So Ahab summoned all the Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. Then Elijah approached all the people and said, â€œHow long will you hesitate between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow Him. But if Baal, follow him.â€ But the people didnâ€™t answer him a word.
1 Kings 18:20-21 HCSB
You know the story. Elijah challenges the prophets of the false God Baal to a contest. It’s a contest to prove which God really is the authority in Israel. Is it Baal or Yaweh?
The contestants face only one challenge – to light a fire under a pile of wood on which has been placed slain animal as an offering. Not only is it a pretty easy miracle for a healthy god, it’s in the god’s interest to do it. Burnt sacrifices are what gods are all about. To the pagan mind, the smoke from the burnt offering is the food off which the gods live.
Elijah lets the Baalites go first, they prance around and shout and call upon Baal to Act and light that fire….
they jump higher, pray louder, make more extravagant promises about what they will do for Baal if he just does this one tiny thing…
… Nothing happens…
…except that Elijah starts heckling them
At noon Elijah mocked them. He said, â€œShout loudly, for heâ€™s a god! Maybe heâ€™s thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe heâ€™s on the road. Perhaps heâ€™s sleeping and will wake up!â€
1 Kings 18:27 HCSB
they shout, they pray, they rave, they even cut themselves to show to Baal how serious they are…
…But Nothing Happens.
Here’s a prevocative thought that’s been buzzing round my head for a couple of days now. I wonder if some of our ways of praying, and our thinking about prayer, would be more appropriate for a pagan worshipper of Baal than for a child of Yahweh?
The parallels may not be immediately obvious, I haven’t seem to much ritual self-harm in prayer meetings or Church services (at least none involving sharp implements), but are there other ways in which we pray like the pagans?
Could it be the verbose, stylised prayer language that some of us use for public prayer?
Have you ever made deals with God in your head? Promises to do extravagant things for God if he will hear your prayer and act?
Have you ever been in a mission or ministry planning meeting when someone has suggested that we “need to cover this event with a blanket of prayer”?
Those 24 hour rolling prayer meetings?
Isn’t it easy to get sucked into the thinking which says, ‘We need to pray all night to show God how serious we are’?
These things might all be good and true, but I’ll always be a little suspicious…
… and on the lookout for people bringing knives and spears…
What made Elijah different?
Well, his prayer was very different…
At the time for offering the |evening| sacrifice, Elijah the prophet approached |the altar| and said, â€œLORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that at Your word I have done all these things. Answer me, LORD! Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back.â€
Then Yahwehâ€™s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, â€œYahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!â€
1 Kings 18:36-39 HCSB
because he knew Yahweh his God…