Elijah replied to the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men.
2 Kings 1:10
After Elijah’s meltdown when he confessed that he was no better than his ancestors, and when he received a fresh encounter with the Lord at Horeb (see 1 Kings 19), a new power seemed to possess him. No longer was he in hiding from his enemies but he was courageously in the open ground depending solely on the protection of God. Though he was a powerful prophet both before and after the encounter at Horeb, the confidence that kept him faithful and calm in the presence of others eluded his inner thoughts. But after Horeb God became the confidence that held his innermost fears.
There are no shortcuts to learning of and living in the power of God. It is all by grace and received through faith, as is every spiritual blessing, yet there comes a time in our witness for God that our resolve will break and panic will erupt within. This is because we are selfish and desire some credit for the thing that God alone is doing. We each retain some degree of self-focus as long as we live on this earth – the old man only disappears from our hearts after death. At the greatest moments of spiritual victories we will each be tempted to think in terms of getting the praise and credit ourselves for the work that only God can do. Only when we like seeds are willing to be planted and to die as seeds is the life of God experienced within us and do we reach our true potential as servants of the Most High God.
Whatever was experienced at Horeb by Elijah left him to live in the brokenness of personal failure but in the mighty power of Almighty God. Outwardly it would not have appeared that Elijah had failed, but inwardly he had retained some thought that he himself was performing the work of God and that he had been “better than his ancestors.” Many a prophet has come home to the Father like a prodigal dressed in rags, having spent his calling and his spiritual currency in the pursuit of earthly praise and possessions, if only for the sake of saying to himself, Look at what I have done for God, rather than be amazed at what God did through human lives.
There is nothing wrong with being rewarded financially for service to God (see 1 Corinthians 9:14). Neither is anything wrong with receiving respect and thanks for service to the Lord (Hebrews 13:7,17). Yet we must understand and avoid the temptation to believe that these temporary things are the true rewards of faithfulness. Christ also taught, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
Brokenness leads us to maturity, and to living in the fullness of God’s power and strength, not in our own. As long as there is some personal insecurity, some fear, some desire for recognition by others – even if only in the slightest degree – we will interpret our service to God in those terms. It is only in coming to the end of ourselves, when our personal insecurities, fears, weaknesses, and failures are placed on the altar, do we find that the power of God indwelling us. If we are afraid of failing, our service still retains some hint of self-aggrandizement and is not pure love for the sake of Christ, so the power of God does not fill us. Like Elijah the leakage is most often felt in our hearts first, in the private life.
There is where the remedy is also to be experienced. Jack Taylor wrote that for years he nursed feelings of inferiority as a pastor, but then he came to the point of realizing that it was not an inferiority complex after all, but a fact. For years he thought the problem was in his feelings, but the problem was that he truly was inferior and he needed to accept the fact and turn to God. But in turning to God he experienced a deeper walk with the Lord and the power of the Lord became real to him and flowed through him.
Lord, grant us the gift of repentance that leads to life, that we might live in Your fullness and power. Amen.