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Elijah’s Walk in the Desert

”But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.

And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.” (1Kings 18:5,6)

Three hundred miles, maybe more, depending on how circuitous a route he took and where Mt. Horeb was. Forty days walking. That’s a long, lonely walk.

Although prophets of God do not lead normal lives like most people, there can be seen glimpses of our own walks with God in them. You may not have called fire down from Heaven, but every time you stood up against the normal conventions of worldliness to declare the truth of God, you do pretty much the same thing. The world by nature does not like holiness, and it will resist anyone who steps out of the crowd to call it to change. And prophets are considered the worst.

But somebody has to do it, and that’s why God calls prophets. They do not possess pleasant personalities and are not the “life of the party”. They are not swayed by others’ opinions, nor would they be considered “nice guys”. Nor do they care.

Everything is black or white to them; there are no shades of grey. It is either righteous or it is sin. And for some reason, they feel compelled to tell you so.

Even if you are the king.

You will not find them in the spotlight of a big ministry receiving the accolades of the crowd. They just don’t fit in. The corporate ministries of today are foreign soil to them. They are more suited to wearing camel’s hair in the middle of a river than the Brooks Brothers suits and coifed hairdos of this generation’s spiritual leaders. And as a result, they walk a lonely path.

Few understand, and fewer appreciate them, and none realize the price.

We think they are made of some kind of steel that doesn’t feel the loneliness or the pain of rejection. Since they don’t bend to popular attention, we think their hearts are like stones that feel no affinity for others, but the truth is, they are people just like everyone else. They love, they hate, they need, and they feel just like us. They just have to walk a different path and keep on going.

Sometimes it is for three hundred miles with no food or water just to hear the voice of God.

I had a dream many years ago of myself walking in a desert of soft sand, much like the Sahara. Each footstep was difficult as it pushed through the sand. No water, a hot sun, and nothing but sand made it a weariness just to get to the top of the next sand dune and see if the city that I was trying to get to was there. But all there ever appeared was more sand.

I didn’t know where I was or if I was heading in the right direction, but I just kept walking, hoping that I wasn’t walking in circles. And then I heard a vehicle coming from behind me. A young man with blond hair and a bronze tan drove by in a Dune Buggy, waving to me as he passed by, “Hey, Mr. Garris. I’m off to my ministry! Praise the Lord!”. And off he drove over the horizon.

You have to wonder at times like that, what is wrong with me? Why am I here trudging along in this loose desert sand heading seemingly to nowhere, while this young kid is zooming along so effortlessly to his ministry? What did I do wrong? Will I ever reach that city that I am trying so desperately to find?

Do you ever feel like that? Does it seem so simple for others, when everything seems to be a battle for you?

Forty days trudging through the wilderness just to wait in a cave. Make sense to you? I doubt if it did to Elijah either. All that way, then up a mountain to sit in a cave to wait.

First the storm, then the earthquake, and then the fire. But still Elijah waited. And then the still, small voice.

Had Elijah not allowed God to take him through that crucified walk that strips the flesh and breaks the spirit, I don’t believe he would have recognized that voice like he did. It would have been just noise, indistinguishable from all the noise of the world.

You may not have to go for three hundred miles without food and water, or stand up against a king to declare a spiritual famine upon the land. You may not call down fire from heaven or raise a woman’s dead son, but you possess in your soul the ability to declare the righteousness of God to a worldly church that is mesmerized with an easier, worldly doctrine that mistakes grace for sin and covetousness for prosperity.

You will get the same results as Elijah did and you will go through the same lonely walk as he walked. But know that you are not alone – there are 7,000 that God had reserved – and you are not walking aimlessly. You will finally step over the hill of that last sand dune and see the City that you’ve been searching for and you will recognize the still, small voice of God as He speaks to you.

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

 

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You know, if the stakes weren’t so high, Life would be just a great game to play.  Kinda like an evening out with the boys playing Poker.

We all have our hands to play and we’re betting that we’re going to be the one that wins the jackpot.  We work our hands as best we can, and if we don’t win, oh well, there’s always another hand to play.

But Life isn’t that way.  This is the only hand you get, and you’re not going to bluff your way through this one.  You either win or lose.  That’s it.

Unlike poker, you choose your cards.  You can pick any hand you’d like – there’s one for every different belief that’s out there.  Many feel that it doesn’t really matter that much which hand you pick, as long as you pick something.  We’re all in the game together, so nobody really loses – or is it that nobody really wins?  Just play the odds and have fun.  No big deal which hand you choose.

