Elijah Series: Becoming a Person God Can Use Greatly Pt. 1 (1 Kgs 17:1)
Becoming a Person God Uses Greatly
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 for his kingdom?
In this study, we will focus on Elijah. He is one of the more dynamic people mentioned in the Bible. In order to fully understand Elijah’s story, we must understand the context of his ministry. At this time in history, Israel’s apostasy was at an all-time high because they had a wicked ruler named King Ahab. His evil was augmented by his marriage to a pagan woman named Jezebel who worshiped Baal. First Kings 21:25 says this about them: “(There had never been anyone like Ahab, who was firmly committed to doing evil in the sight of the LORD, urged on by his wife Jezebel.” Because of their leadership, Israel turned away from God and began to worship Baal—the god of fertility.
In order to restore Israel to God, the Lord called one of his greatest prophets, Elijah, to confront Ahab. The man’s life was very special and unique. In fact, he is one of only two people who never died and was taken straight to heaven—Elijah and Enoch. In Genesis 5, Enoch walked with God and was no more, as the Lord took him to heaven (v. 24). Similarly, Elijah was also faithful in his generation and therefore never tasted death. The Lord took him to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2).
Yet even with his greatness, James 5:16b-18 says:
The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest.
The KJV says Elijah was a man with “like passions” as us. He was normal and yet God used him for great things. In the context, James calls believers to bring the sick to the elders for prayer and also to confess their sins to one another and pray for one another so they can be healed (v. 16). He uses Elijah to demonstrate how the prayers of the righteous have power. He essentially says the power in Elijah’s life can be in ours. God can mightily use us as well.
As we study Elijah, it is not just to stand in awe at how God used him. It is also for us to cry out to be used as well. Second Chronicles 16:9 says, “Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him.”
God is on alert; he looks for men and women that he can use greatly for his kingdom. He is looking for someone who he can show his strength through. His eyes roam the earth looking for Abrahams, Josephs, Davids, and Elijahs. He looks for people to use. Our world is no less dark than in Elijah’s time. Our leaders rebel against God. They sacrifice our children on the altar of comfort; they shame our sisters and daughters on TV and the Internet for money. They praise those who do evil and mock those who do good. God is looking to raise up faithful Elijahs who he can strengthen for his glory.
Are you a person God can use greatly? Are you a person God can display his strength through? What are the characteristics of the man or woman God uses? When we look at Elijah, we find characteristics of those God often uses greatly.
Big Question: What are characteristics of a person God uses greatly, as discerned from 1 Kings 17:1 in considering Elijah?
God Uses the Common and the Weak
Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead
1 Kings 17:1a
What does this verse tell us about Elijah’s background? Not as much as many introductions in the Bible. Many times, when somebody is introduced in Scripture, it gives their family origin and sometimes birth story, what tribe they were from, and their occupation. With Jesus, we received two whole genealogies; we see his parents starting Abraham in Matthew 1 and finishing with Adam in Luke 3. But for some reason the writer of Kings adds very little about Elijah. This probably means there was not much known about him. He didn’t come from a priestly heritage like John the Baptist. He didn’t come from the line of David like Jesus. He was really a nobody.
All we are told is that he came from Tishbe in Gilead. Tishbe is a city that archaeologist and Bible scholars have never been able to find. This tends to the probability that it was a tiny town or remote village. Elijah had humble origins—he was a small-town guy. We do, however, know a little about “Gilead.” Gilead was a mountainous region east of the Jordan river—not far from Jericho. In fact, in Arabic, the word “gilead” simply means “rough” or “rugged.”
The people from the mountains were looked down upon in Israel. It is similar to how people from the big city commonly look down upon those from the country. Mountain people typically lived off the land and did not have a high education or sophisticated clothing like people from the city. In fact, 2 Kings 1:8 says Elijah wore a garment of hair with a belt—probably camel skin or something like that (cf. Matt 3:4). He killed something in the mountains and clothed himself with the hair.
In American culture, Elijah would have been called a “hill billy” or “country bumpkin.” Elijah was not well educated or cultured and probably had an accent. He was a hill billy from Gilead.
From what we can discern, Elijah was a “common” man. He was not initially someone well-known. He didn’t have a college degree; he hadn’t been trained at Bethlehem seminary. Nobody even knew who he was and many probably had never even heard of his small town “Tishbe.” The author wants us to see his commonality.
