When the Fireworks are Gone
The lakefront homes across the street from my house are pretty much all vacation homes. Last weekend was the 4th of July celebration; cars were everywhere, and fireworks were boldly exploding for five days straight. Today, just a week later, the driveways are empty, the boats are in hiding, and there’s not a firecracker to be heard. What happened to all the celebrating?
Maybe it’s the dreaded Elijah syndrome.
If you haven’t read 1 Kings 17-19 in a while, I encourage you to revisit it, but here’s my paraphrased version.
Israel’s evil king Ahab, and his equally evil wife Jezebel worshipped the false gods Baal and Asherah. God’s prophet Elijah challenged the king and queen, along with their 850 prophets to a showdown on Mt. Carmel. King Ahab and his 450 prophets of Baal showed up for the showdown. Jezebel and her 400 prophets of Asherah must have been getting pedicures that day. They didn’t show up.
There on Mt. Carmel, Elijah laid out the challenge. He boldly told Ahab and his Baal-bowers to choose an altar, and choose a bull to sacrifice on their altar. Elijah would then prepare another bull for his altar. Whomever’s god sent fireworks to consume the animal sacrifice would prove himself to be the real God. Ahab and Baal come first in the alphabet, but I don’t think that’s why they were up first.
The 450 Baal-ers quickly became wailers, as they cried out to their “god” from morning till noon. The only “fire” that made it’s way to the altar was the fire of Elijah’s sarcasm.
“Wail louder!” He shouted. “Maybe your god is asleep…or on vacation…or in the bathroom!”
They danced, cut themselves, and cried out till evening, but the wails to Baal were of no avail.
Then it was Elijah’s turn to show off his God. He repaired the altar, and even dug a trench around it to help catch the water from the 4 x 3 large jars his servant poured on top of the sacrifice.
Then. Then there was no dancing. No wailing. No cutting. No chanting. No altered state of consciousness.
Just a simple yet confident prayer:
“Lord let it be known that you are God. Answer me so these people will know that You are God, and You are turning their hearts back again.”
BOOM!!! Surely it was best fireworks display ever!!!
The one true God sent fire from heaven that consumed the bull, the altar, the dirt, and the water instantly.
The 450 prophets were done away with, and to top off the celebration, Elijah prayed for the 3-year drought to end, and soon the rain started to fall.
You would think Elijah would walk with a little extra swagger after being used by God to see such victory. But here’s what happened instead:
Elijah outran Ahab’s chariot on the 17-mile trek back to Jezreel. There he received the bad news that queen Jezebel was insanely furious when she found out her Baal-bowers had lost not only the competition but their lives as well. She sent word that Elijah would be dead within 24 hours.
Elijah fled with his servant to Beersheba, left his servant there, and traveled solo for a whole day into the wilderness. He fell asleep under a broom bush and was awakened by an angel who had water and fresh bread for him.
He traveled 40 more days and nights, arrived at Horeb—the “mountain of God”—and spent the night in a cave there.
The next day, he heard the voice of God speak to him. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
(If I ever get to hear the audible voice of God here on earth, I sure hope He won’t be asking, “Caryn, what are you doing here?”)
Elijah then gets treated to the show of the rock-shattering wind, the earthquake, and another fireworks display, but the Lord was not in those. The Lord was in a whisper that asked again, “What are you doing here?” The Lord patiently listened to Elijah’s take on his own current situation. Then He set Elijah’s fearful and depressed thinking back into alignment with His own, and He ended by giving Elijah some missions to accomplish.
There are so many lessons to be learned from this story. Here are the first 8 that come to mind.
- God is always faithful. God was faithful to Elijah when Elijah was confident AND when he was being a big chicken. He didn’t beat Elijah up for running. He sent him an angel to strengthen him, even though God knew Elijah wasn’t done running yet. Forty days of running later, God simply asked his runner, “What are you doing here?” God doesn’t beat us up, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up either.
- Don’t expect too much out of people. Maybe Elijah’s expectations of Jezebel were too high. Maybe he was sure that once she heard about God’s fireworks display on Mt. Carmel, she would repent and turn to God, and her failure to meet his expectation was what made him freak out more in fear. That’s not to say we should become cynical and never believe in people, but I find we have the tendency to sometimes expect more from others than we do from ourselves. Don’t be naive and caught way off guard by others’ sinful acts. Yet, be ready to cut them some slack, and when they disappoint you, give them loads of grace.
- Don’t think too highly of yourself. You’re never the only Christian out there, as God so clearly reminded Elijah. One of Satan’s best tricks is to get us thinking we’re the only one serving God faithfully, or that we’re the only one going through something difficult. He likes to isolate us in our pride and our insecurity.
- Connect with the other 7000 who have not bowed to Baal. God listened to Elijah’s “I’m the only one serving you” speech, and reminded him that He had 7000 more in Israel who hadn’t bowed down to Baal. I’ve said it before—the best time to connect with other Jesus followers is before you’re in the pit of despair, and the best place to find them is in the local church—even if you’ve been hurt by church people in the past.
- Slow down. Get some sleep. You may not have an evil woman literally out to kill you, but whatever you’re going through will feel at least that bad when you’ve consistently burned yourself out. Say “no” to some things. Take a sabbath rest.
- Value obedience over outcomes. God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” as if to say, “Elijah, you shouldn’t be here right now.” When pleasing God becomes our #1 treasure, and when we are more afraid of breaking God’s heart than we are of being assassinated, we will experience a peace that just cannot be explained.
- Bad things happen to us all. John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV) Yes, take heart! Lord, we cling to YOU – our source of hope.
- Remember His mighty deeds. It’s way more than a power of positive thinking tactic. It’s a heart of worship that chooses to remember and be grateful for God’s mercies. For Elijah, it could’ve been as simple as remembering that God gave him victory over 450 prophets of Baal, so surely He could give him victory over one evil woman. For us, it’s intentionally cultivating a heart of worship by remembering what Jesus has already done for us on the cross.
Lord, help us to trust You in all things, and help us to take heart in our times of fear and despair. Help us to recognize and remember Your faithful hand at work. We thank You for Your indescribable love.