Imagine a world in which everyone used to follow the same religion as you. You can remember a time when people served God, went to worship, and were generally good people. You knew what you could expect from people because nearly everyone held the same worldview. Your national identity was closely tied to your religious practices and stories.
Can you imagine that? Well, then imagine that one day things begin to change. You hear people talking less and less about God and more and more about foreign religions. Rather suddenly there is an influx of new ideas, worldviews, and religious teachings. People still claim to be faithful to your God, but they also start to include other gods and rituals in their faith – besides, all religions are the same, right?
As time goes on, you hardly recognize your own nation anymore. Things changed so badly in such a short amount of time that it leaves you feeling alone, isolated, holding on the whatever remnants of faith that you have left. But by and large it feels like nobody cares about the faith that everyone used to hold dear. Now you question if there is anyone else left. Are you it? What can you do? Has God abandoned us? Has God lost? Does God even care about us? Is God going to just let this happen? Should I follow the crowd and call it quits?
Does this sound familiar? Because I’m not necessarily talking about 21st Century United States. I’m talking about 9th Century BC Israel.
Things hadn’t ever been perfect in the northern kingdom of Israel. All their kings had been corrupt and did evil in the sight of the Lord. But then came King Ahab who did more evil than all the kings before him. What did he do that was so bad? He married a girl from Tyre who worshiped Ba’al. Her name will live in infamy – Jezebel.
Now Ahab didn’t go so far as to dismantle completely the worship of YHWH. But he did let Jezebel talk him into ALSO worshiping Ba’al, the Canaanite god of rain, agriculture, and fertility. They still worshiped God, but they also began to worship Ba’al and to rely on him to send the rains needed for a successful harvest.
And see, that’s a problem. It is clear to us that those idols are really no gods at all. There is no God but YHWH. When Israel began relying on Ba’al for the rains, they were essentially falling into a sense of self-reliance. We cannot serve both God and ____(fill in the blank)___. We cannot serve God and Ba’al, or God and money, or God and Buddha, or God and “progress,” or God and sports. You get the point.
So God raised up Elijah to be his voice to the people. Elijah’s own name was itself an indictment agains the people of Israel. Elijah means “YHWH is God.” And in epic fashion atop Mount Carmel, his name was proven true. God showed up in a BIG way and proved that Ba’al was no god at all (1 Kings 18).
Boom. Drop the mic, exit stage left. Game over. Ba’al got pwned.
Elijah went on to be the hometown hero, the amazing super-prophet that everyone loved and cheered for with his own talk show and energy drink. Right? Not exactly. In the very next chapter we see Elijah running for his life on the opposite end of Israel because Queen Jezebel Lannister put a bounty on his head.
Elijah went into a deep depression and even felt suicidal at one point. Not because he was defeated, but because he felt alone in his victory. It wasn’t enough for God to show up in an epic way. Elijah felt like he was the only one left actually worshiping YHWH. Yeah, he may have won the battle, but for Elijah the war was far from over. His war was internal. We see that even for Elijah, God’s presence wasn’t enough. He wanted more. He needed to know that he was not alone, that his life still had purpose, that he wouldn’t be some one-and-done kind of prophet.
I know I can relate to Elijah. Some of the hardest days in my life have followed on the tail winds of an epic spiritual experience – a mission trip or a summer camp or some other spiritual high. God shows up in a big way, and hundreds or even thousands of people are worshiping him and experiencing his power. And then I go back home and collapse inward, believing the lie that I’m alone.
God gives Elijah a wake-up call that I know I have needed and many occasions. God sent hurricane force winds, and an earthquake, and a raging fire – but God was not “in” any of those. So often we look for God in the big production, the stage lighting, the sound systems, the charismatic speakers, the emotional drama skits, the mountain-top experiences. And it leaves us feeling empty.
We all, like Elijah, need to know that God can be found not in the show but in the silence. We need to learn to rest in him and to find him in the boring, the mundane, the common everyday experiences.
God then reveals to Elijah that he is not alone. There were still 7,000 people back home who had not bought into Ba’al worship. There were 7,000 people who were still devoted to YHWH alone. Elijah did not have to fly solo. No mission from God is ever a solo mission.
But then God turns right around and sends Elijah back into the fray. His pity-party is officially over, and it’s time to get back to work. I think God’s mission in Israel was so important that if Elijah didn’t go, God would have found someone else. God’s will is going to be accomplished, and he is looking for people to partner with him, not to do it on their own.
As I look at the story of Elijah, I am convinced more and more that these truly are the days of Elijah. We need more men and women who are willing to declare the word of the Lord to a world that is increasingly hostile toward that word. We need men and women who are willing to stand up for what is right no matter what it may cost them. We need men and women who will be there for each other and reassure each other that we are not alone. We are all in this together. And it is only by working together and partnering with God through the ordinary, mundane, common life experiences that we can truly begin to change the world for the better.