2. Characteristics Of The Person God Uses Greatly Pt. 2 (1 Kings 17:1)Related Media
Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As certainly as the Lord God of Israel lives (whom I serve), there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead unless I give the command.”
1 Kings 17:1 (NET)
What are characteristics of the person God uses greatly? As we consider Elijah and his powerful ministry, we can discern common characteristics of those God has used throughout history. The first characteristic we considered was the fact that Elijah was a common man. He was from a small town in Gilead, which was a mountainous region. He would have lacked the education of those from a big city. He wore clothes which represented his rugged upbringing. Scripture says he wore a garment of animal hair with a belt (2 Kgs 1:8). He probably had an accent. Because of his country upbringing, those from the city would have looked down upon him. He was common; however, God has delighted to use people like this throughout history (1 Cor 1:26-31). The Bible is full of stories of God greatly using farmers, shepherds, and others who would have not been highly esteemed in society. Why? Because God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), in people who will trust in him instead of their strength, riches, or education. The apostles were common men who lacked formal rabbinical training (Acts 4:13). When God does use somebody of great standing in society like Moses or Paul, he makes them weak through their circumstances, so they can become humble and rely on God.
Why doesn’t God mightily use more people in the church? No doubt, it’s because we are too strong, too independent, and we need to become more humble and dependent on God, so he can use us. Christ taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Matt 5:3). In Matthew 18:4, he taught that the greatest in the kingdom are like little children—totally dependent on God.
The second characteristic we learned about Elijah was his righteousness. We saw this when he stood up against Ahab who was leading Israel away from God, but we also saw it in his name. His name meant “My God is Yahweh.” Elijah’s parents no doubt raised him to be a godly man, and when all Israel was turning away from Yahweh to follow Baal and his corrupt practices, Elijah lived out his name. When God looks for someone to use greatly, he finds a righteous person. In James 5:17, in using Elijah as an example, James said, “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” God hears the prayers of the righteous and he uses them to transform families, communities, cities, and nations.
What else can we learn about Elijah? It is clear from this passage and Elijah’s life that he was a man of great courage. We see this in two ways: The first way is his defiance of the King. According to the author of 1 Kings, Ahab was the most wicked king that had ever sat on the throne of Israel. First Kings 16:30 says, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all who were before him.” What made him even worse was his marriage to Jezebel. She was from the kingdom of Sidon, and she instituted Baal worship in Israel. From Scripture, we learn that she was very wicked and often was the mastermind behind Ahab’s evil ways. Together, they made a frightening couple.
But nevertheless, Elijah appears in the presence of the King and defies him. What makes this even more terrifying is that appearing in the presence of the King without permission could be extremely dangerous. In the story of Esther, even as queen, she had to get permission to come into the presence of her husband. In fact, one time, so she wouldn’t be put to death for coming into his presence without permission, she asked her uncle to get the Israelites in Susa to fast for her for three days (Es 4:16). In general, the Israelite kings weren’t as ruthless as the Persian kings, but nevertheless, it took great courage for Elijah to confront Israel’s most wicked king. Since Elijah was commissioned by God, apparently, he was not afraid, and if so, he was willing to face his fears. He not only showed up in the presence of the King but also gave him bad news: “there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead unless I give the command.”
The second way we see Elijah’s courage is that he not only stood up to the most wicked king of Israel but also to a false deity. Baal was the primary pagan deity worshiped in Israel at this time. He was considered the god of the storm and fertility. Followers of Baal would commonly practice sexual rituals and even sacrifice their children in order to secure rain and blessings for their crops. When Elijah declared it would not rain, not only was he confronting the King, but he also was confronting this pagan god.
This confrontation with Baal will come full circle in 1 Kings 18 when Elijah confronts all the prophets of Baal. He gathers all of them for a competition: Which deity, Yahweh or Baal, would bring fire on a sacrifice? Again, Elijah’s boldness and courage are seen as he mocks the prophets and Baal. First Kings 18:27 says: “At noon Elijah mocked them, ‘Yell louder! After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened.’”
