When Spectacular Is Not Enough

Elijah is one of the most intriguing characters in the OT.  Rising out of obscurity in 1 Kings 17 during the days of Ahab and Jezebel, he becomes the central figure of the narrative between chapters 17 -19 and picks up again as such in 2 Kings 1-2. 

From earliest Sunday School days, children have been thrilled to hear of the escapades of this great prophet of God. He bursts upon the scene proclaiming a profound drought as a judgement from God against the wicked reign of Ahab, King of Israel (10 northern tribes).  He then retreats to the Brook Cherith where God feeds him by means of ravens bringing him food.  Next, he goes to stay with the widow of Zarephath where God miraculously provides through Elijah, bread and oil to sustain her and her son, as well as the prophet, during the drought.  The widow’s son dies, and Elijah brings him back to life (chp. 17)

In chapter 18, the showdown with Ahab begins.  Ahab orders Obadiah, a faithful prophet of the Lord, to go in one direction and Ahab would go in another in search of Elijah. Obadiah finds him and facilitates a meeting between the King and Elijah. It is then that Elijah’s finest hour comes. He challenges the 450 prophets of Baal, who were Ahab’s and Jezebel’s prophets, to a duel.  Offer your sacrifice to Baal, he told them, and I’ll offer mine to the Lord Jehovah.  The God who answers by fire is God.  It is really no contest.  These prophets of Baal limped around cutting themselves and “raving on” for half the day.  No answer from Baal. Elijah mocks them; perhaps Baal is away some where thinking.  Perhaps he is relieving himself. Maybe he is on a journey. Hey, maybe he is asleep and needs to be roused.  Nothing!

Now it is Elijah’s turn. He calls upon the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to send fire and devour the sacrifice, and he does.  The people are terrified. Baal has never manifested himself like this. How could he; he was no God. Elijah orders the people to seize the prophets of Baal and he slays all of them. Following this great event, God finally sends rain to the land of Israel. 

This was Elijah’s finest hour. One would think he would march on from victory to victory. Yet in chp. 19 we read of him retreating in fear from Jezebel as she is out to get him.  This sentence in the text is almost incomprehensible: “Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life…”  Wait!  What?  Having just defeated 450 false prophets and putting them to death, having just rescinded the drought through the hand of God, Elijah is cow-towed and put to flight by some “painted lady”?  How?  Why?

The answer comes to us via Elijah’s journey into the wilderness.  Elijah needs to be reminded of something. The Lord wants to get his attention about something.  So, while he was lodging in a cave the Lord asks him what he is doing there?  Elijah proclaims his own righteousness as one who alone has stood for the Lord.  God takes him to the side of the mountain. A great wind rends the mountain… but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, a fire.  But the Lord was not in the fire.  But after all these spectacular things in which God was absent… Elijah heard a small whisper…and he knew it was the voice of God.

Elijah had been living too long in the context of the spectacular.  Great momentous events had occurred. Elijah knew great victory. But even in the midst of great victory… or… perhaps especially in the times of great victory, we need to realize that those great works are no substitute for the “still small voice” (KJV) that we need from God.

God is not only in the spectacular. He is not only in the victory.  His “voice” to us is often not in the wind, the earthquake, and the fire.  He is in the “sound of a low whisper”.  As God’s people, it seems like we are always looking for the spectacular, the huge, the innovative, the unusual.  We honor great ministries where spectacular things happen. We often make the leaders of those ministries to be our desired template because we too want to experience the spectacular and the exponential growth that the spectacular often produces. But the Christian life is not about the spectacular. It is about the “still small voice” that speaks to us in the midst of our fears and often, defeats, such as Elijah was now experiencing.

I’m convinced God does more for me when I am alone on the mountainside than he does when I am in the pulpit, or leading “dynamically” out in front of people.  I am equally convinced that some of the best preaching never heard, and some of the greatest shepherding ever done, is done in obscure backwaters and in churches the likes of which we will never know, and from Pastors the names of which we will never recognize.  They don’t live in or much experience the spectacular.  But they often hear that still small voice of God encouraging them through their trials and oft discouragements. 

I had a professor in my master’s program who one day said to us, “Men, why do you long for notoriety and a big church?  A desire for notoriety will make you the servant of man.  Obscurity will free you to be the servant of Jesus.”  I wonder if we need the spectacular, the wind, the earthquake, or the fire?  Or is the still small voice enough for us to fulfill our calling as servants of Jesus?  Life is not always about prophet induced droughts, multiplication of food and oil, resurrections, and battles won over the prophets of Baal.  As a matter of fact, it rarely is.  But it always must be about the still small voice alone on a mountainside. 

Terry

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