The Rain Is Coming: On Thanksgiving and the Holy Land
Author: Joel Pazmino
Pastor Joel shares some of his thoughts while on a mission trip to Israel.
As some of you know, I’m currently on a tour of the Holy Land. And today, which was day 2 but really our first day of traveling in Israel, I sensed that I needed to blog through some of my experiences. If anything else for my own sake to try and remember what God is speaking to me. I don’t like journaling, but blogging feels like the closest thing to it I can do.
There were two moments that really impacted me today. I’ll write about the second one tomorrow hopefully. But the first moment that was impactful to me was when we were in Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel if you don’t know is the place where Elijah has a showdown with the prophets of Baal during the reign of King Ahab. You can read that story in 1 Kings 18. The gist of it is that the people of Israel has turned to Baal worship, and because of that the Lord has stopped rain from falling on Israel for three and a half years. At the end of that time Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a showdown. They would both offer up a sacrifice up top of Mount Carmel, and whichever God would send fire from Heaven to burn the sacrifice, that was the one true God. Eventually, Yahweh, the true God of Israel, wins the showdown and the people of Israel turn back to God.
As a result of this, God is now ready to send the rain. So Elijah sends his servant to look out the mountain towards the sea and asks him if he sees anything. Six times the servant goes to look out and sees nothing. On the seventh time, the servant sees a cloud “small as a man’s hand” and Elijah tells him to get going because the rain is about to start. And as our tour guide was telling us that story, while on that mountain, I thought it was fascinating that even after God had showed up in an incredible way by sending fire from Heaven, it still didn’t seem like the rain was going to come. Six times the servant had to go look, and every time Elijah told the servant to go look out again, it wasn’t until the seventh time that he saw something. And what I find so interesting is that, during those six prior times the servant went to look out and didn’t see anything, the rain was already coming. Remember, this was after God had shown His power and defeated the prophets of Baal by sending fire from Heaven! (if you ask me, sending fire sounds a lot more complicated than sending rain). God’s power was never the issue here, the rain was already coming, it just hadn’t reached the line of sight of the servant.
And as I was thinking about this I was also thinking of how often this is true to my own experience. Often I feel like God has abandoned me, or that I’m facing an impossible situation that I have no idea how I’m going to get through. Even after I’ve seen God move and do amazing things, the very next moment when I’m expecting for the rain to come there is nothing on the horizon and I panic. And I mention all this because we are celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, but if I’m honest, in those moments, or in those seasons of life, when it feels like God has abandoned us, or when we are facing a difficult situation, it is really hard to be thankful isn’t it? There are years when it is hard to be thankful, when we dread the moment around the table when we have to say one thing we are thankful for and we have to do all we can to hold back the tears because what we are really thinking about is not what we are thankful for but the thing in our life that we are not thankful for, the problem, the draught that we are facing.
But could it be, that sometimes we are in that in-between? When the draught has ended, it’s just that the rain hasn’t gotten to our line of sight. Could it be that God truly is good and kind and faithful and has our good in mind even if we cannot see it right now?
This year is very easy for me to be thankful. I got to go to visit Ecuador with my wife after many years, our church was able to move to a location that suits us much better, and right now I’m in Israel for the first time. When I look back I have to say, this has been a year of incredible blessings. It hasn’t been a perfect year, it hasn’t been an easy year, in many ways I believe I’m going to look back at these first couple of years of church planting as one of the toughest seasons of our lives. Last year, it was harder for me to be thankful, there were a couple of times during the holiday season when I was just grateful to still be alive, because I didn’t feel there was much else to be grateful for. But in the midst of all that, God has been faithful to us. And this year, while not easy, we have seen God bless us and do things we couldn’t have imagined. Has God changed since last year? Has He gotten nicer? Decided to take it easier on us? Probably not, I think God is the same, it’s just that when we looked out the horizon all we could see was draught, even if the rain was coming.
I’m rooming with my friend Joe during this trip. And Joe said something today about the whole Mount Carmel episode. He said, “I want to be a man like Elijah, a man of strong faith.” You know what, he is right. Last year was a very difficult year for us, the challenges of church planting really hit us hard and we didn’t know if we were going to make it. And while I have plenty of regrets during that season, probably my biggest regret was that I gave in to despair a lot more often that I leaned in towards hope. And I think that one of the ways in which we lean in towards hope is precisely when we are thankful. When we thank God for what He has given us, but when we also thank God for the rain that is on the way, even if we can’t see it yet. Because He is a God who keeps His promises.
I don’t know what type of season you are going through, if you are experiencing the draught, or if you are experiencing the blessing of rain, or if you are in that in-between place, when the rain is coming but you can’t see it yet. But the one encouragement I would like to give you is that, what would this next year look like if you choose gratitude over despair? If you give God thanks for what He has already done, and if you believe that even if there is nothing right now when you look out at the horizon, the rain is on its way.