It may at first appear that I’m a bit arrogant to imply that the Old Testament prophet Elijah and I bear any comparison. I propose to show you it is true. Elijah and I have something in common.
On a recent Sunday, during our Gap pre-service prayer time, our pastor pointed to a Bible reference on the screen and asked us to consider the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.
It’s a wonderful story in I Kings 18. God’s man Elijah was fed up with King Ahab disrespecting him and mocking the Lord, so he said, in essence, “Okay, let’s have a showdown!”
The next thing you know, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah turn up at Mount Carmel for the confrontation. As instructed, they brought two bulls, one for them and one for Elijah.
They killed their bull and cut it up into pieces, as did Elijah, and placed the pieces on the wood, but “Don’t light the fire,” Elijah told them. The idea was that whichever sacrifice was consumed in fire would prove who was God.
Here’s where it gets interesting:
Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal. “Since there are so many of you, you take a bull and prepare it first. Pray to your god, but don’t set fire to the wood.”
They prepared bull and prayed to Baal until noon. They shouted. “Answer us. Baal!” and kept dancing around the altar they had built. But no answer came.
Elijah became positively scathing. “Yell louder! Maybe you need to wake him up—he could be daydreaming. Or maybe he is off somewhere relieving himself.”
No matter what they did—crying louder, cutting themselves and making themselves bleed—nothing happened. No fire, not even a spark. This went on until late in the afternoon.
Finally Elijah urged the people to come near to him. He rebuilt the altar of the Lord with twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. He instructed them to build a trench around the altar, and then positioned the pieces of the bull on the wood. When he had done so, he ordered the whole thing doused in water. Three times he had the altar, the wood and the bull drenched.
At the hour of the afternoon sacrifice Elijah approached the altar and prayed, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove now that you are the God of Israel, and that I am your servant and have done all this at your command. Answer me, LORD; answer me, so that this people will know that you, the LORD, are God and that you are bringing them back to yourself.”
The LORD sent fire, burning up the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones, scorched the earth and dried up the water in the trench.
When the people saw this, they threw themselves on the ground and exclaimed. “The LORD is God; the LORD alone is God!”
Isn’t that a great story? I think so. I’ve heard the story since childhood, and I’ve always known it was wonderful, but this last hearing truly impressed me.
One day as I was praying, I cried out to God, “Oh LORD! I know you are God. You alone are God. I am fierce in my love for you and my faith in you. I’m bringing you my petitions and LORD I want the faith of Elijah. I’m asking for fire to come down from Heaven to deal with the issues I’m bringing you today. I am fierce in my love for my children and grandchildren, and they have needs!”
Now, let me be clear: I do not hear voices. I have never heard the audible voice of God except when he speaks through other humans. What I receive are impressions, and over my many years, I recognize them as God speaking to me. The only way I can convey what I am receiving from him is to paraphrase in my own language, and here is what I believe was God’s answer to my audacious prayer:
First I should say that I had the sense that he chuckled. “I guess you are a bit like Elijah, aren’t you? You’ve had real miracles in your life and yet I see you off in a corner feeling sorry for yourself. You feel all alone and abandoned and convinced somebody is wishing you ill.”
Ah. Yes. It was AFTER the big blowout on Mount Carmel, mind you, when Elijah was sitting under a broom tree wanting to die. He says he has been zealous for the Kingdom, and it all seemed as if it had been for nothing.
Here is how wonderful, gracious and loving God was to Elijah: He spoke to Elijah. Not in the wind and not in the earthquake, and not in the fire, but in a whisper. God was so close to his servant that Elijah could hear him whisper.
Oh, I connect with Elijah on so many levels.
Absent any information to the contrary, I’m going to assume Elijah was an older fellow, say about 71 years old—after all, he’d been at this prophet business quite a while.
He was human. We tend to forget that about the holy people in the Bible, but his taunt that Baal might be relieving himself was quite earthy. I have been known to make earthy statements myself. I am working on that.
He could confidently say he did his best—he poured his heart into his ministry—and the results were disappointing. He felt unappreciated. He felt outnumbered and alone.
He was outnumbered 950 to one, but HE served the Living God! That knocks me out! The 950 were whooping and hollering to non-existence.
Think of it! We humans are living on Planet Earth in the year 2011 A.D., AFTER the Advent, mind you! Like Elijah we might be outnumbered, but we are never alone. How confident we may be that God is with us. God hears. God cares!