Sunday, July 20th, was the 45th anniversary to the day (July 20th, 1969) of man’s first big footprint on the moon. If simple men are able to reach the moon, you and I can reach the stars with God's help! The Apollo missions faced some monumental challenges. Giving up would have been easy for NASA, but the organization persevered…and so can we when we face difficulties along the way in our walk with the Lord. As long as we are lined up with God's will, we can accomplish many things…including some things that others say that we could not possibly do.
That is pretty much Elijah's life story. This is the latest installment concerning some important lessons in perseverance that we can learn from the prophet Elijah. The prophet announced three years before that it was going to be his word, as facilitated by the Lord, that was going to stop the rains from coming upon the land. It would only be his word that would start them again (1 Kings 17:1). Now, It has been a long and disappointing day for King Ahab, the King of Israel, to this point (1 Kings 18:41-46). A monumental event has just taken place, as God has defeated Ahab and his prophets, debunking their idol, Baal...proving to the people of Israel that He is the One True God! As the result, all of the prophets of Baal are rounded up and eliminated. What is fascinating is that Elijah and the king are standing face to face, as if nothing has happened. I just have to wonder if Elijah wasn’t tempted to taunt, as he had done earlier in the clash with the prophets of Baal, and say – “How do you like them apples!” (Or something to that effect). Nevertheless, Elijah sends the king to one of the servants to get something to eat, while he himself goes to the top of Mt. Carmel to pray and ask the Lord to send the much needed rains.
Elijah adopts an unusual posture…nearly a fetal position…which indicates his great humility and concern for the people. This is another indication that Elijah’s deepest desire is to live to please the Lord. Unlike when he prays for the Lord’s intervention at the altar (when the Lord consumes the altar, water and sacrifices), the answer to this prayer does not take place immediately. Seven times Elijah sends the servant to look toward the Mediterranean Sea and to report concerning any storms that might be gathering. Six of those times, the servant reports nothing. But, as with the story of Naaman (upcoming in the Kings correspondence in 2 Kings 5), perseverant faith is fulfilled in the seventh trip to the water. The prophet does not give up, but he does pray the seventh time (a number that indicates perfection, completeness)…and the servant sees a tiny cloud coming up from the sea. This is certainly a good example for us to follow as we continue to appeal to the Lord in prayer. The little cloud that arises is not the storm, but is the forerunner of what is to come.
Meanwhile, Elijah tells King Ahab to mount his steed and chariot and return to his palace in Jezreel as soon as possible. We are not told how he breaks the news to Queen Jezebel that Baal has been publicly humiliated and declared to be a false god, and that Baal’s prophets have been slain. And this is all probably just as well, as this message is rated G. :-) Neither the drought nor the famine has brought the evil king and queen to repentance, and it isn’t likely that fire or rain from heaven is going to change anything. (In fact, as we will see later, Jezebel is still determined to kill Elijah). Soon, the heavens turn black with clouds and great torrents of rain begin to fall on the land. The Lord not only proves that He is the true and living God, but also that He approves of the ministry of his servant Elijah. Elijah does not have chariots or servants, but he does have the power of the Lord. Elijah runs on ahead of the king…with his horses and chariots…to reach Jezreel, which is about seventeen miles from where they were located. Now, this is rather remarkable. I would want this guy on my Olympic Marathon team! We have to wonder how this actually takes place. Well, considering Ahab is going to have to share his terrible news with his beloved queen, I am certain that he is no hurry whatsoever to get back and reveal what has taken place.
John Killinger retells this story from Atlantic Monthly about a matter of perseverance – “In the days of the great western cattle rancher, a little burro sometimes would be harnessed to a wild steed. Bucking and raging, convulsing like drunken sailors, the two would be turned loose like Laurel and Hardy to proceed out onto the desert range. They could be seen disappearing over the horizon, the great steed dragging that little burro along and throwing him about like a bag of cream puffs. They might be gone for days, but eventually they would come back. The little burro would be seen first, trotting back across the horizon, leading the submissive steed in tow. Somewhere out there on the rim of the world that steed would become exhausted from trying to get rid of the burro, and in that moment, the burro would take mastery and become the leader. And that is the way it is with the kingdom and its heroes, isn't it? The battle is to the determined, not to the outraged; to the committed, not to those who are merely dramatic.” (From Leadership, Summer, 1989.)
Ahab was defeated because of his idolatry and lack of faith in the Lord…he trusted in himself (or rather, his wife), rather than God. This is contrasted with Elijah. Although he was a human who experienced some significant struggles (as did many other of God’s leading people in the Bible), he trusted in the Lord and persevered through the trials that came his way. And as we see often times, the battle doesn’t go to the strongest, but to the most enduring -- you know this…you have seen the Rocky movies. There are times in our lives when we have to wait…perhaps we are waiting for the rain, or maybe we are waiting for the sun. Or, we are waiting on the Lord to make His move with us. Sometimes answers come quickly, other times they do not come easily, if at all. Most of the time when people fail, though, it is because they did not stick-to-it or hang in there quite long enough, as it relates to some project or difficulty. When we are able to persevere and endure, we can more readily see the full fruit of what the Lord is doing in and through us.