He just showed up. No introductions, no foreshadowing. Only a context of moral decline and spiritually vacuous leadership. Unannounced and unexpected — both in the king’s court and also in the reader’s mind following the Old Testament narrative — Elijah the Tishbite declares a word from the Lord with authority and clarity:
As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word. 1 Kings 17:1
Oct. 31 this year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses boldly posted on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. But long before Luther and the other Protestant Reformers, the Bible records story after story of individuals who stood for the reformation and restoration of God’s truth in the midst of consuming darkness. Much like Martin Luther fearlessly proclaiming the truth of God’s Word in the midst of the Dark Ages, Elijah stands out in the Old Testament as a man whose love for God and zeal for His glory would not let him sit on the sidelines to watch God’s people persist in rebellion and self-destruction.
Have you ever groaned under similar spiritual failures and folly? Maybe you’ve been in environments or situations where the dynamics were all moving spiritually and morally downward. As we read headline after headline, I think we’re witnessing those kinds of dynamics in our world today. I’ll be honest, my first response to these dark realities is usually a sense of disappointment followed by a sense of distance. I often feel like I’m far from being an effective help, like there’s little I can do to change the story. Or like someone shared in our small group the other night,
“I feel like checking out when I see all this,” as though there’s no use engaging if it’s all going downhill anyway.
Whether or not you resonate with any of those sentiments of helplessness, I think we can all recognize the value of asking and answering this question: where in the world does the spirit of reform come from? In the midst of their respective contexts, Luther and Elijah jumped in the fray to stem the tide of spiritual darkness. If they did it, how can I?
HE LIVES, I STAND
Embedded in 1 Kings 17:1 quoted above, there are at least two realities that I believe factor into the reformer’s heart.
1) GOD LIVES. Elijah wasn’t content to just bemoan the magnitude of idolatry and corruption in his day. He knew the problem was huge, but he never lost sight of the fact that God is bigger. He’s alive. He’s present. He’s aware. He’s active. Because God lives, there’s hope. Because God lives, there’s a way out and up. Look again, that grave is empty. Jesus ever lives, and because of that He is “able to save to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25). Because God lives, I can be alive and passionate about the things He lives for.
2) I STAND. “To stand before” someone was an idiomatic expression of standing in the service of a king or ruler. It expressed a ready-position, a stance of attentiveness to do whatever that leader may wish. Because Elijah fully believed that the “God of Israel lives,” he conscientiously placed himself in a position of service to the King of Kings. The reformer’s heart not only recognizes the living presence and power of God but also chooses to surrender to His bidding. When we stand before God, we don’t have to react fearfully to life’s circumstances. Instead, we response faithfully to the Lord’s commands.
Just as God has raised up reformers throughout the history of humanity, I believe He still looks for individuals to stand for light and truth today. In our homes, our classrooms, our communities. May God grant us the heart of a reformer. May we acknowledge Him as the Lord who lives and choose to place ourselves at His command.