The Elijah Bible Study
James 5:16-18 “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then he prayed for rain, and down it poured. The grass turned green, and the crops began to grow again.”
What made Elijah so different that his prayers were this effective?
*Everyone should read 1 Kings 17-19.
7 Characteristics of Elijah
1. BOLDNESS-As soon as Elijah enters the scene, he boldly goes to King Ahab, and tells him “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel lives- the God whom I worship and serve- there will be no dew or rain during the next few years unless I give the word!”
Elijah was not mentioned in scripture until this moment. He was unknown to the king. He kind of appears out of nowhere as a prophet from the Lord, and addresses the king in this manner. He claims the God of Israel, and then says there will be no rain, or even DEW, until he himself gives the word! This, no doubt, really ticked some people off. To declare there would be a drought is to basically declare a death sentence on this kingdom. Elijah didn’t “pansy-foot” around it, or soften the blow in any way. He simply and directly delivered the message that God gave him, despite it’s unpleasant nature for the listener.
Clearly, Elijah had courage. I’m afraid that if God had given me this task, I might have tried to get an appointment with the king, and then if it didn’t work out, I would throw up my hands and say ‘Sorry God, I tried!’ He was unknown to this king, but found a way to get an audience with him. In these times, one could be killed for addressing a king without being summoned! This was courageous. Then to deliver this message to the king, he had to be prepared to be killed on the spot. But he boldly and courageously did what God asked of him. I want to think that I will be obedient, but if God asks something of me that is so unpleasant, I’m not sure. Lord, give me courage!
In addition, Elijah was not trying to please people. His only desire was to please God. This reminds me of what Paul says in Gal. 1:10; “Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Paul puts being a people pleaser and being Christ’s servant at odds with one another. He also says in 1 Thess. 2:4 “Our purpose is to please God, not people. He is the one who examines our hearts.”
I’ve decided a huge part of being bold is setting aside the desire to please people and not God. As women, we are plagued with the “people pleasing disease.” We want to keep everyone around us happy, and especially do not want anyone to be upset with US! It goes beyond being a peacemaker. It is rooted in self-absorption really, because the focus is on self and how others see me. I want to be the favorite, everyone likes me, voted most popular, in my church, in my family, in my community. But for some of the most amazing characters in the Bible whose lives were completely sold out to following and serving God, they lost popularity contests with man; but they won them with God. Their eyes were fixed on the One to please. They let everyone else fade into the background.
What does it mean to become a God-Pleaser instead of a People-Pleaser? Does it mean that we are abrasive and rude, and just “tell it like it is” without regard for people’s feelings? No. The greatest theme in the scripture is love. We could do a year long study just on loving people, and being kind with our words. But when God calls us to DO something that goes against man’s ways, but is according to His Higher Ways, we choose God! We must examine our hearts and see who it is we are trying to please with our lives.
Do you think that you are infected with the People Pleasing Disease? In what way?
Can you list some things or activities that are crowding your life right now that may be a direct result of the disease, and not from a direction from God?
Can you think of an unpleasant task God has given you in the past? Did you complete it or not? How did it make you feel?
How do we re-order our lives to become God-Pleasers?
Elijah was unafraid. Unafraid of what people thought, and most of all, unafraid of the consequences. Not only did he serve God with boldness, but he served God knowing that the consequences could easily be death for him. When he approaches Obadiah in chapter 18, telling him he wants to see the king, Obadiah says “what harm have I done to you that you are sending me to my death at the hands of Ahab?” Obadiah was sure that he himself would be killed for this. He was the king’s servant, and knew full well what the king was capable of, and knew how much he hated Elijah. But Elijah stayed calm and assured him he would present himself to Ahab that day and he was not in danger. But did Elijah know that his own life was not in danger? Every prophet of the Lord had been killed, and he was the last of them. Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, had years before gone on a killing spree and killed every prophet of the Lord she could find. Presenting himself to Ahab was definitely a dangerous move.