In fact, as mentioned, James 5:17-18 seems to focus on his commonality as well. It says, “Elijah was a human being like us.” He had passions like us (KJV). He was normal. He went through great bouts of depression where he prayed to die (1 Kings 19:4). He often felt lonely; he told God, “I’m the only one left that follows you” (1 King 19:10, paraphrase).
No one really knew Elijah until he stepped onto the scene in the presence of King Ahab. He was a nobody from nowhere, but he was handpicked by the Lord to carry a message of repentance to a wayward nation.
Again, the narrator wants us to see that Elijah is common. In fact, Scripture seems to indicate this is God’s preference. He prefers to use the common people of this world for his glory. In biblical history, God uses shepherds, fisherman, and farmers—common people without great education or high standing in society. However, they were perfect for God to use.
The story of Scripture is exactly opposite of what the world and even the church would often say is needed for success. They might say, “You need this family background, this education, and this occupation!” However, that is not what God says, nor what Christian history attests. For example, Dwight L. Moody, one of the greatest evangelists the world has ever known, stopped his formal education at fifth grade. Billy Graham, another well-known evangelist, never went to seminary. Statistically, many of the biggest churches in the world are run by people without seminary training. One report in 1998 showed that one third of megachurch ministers don’t have seminary education. This may seem shocking, but Scripture says this is common. First Corinthians 1:26-29 says,
Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.
Why does God typically choose the “common” over the rich, popular, beautiful, and wise? It’s because the common man typically understands his own weakness. He is not prone to boasting. He knows that he is not strong enough, fast enough, smart enough, or good looking enough because society has told him so. The common are more inclined to humility and recognizing their own weakness before God, while the successful are more inclined to pride.
It is because of their weakness that God delights to use them. Consider what God said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…”
When God sees the weak, he says, “Yes! He doesn’t trust in his own strength, education, or speaking ability. He doesn’t think he is equipped for the task. That is a person I can use; that is a person that won’t try to steal my glory.”
This is what Samuel said to Saul about his calling: “While you were small in your own eyes, the Lord made you head and King over Israel” (1 Sam 15:17, paraphrase). It was when Saul thought nothing of himself, that God found him and anointed him for great works.
Excuses from the Common
That is why in Scripture, we often see the “common” make excuses when God calls them: “I can’t lead,” “I can’t speak,” or “I am too young.” It happens because God doesn’t typically call the great. He calls the common and makes them great—he makes them sufficient for the task.
It’s been said that God often looks for the reluctant leader. He finds the person not looking for the limelight and says to them, “You, there hiding! You are perfect! In your weakness, my power will be perfected and my name gloried.”
When we look at the church and see how few God truly uses in a powerful way, we can discern our problem. Many of us are too strong. We are too independent. We trust too much in our own wisdom, hard work, speaking ability, experience, and education. God’s power can’t fill us, because we are too filled with our own ability and high view of ourselves. We will be inclined to boast and steal God’s glory.
We must ask ourselves, “Are we too strong? Are our strengths keeping us from being used by God?” This doesn’t mean we can’t succeed apart from God. We can, and that’s the problem! We can live lives virtually separated from God and appear successful, but we won’t be successful to God. Christ said this to the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1, “…I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead.”
Can God use us?
Discerning If We’re Too Strong
Application Question: How can we discern if we are too strong for God to use us?
1. We can discern this by how much we rely on God.
How much do we pray? How much do we read the Word of God? The weak realize they can’t make it throughout the day without him—they need to be in his Word and prayer.
Sadly, many live totally independent of God. They don’t need to go to church, read their Bibles and pray. The problem is they are too strong, and their strength is hindering the abundant grace God wants to give them.
2. We can discern this by how we view ourselves and others?
The strong tend to have a high view of themselves and are prone to criticize others. They are like the Pharisees. However, Paul, though an apostle, said, “I’m the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15, paraphrase). God could use Paul because of his weakness, not his greatness. In his weakness, God’s power was made perfect.
It has been said only those who see themselves as “chief of sinners” are fit to be used greatly by God. If not, we will be prone to pride, boasting, and judgmentalism. Therefore, God cannot entrust the fullness of his power to us.
Those who think much of themselves, God cannot use. In fact, James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.” He fights against the proud so they can become weak.
