In 1998 R. Kelly released the song I Believe I Can Fly. Can he? People, sometime under the influence of drugs, have killed themselves jumping from buildings and bridges, believing they could fly.
Motivational speakers will tell people that they can do whatever they want if they simply believe. Benjamin Franklin apparently said, “you can do anything you set your mind to.” There is an element of truth in that. If you are going to achieve, you have to set your mind to it. But to say that I can do anything is not true. I cannot fly (other than aided by an aeroplane or whatever.) There are many things I cannot do. No matter how hard I try to believe I can fly, I cannot fly.
Last week we considered David’s faith in walking out to fight Goliath. He faced an impossible situation, a climate of fear, criticism, doubt, and the temptation to trust in physical armour rather than God. But there was something else he faced. What were the consequences of failure?
If David failed, he died. That is quite risky but it was worse than that! If he failed, the whole nation lost and became subject to the Philistines. His only hope was that God gave him victory. He had no other plan. Everything depended on God. That is faith. Have you ever been in a situation where you have put yourself completely in the hands of God?
Today’s story is similar in that way. It is another David and Goliath story really. Read 1 Kings 18:16-40.
Elijah faced an impossible situation. Everything depended on God. He faced a hostile crowd: a king and queen who were evil, a nation that had turned from God and was worshipping Baal, standing alone he faced the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah (another false god), and criticism. Ahab accused him of having brought trouble on Israel. And yet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to this winner-takes-all contest. And he couldn’t do anything. It all depended on God.
What if God didn’t do anything? Elijah would have been imprisoned, or worse. God’s name would have been mud. The people would have been confirmed in their worship of other gods. Israel would have sunk further into terrible sin and history would record this story of God’s inability and failure. Everything depended on God. The god who answered by fire – he would be the real god.
But as we read this story, there is not a hint of doubt or fear in Elijah. He was bold in setting up the contest and in challenging the people to choose whom they would follow. He seemed very at peace while the prophets of Baal screamed and chanted and danced and cut their flesh. Elijah seemed quite confident that there would be no fire from Baal. He was relaxed enough to mock them as he urged them to shout louder and try harder. When it was his turn, he was confident enough to make the challenge even harder by pouring large quantities of water over the altar – three times. Then he prayed a short prayer: Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at Your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that these people will know that You, Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again.
Immediately, fire fell and burned up the sacrifice, the stones, the water, everything. The people fell on their faces and repented: “the Lord – He is God”. The prophets of Baal were slaughtered. What a great story! God proved that He is God. The man of God was vindicated! The nation repented! Wonderful!
None of that would have happened without an individual having faith. Equally amazing things could happen in our own day. It just takes somebody to have faith.
Hmmm, is that true? Can we expect God to act like this? Equally amazing things? This was rather unique. Can we expect anything like this today?
John 14:12 Very truly, I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
The New Testament Christians healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, preached the gospel, saw many converted… Those things have continued through the history of the church. They continue now in various parts of the world. It seems to be God’s way of doing things. He responds to faith.
Jesus emphasised it: Very truly, I tell you…
It applies to everyone who has faith: all who have faith in me… The key is faith: all who have faith… But it is not just faith; it is faith in me (faith in Jesus).
It is about miracles: will do the works I have been doing and… even greater tbings…
It seems that God intended this to be normal. Jesus said this would be the experience of everyone who has faith in Him. What do you think about that statement by Jesus? Do you believe it?
Let’s go back to Elijah (and the “I believe I can fly” example). What does his faith show us?
Faith is not wishful thinking. Elijah didn’t sit there thinking, “Oh, it would be really cool if we had this contest thing involving two sacrifices where God sent down fire and showed Himself to be God. Wouldn’t that be cool.”
No, he didn’t just hope. He believed it would happen. He was so convinced it would happen, that he took the risk of organising the challenge. And yet we so often simply wish and think how cool it would be if God acted. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if many people in Mornington were converted? That is not faith.
Where did Elijah’s confidence come from? Did he have to psych himself up? There is no indication of that in the story. Many people think that faith is a strong belief. Norman Vincent Peale preached the power of positive thinking. It has got nothing to do with positive thinking. And yet people think that faith is about psyching myself up to believe. If I focus hard enough, miracles will happen. No.