What follows in the text, known as the contest on Mt. Carmel, is the gutsiest move in scripture I can think of. What gave Elijah the ability to be so unafraid? Or was he afraid? We don’t know how Elijah was feeling. He may have had the biggest pit in his stomach, as I surely would. But what we know is that he wasn’t paralyzed by fear. He didn’t let fear affect his actions, especially fear for his own life. He was driven by a greater purpose. His purpose was to expose the sin of idol worship to God’s people, and bring them back to God. Nothing else mattered.
Our lives are not at stake as we serve the Lord here in America. Really, not much is at stake. Yet we are paralyzed by fear. Fear of what? Only of what others may think of us, I can only assume. How trivial does that sound? We are not driven by the same purpose Elijah was; we are driven by social self-preservation. What is the worst that could happen to us here in our comfortable world? We could lose our job, in the most extreme cases. But we are not nearly extreme enough for that to be likely, I would think. We want to blend in to the rest of the world, and are so careful not to offend others with the Truth. The Truth that can save them for all eternity. The only equivalent I could think of to what Elijah did would be for us to take the gospel to a nation where it is forbidden. If we were to become a missionary to the deep recesses of China where believers are riding their bikes for miles, meeting in the middle of the night. Or in the Middle East where missionaries and their families have been burned alive on the streets for proclaiming the Truth. Or in the Sudan where Christians are being slaughtered every day, and their children kidnapped before their eyes. But that is so far from our world. Is there anything in us willing to give up our lives for the Gospel? We’re not even willing to give up some social status. When I examine what is deep inside of me, and what I am really willing to give up, I am disgusted. I am paralyzed by fear. Lord, please make me unafraid, like Elijah. I want to be bold, courageous, and unafraid!
What do you think of when you hear of Christians who are missionaries in places where their lives are at risk? How does it make you feel?
In Phillipians 3, Paul says he has lost all things for the sake of Christ. What have you lost for the sake of Christ, if anything? What are you willing to lose?
In what way would you like to become more “unafraid” in the tasks that God has given you in your own life? What would that look like?
What keeps us paralyzed by fear? Specifically, what are you afraid of that is hindering you from living like Elijah did?
HEARD GOD’S VOICE:
Something that captures my attention about these chapters about Elijah is how distinctly clear God’s instructions were to him. Over and over, God told him what to do and where to do it, and Elijah heard him and obeyed. He did not ever dialogue back with God, asking for clarification, telling the Lord he didn’t think he could do it, or even sit back and wonder if that was really what God was telling him. I think these are three things I, and maybe you, continually do when God gives us instructions. We feel unsure of what God wants of us, we question whether we can do it, and we doubt the authenticity of the message. I wonder why this was not true with Elijah? What was so different about his life that he heard God speak so clearly, and he immediately obeyed, without question. It’s not as if God was giving him easy instructions. Oh yeah, if God tells me to do something wonderfully easy and comfortable, I think I hear him quite well. ‘Yes, Lord!’ I answer. ‘I will do that! That sounds very pleasant to me, and well within my comfort zone! Thank you, Lord! I will obey you!’ But NOTHING that God instructed Elijah to do was easy. In fact, it’s so far beyond our imagination, living the way he did for God. God said, go tell the king there will be a drought in the land. And he did. Dangerous. Unpleasant. Elijah needed water to live too! Did he ask, ‘But God! What about water for me?’ No. He obeyed, not even knowing what God’s next step of provision would be for him. Then God told Elijah to go and camp out by a brook and wait for the birds to bring him food. So he did. Can you imagine your own response? I can imagine mine. ‘CAMP OUT? The BIRDS? WHAT kind of food?’ But there is no record of any questioning on Elijah’s part. He heard God’s instructions, he didn’t second guess them even when they didn’t make sense to him, and he obeyed.
