With Elijah in the school of prayer
1Kings 18: Oh yes, a cloud! But very small….
Revival has come to the famine, drought stricken land of Israel. The people have turned from Baal back to Jehovah God. Now Elijah, God’s man, turns his attention to the drought. He begins to pray for rain. Six times he stops praying and sends his servant to scan the horizon and six times there’s a negative report. Elijah never gives up and continues calling on God to send rain. Then, on his seventh reconnaissance mission, the servant reports a very small cloud rising out over the sea. That’s enough for Elijah. He stops praying and starts preparing for a rainstorm! This incident causes me to think about prayer. I wonder why it is that Elijah could pray one 30-second prayer resulting in fire falling from the sky, but then has to pray seven intense prayers to get rain to fall from the sky. My own prayer life, in much less spectacular ways, is like that. Some prayers are answered quickly and others, after years, are still unanswered. Then, this story reminds me of the power of prayer. Many years later James uses this incident as his example of what happens when just one man prays a fervent prayer. It’s interesting that Elijah doesn’t contact everyone he knows (the country is filled with newly committed followers of God) to ask them to join him in praying for rain. In similar circumstances I might have posted the need on the Internet and fired up the church prayer chain. Instead, Elijah just shoulders the task and starts praying this important prayer. Finally, there’s Elijah’s response to the cloud the “size of a man’s hand.” For me, that would be encouragement to hang in there and keep praying, but for him, it’s answer enough. In this case, his ceasing prayer is more of an act of faith than his continuing in prayer. For those of us who are “prayer learners” this is instructive reading indeed.
Take Away: The prayer of a righteous person avails much.
The God of Second Chances
1Kings 18: Reveal to this people that you are God…and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.
The “god-contest” is about over. Baal’s priests have prayed for hours. They’ve cried out and they’ve offered their cruel god their own blood. But there’s been no answer. The lone prophet of Jehovah God steps up. Now, it’s his turn. There’s no shouting and Elijah doesn’t cut himself to get his God’s attention. Instead, he cries out for God’s mercy: “Show them that you are giving them another chance” he prays. I am glad today that God is the God of Second Chances. Even when we mess up in stupid ways, God offers us second chances to repent and turn. Note that this isn’t about God turning a blind eye to their sin, offering to take them back on their own terms. The “second chance” is the chance to repent and change their ways and return to him. It’s a great offer that gives those of us who’ve crossed over the line away from God the opportunity to return. In this story, the falling fire on the sacrifice is a minor thing in comparison with the mercy of God that falls on these backslidden Hebrews.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances and that’s good news because we desperately need a second chance.
The God who answers with fire
1Kings 18: The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.
Elijah proposes a sort of contest between Baal and Jehovah. An animal sacrifice will be prepared and laid out. Only one thing will be missing: the fire. Baal’s prophets will call out for their god to send fire, and then Elijah, God’s man, will call out to his God for fire. Whichever one sends fire will be the One they’ll worship. The people agree to the proposal, calling it “a good plan” and the contest begins. I think it is, indeed, “a good plan.” Why serve a god that can’t answer? If Jehovah God can act, if he can move in this world and in our lives, it makes perfect sense to serve him. That’s one side of the story. The other is a reminder that we have no authority to set up hoops and demand that God jump through them if he wants us to serve him. Not only has he already answered with fire in this story, but also he continues to work in this world every day. The very fact that the sun came up this morning is proof that he is God. Frankly, the fact that you’re reading this right now, even as you’ve had questions about the reality of God is evidence that he’s real and that he’s reaching out to you. Tell you what, if you’ll respond to this offer of fellowship from the Lord, you’ll experience something a lot more impressive than fire falling from heaven as God moves on your heart and life. And, it can happen this very hour!
Take Away: When you reach out to the Lord in faith he’ll move in ways in your life just as convincing as fire falling from heaven.
Sitting on a barbwire fence
1Kings 18: How long are you going to sit on the fence?
No doubt, Elijah has everyone’s attention. The drought and resultant famine has seen to that. Now he calls for a meeting and a confrontation. Their divided loyalties have created a pitiful situation. Historically, they’ve worshipped Jehovah, but for generations now worship of Baal has grown like a cancer in their number. Now, it appears that Jehovah worship is going to be only seen in the history books as they align themselves with Baal. Yet, somehow, they’re having a hard time committing themselves to Baal. The recent drought has caused some doubts. Why couldn’t this fertility god answer their prayers for the rain necessary for them to grow crops? The result of their doubt is that they’re terrible followers of Jehovah God and not very good followers of Baal either. Elijah says it is time for a decision to follow the God who answers prayer, who has power in this world. Our nation has more in common with these ancient Jews than we might think. We too are on the fence. We sing “God bless America” and put “In God we trust” on our currency. We open sessions of Congress and the Supreme Court in prayer. At the same time, we ignore God’s Law and seek to isolate him from secular society. We tip our hat to God but really want to serve, not Baal, but ourselves, and in so doing, adopt a religion of materialism, secular humanism, and pleasure. Will God send an “Elijah” to challenge our nation? Does the Church even want that to happen?
