For over three years not a solitary shower had refreshed the thirsty land. Vegetation was parched and although the fountains and brooks made life tolerable for a time they soon dried up. The situation worsened and Ahab at last felt compelled to do something. With his materialistic outlook he organised two expeditions hoping that sufficient water would be found to save his horses and mules. We cannot conceive the desperate straits in which the people found themselves, yet the cause of the dearth was not realised by the majority. They had got away from God. What a picture of conditions today! Do we not see spiritual dearth on every hand? We thank God that the situation is not so desperate today as it was then. The dew of God’s blessing rests upon our labours here and there, but when did we last see the showers? Without them we can be sure the situation will deteriorate.
Things will not right themselves, and it is encouraging to find brethren alive to the danger of such a vain hope. Might not much of the efforts made today be similar to Ahab’s expedition – a search for alleviation which would only have been temporary? If so, even if we occasionally succeed in improving conditions, the improvement will be but temporary and the drought will consume us unless the showers come. We must get to the root of the trouble. The people failed to realise the cause of the dearth – do we? The plain fact is that men and women have got away from God, and the only solution is for them to get back to Him. This was precisely Elijah’s mission on this historic occasion. “If the Lord be God follow Him.”
For such a return to be effected the people needed some fresh evidence of God’s power. With his eloquence the prophet could have reminded them of the glories of their national history in the days when Israel served the Lord and could have used the constantly recurring appeal of God to the mighty works done in Egypt. Nothing, however, was said of these by-gone days, for, stimulating though the glories of the past can be, this occasion demanded an up-to-date demonstration of God’s power. How useless and out of touch with the present we should be if we dwelt solely on the triumphs of the past. Christianity must in every age bring proofs of its Divine Origin, and every age must bring its own proof. We Christians must give evidence of living contact with our God if we expect people who are facing present-day realities to listen believingly to our message. They have a right to expect evidence of the Gospel’s present power in our transformed lives.
It is instructive to recapitulate the events of that day. We see two rival altars, one well built, the other broken down. This latter, strangely enough, was the altar of God. Arguments would not have convinced the people that this was the true one, for Baal’s altar must have appeared the better, beside all the natural advantages being on his side. Baal’s religion had royal patronage and favour with the people, and its rites and ceremonies were conducted by 850 robed priests. Zeal was not lacking, for theirs was the passionate earnestness, the furious persistent prayer and fierce self-denial, theirs the agony of entreaty, “O Baal, hear us!” But – there was no voice. Only fire from heaven, God’s appointed proof, would make any difference, and unless this fire descends upon our witness we shall be at a disadvantage in comparison with the religious world, and attempts to convince the man in the street that our broken-down altar is the emblem of reality will fail. Three things were necessary before this fire could descend.
Firstly, the broken altar had to be repaired. A previous generation had erected that altar and worshipped God. That generation was now gone – but God remained. This time it was built with stones according to God’s word and was raised as a witness to the unity of God’s people – an unpopular step in a divided kingdom. Elijah was not courting popularity, however, but was seeking to bring the people back to God, and the re-establishment of the worship of God was the first step. If we have allowed the witness a past generation was able to erect to fall into ruin, unpopular though it might be with some, we must rebuild our altar. A stand for God and His truth not only involves sacrifice but plenty of cold water will be thrown on that sacrifice. Yet, if conscious of God’s call, our confidence and faith will, like Elijah’s, go from strength to strength.
Secondly, the sacrifice must be laid upon the altar. This is the Divine way for Calvary preceded Pentecost. When we fully yield our bodies a living sacrifice, as a reasonable service, in response to God’s amazing mercies His fire will descend. Then our lives, transformed by the Holy Spirit’s power, will be effective witnesses to the present-day power of the Gospel.
Thirdly, prayer must ascend from one wholly surrendered to God. The victory that day did not depend on numbers, royal favour, stately ceremony, or wealth, but on faithful prayer. Amidst spiritual deadness and idolatry and thinking he stood alone for God, Elijah prayed with simplicity, brevity and confidence … and he prayed again. Here was a man who was not even an ordained prophet yet who was obedient to the God in whom he had great faith. He had one great gift which made him what he was the Power to Pray. We may not be leaders or “someone” in the Church to stand before men, but if we stand before God the rest will not matter very much.
Then the fire came, and Elijah’s sacrifice rose as a sweet savour to God. Our living sacrifice must be rendered acceptable by fire from heaven, i.e., the Holy Spirit’s energies, lest it be a stench in His holy nostrils. Everything was touched by the fire – wood, stone, dust, and water. If the Holy Spirit’s power as fire from heaven descends on us, it will touch not only the innermost recesses of our being, but the outermost doings of our life – even the stones and dust of home and business. Everything will be consecrated to Him. Are we prepared for this fire from God, and the consequent sound of abundance of rain?
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