Sunday, June 2, 2013

When You Feel Like the Only One Left

We have never met and likely never will this side of eternity.  Still, Dr. R. T. Kendall has held a special place in my heart ever since a friend gave me a copy of his book analyzing the Biblical character Joseph, entitled God Meant It For Good: A Fresh Look At the Life of Joseph

At that time in 2005, my husband's life had turned into a real-life adaptation of Joseph's story.  Our family was horrified, in shock, and in mourning over the life that had been so suddenly stripped from us because of another's sinful choice.  Yet, there in black and white, Kendall began to comfort us, explaining the why behind Joseph's plight.

God had a plan when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery; God had a plan when Joseph was imprisoned based on the lying words of the lustful Potipher's wife.  These were words I needed to hear when I could not comprehend how God could possibly have a plan in allowing the unrighteous to trample upon a household devoted to serving Him.

Recently, Dr. Kendall published a new book, These Are the Days of Elijah: How God Uses Ordinary People to Do Extraordinary Things.  In it, he breaks down Elijah's life into twenty-one "sermons" from a series he preached at Westminster Chapel in London.

While the individual chapters do each have the ring of a sermon, that's actually not a bad thing.  The format makes for chapters that can easily stand alone as well as build upon each other and that always provide a timely application for the reader's own life.

Kendall's overall point is that Elijah "was both extraordinary and ordinary.  He was spectacular--stating boldly, for example, that it would not rain until he gave the word; and there was not a drop of rain for three and a half years.  Yet James noted that Elijah was a man 'just like us' because he was so very, very human (James 5:17)."

Extraordinary and ordinary--a holy prophet who heard the voice of the Lord and yet a man with all his faults and fears.

One of Elijah's flaws that Kendall points out is one I see in myself and other Christians at times.  This is the flaw of discounting others' relationships with God as "less serious" because their relationship doesn't look like ours, doesn't prioritize what we consider most important in serving the Lord.

Consider when Elijah was atop Mount Carmel in the famous scene where he challenged the 400 prophets of Baal to have their god light the altar of sacrifice with heavenly fire.  There, he speaks to the people, saying, "I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left" (1 Kin. 18:22).

The problem with that statement?  It wasn't true.

Before heading up Mount Carmel to meet with King Ahab and the prophets of Baal, Elijah had met another who Scripture describes as "devout believer in the Lord"--Obadiah, a man otherwise known as evil King Ahab's palace administrator (1. Kin. 18:3).

In the conversation between Elijah and Obadiah, Obadiah had expressed how committed he was to the Lord, saying, "Yet I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth. Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water." (1 Kin. 18:12-13).

Talk about living in the lion's mouth!  Elijah was hidden away in the countryside, fed by ravens and a Gentile widow.  But here was Obadiah, living with the enemy, likely in fear for his own life each day as he served King Ahab.

Yet, Elijah discounted Obadiah's service to the Lord because his service was different than Elijah's.  And those other 100 prophets in hiding?  Elijah seems to just ignore this bit of information.

Later, when Ahab's wife, Jezebel, threatens to kill Elijah and he runs off to the countryside to hide, God asks him twice, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kin. 19:9,13).  Both times, Elijah responds the same way: "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too" (1 Kin. 19:10,14)

As we know from his interaction with Obadiah, there were at least 101 men in Israel still committed to the Lord, one hundred of whom were prophets hiding much like Elijah. 

After allowing Elijah to make this statement three separate times, the Lord finally corrects him, saying, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet...Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him" (1 Kin. 19:15-16, 18).

Here, God gives names of men still committed to the Lord--Hazael, Jehu, Elisha...oh, and 7,000 others.


Elijah wasn't the only one left in devout service to the Lord.  He wasn't the only prophet left either.  Soon, one was coming who would have double his anointing.     

It's easy to criticize Elijah for being so full of himself that he couldn't see past the end of his own nose.  But, we modern-day Christians are also guilty of prioritizing our brand of quiet time, our style of Bible study, our definition of worship, our commitment to this or that particular ministry.

Without even giving it a second thought, we look at the person down the pew at church or across the street in our neighborhoods and unintentionally critique his or her relationship with God based on what we have determined true commitment must look like.

The result?  We look around our nation and say the equivalent of Elijah's "I am the only one left."

Don't be self-deceived--God is still at work in our nation and around the world. He still has many devout believers serving in many different ways for His kingdom.

You and I are not the only ones left.

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