I was at a point of capitulation and desperation. I lay on my bed in the quiet of my room (the room in my parents’ house that was mine in high school, and which I moved back into as an adult) and cried. This was my white flag moment, my moment of surrender. The tears streaming down my face were the only outward sign of emotion. This wasn’t my regular emotional breakdown. This was different. I didn’t wail or wince; I didn’t kick or scream. I literally opened my hands and surrendered to God in silence.
I’d been through months of diet pills, an expensive car purchase, countless Bible studies, vacations, serving at church, and retail therapy; nothing healed my hurt and confusion. Nothing brought me peace. Nothing provided reprieve or hope or balance in the way I thought it would. I created gods I thought could rescue me from my loneliness, but my attempts at healing kept coming up empty and draining any hope (and money) I had.
Now, for the first time, I felt like the change I wanted was happening. It wasn’t what I expected or how I wanted it to happen, but I knew God was doing it, even if I didn’t like how He was doing it.
My moment of surrender should have come as no surprise. Throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, situations that seem far beyond salvaging become the impetus for new and greater life.
Jonah was in the belly of a fish, and when he was spewed out, he obeyed God and went to preach to a straying Nineveh. Abraham took Isaac up a mountain to be sacrificed and trusted that God would fulfill His promise that Abraham would become the father of many nations, even though He’d called Abraham to slay his firstborn.
Paul and Silas experienced a massive earthquake in prison; they lived through the catastrophe, and ushered in salvation and revival to the Roman jail guard and his entire family.
What looks like impending death or utter despair signifies the beginning of a rescue, a demonstration of resurrection, or the impetus for revival.
We simply must, like Jesus crying out in the garden of Gethsemane, remain in the process.
* * *
If God had a résumé, I’m pretty sure it would include “trained in the art of flamethrowing.” In Exodus, He lit up a bush and led people like an ever-moving campfire by night. As we will see in 1 Kings, He threw down some heat and lit up some barbecue in order for Elijah to demonstrate His power.
As Elijah had promised, the Lord showed Himself to be the one true God. As my mother says, when things need to get awakened, God will sometimes light a fire under our butts to get us moving.
I should mention a few details here. God told Elijah that if he were to confront the king, He would bring rain to the land. One small detail: AHAB HATED ELIJAH. One big detail: JEZEBEL HATED ELIJAH MORE THAN AHAB. Considering where Elijah stood with the royal family, God’s command could very well have been a death sentence, but Elijah boldly called out to King Ahab to a dance off… wait… I mean face off at Mount Carmel.
Picture the scene. All the Israelites came from near and far, all the prophets rolled up, and King Ahab spoke to Elijah. There was a battle of words. Some smack talk was exchanged. Ahab called Elijah a troublemaker. Elijah shot back a retort and named Ahab’s daddy and family as the cause of trouble for the nation. You know it gets serious when you start talking about family! Elijah told the king that God had brought the drought because the people had turned from the one true God and worshiped Baal. And he didn’t stop there. All the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah who ate at the royal table, who’d condoned Ahab’s sin, were called out too.
The king stepped to Elijah, but Elijah didn’t back down. He called out King Ahab to back up the smack he’d been talking. Elijah just laid it down. This was the battle to trump all battles. The Capulets and the Montagues, the Jets and the Sharks, the Hatfields and the McCoys — none of them could rival the drama that went down.
Elijah asked everyone on the mountain to commit, to choose which god they would serve. He challenged the prophets of Baal, asked them to place a bull on the altar and to pray for Baal to set fire to the bull. The prophets did as they were told, then wailed and cried out, but nothing happened. They shouted and cut themselves to gain the attention and favor of Baal, but no fire fell.
Elijah, tired of waiting, began to taunt and make fun of the prophets. “Shout louder! He’s a god, so maybe he’s busy.” The insults grew increasingly heated, and, as some theologians interpret it, Elijah asked if Baal hadn’t answered because he was busy in the bathroom (1 Kings 18:27 ERV). OH NO, HE DIDN’T!
