I frantically flipped through my Bible last night trying to remember which book in the Old Testament contained the stories of Elijah. I was coming off several days of mental quandary and I wanted to read about someone else living a ludicrous life, just to feel like I was in good company.Really… how did he do it? How did he go on night after night sleeping alone in the dying weeds beside the drying brook and being fed by dirty ravens? How did he keep going knowing that his life was being sought by the most powerful man around? (And the most powerful woman around, Jezebel, the instigator of most of the evil of King Ahab.) And most intriguing to me, how did he go on when almost everyone was against him?And what I really wanted to know was what he did with his own ego.When Ahab was seeking his life, was Elijah angry? And if he was angry, could he always tell whether he was angry for personal reasons or whether it was a righteous anger?And when it came to the standoff on Mt. Carmel, did he struggle with a self-centered sense of competition and wanting to prove the others wrong because of all the evil they had done to him?
If you are working for God, how do you make sure that you are only working for God and not for yourself?
I wasn’t doubting Elijah; I was doubting myself. Am I upset because wrong was done, or am I upset because my feelings are hurt? Am I happy because right is prevailing, or am I happy because I was proven right?
Then, there on Mt. Carmel, as if his life is not ridiculous enough, Elijah turns to his altar, the one that is supposed to start on fire, and starts pouring water over it.
Deep in the black-and-white pages of First Kings, sitting in front of my electric fireplace, I felt better about my own life with every verse. Elijah’s looks so impossible! (How did they get all that water up there anyway, in a drought?)
Apparently, Elijah wanted it to be perfectly clear to every person watching that the work would be God’s alone. He wanted the Baal-worshiping crowds to know that even if the circumstances were extremely difficult God can still answer prayer. He wanted all of Israel to know that no matter how physically impossible something is, God transcends the rules.I think he hoped the image of the barrels of water sloshing across the altar would stamp itself in the minds of every man woman and child on the mountain. I think he wanted to hear them say “That’s impossible!” Or “He’s crazy!” just so they could be proven wrong by God Himself.Then he began to pray as if nothing was unusual.So now I wonder… when I encounter situations that people say are impossible, how do I treat them? When I find myself praying for something or someone and there appears to be no hope at all, Do I give up?Because perhaps we all ask for fire to fall from heaven at some point in our lives. Perhaps I have been guilty in the past of shaking my head and walking away and saying it’s against the laws of nature for fire to start in a soggy mess of wood and meat.
There’s a lot of logic to that way of thinking, a lot of security in knowing we won’t look like an idiot. The people were kind of right; Elijah was kind of crazy to pour that water everywhere and then ask God for fire.
We can’t be proven wrong if we simply don’t ask God for anything. We want to be logical and practical and respected. We’ve seen everyone around us calling on their gods of prestige and power and money all day long and nothing has changed. We don’t want to be the next idiot. It hasn’t happened before. It never will happen.
But Elijah knew his God and it did happen, and everyone watching saw all those gallons of water start on fire and burn completely.
So perhaps that’s how Elijah avoided his own ego.He made it entirely clear that only God could have answered.
By pouring the water he made himself look crazy to bring God the ultimate glory. There would be no mistake in anyone’s mind that the miracle was God’s, not Elijah’s.I want to have the faith to believe that He will work when there is no earthly reason to expect that. I want to be willing to look like a fool, if only God can be proven powerful.
This is an aspect of hope and trust that I have never yet fully lived. But if Elijah could have it in the Old Testament before Christ, then you and I can have that same faith today, no matter what.