Like I said, if the stakes weren’t so high, it would all be just a great game.  But the stakes don’t get any higher.  There’s only one winning hand.  You either win it all or lose it all, and there’s no coming back tomorrow night to try your luck again.  Better make sure that the hand you pick is the right one.

Unfortunately, everybody thinks that their cards will win and they play them for all they’re worth.  Looks good enough to them, so they should probably be OK. Maybe we should take some time, however, and take a good, long look at the cards we’re holding and see if they’re the ones that the Rule Book says will win.

If we don’t, then we’re gambling our eternal souls on chance.

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You know what the difference is between Fairy Tales and Heaven?  The Fairy Tales happened once upon a time.  Heaven is yet to come…at least for some of us.

In Fairy Tales, all your dreams come true.  You might have to kiss a toad, or take care of evil stepsisters while you play with little mice, but somewhere, sometime, somehow, your Prince will always come.  Heaven is not quite the same thing.  While we all would love the idea of living in a fairy tale existence where everything will be wonderful, reality paints a different picture — not everything works out according to Walt Disney’s script.  Life can be tough and you don’t always get to live in a castle, but there is a promise that there really is a place called Heaven.  There’s only one problem:  not everybody is going there.  The Prince is coming all right, but He’s not taking everybody with Him.

In Fairy Tales, the most wonderful magical things happen for free.  Make a wish, and Poof!, in pops your Fairy Godmother.  Sprinkle a little dust, wave a wand, say a few magic words, and presto, you are a princess. Heaven, however, requires a price that must be paid to enter in.  It is reserved only for those who have labored to enter into that place of rest, who have repented of their sins and asked Jesus Christ to save their souls, and who have then gone on to serve the Lord.  Not everybody wants to do all that.

One other thing. Fairy Tales are just that – nice stories that sound good. Heaven is real and it is good.  Unfortunately, Hell is real also, and it isn’t good.  Don’t get Fairy Tales and Heaven mixed up.  We aren’t going to get carried away to Heaven just by wishful thinking, it isn’t going to happen just because we believe in magic, and it sure isn’t going to happen for us unless we prepare for it.   If we don’t get right with God, it won’t be the wicked witch that does us in; it will be the Devil that sinks his claws in us and drags us down to Hell.

Don’t live your life in a fairy tale.  If you want to walk on streets of gold someday, you have to travel the path of a Christian.  That may not be as easy as making a wish, but it is the only way to make your dreams come true.

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I love to sit on my porch in the mornings as the sun is coming up and watch the dragonflies bob and weave across the lawn, snatching up gnats like winged Pacman’s. The sun’s rays cut across the morning’s chill and catch their weaving flights like illuminated spots of light. They never seem to run out of gnats to pick up; the swarms are renewed every morning. By noon, however, they are all gone, disappearing under the heavy blanket of Texas heat as the sun asserts its dominance on the day.

In some ways, that reminds me somewhat of the Church. How many times has the exciting times that comes with the emergence of the Son in a time of spiritual refreshing slowly settle into the lethargy that comes with the afternoon’s heat. Like a heavy blanket pressing us into drowsiness, time has a way of reducing us into spiritual slumber.

As our fervor begins to wane, our prayer life becomes conversational, formal, and polite whereas it was once full of outrageous passion and fire.  Services go from fiery calls for repentance and the fear of God to intellectual messages on theology and how we should live our mediocre lives. Altars for repentance, which used to be called “the Mourner’s Bench”, now have become havens for “pity lines” for the sins we never seem to overcome. We are encouraged to be nice to one another by “feel good” ministries whose reputations are bolstered by their best selling book rather than their prophetic effectiveness to call the people of God to repentance. (Jer. 23: 22)

“And my people love to have it so …” (Jer. 5:31)

Jeremiah makes the point that false prophets of peace and safety flourish in times like these. Prosperity is the ensign that our leaders wave in their pursuit of wealth so that they can show how God has “blessed” them (1 Tim. 6:5). We love the comfort of settling into a soft gospel that lulls us to sleep like the heat of a Texas afternoon. We are satisfied; we are comfortable; and we feel blessed.

Several years ago, I pleaded with God for the people in the American church. As I was wrestling in prayer, I cried out, “But God, they are really nice people!”  There was that ominous pause like what you feel before a storm breaks, and then the Lord answered me directly in words, “I will spue the lukewarm out of my mouth … and you think they’re nice?”  Ouch.

