On December 22, 2018 (just three days before Christmas), the United States federal government began a partial shutdown due to an impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand for over $5 billion dollars to fund his wall on the southern border. This shutdown, which has now become the longest in US history, has affected over 800,000 federal workers who have either been furloughed or forced to work with no pay. Many have chosen to call-out sick and some have even had to resign to look for other means of employment.
In addition to these 800,000 federal workers, countless other Americans have been affected by the shutdown, and many businesses that depend on spending from those federal workers or federal contracts are struggling. One report detailed how cab drivers in Washington, DC, many who already live below the poverty line, have been greatly affected by not having fare-paying riders in their cabs. One driver exclaimed, “[The shutdown is] killing us!”
Even more troubling is that, the president has said he is willing to allow this shutdown to go on for months or even years if funding for his wall (or steel barrier) is not approved. In essence, the president is willing to sacrifice the livelihood of over 800,000 Americans on the altar of his ill-advised wall.
Unfortunately, many of America’s most vulnerable citizens cannot afford for this shutdown to last much longer. The federal agency that oversees the SNAP program, which disburses food stamps to those who need assistance buying food, has said that it only has funding to last through February and if the shutdown continues into March, people who depend on the program for food will have to hungry.
Regardless of politics, people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake, and we must all call for an end to this government shutdown! Just as American president, Ronald Reagan, once told Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, to “Tear down this wall!” We must exclaim to this American president (who seems fond of both Russians and walls) and tell him “Shut down this shutdown!” The American people must unite and demand an end to this shutdown!
However, we must realize that this is not the first time in history where the actions of a leader has led to a prolonged shutdown of resources for the people. In 1 Kings 17, the people of Israel were experiencing a shutdown of rain – largely due to the insolence of their leader – King Ahab. Now, if you don’t know much about Ahab, his resume is found in 1 Kings 16:29-34 and it sounds a whole lot like another leader you may have heard of.
Ahab was not a self-made man. His success, wealth and position were largely due to what he inherited from his father. Also, Ahab married a foreign woman and made her the
First Lady Queen of the land. But, perhaps, the most interesting detail about Ahab’s life is that during his reign he tried to rebuild the city of Jericho – a city known for its walls (1 Kings 16:34). This wall project was never completed, but right after Ahab demanded a wall, God allowed a shutdown of the heavens through the mouth of his prophet, Elijah. God always has a way of reminding the king that his voice is not more powerful than the prophet. That is why true prophets must continue to speak truth to power and declare what thus saith the Lord!
The reality is that, regardless of the reason, we all have faced some sort of shutdown at some point in our lives. Whether you are a government worker or not, the enemy has tried to shut you down spiritually, emotionally, financially and physically but God has given us the power to survive the shutdown. No matter what the enemy is trying to use to shut you down; he may shut you down, but he can’t shut you out!
In 1 Kings 17:1-7, there are three things Elijah does to teach us what to do whenever we are facing a shutdown.
1. We must SPEAK UP.
Elijah did not allow what was happening in the palace to affect his prophetic. The palace is not more powerful than the prophet. Likewise, we should never allow what’s going on in the White House to affect our worship in God’s house. The shutdown is designed to shut us up, but we must continue to speak up and speak out. Elijah spoke truth to power. He wasn’t afraid to confront those in leadership who were acting in defiance of godly principles or to the detriment of God’s people.
In this day and age, where the Evangelical church voted overwhelmingly for a thrice-married philanderer who has playmates for paramours and brags about grabbing women by their private parts, we need more prophets to speak up. When 800,000 federal workers, including those who help keep us safe – TSA workers, border control agents, the Coast Guard, and others – are not being paid for their service, we must speak up and speak out.
The prophet Elijah teaches us that closed heavens shouldn’t mean closed mouths. We must speak up…even in a shutdown. Part of speaking up is opening our mouths to give God praise – regardless of how we feel. Even when things are tight and money is low, we have to develop the mindset of the psalmist who says, “I will bless the Lord at ALL times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). Death and life are in the power of our tongues. Don’t let the shutdown shut you up!
2. We must SIT DOWN.
After Elijah spoke up, God told him to sit down. He says in 1 Kings 17:3, “Depart from here…and hide yourself by the brook Cherith.” God took him from the HIGH of speaking to the king and sent him into HIDING. Sometimes God will put us on the sidelines during a shutdown. When you speak up and speak truth to power that makes you a threat to the establishment and the status quo.
God sent Elijah into hiding to teach him (and us) the value of the hidden life. As the psalmist declares in Psalm 27:5, “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion.” The Lord sent Elijah into hiding to teach him to depend on God. Similarly, in a shutdown, we learn to survive by wholly depending on God, who is our Source. Our job is not our source. Our paycheck is not our source. We don’t find our source in congress or the White House. We find our source in God’s house.
Sometimes, God will direct us to sit down because He has to work some things out OF us before He can work some things out FOR us. What is interesting about this text is that not only does God tell Elijah to go into hiding, He also tells him where to hide. He sends Elijah to the brook Cherith, which in the Hebrew means “cutting” or “separation”.
The shutdown may feel like a lonely place, but that is often because God is using it as an opportunity to cut some things out of us and cut some people away from us. We just have to sit down long enough to allow Him to do His work. Which leads me to the third thing we must learn to do in order to survive a shutdown.
3. We must STICK AROUND.
When God sent Elijah to the brook Cherith during the shutdown, the Bible says he went and LIVED by the brook. To live means to inhabit, dwell in or stay. In other words, Elijah stayed were God sent him. When we are in a shutdown, it is vitally important that we stay where we were sent.
As long as Elijah stayed in the place where God sent him, God’s provision met him there. The Bible says that every morning and every evening, ravens showed up by the brook Cherith to feed Elijah. That means if Elijah decided he was tired of being at that brook and went somewhere else, he would have missed out on the blessings God was sending to him – all because he didn’t stick around.
Even during a drought or a shutdown, we must learn to stick around to learn the lessons and receive the blessings. We shouldn’t complain about the place we are in or the way God chooses to send our provision. We just need to stay in place and stick it out. I know it’s hard to survive during a shutdown, but don’t give up. Wait on the Lord and be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart (Psalm 27:14). Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not (Galatians 6:9).
If you want on God, He can shift you from a shutdown to your due season! God sent ravens to feed Elijah every day. Every day ravens flew in to bring Elijah his food. That means, in order to see the ravens, Elijah had to look up. The same principle applies for those of us who are surviving a shutdown. While we are waiting on God to send provision, we need to look up! The psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills…my help comes from the Lord” (Psalm 121:1-2). If you’re in a shutdown, keep looking up…help is on the way!
Now, we must also realize that during a shutdown sometimes things get worse before they get better. That’s exactly what happened to Elijah. One day, the Bible says that the brook dried up. What do you do when you’re surviving a shutdown and the thing God gave you to help you survive dries up?
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series on “Surviving a Shutdown” and I’ll tell you what to do when your brook dries up!
Note: This blog is from a sermon series at Mt. Calvary Holy Church of Winston-Salem. If you would like to view the message in its entirety, click here.