I think my problem, and maybe yours, is we want everything to make sense. We demand to see the big picture before we will take a step in the direction of obedience. We hardly have a concept of blind obedience. But Elijah’s eyes were not looking for what made sense to him. His ears were open, and he immediately started walking in obedience. I guess Elijah had already answered the question “Do you trust Him?” He already knew that whatever God asked of Him, he would do. Do we know that today? And even further, would we even recognize God’s voice as He spoke to us? Or must we strain through the other noise in our life, looking with our eyes, and thinking God’s voice is faint and undiscernable. Why won’t He just speak up! Or send me an e-mail; that would be convenient! We are so out of communion with God that we don’t recognize Him. I love this section in chapter 19 entitled “The Lord Speaks to Elijah”. The Lord told him to go out and stand on a mountain. God sent a mighty windstorm on the mountain, but it says the Lord was not in it. Then God sent an earthquake, but He wasn’t in it either. After the earthquake, he sent a fire, but again, He wasn’t in it. What happens next gives me chills. Next, was the sound of a gentle whisper, and Elijah covers his face, and comes out to the entrance of the cave. There was God. Then God speaks to him once more. Elijah knew his Father’s voice. It wasn’t in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. It was in the sound of a gentle whisper, and Elijah knew it.
Do you know His voice? Would you recognize it today? And when you do hear the Lord, what is your response? I am ashamed to say, mine is often doubt, questioning, bargaining, and everything but immediate obedience. I want to do everything I can to live like Elijah did. I want to hear the Father’s gentle whisper to my heart, with a blindfold over my eyes, and for my feet to immediately start moving. Isaiah 30:21 says “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Your eyes may not see it. It’s as if He calls from behind you, while you wear the blindfold of faith. But your ears! Your ears are attuned to His voice, and He tells you, this is the way; walk in it. Walk in it.
What does it mean to wear the “blindfold of faith”?
How do we attune our ears to His voice? What do you see in Elijah’s life in comparison to your own that attuned Him to God’s voice?
I talked about some of my sinful responses when God speaks to me; which ones do you identify with? How do you respond to Him when He speaks to you?
Can you think of an instance in your life when you were looking for God in the “windstorm, earthquake, and fire”, and He wanted to speak to you in a gentle whisper? Could you hear Him today if He were whispering to you? What is the white noise in your life drowning Him out?
GAVE UP EVERYTHING:
The fourth characteristic that stood out to me about Elijah’s life is that he gave up everything. We have no background information on Elijah, so we don’t know where he came from. We don’t know if he was married, had children, had aging parents, had a community of friends; but I’m pretty sure he didn’t live on an island prior to this, so we can be sure that he had a life. A life with a home, the comfort of his own surroundings, probably a trade, people he loved, family he loved, and probably his own safe place. We know that God asked him to be used for His greater purpose as a prophet of the Lord. We know that he obeyed, and gave up everything to do just that.
In the years that span these few chapters, Elijah lives on the run, not knowing where he’s headed until the Lord speaks. At first, the Lord keeps him safe by having him camp out by a brook, away from the angry king and people who would be out to kill him. But this certainly wouldn’t be “like home.” I can’t count the material things that Elijah gave up, because he gave up virtually everything. Every comfort, every belonging, EVERYTHING! I am ashamed to think of what I am unwilling to go without. Just think about what all we pack when we go somewhere for a few days away. If I forget my lip balm, I think it’s a small tragedy. We have so much, we can’t even comprehend it, and we hold on more tightly to it that we are willing to admit, even to ourselves.
I think the most challenging part of this for me, though, would be to be alone for so long; to give up relationships. Even for a man, I think this would be difficult. I think of Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway”, making best friends with a volleyball named “Wilson” because he is stranded on an island, living all alone. I became so attached to Wilson, that when he floated away in the ocean, I cried as if someone really died! We are relational beings, and giving up all of Elijah’s relationships to live alone in the wilderness couldn’t have been easy. I like to picture me as living as Snow White did in the forest with all of the animals as her friends, singing songs with her, and keeping her company. However, I don’t think that Disney’s animated world would have been too true to life… The isolation had to have been tough.