Yes, he did.
There was no barbecue for Team Baal. Not even a spark fell from above, and now it was time for God to move. On the surface, the odds were not in Elijah’s favor. Consider what he was up against:
- A king and queen who despised Elijah and wanted him dead
- 850 false prophets
- Slim chances of survival if God didn’t show up in fire
- No proof that God had ever done what Elijah was expecting Him to do
Undeterred, Elijah trusted God. And when it was his turn to call for fire, he even upped the ante. Elijah rebuilt God’s altar, dug a trench around it, and prepared a bull to lay across the altar. Then he drenched everything in water four times over. Why the water? Simple. If the sacrifice caught fire, no one could claim happenstance or coincidence. It would show that an all-powerful God had done what no other god could do.
And then, in his grand moment, with all the prophets of Baal pitted against a single man of God, Elijah cried out to the Lord on behalf of the people of Israel. God would answer His prophet in this desert showdown, and by His power the people would see His greatness. And His greatness they definitely saw. At Elijah’s cry, God rained fire from heaven upon the altar, and the flames not only consumed the sacrifice but the wood, the altar, and the dust around it. After seeing this amazing display, the people fell on their knees and proclaimed,
The Lord — He is God! Yes, the Lord is God! — 1 Kings 18:39 NLT
As revival broke out in the land, the dams of heaven broke too. Much-needed rain poured down on the dusty soil, bringing a new season of fruitfulness to a dead land.
On that mountain Elijah called God’s people by name.
“Your name shall be Israel,” he called to them (1 Kings 18:31). This moment, while less dramatic than raining fire, is much too powerful to gloss over. Elijah reminded the Israelites of their status as God’s chosen. This message is as important for us today as it was in the days of Elijah, because while the enemy knows our name, he calls us by our sin. God knows our sin, but calls us by our name.
Sometimes a reminder of who we are is stronger than a rebuke of what we are not.
Sometimes we will be forced to choose our way or God’s way. Will we fight for control, dance at the altars of our own Baals, or will we cry out and surrender to deliverance? Will we put our works on the altar and let them be consumed by fire?
How will we respond?
In desert seasons, or when we’ve simply lost our way, we are susceptible to forgetting about the power and might of our God and following the desires of our own hearts. The children of Israel were. I was. Worse, we are susceptible to worshiping things that replace God in our lives.
Just as God sent Elijah to urge the Israelites to surrender and turn away from their gods, He still sends people to remind His children to surrender and let go of gods who can’t rescue, respond, or react. Just as the children of Israel had a spiritual history and witnessed God do mighty things, so did I.
At times God has to get our attention in the desert before He can speak to us in the fire of the Promised Land. Elijah’s story shows us that suffering of the people can be good, so long as it leads to the fire of spiritual revival.
* * *
Looking back, I believe my mom was a catalyst for change rather than a victim of circumstance. I saw the impact she had on the lives of so many people, and I started to believe her life — like Elijah’s — was a vehicle for revealing the power and speaking out the promises of God. Even if it meant suffering, she was going to live her life bringing glory to God.
I wasn’t on Mount Carmel, I didn’t see Elijah, and the prophets of Baal were long gone, but God was bringing me through my desert, and had pitted Himself against my own false idols. And as I hit my flashpoint, as I cried out to God. I watched as He consumed everything with fire — all of my idols, all my false prophets, everything.
So I lay on my bed in the quiet of my room and cried. This was my moment of surrender. I surrendered to the flames the one thing I thought I had control over: my life. It was not time to fear or question the fire, but to step into the blaze and trust I would see the true and living God.
Watch the Video for Play With Fire
Excerpted with permission from Play With Fire by Bianca Juárez Olthoff, copyright Bianca Juárez Olthoff.
* * *
Have you come to a place of surrender to God? Have you tried to find reprieve, hope, and balance in every other thing but God… and found yourself even more empty and even more lonely? What fire does the Lord have you in right now? What’s burning down in your life because it’s in the way of what God has for your future? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you!