A man like us – yet victorious




Introduction Detlef Stegen
We thank the Lord that we can gather from different places. Today is cool and rainy, not too hot - a picture of our Christian lives. At times it is hot but the Lord cares for us and knows what we need just as He cares for His creation. We trust the Lord for this service, that He will give us what we need to thrive so that God’s Spirit can have His way in our lives.

Nico Bosman
I greet everyone in the wonderful name of the Lord.

It is amazing what the Lord is doing. I hope you see and experience it. I hope you do not miss out on it. The Lord is good to us although we are nothing. More importantly, He is good to us spiritually. He still touches the lives of people. He still brings people to hear His word.

Before I read the word, I would like to read something written by Charles Spurgeon.

There will be three effects of nearness to Jesus—humility, happiness, and holiness.

Are we humble? Happiness is a sign that God is close to you. Holiness. Are these three signs in our lives? If one is missing, there is a problem.

Our text for today is taken from James 5.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. James 5:17,18

The story of Elijah is well known. For some background, turn to 1 Kings.

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 1 Kings 17:1

42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.1 Kings 18:42 – 46

Allow me to read a short description from the Life Application Bible about Elijah’s life.

Elijah’s commitment to God challenges us. Elijah spoke God’s words to a king who often rejected his message, just because he brought it. Elijah chose to carry out the ministry for God alone and paid for that decision by experiencing isolation... It is interesting to think about the amazing miracles God accomplished through Elijah, but we would do well to focus on the relationship they shared. All that happened in Elijah’s life began with the same miracle that is available to us - he responded to the miracle of being able to know God. Elijah had difficulties. For example – after God worked an overwhelming miracle through Elijah by defeating the prophets of Baal, Queen Jezebel retaliated by threatening Elijah’s life. And Elijah ran. He felt afraid, depressed and abandoned. (Despite God’s provision of food and shelter in the wilderness, Elijah wanted to die.) …Elijah witnessed a windstorm and earthquake and a fire, but the Lord was not in any of those powerful things. Instead, God displayed His presence in a gentle whisper.
Elijah, like us, struggled with his feelings, even after this comforting message from God. So God confronted Elijah’s emotions and demanded action. He told Elijah what to do next and informed him that part of his loneliness was based on ignorance.
(You know the story - 7000 others were still faithful to God. When Elijah said, ‘Lord, it’s just me left.’ The Lord said that there were 7000 others who were faithful to God.)  Even today God often speaks through the gentle and obvious rather than the spectacular and unusual. God has work for us to do even when we feel fear and failure. God always has more resources and people than we know about. (Sometimes we think we are alone but there are many others.) Although we wish to do amazing miracles for God, we should instead focus on developing a relationship with Him. The real miracle of Elijah’s life was his very personal relationship with God and that miracle is available to us.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. James 5:17,18

Elijah was a human as we are. Another translation says, Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. Elijah was a man like you and me. He was on earth like you and me. He had feelings like us. He had disappointments like us. He experienced everything we experience - joy, sadness. Why does the Lord add these few words in this verse? You might think it would be nice to be able to pray and change the weather, bring the rain. That might pertain to one, if any, of us. What I want to focus on today is knowing that Elijah was a human like me. This should encourage me to persist. He had to resist temptation. He had to go through difficulties. He was not a super-human who faced none of this.

The Amplified Bible: Elijah was a human being with a nature such as we have, with feelings, emotions, and a constitution as ourselves. He was human like us, but he was faithful. He was a man like us, but he had a relationship with God. I am not saying that we should be faithful to do miracles, no, God has a plan for each one of us - the focus of our lives is not the same. In the body of Christ there is one head. It would be strange if there were two, three or five heads. No, there is one head, but there are two hands and many fingers. Each one must do according to His purpose for our lives. Do not try to do more and you must never do less. Remember that. God has a plan for your life and that is what you must do.

From this verse in James 5:17, we should realise that the men of God had the same temptations, if not worse. They had the same difficulties, if not worse. How will you excuse yourself one day before the judgement throne (and Elijah will be there) and say that your life was too difficult. Elijah was a man like you and me, but he was faithful. For this very reason, we should be faithful. We should persist. We should resist. We should follow these people.