Elijah’s courage is displayed as he confronts both Ahab and Baal. However, it must be noted that this is a necessary quality for every man or woman God uses. Consider what Moses said to Israel and Joshua before they crossed over into the promised land:
Be strong and courageous! Do not fear or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who is going with you. He will not fail you or abandon you!” Then Moses called out to Joshua in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you will accompany these people to the land that the Lord promised to give their ancestors, and you will enable them to inherit it. The Lord is indeed going before you—he will be with you; he will not fail you or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged!”
In fact, after Moses’s death, God again commands Joshua to be brave before entering the land. He said,
Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do… I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.”
Joshua 1:6-7, 9
The repetition of the command to be brave or courageous shows its importance. If we are going to be people that God can use, we must be courageous. With that said, it must be known that courage is not necessarily the absence of fear, it is being willing to confront our fears. Elijah confronted the King who could have killed him. He stood up to the pagan god, Baal. He also later confronts all the false prophets and Israel. He was willing to be courageous.
Unfortunately, many Christians can’t be used by God because they are ruled by fear. Fear keeps them from doing God’s will with their lives. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart.” God’s peace should be ruling and guiding our lives, not fear. In this study, we will consider three Ahabs or fears that commonly keep people from doing God’s will.
Be Careful of the Fear of Man
The first one we will consider is the fear of man. Many Christians, especially young ones, care too much about the praise of man, and therefore, are hindered in their walk with God. Consider these verses,
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.
Proverbs 29:25 (NIV)
Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!
Many people are trapped and crippled in their spiritual life because of fear of what man will say or do. They are afraid to be different from their friends, family, and culture. Consequently, they are no longer following God but men.
What are some practical ways that we see fear handicapping believers?
- Some are not willing to follow God in the career field that he has called them to or have a lesser standard of living because of shame, as their friends and families would not approve.
- Some accept and adopt the drunken and dishonest cultures of their workplaces because they fear what their co-workers and bosses will say or do.
- Some won’t marry the person God called them to because of what family or culture would say. That person has the wrong ethnicity, career field, family background, etc.
- Some, especially young Christians, are not willing to be godly because it will not be considered cool or acceptable among their friends.
The fear of what people will say or do is a snare. With that said, Elijah stood up to the wicked forces leading Israel without succumbing to fear of repercussions. In Luke 14:26, Jesus said this: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Christ knew that relationships and the fear of people, including one’s own family, would be a major hindrance to discipleship and even salvation.
Is the fear of man keeping you from doing God’s will?
Be Careful of the Fear of Failure
But there is another type of fear that often cripples Christians from being used by God and that is the fear of failure. Some are afraid to fail, and therefore, they never step out in faith to follow God’s leading. Christians and non-Christians alike are greatly affected by this. They don’t want to fail, so they never attempt anything out of their comfort zone. They won’t serve in a ministry; they won’t lead a small group; they won’t share their faith; some won’t even pray out loud. Fear handicaps them. Instead of faithfully obeying God, they at all costs seek to protect their comfort.
We may get a hint of this in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. God gave one man five talents and another two, and they both made profit. However, he gave another person one talent and instead of attempting to make a profit, he hid it in the ground. Consider how he responds to his Master, who reflects God:
Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
Essentially the man says, “I was afraid to fail you, so I hid my talent in the ground!” A lot of Christians are just like that. They see the difficulty of the task at hand, including the expectations that come with it, and they become afraid and quit before beginning. They declare, “Lord, I can’t speak!” “Lord, I can’t lead!” “Lord, this is not my gifting!” Fear traps them—so they don’t even try.
Was it not “fear” of failure (and the fear of man) that kept the Israelites from conquering the promised land? God promised it to them, but after they surveyed the land, they said, “Nope! Too many giants, God. Can’t do it!” In Numbers 13:31, they said, “We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are!” And, consequently, God removed them from the promised land, and they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. How many Christians are wandering in the wilderness, year after year, missing God’s best for their lives because of fear? No doubt, too many to count. They are spiritually stuck. To move forward, they must confront their giants. They must confront things too big to conquer in their own strength.
Is your Ahab the fear of failure? Is the fear of failure keeping us from progressing spiritually?
Be Careful of the Fear of Death
Another common hindrance to doing God’s will is the fear of death. If Elijah feared death, he wouldn’t have confronted the King. If the apostles feared death, they would not have boldly proclaimed God’s Word in the face of the Jewish and the Roman persecution. In fact, courage in the face of death has been one of the greatest testaments to Christians throughout the centuries, as they have been flogged and persecuted for their faith. Christ said this in Luke 12:4: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do.” In Luke 14:26 and 27, he said that to be his disciple, we must “hate” our own life and carry our own “cross.”