Applications for the Weak
Application Question: What should we do if we feel too weak?
1. The weak must recognize that they can be used by God.
If you feel too weak—too common and normal—then you must understand that you are right where God wants you. You are someone he can use. He is not looking for the smartest person, the person with the most wealth, or one from an elite family background. He often finds the unknown from the backyards of Gilead. He finds those who are weak in their own eyes and bestows his grace on them.
2. The weak must be willing to step out in faith, as God leads.
When God calls, they must be willing to step out in faith to help out at church, share their faith, and/or serve in leadership. As they do this, they will find God’s grace made perfect in them. God will give them the words to say, the strength to serve, and the grace to persevere when weary. Be willing to step out in faith so you can experience God’s perfect power (2 Cor 12:9).
Applications for the Strong
Application Question: What should the strong do to be used by God?
What about the rest of us, who recognize our own independence, strength and pride, which maybe keeping God from using us? What should we do?
1. The strong must repent of pride.
In speaking to the church of Laodicea in Revelations 3:17-19, Christ said:
Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see! All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent!
To be “earnest” means be genuine. We must honestly express to God our pride and independence and repent.
2. The strong must rejoice and submit to God when humbled by trials.
James 1:9-10 says, “Now the believer of humble means should take pride in his high position. But the rich person’s pride should be in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow.”
In talking about the value of trials and how they help our faith grow (1:3-4), James says, the believer of humble means—referring to the poor and the weak—should rejoice in their high position. Their circumstances give them a great opportunity to grow in their faith and be used by God. This is why Scripture says, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20) and that he has chosen “the poor in the world to be rich in faith” (Jam 2:5). It also says, “the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt 20:16). Scripture pictures the brother in humble circumstances as exalted in the kingdom.
But for the rich, James essentially says, “Rejoice in your low position.” He seems to be talking about when the rich are made low in trials. It is then they should rejoice because it’s good for them (Jam 1:2). Through trials, God reveals their weakness and need for God. He reveals that they are really like flowers that pass away.
We get a good example of this in Paul. He was not rich, but he was a great apostle and greatly used by God. Consider his response to being made low in 2 Corinthians 12:9:
But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.
Similarly, James says the rich should boast in their low position. They should boast when God makes them weak. He is drawing them to himself and preparing them to be used by God. Paul boasted in his weakness. He didn’t complain or get angry. He knew God was preparing him to be a vessel that could demonstrate God’s power.
One might be ask, “Why am I going through this? Why am I separated from family and friends? I’m lonely! Why is life so hard?” It’s because God is humbling you. He is taking you lower so he can raise you higher. He is preparing you to be used.
Personally, I have experienced this many times. When God called me into ministry my sophomore year of college, everything went wrong in my life. I went through over a year of depression where I often didn’t want to live. However, it was understanding God’s process of making a man of God that gave me great courage. Because of our natural tendency towards pride and independence, God often places those he calls into the wilderness. He puts them in difficulty to prepare them. Moses went into the wilderness; Joseph went to slavery and then prison; even, Christ went to the wilderness before beginning his ministry. It is there that God humbles us so that he can use us.
Therefore, we must rejoice when God humbles us and makes us weak, because it is only there that we can be truly strong. It has been this theology that has given me strength in my wilderness seasons. It gave me strength to rejoice even when I felt like giving up.
If we are too strong, we must rejoice and trust God when he makes us low, when he brings us through trials. It’s how he prepares us to be used.
Application Question: What other applications can we take from how God prefers to use the common?
1. We must be careful about using society’s criteria in judging God’s servants.
First Corinthians 4:5 says,
So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.
Paul says this in the context of people improperly judging his ministry and others (4:1-4). This commonly happens today. Many men and women are excluded from certain ministries because of secular wisdom. Consider most churches: When they are seeking a pastor, they often require a masters or even a PhD. The ministry has become formalized, which is not what we see in Scripture. Many of God’s greatest servants lacked formal education, though not training. They were fisherman, shepherds, farmers, etc. In fact, the Pharisees marveled at the apostles because they were unlearned (Acts 4:13).
Because the church and many of our denominations have become secularized, they exclude those God called and therefore the church suffers. Much of the church has become pharisaical in that they add to the Scriptures, as if they are not enough for life and godliness. God has already given us requirements for pastoral ministry in Scripture (cf. 1 Tim 3, Titus 1). We must trust God and his Word.
