Let the Fire Come

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The scene is set. Eight hundred and fifty pagan priests (1 Kings 18:19) a whole lot of ambivalent people (18:21), an extremely annoyed king (18:16) and a vicious queen (18:4), gathered on the top of Mount Carmel to face one weary prophet named Elijah. He’d been on the run from Jezebel (the vicious queen) for at least three years. You remember the event. The four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal were invited to prove that Baal was God (18:21). They built their altar and pleaded with their god to respond with fire. The heavens were silent (so was the hell from which their god came). They wailed and shouted all day, cutting themselves to impress Baal with their religious fervour.

Nothing.

Then Elijah stepped up. He ordered the altar to the Lord rebuilt, covered it with wood and the sacrifice, and then doused the whole things several times with water (18:33-35). Any boy scout knows that water and fire don’t mix. Then Elijah spoke to the One who had sent Him on this suicidal mission: “At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed, ‘O Lord, 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, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you are turning  their hearts back again” (18:36, 37).

From what follows we understand that God responded immediately and the fire fell (18:38). But I wonder if, in the nanosecond that Elijah stood there before God answered, he wasn’t recalling the words that had been sung in King David’s time: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

Something tells me that at that moment Elijah was not conscious of all those prophets glaring at him, of all the people standing there in the stupor of unbelief, or the human royalty standing by to order his arrest and execution.

It was just Elijah and God.

I am re-reading Philip Yancey’s book Prayer, Does it Makes a Difference? in preparation for a small group study that begins at the end of the month. In commenting on the verse from Psalm 46, he quotes Simon Tugwell: “God invites us to take a holiday [vacation] to stop being God for a while, and let him be God…God is inviting us to take a break, to play truant. We can stop doing all those important things we have to do in our capacity as God and leave it to him to be God.” Then Yancey concluded with “Prayer allows me to admit my failures, weaknesses , and limitation to One who responds to human vulnerability with infinite mercy. To let God be God, of course means climbing down from my own executive chair of control” (pg. 26).

Can you picture Elijah? He had done what God told him to do. Now it was up to God. All Elijah could do was stand still and allow God to exalt Himself as He chose.

Notice the last line of Elijah’s prayer. “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you are turning  their hearts back again.”

When our prayers are for God to exalt Himself and we step out of His way, then the fire comes.

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