In 1 Kings 17, the prophet Elijah proclaimed to Ahab (Israel’s king), that rain would not fall from the sky without his (Elijah’s) permission (1 Kings 17:1). No one envisioned that three years would pass before the prophet allowed the heavens to open on the Promise Land.
Ahab could not have been a poorer example of a godly ruler. He married a Sidonian woman who had no regard for the Lord: Jezebel. Jezebel conveyed the religion of her land and took pleasure in murdering prophets of God (1 Kings 18:13). Ahab followed her pagan practices. He made the false god Baal the primary deity in the capital city of Samaria and built Asherah poles around town (1 Kings 16:29-33). His rebellion was so odious that it earned him the title, “The One Who Angered God Most” (1 Kings 16:33).
Neither Elijah nor God were going to allow Ahab’s actions to go without consequence. Thus, water would be withheld until… When the time came for rain to fall, Elijah set the stage on Mount Carmel. In his mind, this would be the moment where God would reveal Himself to the entire nation. The expected result: rain for a thirsty land and national repentance that birthed the revival of proper worship and devotion to God (1 Kings 18:36-37). Yet, to create the environment that would produce the desired outcome, Elijah had to do something that offended the senses of every thinking man: sacrifice what everyone needed to gain what no one could live without.
While on Carmel, Elijah prepared to sacrifice to God. He first repaired the disintegrated altar of God (this altar was probably one of many erected during the sojourning of the Israelites in the wilderness, under Moses’ leadership). To do so, he used twelve fresh stones (1 Kings 18:30-32a). He then laid kindling and the ox offering upon the altar (1 Kings 18:32b-33). All seemed routine until he dug a trench around the altar, deep and wide enough to contain gallons of dry material, though he had no thought of filling it with anything dry. To everyone’s bewilderment, he requested that four pots of water be poured on the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:34). Once poured, he then asked that four more pots be spilled out, and again four more. In all, twelve pots (at least five gallons each) doused the sacrifice that was to be set ablaze. So much water was there that Scripture says, “…the water flowed around the altar…” and that there was enough to, “fill the trench with water” (1 Kings 18:35). The question that begs to be asked is, “In a drought/famine, why waste ‘liquid gold,’ on a sacrifice that was dedicated for consumption by fire?”
Had Elijah lost his mind? On the contrary, he was simply giving God something with which to work. For when the Lord sent fire to consume the sacrifice, the fire also “…licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38). This water, which ascended to the heavens, would become the prime by which clouds would fill with rain: indeed the sacrificial seed that grew into fruitful showers.
It’s common for people to come to church expecting the worship team to inspire them to do what they should have been doing all week: worship. Thus, rather than the congregation having readied themselves for God to do the amazing (like a sprinter waits for the starting gun to fire), sadly, the first few songs degenerate to “warm-ups” (the “stretching” done before the “race.”) The result is that congregations rarely experience ascending worship, and even less often, an ascending God in their worship. Practiced with enough frequency, this spiritually flat routine can lead to a culture absent of Divine expectancy. Sadly, everyone just gets used to living without rain.
If Biblical worship is to be the standard in our congregational settings, then someone is going to have to break the drought by sacrificing what he needs to gain what people can’t live without. Practically, this means that for the church to break out of its dry period, the worship leader probably needs to stop trying to draw water (worship) out of the dry people. Instead, he should prime the environment of drought by pouring out his worshipful soul to God even when — especially when — he is in need. His sacrifice of personal worship may just seed the clouds of congregational revival.
Elijah sacrificed what everyone needed to gain what no one could live without. If the people of God are to live under the showers of God’s blessing, then somebody is probably going to have to give God something with which to work. Live right, live well…