The Destiny Process (P1)
Every person has a God-given vocational calling, or destiny (Ps 139:13-16, Eph 2:10). You may not fully believe this, or realize this, or be sure what yours might be, but I assure on the Lord's behalf: you are color-coded by your Creator for a preordained purpose.
My focus in this article, however, will not be destiny discovery (what you are called to do). My focus will be on destiny processing, the requisite pilgrimage to growing into and fulfilling your calling. Absolutely no one reaches the fullness of their calling without successfully passing through seven distinct places. Those seven places are outlined in the destiny process of Elijah the prophet.
Elijah's Destiny Process
Elijah the prophet is one of the top five most important people in God's entire redemptive program. Here's why.
He restored public prophetic ministry in Israel, that was decimated and nonexistent under Jezebel's holocaust.
He prepared the way for a righteous king, Jehu, to replace the quite pathetic king, Ahab.
He was translated or raptured to Heaven without dying. That alone tells you how important and unique he must be.
Eight hundred fifty years later, his ministry personality was gifted to John the Baptist to prepare the way for King Jesus (Lk 1:17), in the same way Elijah prepared the way for King Jehu.
The first-century Jews wondered if John was Elijah (Jn 1:21) and if Jesus was Elijah (Mt 16:14), indicating that Israel understood how important Elijah was to God's overall program.
On the Mount of Transfiguration a glorified Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with a glorified Jesus. Again, that alone would tell you how important Elijah must be.
When Jesus was dying and crying out on the cross, the bystanders said he was calling to Elijah and they waited to see if Elijah would appear and save Him (Mt 27:46-49), again indicating that Israel understood how important Elijah was.
Paul said the faithful remnant of seven thousand in Elijah's day was a foreshadow of the entire remnant of Israel that God would save during the church age (Ro 11:1-5).
Elijah is one of the two prophets who will prophesy in the first half of Daniel's 70th week (Rev 11), and inspire and oversee the rebuilding of the last temple and the restoring of the Levitical system right before the Antichrist reveals himself. This is why he was raptured and not allowed to die, and, this is what Jesus meant when he said Elijah will come and restore all things (Mt 17:11). (John the Baptist, though he ministered as Elijah in his own way, did not "restore all things".)
This overview of Elijah's total existence shows us how important and unique he is to God's overall program. And yet, Scripture devotes only eight chapters to his Old Testament life (1Kings 17 - 2Kings 2), and gives us no biographical details about him whatsoever, except for one or two crucial phrases. This is where the story gets cryptic and fascinating.
God withholds information with just as much strategy as when He reveals information. His withholding of Elijah's personal bio tells us He wants us to focus on something else specific about Elijah. That something else is (1) the type of ministry he had and (2) the seven places he went to to fulfill it.
If you read carefully the eight chapters devoted to Elijah's life, you will see that he visited seven specific places to grow into his purpose. Those seven places illustrate seven types of experiences we all must visit and overcome to fulfill our vocational purpose. (After the Carmel incident Elijah was in Jezreel for less than a second, because he immediately fled after hearing Jezebel's threat. Thus, Jezreel is not included as one of the places Elijah sat in long enough to experience the work of God. See 1Kings 18:46-19:3.). The first two places Elijah went to were Cherith and Zarephath, the focus of Part 1 of this article.
Elijah's Destiny: Restore Prophetic Ministry in Israel
For any of this to make sense, we need to clarify and pinpoint Elijah's calling during his Old Testament life. His calling was to restore prophetic ministry in Israel, that was decimated and nonexistent under Jezebel's massacre. This is the first reason Elijah was born, his Old Testament purpose. Keep that in your mental margin as we go.
Place #1: Cherith, The Place of Emotional Cutting
Read 1Kings 17:1-6. Cherith was a waterbrook in Gilead, Elijah's home region (v1). Cherith means "cutting, a cut". Why would God send Elijah to Cherith in Gilead, the very place he was from, a place that means "cutting"? Because here Elijah would experience the cutting away of family pain, and, the cutting away of attitudinal loneliness. It would be a place of emotional healing and closure.
At Cherith, family pain is cut away.
Cherith was in the very subregion in which Elijah grew up (Gilead). It was a familiar place to him. As a young boy he probably played in Cherith's water with his friends--the water he was now drinking to survive the drought. Maybe he fished there with his father and grandfather. Maybe he used to float down the creek on a blow-up raft and sunbathe with his ipod. Imagine the explicit childhood memories that surfaced as he sat there alone, day after day after day after day. Whatever those memories were, the salience here is that Elijah knew Cherith. It had the emotional aroma of home, family, childhood, and growing up in Gilead.
But God did not send Elijah here for mundane nostalgia. He sent him here to process family pain. How do we know that? Because, at his lowest point of discouragement, Elijah said, "Take my life Lord, I am no better than my fathers." See 1Kings 19:4. This one statement of unguarded honesty tells us Elijah's family experience, especially with men, was negative.
Thankfully, God is more benevolent to us than even we are to ourselves. He wanted to make Elijah much, much better than the men in his family, and that meant Elijah had to face and address his family pain. So He sent the prophet to Cherith in Gilead, a familiar place with bad memories and disappointments, for healing and closure--to be cut away. At Cherith, family pain is cut away.