We are in desperate need of revival. The problem is that as the Church slides deeper into apostasy, they are less and less able to see it in themselves. There has to come a spiritual earthquake to wake them up. The deeper we fall asleep, the more we need a revival, the greater the calamity that is needed to awaken us.

“Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season:” (Jer. 5:24)

No revival comes without repentance. The harvest will not come without the former and latter rain (Joel 2:23), and they won’t come without our prayer life being gripped with the fear of the Lord to crack our knees in abject, heartfelt repentance. The kind that moves mountains.

Jonathan in 1 Sam. 14 had his earthquake after all Israel had fled because he climbed the mountain that was before him on his knees to engage the enemy and fight. We need to take on his same faith and tenacity to fight for the people of God and climb that mountain which is before us. If we won’t fight, who will?

It’s another hot, sultry dog day afternoon in Texas. The temperature is hitting 100 degrees and the heat smothers you. Tomorrow morning the air will be fresh and cool again and the dragonflies will be back, zooming around like dive bombers playing in the rays of morning sun, but then by noon, that oppressive heat will be back again, draining the life out of the rest of the day.

Lord, we need it to rain.

Brother Dale

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Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, 2And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. 3For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.

4Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.

(Jonah 2:1-4)

He could hear the waves crashing behind him, sweeping the water up the sand, never quite coming close to his feet. The whale lay there half in and half out of the water, its life running out of it with every last wheezing breath. Jonah was alone on the beach. He was alive, but more than that, God had heard him down in the whale’s belly and had brought him forth into the daylight that he had almost despaired of seeing again.

But here he was, standing alone on the beach on dry land, next to this great dying body of a fish that had committed suicide to bring him here. God had delivered him so completely that he hadn’t even gotten his feet wet. And now it was time for the mission that he had run away from not even a week ago.

Jonah is not a classic example of gratitude. Jonah cared more about himself than the salvation of 120,000 people. He went ahead and prophesied to the Ninevites as he was commanded to do, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was actually more grateful for a tree that gave him shade than the great deliverance God had done for him.

Why is that? As a young Christian, I was taught that if you had a thankful heart, you would never backslide, and I have seen the truth of that over the years, but how does one develop a thankful heart?

I don’t believe gratitude comes from circumstances or things that have happened to you as much as it does from a thankful heart that has already been planted within you. Gratitude is more the blossoming of an attitude you already have rather than the genesis of a new one.  And I believe it is tied to charity.

One of the six principles of revival that I preach about is that the gospel is not about you; it is about others. This is the central message of the Cross; it is the essence of who and what Christ was. Charity is the essential element, not only to entering into a vibrant and deep walk in God, but to seeing the power of God work in your life. Charity is Jesus Christ working in you.

You would think that gratitude would be about what happens to us rather than to others, but the seeds of gratitude cannot find a place to grow in the stony rock of a cold heart. They can only find purchase in the cultivated soil of a heart that is not only thankful, but is softened with that thing about charity that turns our focus to others, dismisses our own situation, and rejoices in what God has done for all.

Gratitude is tied to the Cross.

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8Charity never faileth …” (1 Cor. 13: 4-8)

 

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One more week to go. Well, almost. (Can you tell that I’m ready to come home?) Whenever I get to this point, I start reaching out to the finish line and try to think of it in bite-sized pieces. One more week sounds better than 10 more days.

This whole mission has not been bad at all. The schedule has been easy – mostly just one service a day – and the congregations that I’ve preached to have been wildly enthusiastic.  That always makes you feel good when the people get that excited when you preach. We’ve had one healing line so far and, as usual, everyone who came to get prayed over got healed. Nothing serious, but hey, a miracle is a miracle. What a great thing it is when miracles become routine!

Even though everything is going well, I am still ready to come home. It’s not the food or the room or the people. It’s just time to go home. Something inside me is just plain bone tired. This is the part of the mission field that you don’t often hear about. We talk about the altar calls, the presence of the Spirit of God in services, and the miracle healings that take place. Or we tell the stories of how the devil pulled some crazy stunt to either stop, hinder, or kill us. It’s fun to tell these “war stories” about the grand adventure we are on, but what we don’t share is the slowing down of time until the tick-tocks of the clock, like the dripping of water, slows to a crawl. That’s the part that is difficult to relate.

And why would we? It certainly isn’t any more fun to hear than it is to tell. And honestly, it’s just part of the journey. Our focus should stay riveted on the vision, the reason why we are here. That is the thing that drives us forward to get past the obstacles and hardships in the path. This is war, and we are the soldiers. We have come to fight and to claim victory, not complain and glorify the devil.

