My head was spinning, full of heavy contemplation after leaving Caesarea. Hearing and seeing the place where both tragedy and triumph began for the gentiles was a lot to process. I tried hard to lessen the load by chatting with Charlyn and Rachel on the bus, two friends I am so thankful God planted in my life and on this trip. Laughter seemed like the antidote to lifting the weight that kept trying to press down on me.
There was a deep desire in me to live with intention and purpose. I didn’t want to cultivate a life built on the principal that I was here by accident, but I wasn’t sure how to create a clear and meaningful path forward. The bus took the sharp, narrow turns up the mountain as we climbed to our next stop, Mount Carmel. The lush, green hillside we passed was a subtle reminder of how much I had to learn about this land and the God that created it.
Mount Carmel is one of the defining geographical features of Israel’s Mediterranean coast, bisecting the great coastal road, forcing it towards the Galilee through the Jezreel Valley below. To the left, I saw sea, and to the right, I saw valleys surrounded by beautiful mountains.
As my feet stepped off the air-conditioned bus, on to the gravel road, the heat hit me like a brick wall. Sweat trickled down the backs of almost every person, creating little wet spots on their lower backs. There was just no amount of deodorant or water that could prevent it. Our group bonded over both the practical portions of this trip and the emotional. We embraced the sweat, the knowledge, and the experience together. It was uniting in a way that nothing else ever could.
We entered through the gate of the Carmalite order, at the top of Mount Carmel. A catholic monastery was established centuries ago and cradled the place where Elijah defeated the phrophets of Baal. A tall statue in his honor stood by a large shade tree, stone fence, and well-manicured garden. A breeze blew as we took our seats on the stone walls and wooden benches under that large shade tree. Michael, our pastor, and tour guide, stood in front of us, over an old stone altar. I put my whisper around my neck, plugged my earphone in, and grabbed my pen and paper as he began to talk.
Mike and I sitting by the garden on top of Mount Carmel.
“Turn with me to 1 Kings 18,” he said in his English accent.
It was here he told the story of how Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. I would sit and learn that this story, widely known for its warning against idolatry, was about something so much bigger. It was a story that represented a crossroads on serving God or self.
In the first temple period, Israel was a land divided, both physically and spiritually. Elijah was confronting King Ahab. He married Jezebel, a princess of Sidon, who led the kingdom into the pagan culture of Baal worship she immersed herself in. Baal was most likely the Baal-Melqart (also known as King of the Underworld/ Protector of the Universe), honored by Jezebel’s father, a Phoenician King.
Baal worship was extremely ritualistic. His wife, Asherath, was the Goddess of fertility. Baal was the God of storms, rain, and lightning and required animal sacrifices where priests would officiate, and some even made their sons pass through fire as sacrifices to Baal. Male and female prostitutes were made available to worshipers of Baal to inspire fertility of both the land and the people. Bulls were associated with Baal worship as a symbol of strength and fertility.
Jewish people went after the Storm God of Baal, a God that promised to bring them rain, but instead brought God’s wrath and punishment through drought and famine. The drought lasted for three years, until God called Elijah out of hiding, to confront the people of Israel. The Jewish people of that time were living in an agrarian society, so it seemed natural to worship a God that would ultimately produce good land for farming. Except, it required forsaking the God of Israel.
Elijah, being obedient, did this to glorify God, not himself. God brought the famine on the people which served as the reason people would gather on Mount Carmel that day. Sometimes, God causes a drought in life to lead us back towards Him. If it wasn’t for the drought, there wouldn’t have been a reason for the ultimate sacrifice and atonement needed to restore the old covenant and unify the people under God again.
“When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.” I Kings 18: 17-18.
Ahab’s God and Elijah’s God met at Mt. Carmel. Elijah presented a challenge to the people.
“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow Him.” I Kings 18:21.
He then called for two bulls. The people were to cut it like they would for sacrifice, lay it on wood, but not set fire to it. The other bull would be prepared in the same way. He then instructed the people to call on the name of their God and he would call on the name of his and whichever God answered by delivering fire would be the true God.
The people agreed. They proceeded to call upon the name of Baal from morning until noon. They heard nothing. They limped around the altar they had made and at noon, Elijah began mocking them, telling them to cry louder. He provoked them, saying maybe Baal was asleep, or perhaps relieving himself, or musing. They then cried louder, began cutting themselves as was their custom with swords and lances, until their blood gushed out upon them. It says they raved on, dancing, screaming, and making a mockery of themselves until the time of offering of oblation. But, there was no voice, no answer. No one paid attention to them.
