Anyone who has known me for a while knows that one of my favorite Bible characters is Elijah, whose initial narratives are found in 1 Kings 17, 18 and 19. These chapters include a great number of spiritual lessons and it seems that every time I revisit them, another emerges. Here’s one.
You might recall that, “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33b, ESV). That was saying a lot considering all the evil kings of Israel before him. As a result of all the things Ahab did (you can read some of those in the last paragraphs of chapter 16), as well as the open idolatry of Israel, the Lord raised up Elijah as His prophet and withheld the blessings of rain from the land.
Jump ahead. After three years of drought and following Elijah’s great success over the prophets of Baal (chapter 18), the Lord revealed to Elijah that He would end the drought. The prophets of Baal were gone and the Asherah hewn down (I presume). The people repented: “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39 ESV). So, the blessings of rain would return.
It is 1 Kings 18:42 (ESV) that leapt off the page at me today: “So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.” Ahab went home to eat and drink, happy about the promise of coming rain, but Elijah scaled Mt. Carmel to pray.
Consider for a moment the events of the prior three years. Elijah declared the drought and God miraculously used the ravens to feed Him by the brook Cherith. When the brook dried up, God cared for him in Sidon, by the hands of a widow and her son. The Lord fed them with a tiny bit of oil and flour for the remainder of the drought. When the widow’s son became ill and died, Elijah raised him from the dead. God hid and protected him from the eyes of Ahab when every surrounding nation had been put on notice to turn Elijah over to Israel’s king should they find him. At the appointed time, he challenged the evil king Ahab and lived. He challenged the prophets of the Baal and proved them to be the minions of a false god. He restored the altar of God and “prayed down” fire from heaven. He put the prophets to death in keeping with the ordinances of God (Deut. 13:1-11).
After all this, Elijah might have been convinced that he was something. Certainly his stature among the sons of Israel had increased greatly. He was no longer a wanted criminal. Instead he was a famous man, an icon. But the man of God knew that he had done none of these things by his own power or ingenuity. All of these things had been accomplished through Elijah, but only by prayer and in accordance with the will of God. Instead of going with the king or the people to eat and drink, he went up to the top of Mt. Carmel to pray and wait for God to move. Here is the point that the Lord spoke to me with today: It was not his stature before men that was important; it was his posture before God. If rain would fall, it would be God who brought it. Elijah bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees and earnestly desired God’s blessings for His people: dew and rain.
There on the mountain, while others ate and drank below, Elijah earnestly and humbly prayed, seven times, that God would send rain; and send rain He did. James wrote, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:17–18 ESV).
Afterwards, Elijah was so empowered that he actually ran ahead of the king’s chariot and arrived at Jezreel ahead of Ahab!
Whatever successes we may have had in the past will amount to naught unless we remain humble and fervent in prayer. It is not our stature before men that truly counts for the kingdom of Christ; it is our posture before God. We may be doctrinally sound, vibrant in public worship, and even functionally skilled in teaching and ministry, but if our hearts are not right before the Lord God, it is all vanity. Our next effective act of ministry relies upon Him as much as all the previous ones. In fact, we need to seek His face more than ever before lest we begin to believe that we are something when it is Christ who is the source and end of all that we are and all we do. In Him we will be empowered to do even more than before.
A final thought: John the Baptist, according to Jesus, was the greatest man ever born to woman. He came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). When faced with the rising popularity of Jesus’ ministry and the decline of his own, he said (and put it so very well), “He must increase, but I must decrease”
Soli Deo Gloria!