We, too, will pass through Cherith experiences in our destiny process. We cannot carry past family pain into our inheritance. Therefore, the Lord will providentially place us in Cherith, a familiar place with familiar dynamics that trigger our unresolved family issues. Here we will process those deep emotions with the Lord and He will respond with healing and closure. He will cut away that family negativity inside us, freeing us to move forward and truly live in the present. At Cherith, family pain is cut away.
At Cherith, attitudinal loneliness is cut away.
Here Elijah also experienced gnawing loneliness. He had no companions whatsoever. It was only him, God, and a few really cool birds. Under these provocative conditions, any buried feelings of isolation or abandonment came rushing into his consciousness.
What was God doing? God was targeting Elijah's loneliness issues at Cherith. How do we know this? Because, once again, at Elijah's lowest point he said this, "All the prophets have been killed off and I am the only one left." See 1Kings 19:10,14. Not once, but twice, did he say he was the "the only one left".
Um, Obadiah just told him he was not alone (18:13), that one hundred prophets were still alive with him! Why couldn't Elijah hear that? He had what we call trait loneliness or attitudinal loneliness. His mental CD player was stuck on Repeat and the dirge that kept playing was, "I'm Lonely."
God placed Elijah here for a time so that lonely disposition could be faced, cut away, and replaced with divine companionship. Here Elijah would develop a personal foundation of intimacy with God. At Cherith, attitudinal loneliness is cut away.
We, too, will have our loneliness issues cut away at Cherith. In these kinds of experiences God is forced to become our most intimate friend and lover. We cannot reach our apex destiny if we cling to the illusion that this person or that person will cure our lonely heart. Nor can we reach our destiny if we have attitudinal loneliness, a loner disposition that stays lonely even when good relationships are available. So God places us in Cherith to start our ascension out of the loneliness hole through intimacy with Him. At Cherith, attitudinal loneliness is cut away.
To grow into our life calling we must visit and successfully pass through Cherith, the place of emotional cutting, where family pain is cut away and attitudinal loneliness is cut away.
Place #2: Zarephath, The Place of Social Refining
Read 1Kings 17:8-24. Zarephath is a Gentile town between Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia. Shockingly, this is the subregion where Jezebel grew up; her father was king of Sidon (16:31). Ekklesia, ponder this deeply: the Lord sent Elijah to Cherith, his home region, then He sent him to Zarephath, Jezebel's home region. Why on earth would God do this? Why would He send Elijah to Zarephath, the very neighborhood Jezebel was from?
The answer is in the meaning of the name Zarephath. Zarephath means "refinery, a workshop for melting and refining metals". Elijah needed to be socially refined in five major ways, and that would happen here at Zarephath.
At Zarephath, social adaptability is refined.
Cherith was a familiar place for Elijah, but Zarephath was the extreme opposite, harshly unfamiliar. Elijah was a Hebrew, Zarephath was Gentile. Elijah grew up in Gilead, a rugged land, Zarephath was on the coast, a beach paradise. At Cherith Elijah was alone, at Zarephath he lived with a widow and her son. Cherith was a secret and safe place, Zarephath was the home region of Jezebel, the woman trying to kill him. Imagine if she came home to Phoenicia to visit family and found Elijah in her own backyard!
Elijah had some major adapting to do in Zarephath, the refinery of metals. God placed him here for a time to refine his social adaptability, to make him flexible, versatile, elastic. The hard, inflexible metal of scripted behaviors and autopilot responses would be melted here at the refinery. At Zarephath, social adaptability is refined.
We, too, must pass through Zarephath experiences in our destiny process. We cannot live like hard, inflexible metals, by scripted behaviors and autopilot responses. Our calling will require that we be socially adaptable, flexible, versatile, elastic. Graceful, pliable, improvisational. This means going to places and dealing with people that are unfamiliar, different, even radically opposite of us. Is it hard for you to be yourself in unfamiliar settings? Do you become introverted, apprehensive, judgmental? If so, you have a Zarephath scheduled. The Lord will place you in the refinery of metals to melt that hard inflexibility. At Zarephath, social adaptability is refined.
At Zarephath, social confidence is refined.
Imagine what people today would think if a nationally-known Christian leader, one who was single like Elijah, began living with a young widow and her son? Few people, if anyone at all, would even consider the possibility that God told him to. Most of us would murmur and gossip, and accusations of immorality would slow-drip across the internet. Now you have an idea of what Elijah experienced in Zarephath. Can you imagine the town gossip? Prophet of God? Ha! Yeah right! He's shackin' up with the lonely widow and living rent-free. What an imposter! What a hypocrite!
See the predicament Elijah was in? See how his friendship with the young widow was a sticky icky social situation?
Nonetheless, Elijah had to learn something in this: social confidence. God placed him here for a time to strengthen his confidence before people, regardless of their misunderstanding. God was making him into carefree steel, untouched by human opinion. Elijah knew his character was pure, but he needed to rest in God to defend his reputation. (Elijah raising the widow's son from the dead was probably God's public defense of his character.) At Zarephath, social confidence is refined.