I think of all that Elijah gave up to follow God in the most extreme, radical way, and I can’t even list it all. The question is, what didn’t he give up? I have to ask myself, am I following God in the same extreme, radical way that Elijah did? What is God asking of me that I’m not even willing to consider. What could he be asking me to give up to be an extreme follower? I’m not saying it’s all of the things that Elijah did, I don’t know. I am not sure we are willing to even ask God the question, “Lord, what would you have me sacrifice to follow you”? We may be too afraid, as we clutch the things and people we think we need. We are quick to say, and even sing sometimes at church, “You are all that I need, Lord.” But do we really believe that? Is He really all that I need? If I was stripped of everything else, how would I respond? Am I living my life right now as if I believe that today? I tremble as I sing those words, because I’m afraid He is going to ask me to prove it. I know in my heart that He is ALL that I need, but most of the time I am far from that reality. So many other things matter to me on a day to day basis that have nothing to do with eternity, and most of them center around ME. I want my life to be all about Him, all of the time. I want to die to myself, and surrender everything to Him everyday. When will I realize that it all belongs to Him? My husband, my children, my money, my things, my abilities, my everything, and I have no rights to it.
I believe He wants us to evaluate how much our happiness and contentedness is invested in people and things, and not in God. Yes, He has blessed us beyond measure, and we should not feel ashamed of His blessings…UNLESS our treasure lies there, instead of with a Holy God Who created us and loved us enough to give up His own Son to pay for our sins. Then maybe we ought to consider throwing some things overboard, and focusing on loving Him with our whole lives; centering all of our affections on Him! Do we count it all as loss to pick up our cross, and follow Him?
Can we love people or things too much?
What are some things and/or relationships in your life that you might be depending on for happiness that supercede your relationship with God?
I talked about Elijah following God in an extreme and radical way. What would it look like for you to become extreme and radical? How do you think it would change your life and your relationships?
OBEYED WITHOUT QUESTION OR COMPLAINT:
Elijah not only heard from God and gave up everything, but he did so without questioning God or complaining. This may be the most convicting part of examining Elijah’s life for me. I am ashamed to realize how much complaining I actually do. In Linda Dillow’s book Calm My Anxious Heart, Linda tells the story of a missionary named Ella who worked in Africa for 52 years. She left everything behind to live in the African bush without electricity, air conditioning, and modern conveniences. Ella had a few rules for herself she abided by to maintain contentment and keep herself from complaining.
1) Never allow yourself to complain about anything-not even the weather. 2) Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else. 3) Never compare your lot with another’s. 4) Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise. 5) Never dwell on tomorrow- remember that tomorrow is God’s, not ours.
I didn’t even have to read past the first rule to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I complain about many things, including the weather, on a daily basis! This woman lived in the African heat, many times exceeding 120 degrees! I can’t be happy with the weather in almost any season. In the Fall, I complain that there is no fall. We have what my husband likes to call “Fell”. The leaves just fell one night, and that’s our fall. In the winter, it’s not cold enough. In the Spring…okay I really do love Springtime here. But in the summer, I hardly stop complaining about the heat. I never even considered that complaining about the smallest things breeds discontentment in my life. But I think this wise woman was right! Complaining becomes a habit, and we feel free and justified to do it concerning just about anything. Our homes, our bodies, our clothes, our husband, our children, our church… you name it. Things hardly every meet up to our standards, and because of it we are a discontented society, Christians included. When I am really walking with the Lord, contentment seems to settle on me, and the complaining subsides. When we allow Christ to be the focus of our lives, how can we complain? He satisfies our every need, and becomes our delight!
As Paul says in Phillipians 2, “In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing…”. This came from a man who made contentment his business. He wrote about contentment from a prison cell. What wonderful examples we have to follow in the scriptures on this! Isaiah 58:14 says “Honor the Lord in everything you do, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. If you do this, the Lord will be your delight.” Isn’t complaining just about following our own desires, and talking idly? If we are doing that, how can the Lord be our delight?
