How we think of God and what we think he expects of us are hugely important when it comes to how we serve him and especially how we respond when things don’t go the way we thought they would.
I wonder how you answer that question? What’s your instinctive first reaction?
What is God like? How you answered that first question ‘what does God want from his people’ is largely determined by how you answer that question. How you think of God. Is God a headmaster or boss setting challenging, or impossible, targets and demanding results? Or is he happy go lucky, chilled out and more of a people person than a target setter? How we think of God will determine what we think God wants from his people. What he expects of you at work, at home and in the community, at church and as a church.
How we think of God and what we think he expects of us are hugely important when it comes to how we serve him and especially how we respond when things don’t go the way we thought they would, or when things just seem slow. That’s when we can feel like we just need to work harder to produce. Or we feel like a failure. Or think of giving up.
I’m sure you’ve seen quiz shows where they stop the action and ask ‘What happens next’? Sometimes it’s helpful to do that with the Bible.
In 1 Kings 19 God’s people are ruled by evil King Ahab. They’ve been led to ignore God and worship Baal and other idols. God disciplines them by withholding rain for three years as he promised he would, but Israel won’t turn back to God. They won’t recognise the covenant curse, God calling them back through his discipline. They won’t repent. And so God, through Elijah calls for a showdown on Mount Carmel. In one lonely corner stands Elijah Yahweh’s prophet and in the other stand 450 prophets of Baal. It’s a battle over who is God, who is worthy of worship and loyalty and love and who isn’t. It’s last God standing, a display to once and for all stop the people wavering and call them to follow one God.
Each builds an altar, each puts wood on the altar, each puts an offering on the altar, but mustn’t light it. Instead of matches they’re to pray for a divine conflagration and the God who sends fire from heaven is the real God.
You can feel the tension can’t you. The priests of Baal go first. They pray, they plead, they shout, they cut themselves, they dance from morning till evening getting more and more agitated and frenzied as Elijah taunts them asking if Baal is busy, or travelling or if he’s dozed off. But despite all the activity, all the energy nothing happens. There’s no fire, not even a fizzle, because Baal isn’t God.
Then it’s Elijah’s turn and you wonder if he’s been out in the sun too long. He calls the people to him and rebuilds God’s altar, digs a large trench around it, sets up the wood, cutting up the bull but then, in an act of seemingly staggering stupidity he has 12 large jars of water poured all over it. Then finally, at the time of evening sacrifice, he prays to God asking that God would act “so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
And instantly, whoosh, the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and all the water in the trench. And the people fall down and proclaim “The LORD – he is God! The LORD – he is God!” Then slaughter the 450 prophets of Baal, and Elijah prays and rain falls for the first time in 3 years.
Here’s the question; what happens next? Or rather what should happen next? Everything should change shouldn’t it? Ahab should lead the nation in national repentance, and chapter 19 should be the story of Ahab and Elijah leading God’s people to live in his land enjoying his rule as his people for his glory. Revival should break out, the nations see Israel basking in the joy of being God’s people and chapters 20 following should document the nations turning to God.
But that’s not what happens. No sooner has the smell of BBQ drifted away with the rain and any hope of revival is washed away too. (1 Kings 19v1-2) Ahab runs home and tells Jezebel everything Elijah had done. And how does she react? She isn’t repentant, she doesn’t weigh the evidence and think ‘Wow! I was wrong Baal isn’t God, Yahweh is the one true God, I’d better repent.’ No, she ignores all the evidence and sets out to kill Elijah as soon as she can.
That’s really helpful for us to see. Sometimes we’re naïve, we think repentance is the result of logic and argument – if I can just show someone who Jesus is, build a case and prove he’s the Messiah then they’ll repent and come to faith. That’s what our evangelistic courses are built on and why when we reach the end of them we’re a bit stuck as to what to do next with people who liked the course but haven’t trusted Jesus yet. And so we look around, send a few WhatsApps for recommended courses, and invite them on another course. Or perhaps we think it’s about seeing the miraculous, surely that will bring them to repent.