One of my favorite things about Elijah, the prophet of God, is how he goes from having an experience of God’s power and presence to an experience of fear and running away. In an epic tale, Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to a contest to see who really is God. Elijah says, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty.” (1 Kings 18:22)
Two altars are constructed and two bulls sacrificed, and the priests of Baal call to their god to send fire down to consume their sacrifice. All day they call out, growing more desperate, but nothing happens. Elijah calls on God, and in dramatic fashion, fire comes from heaven and consumes the sacrifice, the altar and the stones. The people observing this rise up and kill the priests of Baal.
Elijah should be on top of the world, full of God’s power and confidence. Instead, when the queen threatens to kill him for killing the priests of Baal, he is shaken to his core and flees, lacking any confidence in God’s ability to protect and preserve him. It’s such a human way. We so easily find ourselves pulled between poles of fear and approval. When we accomplish something significant, the good feeling only lasts until the first words of criticism come.
Living one’s life based on accomplishments and approval keeps us always on an emotional roller coaster. One minute we’re up, the next we are down. If our identity is found in externals, we never really know who we are. We have abdicated our identity to what others think about us and this keeps us always in a state of dis-ease, because different people think different things about us and emotions are so volatile and variable.
The only way we can have any sense of inner peace is to know who we are in our innermost being. This is the journey of a lifetime, but it is not a journey easily undertaken. It is a hidden way, and many are not even aware that it is the most important journey. But until it is undertaken, a person will always be tossed about by the ebb and flow of external circumstances. The inner journey gives us the anchor to stay grounded whether we are approved or attacked, because we will know who we really are. When moods swing, our faith can hold us like an anchor.