A lion-hearted Elijah challenged the wavering Israelites: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, then serve him. But if Baal is God, then serve him” (I Kings 18:21). The silence of the people condemned them.
So Elijah scripted a challenge to the Baal worshiper—two altars, two bulls: “The god who answers by fire—he is God” (24). Deal!
The prophets of Baal cried their hearts out all day to a god who was sleeping or taking a coffee break. No fire. It was evening and Elijah’s turn. He had them douse the altar and the trenches—three times. He was not going to make it easy for his God.
He prayed, “’Answer me, O Lord, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell…” (37,38). The people got the point: “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” 450 prophets of Baal were slain at Elijah’s command. Hey, he called down fire—and it came! Then he dismantled the Baal worship. Not bad for one evening’s work.
Jezebel, not the least bit happy, put a contract on the prophet’s life. And Elijah ran for cover. James calls him a “man of like passions as ourselves.” We’re still surprised that a mighty prophet could be so intimidated by the queen and turn south. He had the big “mo” going for him. Revival could have broken out. He should have taken out Jezebel and continued the assault. Instead, he caved.
Discouraged people say and do stupid things. He thought he and God were the only ones left. He got suicidal and wanted to die. Come on, Elijah; this is not about you. Prophets run toward the conflict, not away from it. Giants not confronted get bigger.
Leaders need to know that they do not have the leisure of discouragement. It sidelines them, taking them away from the battle into one of inner turmoil, not a good thing for the people of God. It is selfish to be licking our wounds when we should be dressing wounds from real casualties. Victory rises and falls with leadership. Elijah listened to his fears—and left the battlefield.
Dear pastor, leader, disciple of Jesus: build up an immunity to discouragement. It is a luxury you dare not entertain. You are not entitled to it, and it will greatly limit the ability of the people under your care to overcome the darkness. Elijah ignored the momentum, and a wicked king remained in power. We cannot surrender to anyone the right to take away our courage, in other words, dis-courage us. Not our spouse, children, boss, pastor, or parents.
Discouragement blinds us to the ways of God, who uses conflict to secure the victory. Elijah was wrongly thinking preservation. The issue is never live or die. It is service, not survival. To obey or not obey—that is the question. As soon as we start thinking we need to save our skin, we make foolish decisions and leave the people to function on their own, while we fight an inferior battle.
So when discouragement knocks at the door, ask the Spirit to help you–and don’t answer!