijah, in hiding us away. As John the Baptizer would learn many centuries later, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We learn submission through this painful process.
Fear. When hidden away for an undisclosed period of time, we encounter another carnal layer of inner resistance: fear. God uses the loss of position, the loss of prestige, the loss of popularity, the loss of privileges to reveal this layer. Then, as He breaks through that barrier, He introduces us to new depths of maturity. At this stage of the obstacle course, as our fears are overcome, we learn to walk by faith.
Resentment. Inevitably, however, this painful process will uncover a layer of resentment. This is prompted by anger as we’re forced to release those rights to which we think we are entitled: the rights to the kind of salary we think we ought to be getting; the rights to the kind of treatment we deserve; the rights to the comforts we should enjoy. Our resentment intensifies! It says, “I have my rights!” But God just continues to grind and work down to the quick, until finally we say, “Okay, okay, I release it all to You!” At that point, we learn forgiveness. Resentment, I’ve found, usually stems from a lack of forgiveness.
Habit. Finally, God uses His obstacle course of faith to break through our layer of long-standing habits — those deep-seated attitudes we have formed during busy years of active service, high (often unrealistic) expectations, and success-oriented motives that only feed our carnality. All that is ultimately stripped away, and at this stage we begin to understand what God has wrought: The total renovation of our inner being. And it is here that we learn humility — the crowning accomplishment of God’s inner working.
This process is the secret to becoming a godly man or woman. Pride, fear, resentment and habit are all tough evidences of the flesh. But those who are being shaped into the image of Christ do not go the way of the flesh. Women and men of God do not manipulate events so that they can be pleased and get what they want. That’s why God crushes pride, removes fear, breaks into resentment and changes long-standing habits until the whole inner being is renovated . . . until we rest in our God and are ready for His will, not ours, to be done.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox captures the essence of this in her poem, Gethsemane.
Down shadowy lanes, across strange streams
Bridged over by our broken dreams;
Behind the misty caps of years,
Beyond the great salt fount of tears,
The garden lies. Strive as you may,
You cannot miss it in your way.
All paths that have been, or shall be,
Pass somewhere through Gethsemane.
All those who journey, soon or late,
Must pass within the garden’s gate;
Must kneel alone in darkness there,
And battle with some fierce despair.
God pity those who cannot say,
“Not mine but thine,” who only pray,
“Let this cup pass,” and cannot see
The purpose in Gethsemane!
In a very real sense, God has designed a boot camp for His children, but it doesn’t last just eight weeks or ten weeks. Nor is it a weekend seminar we can take or a day-long workshop we can attend. God’s boot camp takes place periodically throughout the Christian life. And there, in the very center of obstacles and pain and solitude, we come to realize how alive God is in our lives — how alive and in charge. He will invade us, reduce us, break us and crush us, so that we will become the people He intends us to be.
No matter how many years we walk with the Lord, we must still, at times, “pass somewhere through Gethsemane.” It happens every time He sends us to the brook to live the hidden life. It happens every time He disorients us as He displaces us; every time He pulls out all the props; every time He takes away more of the comforts; every time He removes most of the “rights” we once enjoyed. And He does all this so that He can mold us into the person that we otherwise never would be.
Elijah went to Cherith as an energetic spokesman for God — a prophet. He emerged from Cherith as a deeper man of God. All this happened because he was “cut down to size” beside a brook that dried up.
Taken from Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility, Charles R. Swindoll, © 2000, Word Publishing, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved.
1 A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous (Harrisburg: Christian Publications, Inc., 1955), 137.
2 Arthur W. Pink, The Life of Elijah (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1956), 41.
3 Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947), 3:216.
4 F. B. Meyer, Elijah: And the Secret of His Power (London: Morgan & Scott, n.d.), 21.
5 E. May Grimes, “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness,” first stanza, n.d.
6 Vance Havner, It Is Toward Evening (Westwood: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1968), 39-40
7 William M. Elliott, Jr. For the Living of These Days, as quoted by Richard H. Sueme in Shoes for the Road (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1974), 42.
8 Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Gethsemane,” from Poems of Power (W. B. Conkey Company, Publishers, n.d.).