It’s been 30 years since that incident and I think about it more often than you would think. The voice of my now deceased stepmother still rings in my ear, rolling around in my head, cautioning me to be genuine and keep from “showing off.”
So every Sunday I stand in front of a crowd and deliver a message to an anticipating crowd sharing theological perspective and challenging us all to be transformed by God’s divine power. It takes a bit of ego, finesse, boldness, intellect, and yes even performance to engage a diverse crowd with the message of God. There is a temptation to impress each week. There is a temptation to impress the audience, yourself, and God. While those that proclaim God’s word publicly might feel that pressed upon us, we must remember that like the audience we aren’t called to impress anyone, but to be faithful to The One. In other words, no need to “show off.”
How do we impress God without really trying? Over the next four weeks I want to point us to four different stories in scripture that will express faithfulness over impressiveness.
Israel had many kings following her first King Saul and her beloved king, David. Many of those kings didn’t find it necessary to follow God like their predecessor David. They sought after idols and other gods and led the people of Israel to other forms of worship, other gods, and other lands. However, King Ahab “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) Ahab had his own deficiencies and married Jezebel to boot. During the reign of Ahab God had a prophet named Elijah. Elijah the Tishbite who had been under God’s care in the midst of famine was fed by ravens and cared for by a widow. Elijah followed after God with all of his heart. Ahab through Jezebel’s influence became a devout worshipper of BAAL. A time came when Elijah and 450 prophets of BAAL had a standoff to see whose God was the true God. Elijah gave the rules of the game. Each opponent would build an altar, place a bull on it for sacrifice, call upon their particular god, and whichever god produced the fire for the sacrifice was the real God. Elijah allowed for the prophets of BAAL to go first. Those prophets called on BAAL from morning to noon. They danced around the altar and then Elijah goaded them a bit. “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27 ESV) BAAL did not come. They continued to prophesy through midday into the night and even cutting themselves (a sign of devotion for their worship to BAAL) and still their god did not come.
Elijah and the people built an altar and dug a trench around it. Elijah had them pour 12 large jars of water over the altar. The water soaked the altar and even filled the trench around it. Elijah stepped up to the plate and offered this prayer to God, “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 these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV) God sent fire from above and it consumed the bull, the wood, the stone, and all the water.
The prophets of BAAL spent all day prophesying and endangering their own well being in order to get their god’s attention. Elijah made his own task more difficult and then prayed confidently to the Lord. The prophets of BAAL gave all they had to be impressive. Elijah simply trusted in His God to be impressive. Elijah 1, Prophets of BAAL 0.
Our attempt to be impressive is at best overkill and at its worst, sinful. We aren’t called to be God’s flashing neon sign. It is not our mission to look or act a certain way in order to make God more attractive and impressive. God is impressive with or without us.
Without really trying we can impress God and impress God upon others. Try this simple action this week. Wake up every morning and pray to God. Say the Lord’s Prayer, your own worded prayer, breath prayers, or simply say, “Today God I’m yours!” Then throughout the day keep your eyes open to God’s movement in your life and around your life and be willing to join Him where you see Him. And if you really want a challenge, log your day’s actions and at the end of day ask of each action, “Did I do this to be faithful to God or impress Him?”
Simple faithfulness is impressive.