There is a story that goes like this…One day a man seeking wisdom and a deeper walk with God approached a wise and holy man. He said, “I see that you have such a great love for God. I want to have the same affection, love, and passion for God that you have. What must I do to do to attain this?” The wise man looked at him, turned and walked away and eventually looked back and told him to follow him down to the river. The wise man approached the river band He entered the calm rushing water. The man followed him into the water. They both waded into the water until it was about waist deep. The wise man grabbed the man by the head and with all his might dunked him under water for a few seconds. As he let the man up for air he said, “What is it that you desire most right now!” The man responded, “To have the love, affection, and passion for God that you have!” The holy man dunked him again, this time he kept him under water a little longer. He then let the man come up for air and asked the same question. The man responds, “To have the love, affection, and passion for God that you have!”. The holy man proceeds to dunk him again and again, each time holding the man under water a little longer. The final dunk kept the man under water for nearly a minute and when the man emerges, he is frantically gasping for air. The holy asks again, “What is it that you desire most right now?” The man, panting, coughing, and struggling to breath replies, “AIR! I need air!” Upon hearing his answer, the holy man helps the seeker out of the river, and he says, “When you get to the point in your life where you need God as much as you need air, then you will have the love, affection, passion for Him that you seek.”
Now, I am almost certain this story is a made-up tale, regardless of its authenticity the conclusion is true… our relationship with God is just as important as the air we breathe. Passion for God equals complete dependence on God. In modern times when we talk about passion, we generally equate it with things that excite you, a powerful desire for something or someone, or a strong uncontrollable emotion. It is not uncommon to see, hear, or read about individuals who are passionate about many things. I know people who are passionate about sports, music, art, cars, and so on. These people generally and genuinely have an extreme love for something that cannot or is nearly impossible to squelch.
When I think about passionate people in the Bible, I immediately turn the prophet, Elijah. Everything about him exudes love and passion for God. He had a unique mission in life. He was called by God to be a prophet who would win Israel back to the one true God after their affair with foreign idols. He passionately and furiously pursued God among a nation of idolators and unbelievers. His passion put him in difficult and dangerous situations, but these unusual circumstances ultimately led Israel back into a right relationship with God.
A few weeks ago, I talked about King Solomon. I talked extensively about Solomon’s wealth and wisdom and how. Unfortunately, he did not always rule with the wisdom God gave him. In the later years of his life, he allowed his heart to be swayed from the true God of Israel and tolerated and turned to foreign gods due to his weakness and desire for foreign women. God told him that if he did not change his ways the nation of Israel would one day be divided. After Solomon’s death the nation does go through a civil war and does divide. Israel was now divided into the Southern and Northern Kingdoms. The North consisted of 10 tribes and retained the name Israel. The Southern Kingdom was called Judah. Over time both Kingdom had many wicked Kings but fortunately the Southern kingdom had a few good Kings who followed God. However, the northern Kingdom had a history of wicked kings. The nation forgot their God and the kings never bothered to exhort the people to turn from their evil ways and return to God.
I Kings 16:29 - 34
Amid this ungodly period of the North there was one King named Ahab. He was and is considered Israel’s word King. I Kings 16:33 says, “He did more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than any of other kings before him.”
Ahab married a woman named Jezebel. She was an evil woman. It is believed she is responsible for bringing Baal worship to the Northern Kingdom. She brought prophets of Baal with her, she had temples erected to Baal and she was very close with the leaders of this false God. I wouldn’t be wrong if I said she was passionate in commitment to Baal. Nonetheless, we know that she was an evil manipulative queen who had no regard for the God of the forefathers of Israel. She, like others before her, turned the people’s affection from the one true God to the false god Baal.
Enter the prophet, Elijah.
I Kings 18:1 – 2, 15 - 18
Elijah – A Man of Passion and Courage
Elijah was a prophet of God from Gilead. He was tasked by God to be a sort of thorn in the side of King Ahab. He was to inform Ahab about a draught coming in the land that would last for three years. he says there will be no rain until Elijah tells it to rain. God tells Elijah to leave the land and God would take care of him.
After three years of draught Elijah and King Ahab finally meet. Ahab says to Elijah, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?” Elijah responds, “I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.” Game on! Elijah challenges Jezebel and Ahab’s prophets to a contest of sorts to declare who the true God really is.