Then, Elijah came forward. All the people gathered around him. He then repaired the altar of the Lord that had been destroyed with twelve stones. This was very significant. He was reestablishing the twelve tribes as Israel, which would’ve been considered offensive during this time period in Israel. No altar had been built for God in years. He did this to renew the covenant between God and all the tribes, as Moses did, in Exodus 24:4. Elijah was strategic in every detail of this sacrifice. Every detail had meaning beyond what we would recognize just by merely reading the chapter.
Elijah most likely chose Mt. Carmel to erect the original altar of Yahweh that was in need of repair. The symbolism utilized in this passage is key. Drought was often God’s punishment commonly used for idolatry throughout the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 11: 16-17). Fire was needed for atonement before the people could receive rain again, which is the reason Elijah used this as the answer God would give in the challenge against Baal worshipers.
He then arranged the wood and bull for sacrifice just as the priests were commanded by God in Leviticus 1: 7-8. Wood was the source of fuel for the fire. The combination of fire and a sacrifice is extremely significant. Fire would be the atonement for the people’s sin of idolatry and sacrifice needed to be done to forgive the sin of Baal worship.
The sacrifice was chosen to be done in the evening because it united his prayer with the prayers of the Jewish people in Jerusalem who, at the time, assembled to pray. There is power in praying in numbers, and Elijah recognized the significance of this.
The result was fire reigning down from the heavens and consuming the burnt offering on Mt. Carmel. When the people saw it, they fell on their faces, humbling themselves in front of the Lord. It takes humility to fall on your face in front of the king, but it’s the first step in following Him whole heartedly. Humility breaks us of our own self-reliance so we can begin walking out of our own season of drought. The truth is, God will not share His thrown.
The consequence of idolatry is found in Isaiah 44:20, it feeds on ashes, seeks vanity, and results in dissatisfaction. But it promises false security and a path to finding our identity.
Hosea 12:1 tells us idolatry results in falsehood and violence. But the syncretism of this world promises that we can find our identity and security in something other than Christ. This causes compromise, distorts the truth, and its purpose is solely to render the truth of Jesus Christ no longer true.
As I sat, staring out at the sea to my left and the beautiful mountain ranges to my right, all I could think about was how I had been needing the life-giving rain of God in my own life. To cultivate a life with a clear and meaningful path I had to first decide to follow God whole-heartedly. This required me to humble myself like the people of Israel did that day on Mt. Carmel. For my self-imposed drought to end, I had to break out of a life cultivated by self-reliance. Simply voicing that I believed in Jesus wasn’t enough.
Our friends, Tommi and Zeb, taking a picture at the look out on top of Mount Carmel.
Self-reliance strives for perfection, when God strives for progress. It compromises my giftings and creativity for comfort and worldly approval. When I rely on myself I’m limited by the flesh but when I walk in the spirit my faith takes me to places I could never even dream. Fulling serving God showed me that gratitude would go much farther than comparison ever could, that celebrating others over judging them would create community, and that my past doesn’t need to hold me back but serves as a wonderful teacher. Lastly, following God with my whole-heart breaks me free of the stagnating, crippling power of fear and shows me how to step out of that fear to move into faith-driven challenges.
Life is too short to compromise, waiver between two opinions. I don’t want to coast through life unnoticed, afraid, and alone. Elijah helped me set the tone for revival in my life by teaching me how to not get lost in the distractions of this world. I had to first decide to follow God with my whole heart, and that meant removing the things in my life that didn’t serve him.
I got up and climbed to the outlook after Michael’s sermon. As people stood taking selfies with the beautiful views, I began to silently pray.
“God, I want to follow you with my whole heart. Where did I go wrong? I don’t want to live life waivering. I wish to serve you and only you.” I whispered under my voice as I looked out over the Jezreel Valley.
Mike, my husband, standing in front of the altar and large, old tree our pastor spoke the message of Elijah to our group.
A flash back of my freshman year in high school. I just passed my perpetrator in the hallway. Something in me snapped. Went dark. Hardened. It was the moment I decided I didn’t need God to heal me. I was assaulted by an older student just weeks before, and I had to pass by him every day after, for a whole year. I let him silence me, shame me, and I partnered with the lie that I was strong enough to handle my wounds on my own.
I served the God of myself after that moment. I pursued what made me feel good, gave in to my own desires, sought out vain pursuits, and it left me broken and dissatisfied.
