I admire confidence in other people. Especially the strong, understated type. These kinds of folks don’t have to say it; you see it. The quiet humility of their actions speaks louder than any pompous words ever could—a visible willingness to defer to others and deflect attention. They’re not pushovers. Far from it. They just know who they are—they know who they belong to—they know the power that is theirs because of that relationship.
And they know who can send the fire.
For me personally, when I see modern-day Elijahs standing securely in the face of overwhelming life challenges, or even just a daily dilemma, all while maintaining a sense of peace and decorum, even a measure of joy, I am convicted and inspired. Despite all they’re facing, they have no doubt they’re on the winning side. And even as they navigate and painstakingly negotiate their daily realities, they carry a steady assurance that remains with them and emanates through them.
Like the Old Testament prophet Elijah. He knew he was on the winning side. He felt no need to vie for attention or compete for first place. He was thankful and trusting that Yahweh had his back. This steely confidence is actually one of the main things that first attracted me to Elijah, and it compelled me to want to study his life and emulate his example.
Access to God’s fire
Let’s read the following section from 1 Kings 1. Here, Elijah was laying out the terms of the contest to all those gathered on Mount Carmel: Israel on one side; the pagan prophets on the other. Note especially the portions that display Elijah’s confidence.
“‘Let two bulls be given to us. They are to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the wood but not light the fire. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The God who answers with fire, he is God.’ All the people answered, ‘That’s fine.’ Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Since you are so numerous, choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first. Then call on the name of your god but don’t light the fire.’”
– 1 Kings 18:23-25
Even though there were other Israelites on Mount Carmel that day, Elijah was the only one who was unapologetic and verbal about his complete allegiance to Yahweh. He was, in essence, outnumbered 850 to 1. He certainly felt that way. “I am the only remaining prophet of the LORD,” he said (1 Kings 18:22). Despite this, he willingly deferred to his adversaries in this contest, allowing them the first opportunity to invoke the fiery response of their god.
The question is: Why?—why would he do this? and How?—how could he muster up the courage and confidence to do it? With such grand odds at stake and in such a highly intimidating environment, how could he show no signs of concern or worry or insecurity, even while giving his opponents the seeming advantage of going first?
It’s because of something he knew—and I mean really knew—and it’s the one thing I want you to walk away from today’s devotional believing and consistently incorporating into your reactions toward the overwhelming circumstances in your life. Here it is:
The perceived advantage of being first is always trumped by the actual advantage of having access to God’s fire.
When you know that God is for you, when you know His Spirit lives within you, and when you’re convinced (as the gospel says you can be) that His favor and presence rest upon you, you are no longer consumed with insecurity about the odds that may be stacked against you. Neither the “best” nor the “biggest” nor the “first” is any comparison for having God’s blessing and backing.
Confidence in God
So the real question becomes this:
Do you believe that your God is the one true God or not?
Elijah knew the only fire that was going to fall that day would be coming from Yahweh’s hand. He knew it. That’s why an absolute confidence could brim within his heart. His willingness to wait, defer, and lead from a position of humility communicated the assurance of his conviction. He basically said, “You take first; I’ll take fire.”
This principle we’re studying today—about having confidence in God, despite being outnumbered or overwhelmed—can be seen in many different scenarios throughout the Scriptures.
For example, Goliath was much bigger than David, but David had God on his side. “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45, ESV). Joseph was outnumbered and overpowered by his big brothers, and yet God’s favor and blessing rested on him as the younger brother, so that even when they planned and executed evil against Him, God turned it around “for good” (Genesis 50:20).
Take a peek at one of my favorite Old Testament examples, Judges 7:2-9, which chronicles the famed beginnings of Gideon’s battle against one hundred forty thousand Midianite soldiers.
The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many troops for me to hand the Midianites over to them, or else Israel might elevate themselves over me and say, ‘I saved myself.’ Now announce to the troops, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand of the troops turned back, but ten thousand remained. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many troops. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. If I say to you, ‘This one can go with you,’ he can go. But if I say about anyone, ‘This one cannot go with you,’ he cannot go.” So he brought the troops down to the water, and the Lord said to Gideon, “Separate everyone who laps water with his tongue like a dog. Do the same with everyone who kneels to drink.” The number of those who lapped with their hands to their mouths was three hundred men, and all the rest of the troops knelt to drink water. The Lord said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the three hundred men who lapped and hand the Midianites over to you. But everyone else is to go home.” So Gideon sent all the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred troops, who took the provisions and their ram’s horns. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley. That night the Lord said to him, “Get up and attack the camp, for I have handed it over to you.
My favorite portion of this passage is found in that second verse, when God said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands” (v. 2). In other words, the more resources Gideon had at his disposal, the less of a victory he would experience. Having more was actually working against him.
Did you catch what I said? Having more worked against him!
I’m floored by this. I often wonder how many times I’ve refused to release things from my life that, at the time, seemed advantageous or even necessary. In hindsight though, I realize they were actually acting as repellents to the fire of heaven that God wanted to give. I continually try to remember what God told Gideon to do: “I will deliver you with the 300 men . . . so let all the other people go” (v. 7). Translation? Don’t be afraid to have fewer. Don’t be afraid to go second. Don’t be afraid to look weaker by comparison. I’ve got your back, and you’ve got My favor. That’s all you need on your side to secure the victory.
That’s where Gideon got his confidence. Where Elijah got his confidence. Where you and I can get our confidence too. And when we’re confident—with that kind of confidence—we don’t need to gather more reinforcements, or go first, or maneuver ourselves into a favorable position for outsmarting and outperforming everybody else. Instead we can walk into any situation with authentic humility, which is one of the key elements that invites the fire of heaven.
Our flesh is so easily tickled toward pride and self-sufficiency that we instinctively lean toward wanting to be first, to be the best, to have the most. So God, in order to curb this tendency of ours, often allows us to enter situations where the odds are tilted against us, where we’re liable to experience a frightful twinge of insufficiency. But rather than avoid these moments, be like Elijah—embrace them as an opportunity to practice humility, to defer to others, and to refuse succumbing to insecurity.
Don’t back down and run away from hard things. Believe instead that God can do unbelievable things in the face of them.
This post is an excerpt from Priscilla Shirer’s new Bible study, Elijah: Faith and Fire.