Elijah certainly wasn’t a complainer, but thankfully, he was human. I was so relieved to catch a glimpse of his humanity in chapter 19. Up until now, he obeyed God under the most difficult circumstances. Elijah, while still walking in obedience, stops to say he’s tired. He’s so tired, he wants to die. Jezebel swears she will kill him for killing the prophets of Baal, and he again is running for his life. No doubt he was hoping his days on the run were over. But now he finds himself running into the desert, alone. He has been traveling all day, and the scripture says he “sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” (19:4) He then gives into exhaustion and goes to sleep, evidently hoping to never wake up. I love what God does next. He sends an angel to wake him with freshly baked bread and a jar of water. He goes back to sleep, and the angel wakes him again to eat, drink, and sends him on his way to complete his journey of forty days and forty nights. God cares when you’re tired! He knows what you need! He may not take your “journey in the desert” from you, but he will give you rest when you need it, and all the nourishment you need, when you need it. And we can rest assured that the journey he has for us is all for our good. Elijah didn’t sit down under that tree in the desert and whine “Why God? Why have you sent me out here, again running for my life? Just kill me!” No, he just admitted to God that he was tired and couldn’t go on. Have you felt that way? Do you feel like that today? Instead of questioning God’s plan, and if He really knows what He’s doing, ask Him for the rest and nourishment that You need, and know that He will restore you when needed. Open your eyes to His provision. Sometimes we can’t see it because we are so focused on complaining. He will give you all the strength you need for your journey, and for contentment.
Ask the Lord to reveal to you what you complain about most, and write them down.
Can you pinpoint discontentment in your life? If so, what things are your focus that are taking away from the Lord being your delight?
Can you remember a time when the Lord was your delight, and you felt content. When, and what was that like?
Should Godly contentment depend on our circumstances, or on God? Do you feel you could be content in your circumstances today if you surrendered it all to the Lord?
Decide today if you will break the cycle of complaining in your life, and pray for God to show you how. Choose someone who will keep you accountable. (preferably someone you are with most frequently.)
BROKEN FOR OTHERS:
Elijah was a man whose heart was broken for others. Not only did he want to obey God, but I believe he did so because he was broken for the people who had fallen so far from the Lord. We can see this in the desperate prayers he prays for others, begging God to reveal himself, and to save them.
The first instance we see this is when he goes to stay with the widow and her son. The Lord directs him to this woman, who is gathering sticks to prepare her last meal before she and her son die from lack of food. Elijah entreats her to bake him a loaf of bread with the last of her flour and oil, and then the Lord will keep restoring her flour and oil jars until the famine is over. What faith this woman had to believe that could be true! But God is believable, so Elijah, the widow, and her son’s physical needs were met supernaturally by the bottomless flour and oil jars. But then, the widow’s son becomes sick, and dies. The widow turns in grief to Elijah, and Elijah immediately takes the boy’s body upstairs to beg the Lord for his intervention. He is broken for this woman, and it says he cries out to God “O Lord, why have you brought tragedy on this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” And then he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.” The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he came back to life!” 1 Kings 17:20-22
A pastor and friend of mine recently said “God has made his heart vulnerable to our prayers”, citing Numbers 14, when the Lord told Moses he would destroy the Israelites for their disobedience. Moses asked the Lord not to, and he granted Moses’ prayer. After reading 1 Kings 17-19, God’s heart definitely seemed vulnerable to Elijah’s prayers. I am a bit amazed that Elijah had the notion that he could pray for someone who was already dead to have life restored to him, and it would happen! I think today we wouldn’t even consider that. But Elijah knew what our God was capable of, and he boldly asked him for it. The Bible says the Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, meaning that He was moved into action because of it, and the life of the child returned.