There is a temptation to soften the interpretation of carrying one’s “cross,” as just referring to the burdens and normal hardships of the Christian life. However, the cross was a form of execution in those days. When Christ said, if you want to be my disciple, if you want to be my follower, you must “take up your cross,” he was literally saying you must be prepared to die for him. In that society, that was a very real possibility. The Jews persecuted Christians, and later, the Roman Empire began to do the same. This is certainly true in many nations today, as more Christians have died in the last one hundred years than the previous two thousand years. Being a disciple of Christ means we must be willing to hate our own lives and take up our cross (Lk 14:26-27).
Death is a great hindrance for many Christians. This will keep many from going to a Muslim or communist country to preach the gospel. It will keep many from leaving the comfort of home for missions. Why? It’s because we don’t “hate” our own life in comparison to our love for God and his will.
Christ, in fact, came to deliver us from the suffocating fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15 says,
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.
Christ became a human and died to free people from the fear of death. Christians don’t have to be afraid of death because Christ defeated it. Christ died and rose again, and one day, after our deaths, we will rise again like him.
In fact, it was Christ’s resurrection that gave the disciples, who all denied him at the crucifixion, boldness to preach and die for their faith. His resurrection made them all willing to die. Why? They were willing to die because they knew if they died, they would immediately be with Christ spiritually (2 Cor 5:8) and one day be physically resurrected.
In considering the resurrection, Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 15:54b-57:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Paul proclaims that there is no victory or sting in death because our victory is in Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul said, “Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” And in Philippians 1:21, Paul said, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” Therefore, believers should not fear death.
Sadly, many Christians care so much for their life that it hinders their spiritual growth—it hinders them from being a man or woman that God can use greatly. They cannot leave their comfort zone because instead of “hating their life,” they love it dearly. They have never allowed themselves to be set free from the “fear of death,” and therefore, God cannot use them as he did Elijah or the apostles. Fear cripples and hinders their spiritual progression. Believers that don’t fear injury or death are a serious threat to the kingdom of darkness.
What is your Ahab? Is it the fear of man? Do we esteem the opinions of friends, family, and employers over God’s esteem? Is it the fear of failure? Is fear of failure causing us to hide our gifts in the ground? Or is it the fear of death? Christ conquered the grave so we wouldn’t have to fear death.
Application Question: In what ways do people commonly experience the fear of man, failure, and death, which hinders their faith and walk with God? How have you specifically been hindered by these or other fears?
How to Conquer Our Fears
We have talked about three common fears that keep us from being willing to do God’s will and therefore hinder God from using us greatly. Now we will look at how to conquer our fears.
1. To conquer fear, we must fear God more than anything else.
Consider again what Christ said in Luke 12:4-5:
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will warn you whom you should fear: Fear the one who, after the killing, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
Jesus said that the disciples should not be afraid of those who could kill them but to instead be afraid of God. This would deliver them from their fears. Likewise, Proverbs 9:10 says, “The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord, and acknowledging the Holy One is understanding.” It is the beginning of making right decisions with our lives. When we honor God, we can boldly face Ahabs, giants, and anything else that terrifies us. The problem with many Christians is not that they have a fear of failure, a fear of man, or a fear of death. Their problem is that they do not fear God! The fear of God is the beginning of being wise.
When we fear God more than what our employer thinks or can do to us, then we start to become someone God can use. Promotion, ultimately, comes from the Lord. When we fear God more than failure, we will be willing to take risks like sharing our faith, even when we know it will probably be rejected. When we fear God more than death, we become dangerous to the kingdom of darkness and extremely valuable to the kingdom of light. We become valuable because there are not many people like that. Most are crippled by fear and, therefore, cannot be used greatly by God.
Do we fear God more than people, failure, and death?
2. To conquer fear, we must recognize and reject it as a hindrance to obeying God.
In 2 Timothy 1: 7, Paul says, “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Timothy had been left in charge of the church of Ephesus and was struggling with fear of the difficulties included in his ministry. Paul told Timothy the spirit of fear he was struggling with was not from God, and therefore, Timothy should reject it. Certainly, there are healthy fears, like fear of crossing the street without looking both ways. But Paul is not talking about that type of fear. He is talking about fear that keeps us from doing God’s will or having God’s peace.