Elijah says to the people of Israel, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” He then proceeds to challenge the prophets of Baal to a battle of the gods. The odds would seemingly be tacked against Elijah because there are 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah present as opposed to only him, but we cannot forget the God factor which turns the odds into his favor.
The contest goes like this… There are two bulls. One bull is given to the prophets of Baal to sacrifice, and the other is given to Elijah. Both will prepare the bulls and lay them on the wood but no fire. The prophets of Baal will call upon their god and Elijah will call upon his God. The one who answers with fire from heaven and consumes the sacrifice is the true God. The people agreed and thus the competition begins.
The prophets of Baal are up first. They begin by calling on the name of Baal. They cry out to Baal for hours on end. They believed if they yelled louder then Baal would hear them. Nothing happens. Elijah begins mocking them by saying, “Maybe your god is asleep, or on vacation, or maybe he is in the bathroom.” The prophets go to more extremes by crying louder and they cut themselves with sword and lances as was their custom. The prophets screamed at the top of their lungs; tired and a bloody mess they still receive no word or response from their god. Ironically Baal is the sun god, so sending fire down from heaven should be no problem whatsoever. After a long time the onlookers lose interest and move on.
Up next is Elijah. He builds an altar representing the twelve tribes of Israel. He cuts up and places the bull on the altar. He then tells the people to drench the sacrifice with water. There was so much water we read that the trenches around the altar were full. Elijah prays a simple but expectant prayer,
1 Kings 18:36 – 37: “At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.’ At this moment a fire comes down from heaven came and consumes the sacrifice, the wood, AND all the water. Once the people saw the power of God they fell on their faces and worshiped God.
At the close of the contest Elijah had all the prophets seized and he kills them all.
1 Kings 18:45 – 46: The draught ended, and he gathers his garment and runs away.
Elijah Runs and Hears from God
When Jezebel hears what Elijah did, she puts out a hit on him. Elijah hears about this, and he runs for his life because he was afraid. He runs to Beersheba and embarks on a day’s journey into the wilderness. After this amazing victory and sign from God Elijah goes into a deep depression. Surprisingly, after all he has observed his God do and witnesses the power of God, he makes the conscious decision to run away from ONE person who threatens to kill him. In his deep depression he begs God to take his life. I believe this is where we get the term “valley experience.” Elijah experiences extreme spiritual high in his victory over the prophets of Baal but goes into a deep valley of depression soon thereafter.
Elijah is visited by an angel twice and given food. The LORD provides for him during his funk. Then he goes up to Mount Horeb for forty days to hide. The word of the LORD comes to him, and He asks what he is doing in seclusion. Elijah honestly admits his depression and loneliness. The Lord instructs him to go and stand before the mount of the LORD. Elijah does as he is told, and a strong wind, earthquake, and fire occur, and we are told that God was not in any of them. Instead, he hears a low whisper that is the voice of God telling him to anoint a king of Israel and Syria and appoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet in his place. God informs Elijah that there are seven thousand people in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal and will bow to God. In this we see God’s compassion and care as He visits and encourages Elijah in his darkest hours.
Elijah obeys and does as he’s told. The remainder of I Kings talks about the destruction of the worshipers of Baal and ultimately the demise of King Ahab, who’s death was prophesied by none other than the prophet Micaiah (who happens to hold a dear place in my heart).
2 Kings 2:11 – 12: After the battle, Elijah, and Elisha travel to Gigal and Elijah commissions to succeed him as prophet. In response Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s Spirit. Elijah is taken up into heaven by a whirlwind and the chariots of God.
Elijah’s story and life are amazing. God uses his prophet in a mighty way. Through Elijah God brings a nation back to Him, he cleanses the nation of idolatry, and the prophet passionately defends and promotes God as the one true God of all. In this story we understand that passion for God does not mean you are a zealot, religious freak, or a loud cheerleader for God. It does not evenly remotely insinuate that you go out and kill pagans or mock unbelievers. Instead, we see that passion for God means having a strong and unwavering devotion to pursue God in your life, remain faithful to his call, and seek to glorify him above all else.
So, what is our takeaway? What can we glean from the life of Elijah and apply to our lives today?
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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