You can also see one of the most desperate and powerful prayers prayed in scripture, in my meager opinion, in chapter 18 during the “Contest on Mt. Carmel.” Remember that the Baal worshippers had set up their altar, and Elijah had set up his. The worshippers of Baal had spent the day running around, screaming, even cutting themselves to try to capture the attention of their god, who Elijah suggested quite sarcastically, must be asleep, or “relieving himself”. (We see that Elijah had a sense of humor!) But now it was Elijah’s turn. Verse 36 says that at the customary time for the evening sacrifice, Elijah simply walked up to the altar and prayed this: “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 that moment, God flashed down fire from heaven and burned up his sacrifice. What an amazing prayer! Can you imagine how desperate he must have felt for the Lord to answer his prayer? If he had set up this whole “chicken fight” of sacrifices to the gods, and then the Lord didn’t move, he would have been slaughtered on the spot, and it all would have been for nothing.
Two things I want to notice about this prayer: he was desperate for the Lord to move, and he was completely focused on restoring people to the Lord. This prayer was not for himself. He could have said “Answer me, so that these people won’t kill me!” But his motivation was still a broken heart for a people who had wandered so far from the truth, they no longer called Him God. These people had forsaken God in the worst ways, and I am sure that angered Elijah, in a holy, righteous anger. But that was not his driving emotion. It was brokenness for their salvation. How broken are we? How desperate are we for God to move in the lives of the people we know who have wandered from the Lord, or who don’t even call Him God? As I have pondered this, I have realized we are not broken at all. There is a lack of compassion for those who are searching everywhere to fill the hole inside of them that only God can fill. There is even a hatred for people who are lost and don’t live according to God’s Ways. Sadly, what I have realized, is we are not even broken for the people in our own families who don’t know the Lord or who have fallen far from Him. If you or I were broken, we would be on our knees for them everyday. We would cry out to the Lord as Elijah did, desperate for Him to move. But we aren’t desperate. We may haphazardly pray for them, remembering from time to time, but our hearts are not broken. I am not sure why, yet. I have just felt sadness and shame as I have realized this about myself. But God has given me a new desperation and brokenness. I want to take the focus completely off of myself, as Elijah did, and be driven by what the Lord wants to do through me to reach others. Lord, continue to break my heart and make me desperate to see You move in the hearts of those who are far from You. Keep me on my face before You, and help me to pray as Elijah did. Amen.
Do you agree that there is a lack of brokenness and compassion for the lost among us? If so, in what way?
If we were to have our prayers transcripted, how much of them would center around saving the lost, or would they mostly center around us?
What do you think needs to happen in our lives for us to take the focus off of ourself and onto others?
Make a list of atleast three people in your life who are far from the Lord, or who don’t know Him at all. Ask God to really burden your heart for them and commit to pray for them.
I was drawn to the story of Elijah because of his effective prayers. It could be that all of these characteristics together gave him the power of persuasion with the Lord, but I think one of the biggest reasons is that he prayed believing. He was in constant communication with the Lord, following his every instruction, as crazy as it may have seemed. When he called on the Lord to save the life of the widow’s son, he knew that God could do that. When he stood on Mt. Carmel, surrounded by the followers of Baal, and poured water all over his altar, he knew that God could set it ablaze. He prayed, believing in a God that is so much bigger than our tiny minds can imagine.
What does it mean to believe God? I think we could define the word faith quite simply as believing God. God knew how difficult this would be for us, so He fills the Word with promises to assure us that God can be believed and is worthy of our faith in him. He gives us awesome examples of giants of faith in the scriptures. I love Hebrews 11, because it is like a “Faith Hall of Fame.” You can see a long list of Old Testament characters who had strong faith in God, though they couldn’t see the big picture of what He was doing, and it says their faith was “credited to them as righteousness.” But one of my personal favorites is King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. He discovered that a mighty army was on its way to wipe them out, and immediately he fell on his knees to pray. He asked everyone in the land to come to the temple to pray, and to fast. He prayed an amazing, humble prayer there in front of all of his people; a mighty king, admitting “Lord, we do not know what to do, but we are looking to you to help.” (verse 12) He also prayed in verse 9 “Whenever we are faced with any calamity such as war, disease, or famine, we can come to stand in your presence before this Temple where your name is honored. We can cry out to you to save us, and you will hear us and rescue us.” This man prayed believing! When the Lord then gave a man there among them a Word that they should go out to meet this army, but that they wouldn’t need to fight because this would be the Lord’s battle, they all bowed down and thanked God. God did just that, and more, and they worshiped, praised, and thanked Him for it.