Things are a bit different here in Nigeria, though, than in other places. In East Africa, we usually see instant victories of deliverance, salvation, and rejoicing. You can feel the reality of a coming move of God there because the message is so liberating that it spreads like wildfire. Those people embrace the promise so much that you can hear the echo across churches everywhere. They not only believe it; they expect it.

But in Nigeria, the feeling is different. I’m not sure if it is something in their culture that gives them that taciturn sternness in their demeanor or is it the enormity of the corruption and greed that you find here. Everybody is friendly, but smiles are not as easy or as readily seen as in East Africa. There is a lack of color here that reflects the feeling in the air. Whereas in Kenya, you see lots of bright yellows, reds, and greens, here everything is painted in the pallor of more somber tones and shades of grey and brown.  They are a serious people. They want God, and they are excited about the message, and they believe it, but there just seems to be a lack of real joy.

The other thing that dampens the spirit in Nigeria is the degree of corruption and greed. Corruption is endemic here – and I’m talking about in the Church, not just the rest of the society. It not only colors their attitudes but, like a thick blanket of smog, it chokes their spirits. The government officials are pocketing billions of oil money, so that the revenue never reaches down to the population. And then the Church leaders and religious charlatans rob the people of what they have left with false promises of prosperity. And the people are so desperate for hope and for God to bless them that they keep on getting suckered every time someone promises them free money and blessings. Even when they know it’s a lie.

Why are they so easily swayed? I believe it is because their souls are in such need. They want a way out of this financial, social, and spiritual oppression so badly that they will grasp at even a faint whisper of hope, no matter how wrong it is.

This oppression in Nigeria is an enormous mountain that must be moved before revival can sweep across Africa, but the magnitude of the task is so large that it seems impossible. The victory looks like it is miles and miles down the road. How will we ever be able to break through this mountain and turn Nigeria around? It seems like it would take a hundred Elijah’s to make a difference here. What can one guy do, one service at a time, one small church at a time, as we compete with Satan for the soul of Nigeria.

I don’t know. All I know is to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking. The message is the same, the Spirit of God is the same, and the vision has not changed. We keep moving forward because the world is depending on revival to start here in Africa. Even when time slows down to a crawl, we cannot quit.

I know that if you want to move a mountain, you have to exercise faith. It is the very substance of things hoped for and is what drives you on past the things that would discourage you. Your faith has to be bigger than the task before you.

Faith is birthed from hope and is the thing forges your vision.  And a vision is what enables you to grab hold of the victory that can move any mountain. A vision is blind to the facts and details that stand before you, but sees over the horizon with eyes of faith to see what God sees and what is possible with only Him. That is why Satan fears a man or a woman with a vision for God because he can’t reach where that vision goes.

But the secret element for a vision is that it is never about you. A vision pulls you out of yourself and is focused on the commission that Jesus Christ gave us when He left – others.

Time then becomes, not the slow drag of weariness, but a cadence to inevitable victory.

Tick Tock.

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“And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” Revelations 14:13

That’s exactly how I feel sometimes. I’m looking forward to dying so I can get a break. But I don’t want any more work following me. I’ve had enough work to last for a lifetime!

Have you ever felt like that? Everything is a struggle and nothing ever seems to go smoothly? It’s like you’re pushing a cart through Life and the road is always going uphill. When do we get to sit on that cart and ride it downhill?

I realize that work is what we got out of the Garden of Eden. Whether it’s fair or not, we have inherited our ancestor’s foolishness. (Thanks a lot, Dad.) Did God allow this to happen so that we would really appreciate Heaven when we finally got there? If that’s the case, then I’m ready, Lord. You can beam me up any time.

Maybe that’s why the Bible says we need a vision. We would actually perish without one because we’d have nothing to strive for, no reason to push through the hard stuff, no light to give us a direction. We need something to get us through those times when we feel like we have the best product in the world (and we do), but nobody wants it, and you are just beating your head against a wall. It’s times like that when we need those anointed people who light a torch of faith and hope that inspires us to keep going.

David was like that. In one of his many times of darkness, he wrote in Psalms 37, “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree, Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not.” Your time will come. The superficial never last long, and the chaff always get blown away, but that which you have planted and worked so hard for in the Lord will follow you one day.

Does it seem dark and fearful right now? Does it seem like God has forgotten you and is a million miles away? David answered again, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

The nature of faith is that you face the direction that your heart wants to go in and you choose to believe. The inspiration to keep going springs forth from the seeds of that faith that you planted.

Keep going. You’re almost there.

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”  (Psalms 126: 5,6)

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