Elijah was one of the great prophets of Israel, but he did not leave behind any written records of his prophecies. His life and deeds are recorded in the Book of Kings, where we learn that he was a man of faith and courage who confronted the idolatry and corruption of his time. His name Elijah means ‘the Lord is my God’, and this is the message he embodied and proclaimed to the people of Israel. How did he do this? Not because he was superhuman or a specially gifted person, but a man with a nature like ours. He had his own struggles, fears, and failures, but he also had a fervent prayer life and a deep trust in God’s promise and purposes. Because of this he did not let the challenges and opposition he faced deter him from obeying God’s call and fulfilling his mission. He relied on God’s strength and faithfulness, not his own abilities or resources. In other words, he was an ordinary man who served an extraordinary God.
Elijah performed miraculous signs and wonders by the power of God. He challenged King Ahab to a contest on Mount Carmel, where he invited the prophets of Baal and all the Israelites to choose between the Lord and Baal (the false God they had come to trust). He invited them to prepare a sacrifice and call on their god. He would do likewise. The God who answered with fire would be the true God. The followers of Baal did as instructed but no fire came from heaven. Then Elijah repaired the Lord’s altar, arranged the sacrifice, and drenched it with water. He prayed to the Lord, and the Lord responded: Fire from the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell face down and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
Elijah had just witnessed a powerful demonstration of God’s sovereignty on Mount Carmel. He had seen God answer his prayer with fire from heaven, and he had led the people to acknowledge The Lord as the only true God. But this was also a precarious moment for him. Elijah had exerted a lot of energy–both physical and spiritual. He had experienced a peak of faith, but he also needed to be prepared for the lows that might follow. His hopes for a national revival and reform were shattered when he received a threatening message from Jezebel, the wicked queen who supported Baal worship. Instead of rejoicing in God’s victory, Elijah became fearful and fled for his life. He ran all the way to Beersheba and then further into the wilderness. He was isolated, having left his servant behind. He was weary, dehydrated, and hungry. No matter how he felt at that moment in life he was not alone, because God was with him. Still, he felt utterly alone, helpless, afraid, wounded, and unsuccessful. He was not thinking according to God’s plan. In all that he had hoped and feared he needed to experience the still quiet voice of the Lord
One of the challenges of life is coping with disappointments, which can arise when our expectations are not met. We should not lose hope or stop trusting the Lord, but we should also realize that He is the only one who can control the outcomes. He expects us to follow Him, to obey Him, to love Him, to persevere, and to fulfil our calling. He does not judge us by the results, which are beyond our power. We cannot transform people or situations by ourselves, only God can. Furthermore, our expectations can become unrealistic and demanding–insisting that things go according to our plans. This is a sign of pride and a lack of submission to God’s sovereignty. We are acting as if we know better than the Creator; that we know what is best for us and others. When we make our expectations the basis of our happiness, security, or significance, we end up in the Elijah syndrome –afraid, ready to give up, and overwhelmed by feelings of failure and depression or fear and frustration.
We can learn much from Elijah’s example and be inspired by his faithfulness. We too have a nature like his, prone to doubt and weakness, but we also have access to the same God who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. We too have the Holy Spirit living in us, empowering us to live for God’s glory and to overcome the temptations and trials of this world. We too have a calling and a mission from God, to be his witnesses and to make disciples of all nations. We too can pray earnestly and expectantly, knowing that God hears us and answers according to his will. We too can be courageous and committed, knowing that God is with us and for us, and that nothing can separate us from his love. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, but he was also a man of God.
Paul Jenkins O.Carm