Think about the prophets of Baal. They were the ones who were psyching themselves up. They were the ones who thought that their intensity, their volume and their self-harm would move Baal to action.
Let me say something that might seem to be at odds with everything I have said so far: faith achieves nothing. Faith is completely useless.
The prophets of Baal had faith. They had faith in Baal. They agreed to the contest. They must have believed that Baal would prevail. Their faith achieved nothing.
The power is not in the positive thinking. The power is in God. The question is not how big my faith is but what my faith is in. Jesus said, “…all who have faith in me…” Many people have put their faith in the wrong things. Much motivational thinking is about having faith in yourself. People who out their faith in the wrong things might be very sincere and very convinced but they are sincerely wrong. It is not the size of my faith but the object of my faith. What am I putting my faith in?
Faith is not (as one boy put it) believing what you know ain’t true. Some people’s attitude is “I know it can’t happen so I just have to have faith.” Elijah didn’t believe it couldn’t happen; he believed it could.
Faith is not about persuading God with my long prayers or my strong convictions. Some people see faith as forcing God to act. “I’m believing so You have to do it, God.”
God doesn’t have to respond to us. Faith is us responding to God. Faith is believing what God has said and acting accordingly.
So, where did Elijah’s confidence come from?
Note something really important in v.36. In his prayer, Elijah said, “Let it be known… that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.”
The contest wasn’t Elijah’s idea that he required God to support. The contest was God’s idea. God had commanded it; Elijah did it. Elijah simply believed that if God said that He would send down fire, then God would send down fire. He had already experienced of God’s miraculous protection and provision. So, when God spoke, Elijah knew that he could trust Him. God had spoken. This wasn’t a risk.
Do you think an electric socket is an amazing thing? You can plug all sorts of different appliances in and they do all sorts of amazing things. You can plug a toaster in; you can plug a computer in; you can plug a vacuum cleaner in. Amazing! But how amazing would a socket be not connected to a power station?
God is the power station; faith is the socket. Faith is our God-given way of receiving the power of God. If you want to grow in faith, focus on getting to know God better. Focus on the power station, not the socket. The better you know God, the more you will know that you can trust Him. The more you trust Him, the more you will respond obediently. The more you respond, the more miracles God will do through you. Prioritise getting to know God.
We noted last week, how often David talked about God. He talked about God being alive and about what God had done for him in the past. He said that the Lord Almighty would deliver Goliath into his hands. As far as David was concerned, God was alive, powerful, and faithful. He was the Lord Almighty; ruler over all creation and of infinite power. Plus, He had spoken and He would keep His promise.
What sort of God did Elijah believe in? Look at v.15 (the verse before the passage we read). As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.
‘Lord’. God is King. He is in control. Repeatedly Elijah referred to God as ‘the Lord’.
‘Almighty’ reveals His power. Nothing is impossible for God. He created the universe just by saying, “Let there be…” He is able to defeat giants and to pour fire from heaven. He is all-mighty. Pouring water on the altar would not make the task any more difficult because God is all-powerful.
‘lives’. Like David, Elijah had no doubt that God was alive and active today. Unlike Baal, the true God is not deaf or distracted or absent or asleep. He is alive.
In his prayer, Elijah’s emphasis was that the people would know that God is God. He is the one and only creator, sustainer, redeemer. He is a God who is jealous for the honour of His name. Elijah believed Him to be a God who answers prayer. By pouring out fire on the altar, God proved Himself to be God. He proved Himself to be the Lord Almighty. He proved that He was alive. He acted powerfully to turn the people back to Himself. He proved that He was a God who answers prayer.
The power is not in the faith; the power is in the God that the person of faith trusts. Jesus said that if we have faith only the size of a mustard seed, we will be able to tell a mountain to throw itself into the sea. It is not the size of the faith that is important. Even a tiny faith in an almighty God is enough.
Faith is not about me persuading God through my efforts but God graciously being true to who He is.
What sort of God do we believe in? Do we believe in a God who is Lord over all creation – in control? Do we believe in a God who is all-mighty – for Whom nothing is impossible? Is our God alive – still in good health and actively at work? Do you believe in a God who is faithful – who will keep His promises? Do we believe in a God who answers prayers?
Jesus said, “With God nothing is impossible” (Mt 19:26). What difference does that knowledge make in your everyday life?