Digging Ditches – 2 Kings 3

The first message in our 21 days of prayer and fasting

Find the rest of the messages in this series here.

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On Labor Day weekend in 2011, my 6th Anniversary as pastor of our congregation, 53 people gathered for worship. It was the 2nd lowest attended Sunday of that year, second only to Memorial Day weekend which had 52. That number was actually only two thirds of what we averaged in 2011…

I don’t remember who was there that Sunday, but I know that there was a little girl just a few weeks shy of turning 1 in the nursery which was directly behind the sanctuary in those days and in the room that was the nursery Nicole taught Children’s church… I asked those gathered to turn to 2 Kings 3 and I preached a labor day weekend message on the relationship between prayer and digging ditches. That message stuck out in the minds of people, it worked its way into the ethos of our congregation and the phrases “dig a ditch and pray for water” and “dig a ditch and trust God to send the water” started popping in conversations, in leadership meetings, and eventually would prompt one of our core values,

We pray bold, work hard, thank God, and repeat.

As we begin this new year, a year that I believe has incredible potential for our church, I want us to return to those roots, that ethic of prayer and work.

For many people, prayer is seen as merely passive. Prayer is viewed as something we do instead of working- but in this passage we have a great picture of what we find throughout the scripture.

Prayer is often answered in the form of blood, sweat, and tears.

A few months ago I spoke to you about the Harvest- remember the context that Jesus spoke to the disciples about the harvest in? Remember he said that there were laborers needed and that they should be praying that the Lord sends forth laborers into the harvest… God is in the midst of doing that here in our congregation and building a movement of his kingdom here among us… God is answering our prayer for laborers in the harvest… In this passage of scripture we have the story of 3 kings who are headed into battle.

They are out looking to fight, they have travelled for 7 days and they are without water for themselves and for the cattle that they have with them. So they can’t give their men anything to drink and they are about to lose their source of food. No matter the source of the problem, they realized their only hope out of this situation was some divine help. Then they realize that Elisha is nearby.

Read 2 Kings 3:9-20

Now there could have been a lot of debate between the 3 kings about what had gone wrong here. Was it a poor plan? Had they chosen a route with no water supply? Perhaps it was no ones fault and they were in this predicament because there had been no rain… Maybe they had a great plan but circumstances had turned against them, perhaps God wanted them to recognize they needed him before they went to battle, maybe this was a learning moment…

No matter how they ended up here, it was clear that they needed divine help. That was true whether or not they ran out of water. Unfortunately we often only come to God in prayer when we find ourselves in desperate situations.  We only come to God in prayer when everything goes wrong, when the only reason anything goes right is because of God’s grace. By metrics, things are going pretty well here at Faith Church right now. We just had our 4th consecutive year of growth in attendance and finance. We’ve grown 9 of the past 10 years in attendance and 8 out of the past 10 in finances.

However, our need is just as desperate today as it was in 2011, or 2005, or 2001. I had a conversation with someone just a few weeks ago about the fact that, well basically I don’t know what I’m doing… I don’t mean I’m making it up as I go, but I’ve never led a congregation of this size before, I’ve never led as many volunteers as we have now, I’ve never taken a church to two services before…

We are always in desperate need of prayer, even when our circumstances do not drive us to prayer.

While circumstances at our church might be all up and to the right, we are still very desperate. We are in definite need of prayer. BTW, while our church may not be dying of thirst… our community most definitely is- the situation in our community is as desperate as ever…

Maybe God is using the circumstances in your life to make it obvious to you that you are in desperate need right now… That’s a gift. I’m sure it doesn’t feel like it, but coming to realize how desperately you need God is a gift!

Now there are some lessons for us to learn here from this passage.

  1. There are jobs that God will not do for us.

There were definitely times that God’s people needed water and God sent it through the rain.God did this through Elijah.

God gave water to the people in the desert from a rock that Moses hit with his staff.

However, I believe that in every case you can find that the people of God had some responsibility on their to take care of…

A good example of this scenario is that we find also in the exodus out of Egypt, that God provided food for the people every morning called Manna.

However, the people had to go and collect it each day- and if they tried to take a shortcut and collect several days worth, it would spoil.

So here in this case, God says I will send water but first you need to dig some ditches or make some irrigation channels for the water to flow into and be held in.

So the people need God’s help and He gives them a job to do. He gives them a part of the process…

And in this case, He gives them a hard task. Dig ditches.

When people speak of work, they often use the task of digging a ditch as some of the most difficult or even menial work.

“I’ll dig ditches if that’s what I have to do to pay for…”

“Even if he grows up to be a ditch digger I will be proud of him”

It is told that a General would choose commanding officers through a ditch digging exercise.

I think there is an important lesson for us here. I think we must realize that God’s blessings in our lives are not cheap. They are not freebies, they are not easy.

Now this is difficult, because our relationship with God is not based on works. We believe in free grace and free salvation for all.

We believe Eph 2:8-9

For by grace are ye saved, through faith. Not of works…

We do not work for our salvation, however even in that we have a responsibility.

God died on the cross to pay the price for your sin and mine but we only experience that Grace when we are willing to choose it, to accept it, to receive it, or believe it.

When I read about the lives of great preacher and missionaries of years gone by, I read about people who had a great faith combined with a great work ethic.

They believed God would do great things through their lives and that inspired them to do incredible work.

These Kings come to Elisha and say we need water and Elisha says, God will bless you with water so dig some ditches to receive it and hold it in.

You see many people love the “Name it and claim it” concept of Christianity. You name a promise of God and you claim it for your very own.

But what I see God often doing through His people is working through a “Request it, dig for it, and receive it” process.

I see God responding to people who say,

“God I want more of you in my life”

and they dig for Him in the Word, they search for Him in prayer,

and they experience His truth and His blessing.

These guys came to Elisha for some help, they didn’t come looking for work, but when they were told that God would bless through their efforts, they started digging.

Maybe you are here today and you say-

Pastor Daniel I want to see my kids grow up to live for God-

Here’s a shovel. – Ask any parent here, that is going to take work.

Pastor Daniel I want to get out of debt and glorify God with my finances – Here’s a shovel and an ax. I have seen God do that very thing through people who have been willing to work and cut their spending.

Pastor Daniel I want my marriage to make it – Here’s a shovel.

Pastor Daniel I want to see our church grow – Here’s a shovel.

Paul would encourage believers and ministers with the words:

1 Corinthians 15:58

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

There are jobs that God will not do for us.

There are jobs that only God can do for us.

These guys could dig ditches, but only God could send the water.

They could say a prayer, but only God could answer it.

You can put in the effort of training your child, but only God can change their heart.

You can work hard and save your money, but only God can keep you employed, healthy, and whole host of things that could go wrong that will cost you everything.

We can work hard and pray, but only God can truly grow a church. Only God can change lives.

God won’t do your job for you,

you can’t do His job for Him.

These guys went to digging because they believed.

The believed because it was their only hope

But also because they had seen God send water before.

The truth that only God can send the water is not only the key to seeing great things accomplished, it often the barrier to attempting great things.

It’s only when we believe that God will send the water that we will dig a ditch.

If we don’t believe that God will send the water, we won’t dig the ditches.

So what I think I have to tell you this morning is this:

God has sent the water.

God is sending the water.

God has done great things for us.

God has answered prayers!