In 1 Kings 18, the land was in its third year without rain. The people were waiting.
Elijah comes out of hiding east of the Jordan, speaks to King Ahab, and calls the people to come up on Mount Carmel for a display of authority over the god Baal and the prophets of Baal.
The God of Elijah, the GOD of ALL, shows up. Fire consumes water on the wet altar and the promise of rain is released.
This display of God’s power is a call to repentance for the nation and one of Elijah’s greatest moments as a prophet.
After this breakthrough, Elijah says RAIN is coming. And he is looking to the sky for a marker. He is about to do something else absolutely incredible. He is about to be overtaken by the spirit of might and outrun a chariot!
And so he gets ready for this incredible “physical” feat by
WAITING and WATCHING THE SKY.
He doesn’t do leg stretches or run laps around Mount Carmel. He doesn’t occupy his mind with plans for his run or anxiously pace back and forth. From what scripture says, it seems like Elijah was practicing the fine art of “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) He was waiting and watching the sky.
He had already displayed that God’s ways are not man’s ways by releasing fire over a wet bunch of rocks and a bull. He had already trumped the “natural” idea of reality.
Now, it is not indicated that Elijah knows he is about to run faster than a chariot, but it is indicated how Elijah waits and watches God for a sign: he sends his servant to look toward the sea seven times. Finally, a cloud AS SMALL AS A MAN’S HAND rises from the sea! He then sends man, in the form of King Ahab, in his chariot toward home because THE RAINS ARE A’COMIN!
That is all it took – a cloud the size of a man’s hand. In the natural that might not have seemed an indicator of an incoming deluge, but Elijah knew it was the sign he was waiting for. He knew it was the promise fulfilled.
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
“There is nothing there,” he said.
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ “
Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.
Part of what I adore about this story is how Elijah sent his servant SEVEN times to look at the sky. I have stood on Mount Carmel in Israel and looked out toward that same sea. I imagined a cloud the size of a man’s hand appearing in an otherwise cloudless sky. I imagined the feelings of that servant, “what exactly am I looking for?” and the thoughts of Elijah after he came back to him with “nothing” the first six times. I have felt that same prophetic unction rise up in me, as I hear the story, “Go back! Look again! It’s almost here!” And my heart leaped at the mental image of Elijah throwing up his cloak and taking off like a man on a mission across the Jezreel Valley. Elijah knew what was up.
Those who purpose HOPE in their hearts will gain strength while waiting. It is guaranteed.
“Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”
They will walk to the edge of a mountain seven times expecting their breakthrough,
and they will not be discouraged when they don’t see it the first six times.
They will prepare themselves by watching the sky.
When I look back at my journey to Israel, I laugh. I knew I was called to the Middle East when I was 16, and every January first (post high school) I would ask God, “Is this the year? Is this the year I visit or move to the Middle East?”
And it wasn’t and it wasn’t and it wasn’t … for ten years. And then IT WAS.
In February 2006, God said it was.
And I began to prepare myself. I saw the cloud in the sky. The RAINS were a’ comin!
A lot of people asked me if I was taking Hebrew or Arabic classes or hanging out at a local mosque.
“No,” I would answer, “I don’t feel like I am supposed to be doing that kind of preparation.”
My preparation was more about watching the sky: learning the signs of God, training my heart to follow Him better, praying into the months ahead, and many long walks and bike rides spent talking things over with God. And standing on the promises of God through the breakthroughs I needed between February and August: new jobs, new house mates in our ministry house, raising support, miracles in our neighborhood, etc.
Whenever people ask me what I did to prepare for such a move and then ask me what they should do as they prepare to move overseas, I emphasize spiritual preparation: inner healing, developing a support group who will pray for you and encourage you once overseas, learning healthy communication with people, reading books like “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend, and growing the garden of His Presence and His peace in your life. Train yourself to strengthen yourself in the Lord.
Don’t run laps around Mount Carmel. Look at the sky.
And whatever you do, DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED
and DO NOT BE AFRAID.
Joshua 1:6 is one of my favorite passages,
“Be strong and courageous,
because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.”
God says in Deuteronomy 7:17-19:
You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” But DO NOT BE AFRAID of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear.
I think this passage is hilarious: “Dawn, you may think you are looking at something bigger than you, that you can not topple, but DO NOT BE AFRAID. Remember my provision. Remember my words. I am 100% faithful. And I always will be. I will push the enemy out of your land.”
David walked out courage in 1 Samuel 30. His own men spoke of killing him. His wives and children were taken. Their homes were burnt. 13 years after being anointed to be king, he was still waiting.
In 1 Samuel 30:6 David is shown to make a decision out of line with the “look of things” but IN LINE with God’s perspective.
“David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.
But David found strength in the LORD his God.“
He defeats the Amalekites, Saul dies, and three chapters later in 2 Samuel 2, a matter of mere DAYS has passed and DAVID IS MADE KING OF JUDAH.
Good thing David kept walking to the mountain’s edge and looking at the sky. Good thing he didn’t give up or give in. He stood until the promise was fulfilled. And that is what it is to stand in faith: to keep standing. How long? Until the promise is fulfilled. Not just until the third time you are tired and your car breaks down, yet again; not until your next vacation; not just until something happens, but until the PROMISE is fulfilled. And the secret is: there is happy rest in the waiting when you wait with HOPE. The secret is: it’s joyful to walk to the mountain’s edge seven times when you are delighting in the Lord. The secret is: it’s always fun to be with Jesus, even alone on a mountain waiting for rain – when you are lovesick, you’re crazy in a GOOD way.
The secret is: faith is powerful. And it often wears the clothes of perseverance.
So, be encouraged today. You are victorious. The word of God to you WILL HOLD. You have a part to play in seeing its fulfillment though. You must stand firm. You must keep walking to look toward the sea. Five times, six times, seven times. Hold on. Absorb the gorgeous view. Absorb the Presence of God in this moment, today is the only “today” you have to drink up His Presence and His fullness in this moment.
The cloud the size of a man’s hand will appear. The RAINS ARE COMING!