2. We must be careful of judging ourselves and others by the world’s standards.
The church many times judges others based on wealth, education, status, and even ethnicity instead of biblical values. Consider James 2:3-5,
do you pay attention to the one who is finely dressed and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and to the poor person, “You stand over there,” or “Sit on the floor”? If so, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?
Many Christian’s view the world with secular eyes and not God’s eyes. Their secular view affects who they marry—many Christians would not marry Jesus because he lacked formal education, came from a poor family, and because of his ethnicity. For many it affects their career trajectory. Instead of pursuing something that meets their needs, allows them to be with their family, and serve their church, they are in the rat-race of more. Therefore, they neglect their family and church. Be careful of judging yourself and others by the world’s standards. Only God’s standards matter.
3. We must be careful of limiting how God can use us.
We live in this world, but we are not of this world. God does not require degrees, finances, or a ministry lineage, though he may use each of those. He requires someone with a right heart to display his power in. He may call you in a direction that society, family, and friends rejects and it may not even seem to align with your natural gifts and talents. Don’t limit God. His power in made perfect in weakness.
God Uses the Righteous
Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab
1 Kings 17:1
What else can we discern about Elijah other than his humble beginnings? We can also discern that Elijah was righteous. When God looks for a man or woman to use, he looks for those practicing a lifestyle of holiness and righteousness. Where do we see this in the text?
We see it not only in the fact that he challenges wicked King Ahab but also in his name, specifically. Elijah meant the “My God is Yahweh.”[Yahweh was the covenant name God gave to Moses when he set Israel free from slavery in Egypt. His name meant that he was a “follower of Yahweh, the God of Israel,” and not Baal or any other false deity.
Names in the Old Testament meant more than something you called somebody. It represented the character of something or someone. In fact, in ancient societies, it was common to name someone only after discerning their characteristics. When Isaac and Rebekah had children, they named the first Esau because he was hairy. They named the second Jacob because he came out grabbing the brother’s foot. Jacob means “heal grabber” or “swindler” (Gen 25). And, that’s just how Jacob lived his life—cheating people. But when he met God and wrestled with him in Genesis 32, God changed his name to Israel, because he had wrestled with God and prevailed. God changed his name because there was a change in character and calling. When someone truly encounters God, it will change the fabric of their character.
Similarly, Elijah no doubt was a man that lived for God. He was probably raised by a faithful Jewish family in the mountains who chose that the God of Jacob would be their God. Elijah, obviously, internalized their teachings and followed Yahweh, even when the rest of Israel was pursuing Baal. When Elijah confronted Ahab, he essentially said, “Unlike you and the rest of Israel, Yahweh is my God!”
When God looks for someone to use, he finds a righteous man or woman. He finds a Samuel, a David, a Josiah, a Mary and raises them up for his purposes. These people are characterized by holiness—separation from the ways of the world towards righteousness. And this was true of Elijah. When all Israel followed Baal, Elijah followed Yahweh, God.
Prayer of the Righteous
Why is it important for the man or woman God uses to be righteous? Scripture says God, in a special way, hears the prayers of the righteous. We see support for this in James 5:16b-18, as it describes the power in Elijah’s prayers. It says,
… The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest.
As mentioned, James used this as an apologetic for bringing the sick to the elders for prayer, as well as praying for one another (v. 15-16). He essentially says, “Don’t you know the prayers of righteous people matter! They are powerful and effective! Remember Elijah? Therefore, bring your sick to the elders to receive prayer, and pray for one another for healing.”
Why does God choose to use the righteous? One reason is because their prayers are powerful. It is sobering to consider that our personal righteousness, or lack of it, affects the power of our prayers.
There are so many Christians that wonder, “How come God doesn’t hear my prayers? How come he doesn’t answer me? How come he isn’t using me?” It might be because of spiritual compromise and a lack of righteousness.
We see further support for this in Jesus’ words in John 15:7. He said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.”
What did Jesus mean? He meant that there is power in a life like that is consecrated to Christ. There is power in the life that is set apart to live and dwell in God’s Word. When a person abides in God’s Word and practices it as a lifestyle, God answers his or her prayers. Those are the types of people he uses. They are the world changers.