The King James version reads: Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are. I looked up the Greek meaning of this word for ‘passion’. (I’m not trying to sound clever or a theologian, but sometimes it is good if you read something and the Lord shows you something, to go and check if it is true, if it is biblical. We can have many ideas and we may read something into it that is incorrect. If the Lord speaks to you, check if it corresponds with what you have read? It is good to double check that you are on the right track. This applies to everything in your life. If the Lord speaks to you, share it with someone - a counsellor or a man of God. “This is what the Lord said to me, do you agree with it?” We often get it wrong. We think something, and immediately run and do it. Later we wish we had spoken to someone first. Do that with everything - even with what you hear from people. Some people will feed you the poison they themselves have drunk. A person who has believed the lie, needs people around him. The person who wants to believe the lie for personal reasons, wants you to join him. He will try and feed you the same poison he has drunk so that he is not alone. Check what you hear. By doing so, if you have heard a lie, you can be freed from it. Go to people who can help, they will advise you. Go to that person, ask him, speak to him and say, ‘I have heard this about you – is it true or not?’ Otherwise, you may drink his poison and die with him. There are many lies in this world. Someone recently sent us a message: ‘We hear that Rev Stegen has passed away.’ Lies! But people believe them. You hear something, then you pass it on to the next one, you gossip, and your gossip is poison. You will die with that person because God is not mocked. God who knows everything that has been said, wherever, and He will reveal it. Imagine if you are the liar who spreads the lie. The day the Lord reveals the truth, you will be ashamed. People say many things about places they have never visited. They say things about people they do not even know. Do not fall into that trap. God can even warn you if you are close to Him.)

So this word “passion” refers to three things in the Greek – suffering, as in the passion of Christ, the suffering of Christ. Elijah also suffered. Secondly it refers to the passion of the emotion, men with the same emotion as we have. Thirdly it refers to sin. Not that Elijah sinned like us but he was exposed to sin like we are.

This is encouraging if we consider that Elijah was a man of like passions with us. It should encourage us to know there are other people, to say it simply, who made it. There are other people who have overcome. Maybe that is what made them great. Matthew Henry says: He was a zealous, good man and a very great man, but he had his infirmities (weaknesses), and was subject to disorder in his passions as well as others.

Elijah had his weaknesses. He was as human as we are.

There are three points I would like to make.

Firstly, regarding prayer: I believe one can pray and God can hear your prayer and do what you ask. In the Old Testament people prayed to the Lord and He said he would stop doing what they had asked. In Matthew 16:19 the Bible says 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

In the German, Afrikaans and I believe even the Zulu translations, it shall be bound in heaven is written in the past tense. Some people believe, that, because it is in past tense, it is already bound in heaven by the time we bind it. Another way to look at it - what I pray for has already been done in heaven. Sometimes we pray for something, and it does not happen. We can be discouraged by this. If we pray for someone who is sick and ask the Lord to heal the person, the opposite happens, and the person passes away. It is not wrong to ask what we want of the Lord, but it is good thing if what we pray is already that which is done in heaven – that what we pray is in line with heaven. We do not know what it is so we pray what we feel, but if it is something that God already wants, He will do it. He wants us to pray so we need to be in tune with God. We sometimes pray for what we want, we see things humanly. Elijah prayed and the Lord heard his prayer. This is a sign that Elijah was a righteous man. The Bible says that the Lord hears the prayers of a righteous man.

Secondly, temptation and sin. Elijah was exposed to the temptation of sin. We read about his weakness, but he overcame and was faithful. Sin gets its power by persuading me that I will be happier if I do it. When I am tempted by sin there is something that tells me I will be better off by committing it. There will be some benefit to it. I would not do it if I knew it would harm me. The devil will always tell you about something better. If you steal you will be better off because you will have that thing you have stolen. If you get upset you will be better off because you will show the other person that you are better than he is. Whatever the devil tempts you with, he will tell you that it is good for you. If he tempts you with a boy or girl, he will tell you that it will be very nice. He will tell you that if you get that girl/boy you will be happy. He will always tell you of something better and that is how he catches us.

An Eskimo uses a method to kill a wolf. (This offers insight into the self-destructive nature of yielding to temptation.) First, he coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. Then the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with his blade up. When the wolf discovers the bait, he starts to lick it, tasting the fresh, frozen blood. Then he licks faster and more vigorously, until the knife edge is bare. In this craving for blood the wolf does not realise that his thirst is being quenched by his own warm blood, until the dawn finds him dead in the snow. The knife begins to cut the wolf’s tongue. That is what sin is like. You think it is something nice, but you will die in that sin.

When Christians find themselves exposed to temptation, they should pray to God to uphold them, and when they are tempted, they should not be discouraged. It is not a sin to be tempted; the sin is to fall into temptation. - Dwight L. Moody

We will be tempted. You will see things, in town. You cannot miss them. It is not a sin to be tempted; the sin is to fall into temptation.

I like the way a boy once confessed his sin. He said, ‘I looked again.’ That is when you fall into temptation. You hear something, but then you think about it and spread it and so you fall into sin. Moody says, ‘pray to God to uphold them’ (you). Someone once said that you can even speak to the devil. Tell him to ‘Go away!’ and ask God to help you.

Thirdly, Elijah had difficulties. Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 1 Kings 19:3-4

Elijah had difficulties to the point where he said, ‘Lord, can I just die? I can’t carry on.’ He did not take his own life, but he asked the Lord to take his life. He knew he couldn’t take his own life, it was not in his hands, and it would be wrong to, but he asked the Lord to take his life.