That is what Paul told the church of Philippi, in Philippians 4:6b, “Do not be anxious about anything.” That means we need to reject “fear” as something not from God.
No doubt, some fears are passed down generationally. Mom was a worrier—she worried about everything. Dad was a worrier, and it made him try to control everything and everyone around him. Now, we struggle with worry, and it often hinders us from walking in the will of God and steals our peace.
In order to conquer our fears, we must recognize that fear is not from God and reject it. We must reject anything that keeps us from doing God’s will.
3. To conquer fear, we must know our resources in God.
Courage is not foolishness; it is a proper evaluation of resources. For many of us, we know that we can make a trip to the grocery store because we have a vehicle and enough gas to get there. Therefore, we have nothing to fear. It’s the same way with every task God calls us to in life. If God called us to it, we must recognize that he provides the resources for the task. Is that not what God said to Moses when he said that he couldn’t speak? God replied, “Who made the mouth? I will give you the words to speak. Don’t worry about that.” (Ex 4:11 paraphrase). Then God said, “If that’s not enough, I’ll give you, your brother, Aaron, to speak for you. He will be your mouthpiece. Don’t worry, just obey!” (Ex 4:13-16 paraphrase).
Isn’t that exactly what Paul said to Timothy? “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). Essentially, he said, “God has given you everything needed for ministry: power for the task, love to care for the people (even difficult ones), and self-discipline to be faithful.”
Isn’t this exactly what God said to Joshua? In Joshua 1:9, God said, “I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.”
This is true for us as well. God is with us! He empowers us for whatever task he calls us to. We don’t have to fear because we have the resources. Proper evaluation of resources not only gets rid of fear but also gives us courage.
4. To conquer fear, we must take steps of faith.
Many times, it takes a step of faith to totally rid ourselves of fear. Personally, it is often when I step into the pulpit and start to preach that all my fears and anxieties go away. It is when I start to do God’s will that I find out that he has in fact given me power, love, and self-discipline to accomplish the task.
Many never experience those resources because they won’t take a step of faith. A good example of this is Peter. In Matthew 14:28-29, Peter saw Jesus walking on the sea and cried out to him, “If it’s you, let me come to you” and Christ said, “Come!” (paraphrase). Is it possible for a man to attempt to walk on water in a raging storm and not be afraid? No doubt, Peter was afraid. But, when he took a step of faith on the water, he found there was grace. God’s resources were available to fulfill Christ’s command.
Oftentimes, the best way to get rid of fear is to just do it. Like the old Nike slogan, “Just Do It!” After we’ve clearly discerned God’s will, we should take steps of faith and allow God to prove himself faithful: get involved with the church, share your testimony, ask to pray with somebody, start preparing for the mission field, turn away from a situation or relationship that’s handicapping you. If Christ has called us into the water, it is the wisest step we can take. As we do so, his grace will be available which will remove our fears.
What steps of faith is God calling you to take to serve him?
Application Question: How should believers overcome various fears that hinder their obedience to God or make it more difficult? How is God calling you to overcome fears which are hindering your faith?
As we consider Elijah’s courage in confronting Ahab, even at the prospect of death, we must ask ourselves, “What is my Ahab? What is keeping me back from doing God’s will?” Is it the fear of man, the fear of failure, and/or the fear of death? As God said to Joshua who was called to lead Israel and conquer giants in the promised land, we must be strong and brave in order for God to use us (Josh 1:9)—willing to confront our fears. What fears is God calling us to confront so he can use us in a greater way?
Application Question: What stood out most in the reading and why? What questions or applications did you take from the reading?
- Pray for God to reveal his will to us and that we would be willing to follow it (individually and corporately), even as Elijah did.
- Pray for God to deliver us from anxieties, worries, and fears that hinder us from doing his will.
- Pray for God to enable us to be courageous in confronting whatever challenges we currently face or will face in the future.
- Pray for God to give us faith to move mountains (referring to trials and hindrances to his will) and that those mountains would move, in Jesus’ name.
Copyright © 2022 Gregory Brown
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