We must ask ourselves: Do we love God’s Word? Do we read it, memorize it, teach it, and pray it? Do we make our home in it, as the Word “abide” or “remain” means? Or are we more like visitors—visiting it on occasion, obeying God’s Word when it’s convenient and doesn’t hurt? Those types of Christians have little to no power, and God can’t use them as he would like.
James uses Elijah as encouragement both for us to pray and seek prayer, but also for us to become righteous people—for there is power in a righteous life.
Lack of Power in a Sinful Life
But we also must consider the opposite side. A lack of personal righteousness will stifle our prayer life and the effectiveness of it. Consider these verses,
But your sinful acts have alienated you from your God; your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers.
If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
When the Psalmist says “cherish,” it means to love or enjoy something. Essentially, it means that if one loves sin, God will not hear his prayers. If one loves an ungodly, immoral relationship, then God won’t hear. If one loves getting a good grade, even if it means cheating, God won’t hear. If one love nursing unforgiveness towards someone instead of forgiving, God won’t hear. If one loves ungodly entertainment, music, and TV shows, then it negatively affects the efficacy of his or her prayers.
As we consider this, we must realize this doesn’t leave many Christians with power in their prayer life. They pray, but it’s not effective.
When God looks for a person to use, he finds a righteous person. One who says, “The Lord is my God. I’m going to be different than the rest of the world. This is why I’m waiting to have sex till marriage. This is why I won’t be dishonest at work or talk about my boss behind his back. I want to know God, and I want him to use me.”
God looks around and he sees that person and says, “That’s someone I can use! That’s a person who wants to be righteous like me. I can burden him for nations; he will pray, and my mighty arms will move to save. I can put him in a workplace, and he will mourn over their sins and I will mourn with him. I will bring revival because of his prayers.”
God hears the prayers of the righteous. Will we choose righteousness? Will we make Yahweh, the God of Israel, our God? We can’t have two masters—the world and God. We can only serve one.
James 1:7-8 says the double minded man is unstable in all his ways and he will receive nothing from God. The one living for the world and trying to live for God, at the same time, is not somebody God can use.
Application Question: How should we respond to the fact that God uses the righteous person?
1. We must repent of anything that displeases God or hinders our relationship with him.
First Thessalonians 5:22 says, “… Stay away from every form of evil.” Likewise Ephesians 5:3-4 says,
But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting—all of which are out of character—but rather thanksgiving.
There should not be sexual immorality, impurity, greed, foolish talk, or coarse joking because they are not fitting for God’s people.
2. We must pursue righteousness in our daily lives—serving God and others.
Righteousness is not just the absence of sin, it’s the presence of good deeds. Galatians 6:9-10 says,
So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.
God is looking for righteous people to use, those who turn away from sin and pursue purity in heart and godly deeds to honor God. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
Are we willing to let God use us?
What are characteristics of the person God uses?
God Uses the Common and Weak
God Uses the Righteous
Again, 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him.”
1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
2. Why does God often choose the common and/or weak to use over the strong?
3. In what ways has God used you in your weaknesses or times of weakness?
4. What areas of strength do you have where you might be tempted to not rely on God?
5. Are there anyways God is calling you to rely on him more?
6. Why does God often choose the righteous to use greatly for his purposes?7. How can we grow in righteousness?
8. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Pray for God to raise up his people and put them in strategic places, even speaking to kings, for his glory and to change the world.
Pray for God to purify his church from sin and turn it away from relying on human strength and secular wisdom to reach the world but to rely on him and his means of grace (the Word, His Spirit, prayer, the saints).
Pray for God to restore within his church a devotion to his Word and righteousness and deliver us from spiritual apathy.
Pray for God to bring revival in the world through the church and his Spirit within her.
Charles R. Swindoll. Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility (Great Lives From God's Word 5: Profiles in Character from Charles R. Swindoll) (Kindle Locations 103-104). Kindle Edition. Pritchard, Ray . Fire and Rain: the Wild-Hearted Faith of Elijah . Keep Believing Ministries. Kindle Edition. Accessed 10/16/20 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/gilead/ Accessed 7/14/17 from https://www.moody.edu/about/our-bold-legacy/d-lAccessed 3/17/2016 from http://hirr.hartsem.edu/bookshelf/thumma_article2.html Davis, D. R. (2002). 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (p. 201). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.