In 1 Kings 18 is one of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. There years previous, the great prophet Elijah had told evil King Ahab that God was going to cause a drought because of the wickedness of the nation of Israel. In his anger King Ahab pursued Elijah and killed and persecuted other followers of Yahweh, the God of the Bible. God told Elijah to come out of hiding and confront the king again. This time there was good news! God was going to send rain, but he wanted it to be clear that it was him not the false god Baal, who King Ahab and his wife Jezebel had been worshipping and leading the Jewish people to follow. He challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest with the nation watching. Each would set up a sacrifice and then pray for their god to send fire from the sky. Elijah gave the prophets of Baal many advantages. He picked Mt. Carmel, which the followers of Baal considered to be his home. He let them pick the best bull for sacrifice and there were 450 prophets of Baal versus Elijah, who was alone. Baal was sometimes depicted with lightening in his hand, so fire from the sky seemed to be up his alley. For six hours the prophets of Baal danced and cried out to their god, even cutting themselves in frustration. Finally, in sheer exhaustion they gave up in the face of absolute silence. Then Elijah rebuilt an altar to God, placed the sacrifice, and doused the offering over and over again with water to make sure everyone understood that no trickery was involved. He then prayed simply, “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again”(1 Kings 18:36, 37)
Then in a stunning display of power, God sent fire down to burn up the sacrifice and altar. The shocked people fell prostrate and cried out “The Lord He is God!” over and over again. When I think of this unique historical account, I see several lessons that can be embraced by those of us who wish to follow God as Elijah did. What does God expect of his servants? This article is not a comprehensive answer, but a snap shot of a few key traits which include:
Servants of god practice consistent obedience.
We live in an anti-authority culture. I think of “old blue eyes,” singer Frank Sinatra who sang “I did it my way.” It was a catchy song but a terrible way to live; Sinatra’s personal life was a wreck. He burned through four marriages and was alienated from his children. Just as those of us who love our children have rules to help our kids make it to adulthood (i.e. look both ways before crossing the street), our heavenly father gives us commands that are designed for our good. Fast forwarding in history to the ministry of Jesus Christ he once said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21a). Imagine what would happen if every American Christian actually did what Jesus commanded? As believers, we would stand before the throne of God and hear “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
Servants of god show courage
To be a servant of God requires a backbone. In this story it looked like Elijah had to stand alone before a nation in the face of 450 false prophets. Too many of us struggle when someone dislikes our Facebook posts; let alone having to face ongoing, dangerous persecution. Now the key is that it looked like Elijah was alone, but he was not alone. God was with him. Thousands of Christians are martyred for their beliefs around the world every year. This level of courage is hard to comprehend and we should all humbly acknowledge that, until we are faced with that decision, it is hard to know if we have that level of courage or not. I hope that I do, and that I have put that kind of courage into our children, if that excruciating moment is ever faced.
Servants of god speak and defend the truth
In a culture that talks about “my truth” and “your truth,” embracing a relative version of truth, we need to be people who speak for God’s absolute truth. God’s truth is bigger than my opinion or yours; it is the truth that flows out of the character of the perfectly holy and honest God of the Bible. Boldly speaking God’s truth can be shocking in our culture but is part of our calling. I am reminded of the line, often attributed to George Orwell, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Jesus even says that truth is more than principle but a person. He says of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to Father except through me” (John 14:6). The majority of Israel sincerely believed in Baal. You and I can be sincerely wrong. Only God’s truth as revealed by the Bible and the person of Christ can be completely trusted.
Servants Of God Call Themselves And Others To A Clear Cut Commitment.
Years ago folk singer Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody, it might be the devil or it might be the lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Neutrality is not an option. Elijah asked Israel, “How long will you waver between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21). God sent his one and only Son as the way of salvation and life. In essence he stands before each of us and says, ‘Follow me.” What is your answer?
Derek Dickinson is the Pastor at Journey Christian Church. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.