How God Trains His Men
The Sin of Statistics in a Church
What am I? [I am a dry Brook, an empty flower barrel, a dead body]
A teaching on 1 Kings 17.2-24 by Dr. J. Vernon McGee
God had to train Elijah. God has always had the method of training the men he uses by taking them to the desert. You will recall, that’s where he trained Moses. He got Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeas, put him up in that land that at that time was very rugged terrain in the hill country. We find that God used the method for Moses, putting him out in the desert. He did it for David. He’s now doing it for Elijah. He did it for John the Baptist also. Paul the Apostle was sent out into the desert of Arabia for at least two years. So this is God’s method for training his men. We find that here He is going to take this man Elijah out and teach him several things he needed to learn.
“And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan” (1 K. 17.2-3).
God was telling Elijah to get as far out in the country as he could. So he went out into the desert and came to a little stream.
“And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there” (1 K. 17.4).
God used two methods of caring for Elijah out in the desert. One was the brook which was a natural means. He was to drink the water. The other was a supernatural means—the ravens were to come and feed him. Well, Elijah stayed there for awhile, and then the brook began to dry up.
“And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land” (1 K. 17.7).
The brook is drying up. Here is this man out in the wilderness, and he goes to the brook every morning and notices that it is going down a little bit more each day. All he had to do was put a peg in the water to note how much it went down each day. Then he could figure out how many days it would be before he starved to death of thirst. Having the mathematical measurement, anyone with common sense would know that on a certain day the end would come.
This is the sin of statistics. Today the condition of a church is often determined by statistics. If you go to a church meeting and observe that the offering has been good, new members have been received, and there is increased attendance, the church is considered a howling success—and that may not be the true picture.
I once heard the story of a preacher who got up at a church business meeting and said, “We are going to call on the treasurer to give a report so that we can know the status quo of our church.” One of the members got up and said, “Mr. Preacher, we don’t know what status quo means.” The preacher replied, “The ‘status quo’ means the mess we are in.” Interestingly enough, the true status quo of many churches and other organizations often reveals the mess they are in, although the statistics may look healthy.
Now Elijah could have figured very closely the time he was going to die—he could have done it mathematically. But, you see, the cold figures of mathematics do not take into account the spiritual fire that is there. You cannot put the condition of the church in the form of a bank statement. You cannot measure it on a computer. Even a revival is not determined by numbers. When Elijah looked at that little brook which was getting smaller and smaller, he learned a spiritual lesson. He saw that his life was a dried up brook. He was nothing—he was just a brook, a channel, through which living water could flow. The Lord Jesus Christ says, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn. 4.13, 14). Sometimes we sing the song, “Make Me A Blessing,” and I think that half the folk don’t know the meaning of the words. Why, it means that you are an empty brook and that you do not have any water of life. It is only as the water of life, the Word of God, flows through you that you can be a channel of blessing. Elijah had to learn that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty” (1 Co. 1.27). God was telling Elijah, “You are not a big, strong, rugged individual. You are no stronger or better than that dried-up brook. You will have no strength until the water of life flows through you.”
It is said of Hudson Taylor that when he prepared young missionaries for service in his mission, he insisted, “Remember that when you come out here you are nothing. It is only what God can and will do through you that will be worth anything.” One young missionary replied, “It is hard for me to believe that I am just nothing.” And Hudson Taylor said to him, “Take it by faith because it is true—you are nothing.” You and I are just dried-up brooks unless the Word of God is flowing through us.
[Then God sent Elijah to a widow woman who was to take care of him. 1 K. 17.8-12. I quit transcribing, but you can listen to the whole teaching on the audio linked to above. It teaches you and I that we are nothing but empty flower barrels, that we have nothing to offer to God. We are nothing until the water of life and the bread of life have been put into us… and some other very important lessons.]