Elijah: Closing the Curtain on Bitter Disappointment in the Gentle Presence of God

Most of us can’t relate to the boldness of Elijah’s faith, but I think we can all relate to the devastation of Elijah’s disappointment.

Elijah was the hero of the story that provided the backdrop for a sermon on faith and fear at Ginger Creek Community Church where I attend. The sermon series contrasts faith and fear, but I believe the Holy Spirit nudged me in a different direction. The message about faith and fear was a good one, but the disappointment of Elijah is what caught my attention.

For context, Israel was experiencing a 3-year drought and famine. Ahab, the notoriously corrupt and ungodly leader, was king. The entire nation was enthralled with worshiping foreign gods, and especially Baal, the Canaanite god of weather and fertility[1]

Baal was maybe a natural choice for them in the midst of a severe drought and famine. The popularity of Baal in Elijah’s culture was at an all-time high, but Elijah remained true to Israel’s covenant God, Yahweh.

Yahweh was Israel’s traditional God. The claim from ancient times was that He was the only true God, but it was no longer popular to worship Him. People still clung to a semblance of traditional, cultural practice, but other, foreign gods were much more popular, so, Elijah challenged them: 

“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21) 

The brashness of Elijah’s faith in God is hard for us to appreciate, perhaps. We get a clue from the fact that there were 450 prophets of Baal, and Elijah was the only prophet in the bunch who remained loyal to Yahweh. Elijah proposed a challenge that would put his life at stake. He said,

“’Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.’” (I Kings 18:23-24)

The loser(s) in this challenge would be put to death, which was the penalty for false prophets at the time. Elijah put everything on the line for God. 

If the gambling industry in Las Vegas existed in Israel at that time, the odds were stacked heavily against Elijah, but Elijah wasn’t intimidated in the least. Elijah even let the prophets of Baal choose the bull they wanted first and offered to let them go first. (1 Kings 18:25)

The other prophets set to work. They prepared the bull of their choice, and they called on Baal.

From morning to noon, they called on the god of popular culture, but there was no response. (1 Kings 18:26) When Elijah mocked them, they cried louder and cut themselves until they bled, but nothing happened. (1 Kings 18:27-29)

When it was Elijah’s turn, he invited the people to help him rebuild a small altar to Yahweh that had been torn down (a symbolic gesture no doubt). He prepared the remaining bull and stacked the wood.

Then he did the unthinkable: he upped the ante by having water poured over the offering – not once, but three times – until it was thoroughly soaked. (1 Kings 18:30-35) When Elijah was done, he prayed:

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37)

Elijah’s wanted to demonstrate the power and authority of Yahweh, to vindicate himself, to renew the covenant between his people and God and turn their hearts back to Yahweh. He was so confident God could do these things, that he put his own reputation and his very life on the line.

Of course, we know the story: God showed up. God’s fire didn’t just consume the offering; it consumed the bull, the wood, the stones on the altar and even the dust, and then the fire “licked up” the water left in the trench around the altar. (1 Kings 18:38)

There are few demonstrations of faith in the Old Testament as bold or powerful as this one. Elijah stood against all his contemporaries. He stood against the king, himself. He was the only prophet still faithful to Yahweh (as far as he knew). He put it all on the line, and God showed up in a powerful way!


The people fell on their faces and acknowledged God. (1 Kings 18:39) Elijah was vindicated, and his prayers were answered. His expectations were met. Or so it seemed.

This isn’t the end of story, though. The rest of the story is where I want to pick up.

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God Meets Us Where We Are

God says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….”


I have come to realize God meets people where they are.

When I was growing up, the concept of “finding yourself” was a popular idea. I thought I needed to go out into the world to find myself, and that’s what I did. I launched myself on that journey, even before I left high school.

I remember the old adage that the wind can’t carry a ship that is at anchor, or a ship at anchor can’t be steered (or something like that). That became a guiding principal, and I have given that guidance to my children. You have to get up and move, even if you don’t know precisely where you are going.

I think it’s generally good advice. It has held me in good stead. If we wait around for the perfect opportunity to come our way, it may never come. We even find wisdom along those lines in Proverbs (16:9)(NASB):

The mind of a man plans his way,
    but the Lord directs his steps.

When I set out to search for truth as a young adult who had squandered his teenage years in reckless drinking, drug use and risky behavior, I thought the truth was “out there”. I just had to search for it and find it.

In more recent generations, the conventional wisdom might run along the line of finding the truth within. Oprah Winfrey and other popular prophets of modern wisdom would say we don’t need to go searching for the truth because the truth is within us.

