Sunday, April 1, 2012

Elijah

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One of my favorite Biblical heroes is Elijah.  He’s so human.  At one moment he’s bold and courageous for the Lord in front of 850 false prophets of pagan gods, and then the next he’s running for his life, scared because a queen, one person, threatens his life.  I like Elijah because the way he felt the ups and downs of life feels so human and so relatable

We don't know a whole lot about Elijah's back story.  He’s called Elijah the Tishbite from Tishbe in Gilead.  There’s debate as to where exactly that is.  One possible translation could be “Elijah the stranger from among the strangers in Gilead.”  We aren’t given any family information about him; we don’t know what clan in which tribe, nothing like that.  We don’t know how long he was in the ministry for.  We don’t know how God called him, we don’t know anything.  We don’t know if he was on his way to the temple one day and God gave him this huge, amazing, life-changing vision, or if it was something simple, run-of-the mill ordinary.  We don’t know.  He just all of a sudden shows up in 1 Kings 17.

He tells Ahab, king of Israel, one of the wickedest kings in Israel’s history, that there is going to be a drought.  He tells Ahab in 17:1 that “there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”  Did you catch the authority God gave him?  It wasn’t at God’s word.  It was at Elijah’s word.  I find that very interesting that God gave that sort of power to a single individual--it's the kind of situation you usually only find in a Morgan Freeman and Jim Carrey movie.  You don’t get that kind of power and authority for nothing—this is a man who trusts God, who is following after what God has told him to do.  This is a mighty man of God who recognizes that God is more powerful that the King of Israel.  He tells the King, who’s kind of a powerful guy, that by the power of God Almighty, there will be no rain until I say so.  I think it’s safe to say that King Ahab was a little mad.  So God told him to hide.  So he did.  Elijah went and hid near the brook God told him too, and he was fed by ravens.  Think about that for a moment.  Would you trust God enough to let him lead you to a small brook in the wilderness, to be fed by ravens, knowing that there was a drought coming on?  How much faith would that take?  Answer honestly to yourself: would you be able to do that?

So then brook dried up (there was a drought going on, after all), and then God sent him to a widow, way up north in an area ruled by Sidon.  When he met her, she was gathering sticks to cook a last meal for her and her son.  But God’s providence shone through.  Her oil and her flour lasted until the drought went away.  Later on, her son died, Elijah brought him back from the dead.

The Holy Spirit is very much alive and well and working throughout people all over the world.  Miracles such as this definitely still happen, but even in Biblical times it was a rarity.  In the Bible, how many people raised someone else from the dead?  Five.  Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, Peter and Paul.  That’s a pretty short list, containing some awesome Biblical heroes.  The point I’m trying to make by going through Elijah’s backstory is this:  he was no spiritual lightweight.  He was a man accustomed to going to spiritual war.]

And
Elijah had some spiritual guts, didn’t he?  He was all ready for spiritual war.  He meets face to face with King Ahab, a King who wants him dead.  And Ahab isn’t a guy who sits idly by.  He and his wife are cold blooded murderers.  Later on, the kill a guy named Naboth for his vineyard.  And Elijah has no problem confronting Ahab face to face.  Why?  Because he’s standing in the power of God.  He’s decked out in his spiritual armor.  He has no reason to be afraid.

Elijah boldly confronts Ahab and his 850 prophets.  Outnumbered to such a great degree, Elijah challenges them to test to see who's God can cause fire to come down from the sky and consume a burnt offering, a task that should be easy to the prophets of Baal, god of the storms.  The whole day these men call upon their God, waiting for Baal to answer them.  The whole time, Elijah is taunting them, at one time telling them to yell louder because Baal might be taking a leak and was unable to hear them.  (By the way, that's one of my favorite Bible verses.)  Elijah was fearless throughout because He knew God had His back.

Then it was Elijah's turn to test God.  Immediately, God reigned down fire and consumed the bull being offered up as a burn offering, along with all the water that Elijah had drenched the offering in, just to prove how awesome God is.  Things went great for Elijah...no so much for the 850 guys who were decapitated.

Elijah knew from all of his previous experiences with God that God had his back.  When God fed him via ravens, via the widow’s oil and flour that didn’t run out during the drought, when Elijah raised the widow’s son from the grave—all those were powerful experiences in Elijah’s life.  Things he remembered and looked back upon to know God was protecting him.  Now, I’ve never been fed by a raven.  I’ve never had a container of flour or oil that miraculously refills, though I have had tanks of gas that have lasted longer than they should have.  I’ve never raised a widows’ son from the dead.  And I think it’s safe to say that none of us have had those exact experiences.  But we all have had times where God has taken what seems to be an impossible situation and turned it around.  A family member’s illness.  Finances.  Children.  Jobs.  The list goes on and on.  Whatever you’re facing, whatever is worrying you and stressing you out, remember God’s past faithfulness. 

Elijah didn't always do a good job of remembering God's faithfulness, though.  When Jezebel sends a messenger threatening his life, what does Elijah do?  Does he remember the mighty ways God sustained him when the ravens fed him?  No.  Does he remember that the widow’s oil and flour didn’t run out?  No.  Did he remember raising the widow’s son from the dead?!?  No!  He forgot his boldness and courage.  He forgot what God did for him.  He flip-floped from absolute confidence in God to fear of another person.

But that wouldn’t happen to us, would it?  We never forget what God for us.  We always remember everything, right?  We forget things.  I read something awhile back—something true, by the way—about a man who had a birthday.  At his workplace, a cake is always gotten for whoever’s birthday it is.  Except they forgot that it was his birthday.  What really made it stung wasn’t the fact that he’d been working there for over a year.  What made it sting even worse was the fact that the restaurant where he worked was owned by his dad and grandparents.

Spiritually, we do similar things.  We forget what God has done for us.  That’s stupid to do.  I’m as guilty as the next person of it.  But it’s still stupid.  A key aspect to a healthy spiritual life is a good memory.  We must remember the everything God has done for us in the past.

So Elijah runs away in fear.  He collapses underneath a tree and prays for God to take his life.  Elijah seems like he’s at the end of the rope, doesn’t he?  Has God given Elijah more than he can bear?  Has He?  Yes?  No?  Does God give people more than they can bear?  I know I’ve been told before that God will not give us more than we can bear, but that statement is a lie.  Nowhere is that found in the Bible.  The closest we find is where we are told that we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear.  That is completely true.  But the idea that God will never give us more than we can bear…not true.

In fact, Scriptures speak of the exact opposite being the case.  In Second Corinthians, Paul tells the church there that he and his companions were under great pressure, beyond what they could endure.  Paul says that they despaired even of life.  But, according to Paul, the reason this happened was so that they would rely upon God even more.  Paul and Elijah aren’t alone.  Out of the 4,000 plus people mentioned in the Bible, a lot of them were brought to their breaking point and beyond by God, all so that they would rely on Him more.  Why should we think we are any different?  Why should we think we’re immune?  I’ve talked to Christians before who thought that something was wrong with them because they felt like God was putting on them more than they could handle.  If that’s you, don’t feel bad.  God does it in our lives to bring is in closer to Him.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  It’s just a part of God’s process.  And the next step is to just give it over to God.  That’s what He wants.

Elijah is just one of thousands of people named in the Bible, one of many who was under God’s covenant.  From all these people, we can learn a plethora of practical lessons.  Elijah is no exception.  From the Bible, we see Elijah when he is probably at his best and his worst.  He’s human, just like you and I.  There’s nothing spectacular about him, other than the fact that he followed God to the best of his ability.

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