Sometimes God doesn’t make sense. (says the human) One of my favorite stories of such a time, is found in 1 Kings 18, when the prophets of Ba’al square off against Elijah. The King and his people have been doing what they wanted for a very long time. Little by little, the people and followers of God have simply become a people who follow a lot of different things, along with God as a guiding side-dish. As Elijah enters the scene, he calls it like he sees it, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left…” Compared to the 450 prophets of Ba’al, it certainly doesn’t look good. But Elijah’s purpose is clear – remind the people of who the one God really is.
Then they have their famous showdown. They both have an altar with sacrifice on it. The first altar to be set afire will be proven as truly divine. Elijah politely allows the prophets of Ba’al to go first.
From morning until noon, the prophets of Ba’al shout and dance, but to no response. Elijah responds with the sarcasm of a modern MAC vs. PC commercial, “Shout louder, maybe he’s gone to the bathroom!” Sure enough, the people respond by shouting louder, slashing themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed.
You can probably bet that their altar had all the right conditions for a fire to blaze. If a piece of flint had set off a spark nearby, I’m guessing their entire altar would have grown into a towering declaration for all to see. If you had a checklist of all the things that are required for a successful sacrifice by fire, every single aspect had been checked twice. Yet still – nothing.
Then comes Elijah’s turn, and he does something that doesn’t make any sense according to the ancient editions of “How to Build a Fire”. He orders 12 large jars filled with water to be poured all over the altar, to the point of soaking and filling trenches that he’d dug around the altar itself. The wood, the sacrifice, and the ground are soggy, definitely not the tinderbox of fire-to-come most of us would have thrown together.
The ministry leaders of Elijah’s day would have quickly counted him out. After all, don’t we want everything we do to set God up for success? Doesn’t he depend on us to set the stage for him well with seamless service-flow, perfect powerpoint, and pitch-perfect voices? How do we expect God to do anything incredible, if we’re not 110% on our game, devoting our every thought to how we can help God show up in a big way….whether it’s on stage in a church service, or in the midst of our every day parenting journeys.
Into the midst of the sea filled with all of these pressures and more, the story of Elijah stands as strong as Moses approaching the Red Sea. The anxieties and pressures are cast high and away, leaving dry ground for us to cross on. Ground that reminds us – God is not dependent on us “setting Him up for success”. There may be places in our lives completely soaked to the bone with something we would call “fire retardant”. But in the name of Jesus, anything can be transformed to just the right place for His Glory to be revealed in a powerfully unexpected way…will you offer Him your altar today, no matter its’ condition???