Take Away: It’s rather unreasonable to sing “God bless America” while at the same time attempting to isolate him from all but a few corners of our lives.
Are you a troublemaker?
1Kings 18: So it’s you, old troublemaker!
Ahab has looked everywhere he can for Elijah but without success. Elijah had appeared out of nowhere, announced God’s judgment, and then disappeared for three years. Now he’s back and Ahab’s first words to him are, “So it’s you, old troublemaker.” Elijah responds with the truth. He’s no troublemaker. Instead, it’s Ahab and his Baal-worshipping, God-insulting leadership of Israel that’s the source of all the trouble. Of course, that’s how it always is. We always want to blame others for our failures. Sometimes failure is blatant, as was Ahab’s. Other times it’s unintentional, the result of human misunderstanding. Either way, the first thing we do at times like that is to look around for someone to blame. Ahab could have allowed the three years of drought and hardship to soften his heart. He could have realized that the idol Baal he worshiped couldn’t make it rain and therefore wasn’t worthy of his faithfulness. It’s his sin that brought about the famine and it’s his repentance that could end it. Instead, he becomes angry with Elijah for standing up to him. On one hand, I don’t want mirror Ahab’s refusal to see the truth when it’s right in front of me. On the other hand, I need to remember that sometimes I may be called upon by God to serve in Elijah’s position; to be the one who’s used to accomplish his purpose in the world. In that case, being called an “old troublemaker” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Take Away: It may be that not everyone will cheer when we are used by the Lord.
A miracle working God
1Kings 17: The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty….
The drought brought about by the judgment of God is a hardship for everyone. Elijah goes into hiding and for a time God sends ravens to feed him. Now, as the drought brings famine to the land, the man of God is sent to Zarephath for long-term lodging. The widow there is nearly out of food and about to surrender to starvation when Elijah shows up. He makes the startling promise that as long as the drought continues she won’t run out of oil or flour. And that’s how it is. For the duration of the ordeal God supplies the need. It’s good to know that God is the Way Maker in our lives. Only he can make something out of nothing. I need to be careful to not be so blinded by my circumstances that I count God out. Generally speaking, he works through the normal course of life to bless us, but he’s not limited to that. If necessary, he can work his purposes by suspending the laws of Creation and performing miracles. That’s the God I serve!
Take Away: Never count God out.
God’s man storms onto the stage
1Kings 17: Elijah the Tishbite, from among the settlers of Gilead, confronted Ahab.
To say that Elijah “appeared” is a great understatement. This spiritual giant storms onto the stage. The dreary story of one failure after another by the kings of Israel has given us a feeling of gathering darkness. Now, for the first time since Samuel’s day we meet a powerful prophet of God. Elijah, God’s man, will change the dreary status quo. We have no record of his ancestry and his home town is nearly as obscure. King Ahab is feeling pretty secure in his sin when this unknown man appears to confront him with his spiritual failure. God’s going to move directly into what Ahab believes is Baal’s territory. No more rain until Elijah, in the Name of the Lord, permits it. From this first public move and for the rest of his life, all eyes of Israel are going to be on Elijah. Then beyond his life he’ll challenge and inspire generations. This is God at work, moving when it seems all is lost. I pray that God will raise up some “Elijahs” for our day too.
Take Away: There are times when the Lord moves in unmistakable, powerful ways. Let’s pray we will see such a move in our society, today.
Champion of evil
1Kings 16: Ahab son of Omri did even more evil before God than anyone yet — a new champion in evil!
Kings of Israel rise and fall and most die violent deaths. Zimri assassinates Elah, but only reigns seven days before he’s killed by Omri. Omri lives an “empty-headed, empty-hearted life” but does purchase a hill upon which he builds the new capital city, Samaria. It’s his son Ahab who so sells out to evil that he’s given the dubious title, “champion of evil.” The other kings are nothing to be proud of, but their spiritual failure is minor in comparison to his. He marries the wicked Jezebel, builds a temple for the worship of the idol Baal, and becomes an enemy to the remaining people of God. The long slide away from God and to paganism is nearly complete under Ahab’s leadership. However, God isn’t finished yet…here comes Elijah!
Take Away: Always remember this: no matter how dark the situation the Lord keeps his promises.