Moses was also a great man of faith, as we know. But I think possibly the greatest example of it had to have been leading the Israelites out of Egypt, toward the Red Sea. He didn’t know how God was going to deliver them, he was just following the Lord’s instructions. When the Lord told him to take the path between the wilderness and the Sea, rather than through Philistine territory, which was the shortest route to the Promise Land, can you imagine how confused he might have felt? I definitely would have been asking God if He knew what He was doing. But Moses led this army of people, who were depending on Moses‘ leading, toward the Sea and just waited expectantly to see what God was going to do. Then God did one of the most awe-inspiring miracles in the scripture, by parting the Sea and letting them walk through to safety on the ocean floor! WOW!
When those same people, who were led through the wilderness with God’s presence hovering over them by cloud and by fire, did not believe God was going to follow through with His promise to deliver them to the Promise Land and wanted to go back to Egypt, God was ready to destroy them. Imagine how crushed, angry, and frustrated God might have felt! Moses pleaded for their lives, and God spared them, but He vowed to never allow them to enter the Promise Land. Hebrews 3:19 says “So we see that they were not allowed to enter his rest because of their unbelief.” It was not their disobedience, their stupidity, or their rebellion that bothered God the most. It was their UNBELIEF. Hebrews 3:12 says “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God.” What an apt warning for us to heed!
Another example would be Abraham. It says in Genesis 15, God took Abraham out to look at the night sky. He told him that his descendants would outnumber the stars. What’s notable is, the Word says, Abraham believed Him, and God counted him as righteous because of it. Do you think if you were an old man with an infertile wife, you would so easily believe God if He told you that? I wish I could say I would. But these men knew the character of God. They knew that God could be believed.
Hebrews 10:23 says “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” (NLT) And Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Maybe we do not believe God, because we really don’t know Him. We don’t know His Word, and His promises to us; we don’t recognize how He moves in our lives because we don’t pray for Him to move. Or maybe, we are just trying to see with our physical eyes, and not our spiritual eyes, and we don’t trust Him when we can’t see what He’s doing?
There was a time recently when I was praying so fervently for someone, and I could not understand why God was not acting. I kind of whined to God, ‘Why don’t You answer my prayers?’ God immediately humbled me with a flood of answered prayers, and miracles He’s performed in my life. I felt so ashamed! The bottom line is God doesn’t always do what I want Him to do, when I want Him to do it! Imagine that! But I can look back gratefully that He doesn’t. (Thank God for unanswered prayers…sounds like a bad Garth Brooks song.)
We are a weak, feeble-minded, doubting people. But God can deliver us from an unbelieving heart. The more we know Him, the more we know His faithfulness, the more we will pray believing. God, give me a believing heart. Help me to know You so intimately, that I don’t hesitate to be assured deep in my heart that You are a God worthy of my faith and that I can always pray believing. Amen.
Read 2 Chronicles 20, the story of King Jehoshaphat. What can we learn from his response, and how can we apply that to our own lives?
When you examine the lives of these “giants of faith” in the scripture, how are you like them, or not like them?
Where do you see unbelief, in your heart, and among God’s people?
What does Jesus say about faith in Matthew 17:14-21? What do you think would happen if we had that kind of faith?
Write a prayer to God, confessing any unbelief in your heart, and asking Him for the kind of faith that Elijah had.