An often-quoted proverb from Alexander Hamilton says: "Those who stand for nothing fall for anything." The saying may be harsh, but it is undeniably true. It begs the question: what do you stand for?
My pastor spoke last week about the life of Elijah the Tishbite. Here was a man who definitely stood for something - or more accurately, someone. Elijah honored God's Words, and God confirmed his authenticity through many miraculous interventions. Only half-listening to the sermon, I began to meditate on Elijah's life, and the Lord began to speak to me about Elijah's posture.
I had never noticed the words Elijah uses when prophesying, but they provide a unique insight into Elijah and ourselves. In his very first appearance before King Ahab, he prophesies: "As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years except at my word." (1 Kings 17:1, emphasis mine). He uses the same phrase again in 1 Kings 18:15: "As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to (Ahab) today."
Why is his language important? In speaking this way, Elijah is indicating the position of his spirit in the Lord, or his posture. These are the words of a man who is confident that he is at that very moment standing in the Presence of the Lord. He knows he has the full backing of Israel's God and all the resources God has to offer (even hosts of angels, if need be). He may be a small, despised prophet in King Ahab's eyes, but he sees himself as a supernatural joint-heir, standing side by side with the King of the whole earth! That's a great picture of the confidence we, too, are to have as we go through our daily lives. The theme of standing firmly in our faith is continued throughout the New Testament as well.
In fact - as my pastor noted, interrupting my thoughts - Elijah was so accustomed to living in the supernatural that he thought nothing of it when angels or ravens came to feed him. He simply ate and went back to sleep!
Elijah didn't just stand around acting spiritual, though. He also bowed to pray for rain (1 Kings 18:42), stretched himself out on top of a dead boy three times to resurrect him (1 Kings 17:13-14), and ran faster than a chariot in the Spirit when the hand of the Lord came upon him (1 Kings 18:44-46). His departure was marked by the arrival of a whirlwind which took him up into heaven. (2 Kings 2).
There is one interesting twist to the story of Elijah, which you may already know. The Bible mentions that he was a man just like us, and gives us an illustration of his very human weakness: he was afraid of Jezebel. When this woman, a prophet-killer, confronts Elijah, he runs again - only this time he runs for his life. (See 1 Kings 19:1-4). He runs all the way to Beersheba, or the "Well of the Oath," where Abraham and Abimilech had cut a covenant and where Abraham was accustomed to pray. But he doesn't stay there. He goes into the nearby wilderness and prays that he might die.
Does this surprise you? A man of such faith and miraculous provision, praying such an unanswerable prayer? It might surprise you even more to know that even for today's spiritual leaders, this is not uncommon. Surveys done by Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Theological Seminary have shown that 70% of pastors fight depression on a regular basis. In addition, 80% of pastors say they feel unqualified and discouraged in their pastoral roles. And 1500 pastors are leaving the ministry every month because of burnout, strife, or moral failure.*
Elijah's story provides us with a sobering glimpse of reality for a spiritual leader. What caught my eye, however, was that during this time, Elijah's posture changed from standing in the Spirit to running away and ultimately lying down. Exhaustion, fear, and depression took their toll.
Tenderly, as with Jesus' threefold restoration of Peter after his denial, God comes to Elijah twice and says "Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you." The third time, outside the cave on Mount Horeb, God says, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord." (1 Kings 19:11, emphasis mine). There, God meets and talks with Elijah to correct his misconceptions about ministry and to further commission him. He also provides a servant (Elisha), who will eventually replace him. God ministers to Elijah's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs before sending him out again. God wants Elijah to ARISE and resume his position of right-standing with the Lord.
Don't be Double-Minded!
Like Elijah, we are all imperfect and fall sometimes. Instability - a wavering, or faltering, between two choices - is often the reason we fall. Elijah knows the false prophets are on shaky ground when he challenges the Baal-worshipers to a duel of fire on Mount Carmel. Look at his interesting choice of words: "How long will you falter between two opinions? Make a choice - if God is God, follow him but if Baal, follow him." (1 Kings 18:21).
To falter is to "stop being strong or successful; to begin to move or walk in an unsteady way; to begin to fall or weaken." (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary Online). Elijah's plea was for the people of his day to STAND for the Lord, not to fall for Baal.
The story's end is well-known: only the God of Israel sends fire on Elijah's offering. Elijah pursues the humiliated Baal worshipers as far as the Brook Kishon (the same place where Deborah and Barak ensnared Sisera's army years before), and slays them all with his sword. In case you were wondering, the name Kishon means "winding, bent, or crooked."
Is it any coincidence that the book of James speaks explicitly of Elijah's faith? (See James 5:16-18) Dig a little deeper and you find that the faith of Elijah is subtly alluded to in the first chapter of James as well:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally
and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with
no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed
by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;
he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-10)
Only in God do we find true stability for our times. Only by choosing to place faith in God's Word can we stand against the storms of fear and doubt. Elijah exemplifies a faith in God that is solid, secure, and successful. Although he did it imperfectly, as we do, Elijah chose to stand for God. What do you stand for?
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014; all references NKJV
*Thanks to Barnabas Ministries for compiling these statistics.
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.