From my earliest childhood, I remember hearing the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel from I Kings 18. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Elijah was the sole prophet of God in the land, and the people were following false gods. He called out the prophets of Baal and challenged them to a public duel on top of the mountain. They each prepared a sacrifice and would pray to their god to see whose was real. The god who was real would answer by fire and burn the sacrifice up.
The prophets of Baal prayed hard for fire. When there was no answer, they started jumping around and stomping as they prayed. When there still wasn’t an answer, they prayed louder and then began to cut themselves to get their god’s attention. Verse 29 sums it up, “This went on until well past noon. They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened—not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response” (MSG). For hours they tried to earn their god’s attention and failed.
I always thought very poorly of those prophets and even laughed at the way Elijah mocked them. But now I wonder if we are any different than they were. We may serve the God who won that duel, but we have resorted to their tactics to get His attention. We seem to believe that there is something you and I can do to earn His favor or to get an answer to prayer. We pray loudly, we stomp, we circle and even put ourselves in danger to test God to get Him to answer. But God isn’t looking for that from us.
What He’s looking for is found in verse 37. In Elijah’s prayer, he said, “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God, and that you are bringing them back to yourself” (GNB). The prayers God responds to are ones that bring Him glory and allow Him to do the work. They have nothing to do with bringing attention to ourselves. Religion is all about working to get a god’s attention to come to us, but Christianity is about letting God draw us to Him. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what He does.