In my latter days now, as a journeyer who moves a bit slower, I have come to see things slightly differently. Neither paradigm rings true. I think we can find the truth “out there”, and we can find truth “within”, but neither paradigm is completely accurate.

I certainly don’t want to make light of the search! We need to orientate our hearts toward “finding it”. We need to value the truth for its own sake and be willing to let go of anything that runs counter to it – even if we don’t like it, even if the truth doesn’t look all that attractive to us… even if the truth is hard.

At the same time, the truth isn’t necessarily “out there”, and it isn’t “within” either. I am (you are) not the arbiter of truth. “My truth” doesn’t mean anything in the face of reality. We don’t talk about “my scientific truth”, and we shouldn’t talk about “my spiritual truth” – if we are really interested in truth at all.

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God In the Dark

We don’t expect to find God in our darkest places, and yet He is there.


Jess Lester, journalist writing for Christian Premiere Magazine out of the UK, told her story recently on the Unbelievable podcast in an interview with Justin Brierley. She is Jewish by descent and culture, but she attended a Christian school in her youth. Her parents are no-practicing Jews, but her grandparents were observant.

She grew up with exposure to the Judeo-Christian world, but God was more of an intellectual idea to her than a personal reality. As a teenager, however, she consciously turned her back on God when her very good friend suffered a brain hemorrhage that left her unable to speak. Jess spent several days a week in the hospital with her friend trying to help her speak again, only to experience her friend suffer another brain hemorrhage that left her brain dead.

After her friend’s parents took her off life support, Jess was devastated. She poured herself into her friend’s recovery and prayed along with the family for healing, and God didn’t deliver. God took her friend, she thought, and it angered her. Why would He do that to such a good person?! This experience led Jess to reject God openly and consciously. Following her friend’s death, Jess lived in open rebellion and defiance toward God.

Over the next few years, things went from bad to worse for Jess. She drank, did drugs and slept around in open hostility to the God she thought took her friend from her. She also fell into depression to the point where she had suicidal thoughts and even planned her own demise.  She got desperate, admitting to her mother that she needed help, but the turning point came in a very unlikely place.

Jess attended a concert where a favorite band of hers, the 1975s, were performing. They sang a song that that was defiant toward God. She had played it a dozen times a day and knew the lyrics well. It wasn’t a Christian song in any sense of the term, but she found herself crying out in the middle of the concert these lyrics: “Jesus, Jesus show yourself to me!”

While the lyrics are meant more as a taunt than a plea, she made it her plea from her heart. Looking back now, she says this is when God responded. Subtly at first, it became more apparent to her as time went on that God was with her in her dark times, and He was reaching out to her. I won’t recount the details, here, but they are well worth listening to, along with the other guests that were interviewed for the Christmas Special – Dean Mayes, Jess Lester and Rupert Shortt Share Their Stories.

This story reminds me that we do not always find God in the pious, religious places where we might expect Him. God is everywhere, and that means He is with us in our darkest times and in the darkest of places. While the song that prompted Jess Lester to cry out was actually anti-Christian in its intended meaning, God used that song that Jess knew well as the vehicle by which she connected with Him.

Jess makes the point in telling her story that things men might mean for evil God is able to use for good. That idea of God using bad things for good purposes comes from the Old Testament story of Joseph, who was left for dead in the bottom of a well by his own brothers and taken off into slavery.

Continue reading “God In the Dark”

Christmas Thoughts: Reflection on Difficulty

This time of year can should be celebratory, but often a different reality underlies the festivity.

 (c) Can Stock Photo / ankihoglund
(c) Can Stock Photo / ankihoglund

This time of year is a joyful, festive time filled with family, days off from work, presents given and received and celebration. At least, that is how we look forward to this time of year. I believe it is for most of us, for the most part, a joyful time of year. But, life is not always so consistent with our expectations and experiences.

I checked Facebook this morning when I awoke. A high school classmate reports that his wife and mother of his daughters went to “be with the angels” last night. A friend I met in college said goodbye to his mother yesterday. An acquaintance I know through wrestling described a colleague, only a few months over 50, passed away yesterday after a two-week bout of pneumonia. A high school friend asked for prayers for his daughter, going on two weeks in the hospital.

I am reading what I wrote two years ago, as I get ready to reblog this article. I just got done reading a post by a friend and colleague: one of his best friends committed suicide this morning.

This time of year can should be celebratory, but often a different reality underlies the festivity. Continue reading “Christmas Thoughts: Reflection on Difficulty”