By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Have you ever been to Zarephath?
The question was central to the message delivered by Daven Watkins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pelham, in the first sermon of the final session of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference in Dallas on June 11.
Using 1 Kings 17:17–24 as his text, Watkins said Zarephath is “a place where faith is tested … where the improbable becomes possible.”
The town was the place God sent Elijah to get food and water. It was there Elijah met a widow who was preparing to cook one last meal for herself and her son before their food was gone. It was there God promised the woman’s flour and oil would not run out, and it didn’t. And it was there that the woman’s son died and God restored his life.
“The story showcases God’s power and provision,” Watkins said.
First and foremost, the story shows that “obedience is required to the Word of God and to the God of the Word,” he said.
Watkins said one of the greatest challenges for the church today is not belief in the Word of God because “many people still believe in the Word of God.”
“The greatest challenge is not access to the Word of God. The Bible remains the number one seller, available in print and digital. The greatest challenge is not even knowledge of the Word even though biblical literacy is at an all-time low. … The greatest challenge is obedience,” he said. “We have gotten to the place where we are dysfunctionally disobedient.”
Sin is rampant, he observed, noting high rates of divorce, adultery, pornography use, gossip, malice, slander and a host of other sins within the church.
“God hates sin. Call it whatever you want. A mistake, a moral failure, a character flaw. … But God hates sin,” Watkins said.
Sin brings God’s justice and judgment, which is why Zarephath is not just a place in the Bible but a spiritual space that everyone is either entering, living in or coming out of, Watkins said.
Zarephath was a place where metal was refined, a process that subjected metal to intense heat so the impurities would rise to the top leaving the precious metal behind.
“God sent Elijah to this place of refining, to this place to be purified,” Watkins said. And Elijah was obedient, even when God’s Word didn’t make sense.
“Obedience precedes understanding,” Watkins said. “You don’t have to understand everything. Just be obedient and draw close to the One who is drawing close to you.”
When we are in Zarephath, God becomes “very real and personal,” just as He did for the widow when her son became sick.
“We understand her broken heart. There are many individuals who know the pain of losing a spouse … who know the gut-wrenching feeling of standing at the casket of a child,” he said.
Elijah prayed, which is “sometimes the only way to cope with life,” Watkins said.
The boy’s life was restored, just one of many instances of life restored in the Bible, Watkins noted. The most important of all being the resurrection of Christ Himself.
“Why does it surprise us when God moves? … With God, the improbable becomes possible,” Watkins said.
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