Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Running with Elijah

I've often read the story of Elijah fleeing Queen Jezebel to the desert until God spoke to him in the "still, small voice" and restored his confidence. And each time I read it, I wondered, along with everyone else, how Elijah could go from the high of killing 400 priests of Baal to fleeing for his life. How does a man, especially a prophet, go from the pinnacle of his career to the deepest valley so quickly?

Ahab was the king of Israel, and he married Jezebel, a woman so bad that her name has become synonymous with evil. The pair had turned the country to worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth and other gods, breaking the first two of the Ten Commandments. Elijah devised a test for the gods to prove once and for all to Israel which god was worthy of following. He went to the top of a mountain with the 400 priests of Baal in the view of the entire country. He gave instructions to the priests to sacrifice a bull, put it on an altar, and then pray for Baal to send fire down from the heavens to consume the sacrifice. The priests followed his instructions and then began praying loudly, calling for Baal to hear them. After some time of no response, Elijah taunted the priests asking them in perhaps Baal was "relieving" himself and was too busy to answer their prayers. The priests began cutting themselves, sending the blood gushing out in the attempt to get an answer.

When it became obvious that Baal would not be accepting his sacrifice any time soon, Elijah sacrificed his bull and built an altar from twelve stones, referencing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then Elijah decided to really prove God's might. He had the people fill big jugs of water three times and pour the water all over the sacrifice and altar. He even dug a moat around the altar and there was so much water, it filled the moat. Then Elijah called to God asking Him to show all of Israel His might and to demonstrate that all of the day's events were His will. Fire came down so fast and hot from the sky that it burned up the sacrifice, altar, and even licked up the water in the moat! The Israelites hit their knees acknowledging God, and Elijah took the opportunity to kill the 400 priests of Baal.

You'd think that after this Elijah would be on an incredible high. Yes, I know that God was working through him and that Elijah wasn't responsible for the fire or victory, but still! But when Ahab brought word back to Jezebel of the death of her priests, she sent word to Elijah that she was coming for him. And Elight ran! The Bible says that he ran for his life! Elijah had just brought down 400 priests, yet he was afraid of one woman.

I've never understood just why Elijah ran, but last night while I was reading my Bible, I read something that turned it all around for me. I could practically hear the lightbulb clicking on over my head. The commentary suggested that perhaps the reason Elijah fell so hard was because he had expectations of his own for the encounter with the priests. Perhaps he thought that the demonstration would make the whole country turn their back on the false gods and return to the Lord. Perhaps he even thought that Ahab and Jezebel would repent and lead their country in worshiping God. Neither of these things happened and rather than focus on the good that God was able to accomplish through him.

This understanding hit me with a ton of bricks, because while I didn't understand running from personal success, I completely understand running from perceived personal failure. I have two major instances of this in my life in the last ten years. I was working hard on writing my first novel. The chapters were pouring out of me, and I had several people who were reading them as fast as I could produce them. Some of these were people that would tell me I had written a Pulitzer winning novel if I had typed up the phone book, but others were people whose opinion I can trust and are honest, even when it hurts. I typed up about 275 pages, and as I came close to finishing it, I started sending out queries to agents. No one was interested. Not even enough to request a few sample chapters. I felt like such a failure that I stopped writing the book. I haven't touched it in six years. Six years! Because I didn't trust God enough to take me through the next step. Because I felt rejected and the book a failure.

I am just like Elijah. I ignored the 275 previous pages that God had supplied me with, and focused only on what I saw as failure. I did this again in teaching Sunday School. I was teaching the high school class at my childhood church, and I loved the kids. I enjoyed the teaching. I had big plans for what I wanted to do with them. I felt like this was truly using my God-given gifts. But I started having problems with some of the parents. I felt attacked and (here's that word again) rejected. After months of attacks, I gave up. Jesse and I left that church, and I left behind the kids I loved so very much. Again, I ignored the successes God had given me with these kids, and I had seen major changes in some of them, and focused only on the attacks from the parents.

In both cases, what I viewed as personal failure quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I did fail. I took my eyes off of God and what He wanted and made my own version of success, and when I didn't achieve that, I gave up. Just like Elijah. This three thousand year old story has immediate personal impact on my life today; I love that. Last night after God opened my eyes to this, I asked Him for forgiveness. I realize now that I messed up big time, and now I have no idea where to go from here. I'm praying that God will soon appear in that still, small voice for me and give me a clue as to what to do next.

Today's pictures are from our camping trip last month. Mia and Jesse on the paddle boat, and Mia feedling the hippo, Wallace.