God can do anything he wants to do. He is all-powerful, almighty.He created all that is, and he holds it all together. He has the power to take away your most troublesome problem or to bless you beyond your wildest dreams.
However, God does not choose to do either of those delightful options very often. He could heal everyone…but he doesn’t. He could give us more money than we know what to do with…but he doesn’t. He could be done with racial prejudice, terrorism, human trafficking, and violence in a heartbeat…but he permits it all to go on. And on.
Phillip Yancey, in his book Prayer: Does it Make any Difference? writes, “History is the story of God giving away power” (101).
If he’s giving power away, where is it?
God gave away considerable power to the prophet Elijah, and in I Kings 17 -19 we learn what the power of God looks like. It is not always the magnificent display of obvious power that we might expect.
Elijah told king Ahab, a miserable king, that there would be no rain in Israel until Elijah said so, and sure enough there was no rain for about three years. Elijah was sent by the Lord to a ravine where he would be fed by ravens and drink from a brook. When the brook dried up he was sent to the widow of Zarephath, who shared her last meal with Elijah after which God miraculously provided for them.
Let’s call these By-the-Brook Experiences.
By-the-brook experiences are those in which God’s is powerfully present, but we experience his power daily, in small doses, and through the help of other people.
Based on Elijah’s experience, we know that for three years he and others who depended on the Lord were cared for. We’re told that Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace, had hidden one hundred prophets in caves and fed them during the famine. Cave dwellers would probably not have thought that God’s power was terribly active in those days, but it surely was. There were probably others who did not survive, for we also read that Jezebel was busy murdering prophets, but those whom God wanted to save were spared by his power.
God often demonstrates his power to save by the brook.
Mount Carmel Moments
Once in a while, however, God really shows up. Elijah arranged a show down between the God of the universe and Baal on Mount Carmel. No contest. The prophets of Baal went through all kinds of shouting and self-mutilation for hours to no avail.
Finally, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah rebuilt the altar with twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, placed the bull on the wood, dug a trench around the altar, and filled the trench with water. Again. And again.
Elijah then prayed a simple prayer, which must have been quite a contrast with hours of beckoning Baal:
O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back. (I Kings 18:36-37)
God answered powerfully! Fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, and licked up the water in the trench. The stones and the soil were also reduced to ashes. There was no doubt that this was a miraculous act of God. The people knew it, for they all hit the ground saying, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”
It was a magnificent Mount Carmel Moment.
God’s power was on full display, and everyone knew it.
Elijah thought that if he could show, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God is God, then Israel would return to the Lord. He hadn’t arranged a three-year drought and the subsequent show down for his own benefit. He wanted the people to recognize, honor, and worship God.
Some people were probably transformed by the Mount Carmel Moment, but others were only momentarily impressed. Jezebel continued her murderous practices without missing a beat. Aside from a temporary blip, the spiritual tone of the country probably hadn’t changed much.
Maybe that is one reason God doesn’t give away his power so obviously. He certainly could get everyone’s attention, but he seems to prefer to meet us one by one.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer almost ten years ago, I prayed for a miraculous healing. I wanted a Mount Carmel Moment. It happens, right? Yes, it does, but it didn’t happen to me. I was healed by the brook. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, all applied with medical skill, along with the prayer and support of family and friends is what healed me.
Was that an expression of God’s power? Absolutely, and I am very thankful. It took more time and it was no fun, but I believe God had given away power to doctors, nurses, family, and friends, and I was healed.
Mount Carmel Moments are stunning, but rare. Even Elijah, who had received quite a bit of God’s power, endured three years of by the brook experiences before one Mount Carmel Moment.
If we learn to find God’s power in daily by the brook moments, we will find it everywhere.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)