We, too, will have our social confidence refined at Zarephath, usually in the face of misunderstanding from others. How we need this kind of carefree steel in our innermost core! A Christian that is people-fearing will never reach or remain in their inheritance. Remember King Saul and his people-fearing issues? He lost his inheritance. At Zarephath, you will be misunderstood and misrepresented, but your God-confidence and derivative self-confidence will be greatly matured. You will develop a healthy I-don't-care steel core. At Zarephath, social confidence is refined.
At Zarephath, social wisdom is refined.
Elijah was entangled in a major spiritual war with Jezebel. The immediate future of Israel depended on whoever was left standing. If Jezebel prevailed, Israel would have plummeted quickly to the deepest depths of idolatrous degradation, resulting in God's judgment coming much quicker than 721BC (the Assyrian captivity). If Elijah prevailed, the nation's idolatry would decelerate and be contained, and public prophetic ministry could be reestablished. This is one of the most important spiritual wars in all of Scripture, and it did not end with Elijah's rapture or Jezebel's defenestration.
Spiritual wars are eerily and disturbingly real. Believe me, I am a war-hardened veteran. However, there is a crucial dimension of spiritual warfare that is often missing in today's emotionally manic spiritual warfare fiasco: social wisdom. Spiritual wars are played out in social theaters and social dynamics. The behind-the-scenes power may indeed be demonic, but demons have to funnel their power into social realities on earth. Do not ever forget this crucial piece of spiritual military doctrine.
So God sent Elijah to Zarephath, in Jezebel's Phoenician homeland, to refine his social wisdom for warfare purposes. Imagine the strategic insights he collected about Jezebel while living there. Imagine the conversations he had with the locals. Maybe he even "accidentally" ran into one of her childhood friends. Imagine all the stuff he learned about Baal worship and the societal aspect of it. Perhaps the widow he was staying with knew a whole lot more than the Bible tells us.
Here in Zarephath Elijah would gain backbreaking information about his enemy and her social nuances. This information would then be used in his prayer life and actions. Perhaps this information is what led Elijah to organize Carmel's showdown in the highly nuanced manner he did (1Ki 18:19-38). At Zarephath, social wisdom is refined.
We, too, will have our social wisdom refined in Zarephath experiences. God will put us in providential situations that illuminate the winning tactics for whatever war we are in. These tactics often pertain to the social dynamics that serve as the containers for demonic power. We need this kind of wisdom to move smartly in both the spiritual world and the social world. Once again, this is because spiritual battles are almost always played out in person-to-person dynamics. Without insight on how to deal with people and social dynamics, we cannot win these destiny-defining battles and advance to our inheritance. At Zarephath, our social wisdom is refined.
At Zarephath, social humility is refined.
Here in Zarephath God humbled Elijah socially. He had to lean on a Gentile widow and her son for friendship and food. Can you imagine his internal dialogue? I'm God's prophet. How could a prophet, one as important as me, stoop so low to depend on a Gentile widow for friendship and food?
God placed Elijah here for a time so any hardened metals of self-righteousness inside him would be melted down into a liquid humility. All that would remain was a humble friend willing to link arms with anyone God-sent, even a foreigner to the covenant and her little boy. At Zarephath, social humility is refined.
We, too, will have our hardened metals of self-righteousness melted down before God advances us to our inheritance. There are no divas, prima donas, glass slippers, celebrity pedestals, or Grammys in the kingdom, only humble representatives of the King of kings. We, His earthly representatives, are supposed to be down-to-earth and meek, friendly and personable, in every way, everyday. God will take us straight to Zarephath to accomplish just that. At Zarephath, social humility is refined.
At Zarephath, social compassion is refined.
Jezebel was chillingly dark and demonized inside. She was an idol-worshiping priestess serial killer. It is not, however, so cut and dry with everyone. Some idol-worshipers and semi-Jezebels are willing to love Yahweh if they only had help. Elijah's widow-friend is a perfect example. One prophetic word, two miracles, and a warm friendship turned this Gentile pagan woman into a lover of Yahweh (1Ki 17:24, Lk 4:25,26).
God sent Elijah to Zarephath to show him something precious: not all Phoenicians are like Jezebel. The hard, inflexible metal of stereotypes had to be melted down into something liquid. Though all Phoenicians were in bondage to Baal worship, God loved them. He wanted Elijah to have that same compassion for those in enemy territory against their deeper desire. He wanted Elijah to recognize, and have mercy for, those who wanted out. At Zarephath, social compassion is refined.
We, too, will have our compassion refined for those in enemy territory against their deeper desire. Not everyone in Baal's domain wants to be there, even if their external behavior indicates otherwise. If we do not use thoughtful discretion we will hastily clump Jezebel and the widow in the same group. True, they were both in bondage to Baal. True, they were both Phoenicians. But the widow's heart was a different universe. She wanted out.
There are many Jezebels out there, but there are many willing widows out there too, just waiting for a visit from Yahweh and a friendly messenger of His. Even though the two types appear similar on the surface, God searches the heart. At Zarephath, social compassion is refined.