Isn't it interesting how following God's will for our lives rarely results in the rewards we expect? I'm reading a book titled Plan B by Pete Wilson that basically is talking about navigating the feelings we have when God doesn't work like we thought or hoped. Then, non-coincidentally, I am reading in 1 Kings where God doesn't work like those who follow Him thought He would or hoped.
For example, the widow who obediently makes the "last" of her oil and flour into a cake for Elijah first (and consequently never runs out of those two ingredients while Elijah is there), has her son get sick and die. Surely that wouldn't have happened with a God who really cares, right? That is some reward. I can't begin to imagine all that she goes through, though the Bible does give us one of her comments to Elijah, "What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!" (1Kings 17:18). I would imagine that she wishes at this moment to have fed her and her son the last of the bread and just died together from starvation rather than feel the anguish of loosing her son this way.
But then, God reveals Himself in a way that could not have been seen without the tragedy; He raises the boy back to life! Talk about whiplash! First she goes through the death of her husband, then a famine, then starvation; Elijah shows up and suddenly there is enough food! Then her son gets sick and even dies; Elijah prays and God restores him!
Just in the next chapter, God calls Obadiah (who has been faithfully following God under the oppressive reign of Ahab and Jezebel, even to the point of hiding 100 prophets and feeding them during the famine) to confront King Ahab, risking his life, to announce that Elijah is there. Again, not the reward Obadiah expected for his obedience. His response to Elijah is recorded in 1 Kings 18:13,14. Basically he tells Elijah about all he's done and surely he isn't expected to do this. But he is, and he does, and he lives.
As if this isn't enough, Elijah himself, evidently not immune to this whiplash effect, has a mountain-top experience of revealing God through the contest on Mt. Carmel, only to have Jezebel come after him to kill him. Surely after such a display of God's power, this evil woman could be dispatched by God. Elijah runs into the wilderness and depressed, prays for God to take his life. Instead, God sends angels to give him water and bread and let's him recover for a couple days. After this sustenance, God takes him 40 days/nights into the wilderness to His mountain and reveals himself to Elijah. They have a conversation where Elijah shares his concerns, and God tells him what to do and how He will divide the burden to others and will give Elijah a protege/helper.
I wonder if this is what Elijah expected. After seeing God bring down fire to consume a saturated altar, surely He could just do that to all the evil ones. But He didn't. God works in His ways to His purposes. He often takes us along the long paths because as Pete Wilson puts it, "...we often misunderstand something important about God's will - which is that it's often a process, not a final destination." Pastor Rick Warren also states that "God is more interested in your character than your comfort."
These statements give me mixed feelings. The knowledge that this refining will be a likely series of processes is a little frustrating, but ultimately I can rest in knowing that God is refining me. I want to be used by God and this is how He works. It doesn't all turn out like we think it should here on earth, but it will ultimately turn out just like it should.