Charles Spurgeon is one of the most read Christian authors. He wrote more than 40 books and devotions. He preached over 3500 sermons to 10 million people. He lived in the 1800s and we feast on the fruit of Spurgeon’s ministry until today. He was an amazing man and is known as the Prince of Preachers.

When he was 22 years old, he had to preach in a hired hall because the church was too small. This hall accommodated 10 000 people but there were far more than that. During the sermon, someone shouted, ‘Fire, fire!’ which resulted in a stampede which caused many injuries and 7 people’s deaths. Spurgeon said that this incident took him near the burning furnace of insanity because he felt responsible for the deaths of the 7 people. From the age of 33, pain became a constant part of his life. He suffered from kidney inflammation, gout, rheumatism and neuritis. The pain kept him from preaching for one third of the time. Gout is a condition which sometimes produces exquisite pain. For the remainder of his life, he would be laid aside for weeks or months, nearly every year. He said, ‘Do you know what it is like to lie only on one side for a week because of the pain in the other leg?’ ‘It is great mercy to get one hour of sleep in a night,’ he said. He mentioned the one hour that he slept not the many hours that he did not sleep! ‘What a mercy I have felt to have only one knee tortured at a time,’ he said.

He also suffered from causeless depression. He once said in a service, ‘My spirit was sunk so long that I could weep for an hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.’ Depression followed even the Prince of Preachers, and he often felt ashamed that he was vulnerable to such despondency. But he wrote, ‘I believe; however, the affliction was necessary to me.’ Through most of this time, his wife was very ill and bedridden for decades.

Spurgeon saw his depression as ordained by God for His glory and his own sanctification. Spurgeon pressed through his depression with an unwavering conviction that God was sovereign in all that happened to him. He never once believed that his sufferings were by accident or an obstacle. He never said, ‘It shouldn’t be like this. I shouldn’t suffer like this. I’m your preacher.’ No, he said that God had allowed it. ‘It would be a very sharp and trying experience for me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me,’ he said. Spurgeon persisted in what God told him to do. He said that he could never think, ‘That the bitter cup was never filled by God. My trials were measured out by Him.’

Spurgeon seemingly had a great sense of humour. He regularly surprised people with a joke. He said, ‘Christ wishes His people to be happy. When they are made perfect, as they shall be in due time, they shall also be perfectly happy.’ In his pain and difficulties, he was happy. ‘As heaven is the place of pure holiness, so it is the place of pure happiness. And in proportion, as we get ready for heaven, we shall have some of the joy which belongs to heaven, and it is our Saviour’s will that even now his joy shall be seen in us,’ said Spurgeon. He possibly had more challenges than anyone of us, but his faith never wavered. ‘Be assured, in your difficulties, there are others that have run the same and have persevered.’

In Spurgeon’s last sermon in June 1891, 7 months before he passed away, he said, ‘There never was His like among the choicest of princes (Jesus). The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also. (There is nothing He is asking us to do that He hasn’t done. There is no suffering He is asking of us if He did not suffer.) If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, and super-abundant in love, you always find it in Him (in Christ).’

This man who suffered severely, talks of God’s love and all that God has shown him. ‘These 40 years and more have I served Him, blessed be His name, and I have had nothing but love from Him. I would be glad to continue yet another 40 years in the same dear service here below if so it pleases Him.’

We sometimes complain about the smallest things. ‘This shouldn’t be here, this shouldn’t happen, I’m so unlucky, things are so hard,’ we say. How will you explain one day to Spurgeon why you were unfaithful? How will you explain to him one day that you did not feel so well and that you had challenges? Spurgeon says, ‘His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter upon it at once. God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus, even this day.’

This is what made the great men great. They were faithful to God in every situation. They never lost their faith. They never lost their hope. They never said that things were too much. They never said that God has made a mistake and things should not be as they are. They were human, they had their weaknesses, they possibly despaired, but they lifted themselves up again and never lost their way - which is why God could use them.

Dear friends, the great people of the Gospel were human like we are. Shouldn’t we also persist? Persist against temptation. Persist against losing hope, losing our faith. If they could do it, we should also.

Conclusion Detlef Stegen
Thank you for sharing these words. Today we have been taught.

God has called you and chosen you for His purpose, not yours. Are you humble enough to accept it? Don’t be an ox that does not want to fit into the yoke. You can kick against the pricks and hurt yourself. You can bellow and cry, and everyone hears your voice and your opinion. You have not fitted into the yoke.

In the church there is one head, two hands and many fingers. I hope you have heard and taken these lessons to heart. What was the greatest joy of these men of God? They made it their greatest joy and honour – that in dying we live. In humbling ourselves, we are lifted up. Have you heard this great mystery of the gospel?

Let us take courage and fix our eyes on Jesus. They took refuge in the Lord and sought fellowship with the Lord. The Spirit of God was close to them, and they were not prepared to contradict the Spirit’s meaning.

I hope this has been a treasure for you and that it will carry you through times of trial, difficulty and temptation.