This flashback took my breath away. I stumbled down the steps from the overlook, holding back tears, gripping my notebook with sweaty, clenched fingers. People were everywhere. I walked through a crowd of new tourists and saw a door with no one around it. I bee-lined for it.
The door was a small, arched opening to the Carmalite order’s church. There was no one inside, just a cross with Jesus hanging on it, an altar, and six empty pews. When I walked in, a tear fell freely down my cheek, and I stared at the crown of thorns carved into the forehead of the Jesus that hung before me. Blood trickled down his furrowed brow and stopped at his eyes. It was as if He was looking directly at me.
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Forgive me for partnering with the lie that I could heal on my own. You are my king. Your blood was enough. All I need has already been done. I serve you and only you, Jesus,” came stumbling out of my mouth between quick breaths and short gobs of air.
Picture of the church at the top of Mt. Carmel by the Carmelite Order.
That day on Mount Carmel changed everything. God broke my identity box as I knew it and showed me who I really was. I wasn’t a sum total of my past mistakes. I wasn’t a result of abuse and a series of bad decisions. I was a child of God. I let all of my heart go, every wounded piece, and handed it over to Him to fix.
It was a defining moment, not a dramatic one. It wasn’t full of fire reigning down from the heavens like it did for Elijah, but it was another piece of healing that I needed. It was me saying “no” to myself and saying “yes” to Jesus, with my whole heart and my whole life.
I walked back on the bus with everyone as they herded past the gates. No one knew what had just happened but me. But my smile was brighter, my laughs weren’t covering up weight, and I was ready to confront whatever God had to teach me next, at Mount Precipice.
Statue of Elijah, with sword in hand, representing his defeat over the prophets of Baal.
Self-Reliance Attributes God-Reliance Attributes
Pursuit of Perfection Pursuit of Progress
Self-limiting internal dialogue Positive self-talk
Comparison of others Gratitude for others
Judgement of others Celebration of others
I am a sum of my past mistakes My past serves as a teacher, not my identity
Compromises my creativity for worldly-approval Cultivates my purpose in my passions and creates identity separate from worldly-approval
3. Are there times where you have accepted defeat before even trying? Break out of your own identity box and self-limiting habits by defining your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes in a less rigid way. For example, I use to say “I’m not good at writing”. Now, I say, “I’m becoming more skilled at writing”. See? Changing from a self-limiting self-talk to a progress, positive one places new perspective on your identity. Believing the lies of others, the world, the enemy, and all the negative things that come along with it make you believe you aren’t good enough for the things God has created you for. Break those chains by writing down some things you’ve decided you can’t do. Then, write those things down in a positive, progressive way and see how your perspective shifts!
4. Pray and ask the Lord what He wants you to let go of to move forward with Him. Pinpoint areas in your life that need a change of focus and write them down. Some examples might be your health, friendships, finances, spiritual and personal growth, work, family, or recreation. Ask God how he would like you to move forward in the areas He has identified.
5. Go ahead and meet your fears. Write this sentence and fill in the blanks. “I’ve been afraid of __________ because ______________ and if I were to hand it over to Jesus, my life would change by ______________________.” Stepping into your fears is worth it. Your fears don’t define you, God does. Comfort zones are a stagnating place for people who are living life with purpose. No one has to see this sentence but you and Jesus.
6. Let the past help teach you about moving forward. Write down the good things that have happened this year and then write down some challenges. You may notice repetition. Ask God to reveal and identify what you need to do to move forward.
7. Write down people you are grateful for in your life. Who do you rely on? Who helps challenge you? Then, thank them for the things they do in your life. A little bit of encouragement goes such a long way. Your words matter and have so much power. You never know what kind of perspective shift this will have until you start to do it.
8. Write down some things you are saying “yes” to and some things you are saying “no” to in your life. Pray and ask God what things are not cultivating the life of purpose and meaning, and then cut them out. To live with intention and purpose is to start by doing the little things, rearranging your daily priorities to fit the overall purpose.
9. Next, write down what you’re passionate about. What is it that you love doing, creating, what makes you laugh, and sparks a fire inside your heart?
10. Last, write down what matters to you most and claim it. When what you love is clear it becomes bold. Ask God for a word that will remind you of His purpose and path for you. Keep it where you can see it every day to keep you focused on Him and His path for your life. Don’t let the things of this world distract, focus on the God you serve and let Him cultivate a life of fulfillment and purpose that only He can do.