A Godly Man In Wicked Surroundings
Elijah was a man who reached true greatness in the Lord’s service. He was always ready to go where God would send him (I Kings 18:1; 19:15); to pray whenever prayer was needed (I Kings 17:20, 21; 18:36, 37), and to confront evil whenever confrontation was necessary (I Kings 18:17-24; 21:17-19). He was translated without seeing death, and he, along with Moses, was chosen to appear with the Lord on the mount of transfiguration.
The remarkable thing about Elijah is that he attained this greatness while living in a wicked and hostile environment. Had he lived in Judah during the righteous reign of Hezekiah or Josiah, we might not be surprised at Elijah’s attainments. But he lived instead in Israel during the wicked reign of Ahab. He was subjected to the cruel intents of Jezebel. He was under constant harassment and threat of death. He became so discouraged at one point that he asked to die, but he never denied his God.
In this wicked environment Elijah was able to influence others. The widow of Zarephath was blessed through Elijah (I Kings 17:8-24). The multitudes on Mount Carmel were led to cry, “The Lord, He is God!” through his courageous efforts (I Kings 18:39). Elisha, his successor, must have been greatly influenced by him. And even Ahab was brought to humility on one occasion, clothing himself in sackcloth as a result of Elijah’s rebuke (I Kings 21:27-29). The message of Elijah is clear. You can live a godly life and influence others for good in a wicked and hostile environment.
When one hears the excuses people make today, it is obvious that Elijah’s message is badly needed in this generation. People excuse their failure to teach others the gospel with, “People are so prejudiced around here they just won’t listen”; when the truth is, little effort has been made. If they are approached about their ungodly conduct, they explain that “You just don’t know how terrible the people are that I have to work around every day”. If their children go astray their explanation is, “Our children are faced with pressures that we didn’t have growing up”. Such statements, repeated often enough, become to many a “license” to do wrong and a salve to soothe their troubled consciences.
We must throw aside our excuses and make up our minds to do right. Elijah could serve God in wicked surroundings. And so can we.
Do You Act — Or React?
I walked with my friend, a Quaker, to the newsstand the other night, and he bought a paper, thanking the newsie politely. The newsie didn’t even acknowledge it. “A sullen fellow, isn’t he?” I commented.
“Oh, he’s that way every night,” shrugged my friend.
“Then why do you continue to be so polite to him?” I asked.
“Why not?” inquired my friend. “Why should I let him decide how I’m going to act?”
As I thought about this incident later, it occurred to me that the important word was “act.” My friend acts toward people; most of us react toward them.
He has a sense of inner balance which is lacking in most of us; he knows who he is, what he stands for, how he should behave. He refuses to return incivility for incivility, because then he would no longer be in command of his own conduct. When we are enjoined in the Bible to return good for evil, we look upon this as a moral injunction – which it is. But it is also a psychological prescription for our emotional health.
Nobody is unhappier than the perpetual reactor. His center of emotional gravity is not rooted within himself, where it belongs, but in the world outside him. His spiritual temperature is always being raised or lowered by the social climate around him, and he is a mere creature at the mercy of these elements.
Praise gives him a feeling of euphoria, which is false, because it does not last and it does not come from self-approval. Criticism depresses him more than it should, because it confirms his own secret shaky opinion of himself. Snubs hurt him, and the merest suspicion of unpopularity in any quarter rouses him to bitterness.
A serenity of spirit cannot be achieved until we become the masters of our own actions and attitudes. To let another determine whether we shall be rude or gracious, elated or depressed, is to relinquish control over our own personalities, which is ultimately all we possess….The only true possession is self-possession.
Sydney J. Harris