“I would not attack the faith of a heathen without being sure I had a better one to put in its place.” —Harriet Beecher Stowe, 19th Century American writer and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
“O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, AMEN.”
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21).
“Then the fire of 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 prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39).
PRAYER FOCUS: The Fire from Heaven
To wayward Israelites under the rule of evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, Baal was the storm god, the god of fertility, the god of the fields and the harvest. That Baal was false mattered little. Baal-worship was inclusive and open-minded—progressive, ahead of its time. It was an easy theology to grasp: if the followers of Baal made certain sacrifices, he would guarantee a good harvest.
Better yet, Baal-worship demanded sexual rituals that appealed to people’s lower instincts. It was natural, they argued. After all, God made them that way. The “old” morality imposed rules that they considered restrictive and exclusive, while their new religion offered an “alternative” that was far more easily attained. The children of Israel were finding it easier to shape an idol to fit their base behaviors than to raise themselves up to meet God’s standard.
Unfortunately, as the Israelites were about to learn—and not for the first time—idols can only make promises. They cannot keep them. Furthermore, Israel would have to re-learn that God takes it personally when his children put their trust in something other than Him.
God’s response to Israel’s idolatry was to send a drought. It was harsh, but very much on point, because in the theology of Baal the “storm god” and “god of the harvest”, he was supposed to guarantee them the rain they needed. When God took away the very thing that they relied on Baal for, it negated any logical reason to believe in him. Baal-worship thus became unprofitable. But the people dithered.
The prophet Elijah asks them, “How long will you waver between two opinions?” He challenges their priests and prophets to prove that Baal is real. “The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
So the priests of Baal went first, praying for the better part of a day that their idol would send fire upon the altar they had made for him. They danced and cut themselves. They sang and shouted themselves hoarse, all without result. Elijah taunted them, “Shout louder! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
Or perhaps Baal never existed in the first place.
Then Elijah had water dumped on his altar not once, not twice, but three times—to the point where everything was completely soaked and the trench around the altar was brimming. In short, he made the altar impossible to ignite. Impossible for anyone who wasn’t God.
Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “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.”
Then the fire of 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 prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” (vv. 36-39).
Elijah did NOT:
• Argue with the people about whose god is bigger.
• Ask God to smite the people for their blasphemy.
• Ask for God to take him out of this situation.
Note the pivotal element of choice:
• Elijah chose to prepare an altar. Elijah chose to pray.
• God chose to send fire.
• Then the people chose God.
And that’s the whole point right there.
In our modern times we have heard people pray for God to send fire upon this or that evil spiritual force, or even against a physical, personal enemy. We hear people who would harness God’s power against a secular world that laughs at Him—well, at us, really.
And we would challenge any errant theology that invokes God to smite the challengers we ourselves won’t stand up to.
At Pentecost, God the Father sent His Holy Spirit into the world. The Spirit’s initial manifestation was in tongues of fire. That Spirit, that fire, was given to us so that we could pray for the power to do mighty works, and go to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel. We suspect that the main reason why we see so few Elijah-like demonstrations of power is that so few Christians are willing to put in the hard work that made Elijah effective, i.e., prayer, fasting, obedience, listening and study.
When we are opposed by other faiths, or even compromised Christians, we cannot allow their theology to define ours. Simply stated, we can’t defend what we don’t know. To pray like Elijah involves more than saying the words. We must know God better.
We serve and love a supernatural God who commands all power in the universe and yet speaks in whispers. Father God doesn’t need to send fire from heaven upon the altar of Baal.
Because, dear Christian, He has already sent you. What if you’re the fire you’ve been praying for?
What if you’re the fire they’ve been praying for?
A disciple once came to Abba Joseph, saying, “Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, my little fast, and my little prayer. And according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my mind of all evil thoughts and my heart of all evil intents. Now, what more should I do?” Abba Joseph rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of flame. He answered, “Why not be totally changed into fire?” (from the book Prayer by Richard Foster)
It’s Monday Morning. How long will you waver? This week, why not be transformed into fire?