This morning, we’re starting a new message series entitled, “Hearts Turned.” In this series, we’re being challenged with where are hearts are directed. After all, it is critical not that we follow our own hearts, but that rather our hearts are steered and directed down the right path. As Solomon wrote:
23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
Anyone who has ever steered a boat understands that a small turn goes a long way. Anyone who has ever worked with angles understands that even if a line is off square by a 1/16th of an inch at the beginning, it causes the line to be off by several feet further down the line. James uses the examples of a small bit that steers a whole horse and a small spark that sets a forest ablaze and the earlier mentioned small rudder that steers the path of a huge ship. In the same way, small decisions made in our hearts steers the entire course of our lives.
I’ve only met a few people who decided to walk away from Jesus intentionally and in an instant. However, I’ve spoken with many people far from Him now who began passionately serving Him and then slowly faded away from that. In fact, many of those people still claim to have their faith firmly planted in Christ alone even though their lives have little evidence of this to be true. Walking away from Jesus is a slow fade and it happens one little decision at a time.
This isn’t news to many of us at all. In fact, if you’ve ever read the scriptures, you’ll find story after story of people who walked away from God in this same way. This morning, we start this series with an account of the entire nation of Israel who had done just this. One little decision at a time eventually lead them to serving totally different gods! To get their attention, God answered a prayer of a man who remained faithful to God through it all, the prophet Elijah, and there was no rain for three and a half years in the land.
1 Kings 18:16-40
16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”
18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
40 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
Throughout this showdown, Elijah gives us the steps that we can take and apply in our own lives in order to keep our hearts turned toward God.
The first step is to slaughter the hundreds of people who are leading you astray. Just kidding! I wanted to see how many of you all were still awake. 🙂
v. 21 “How long will you waver between two opinions?”
The first step is to actually realize that our hearts are leading us astray. The greatest deceit of our enemy is to deceive us into believing that we’re not deceived! Isn’t that so ingenious? It’s like giving someone wrong directions and then meeting them at each critical intersection and assuring them that they are on the right path. That’s exactly what the enemy does to us if we’re not careful! Just like that person assuring us of wrong directions, most people who are wavering between two opinions don’t realize that they are until the Lord, Himself, reveals it to them. This leads us to the second step of turning our hearts, which will clearly reveals this first step.
v. 32 “built an altar”
An altar is simply a place intentionally built and set apart to meet with God. Mankind had been building altars as a place to meet with God long before it is recorded that God required it. However, when He did, God kept His requirements for an altar plain and simple. In Exodus 20, He said to make it out of dirt or of stones found as they are, not touched by tools. The altar wasn’t the important thing, the important thing is what it symbolized; that people were intentionally seeking after God.
Interestingly, Jesus was never recorded as building an altar, but He would often slip away from the crowds or wake up early in the morning and meet with His Heavenly Father privately.
We should also build an altar in our lives. There should be a time and place intentionally set aside dedicated to seeking after God and hearing from Him. This altar will become for us a compass to use in order to align our hearts with God’s to keep us from slipping off course. This altar reveals any wavering opinions in our hearts as God reveals His truth and His will for our lives.
This step begins to clearly reveal who is really guiding and directing our lives. It is interesting how often when we set aside a time and place as an altar to meet with God and find that something else tries to steer us away from doing so. Our hearts should long to meet with God so fervently, however, that anything that tries to steal away that place and time of intimacy be outright despised by us as we put the Lord first and foremost in our lives. The sons of Korah wrote this song about just this:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
The next similar step of turning our hearts is:
v. 36 “At the time of the sacrifice”
When we approach God, we should do it on His terms and in His way and not on our own. The prophets of Baal tried everything to get the attention of god on their own terms. Their worship of their god was easily steered by the sarcastic ideas and recommendations of Elijah as they shouted and cut themselves and wore themselves out calling on their god all day long without a response.
Elijah waited until the time prescribed by God for the sacrifice and prepared the altar and sacrifice in the way that God had required. Elijah’s worship wasn’t derived from any idea of man nor was it influenced by the people around him. Elijah’s worship was between he and God alone as everything else happening around him faded away. It didn’t matter what the opinion of those around him was when the time came for Elijah to seek after God. The amazing response that Elijah received from God couldn’t be squelched, minimized, or denied as the fire of God consumed His act of worship!
So often, we think that if we pray longer or louder or more often or if we give more generously or if we share our faith more often or if we read more faithfully or if we worship more extravagantly that we’ll invoke a response from our God. Unfortunately, that’s the same approach to God as the Baal worshippers used and we’ll often get the same response as they did; nothing. It’s still man trying to work His way into the favor of God when God has already prepared that way to Him through Jesus Christ alone!
Rather, God has clearly revealed when and how we are to approach Him so that there is no mystery to it at all. Just like we know our friends and things like what they like, what they don’t like, when they are home and when they are busy, we can know God in the same way as well; as a friend.
Approaching God then becomes about Him and not about us. It becomes about faith in God expressed through our works and not about the works that we do, themselves. How God desires to be approached in this season of your life will be revealed back during the altar time you spend with Him.
Is this a season of dancing and rejoicing for you? Of reverence and quietness? Of declaring and proclaiming? Of warring and denouncing? Of joy and peace? Of sacrifice and lament? God will reveal this clearly as we learn to quiet ourselves and hear His voice during that altar time. The next step of turning our hearts is:
v. 37 “turning their hearts back again”
Elijah didn’t plan this showdown so that he could prove to all of the nation of Israel that he was right and they were all wrong. He didn’t do it so that he could prove himself to be better and more faithful to God than all of the rest. Even when God responded, Elijah didn’t boast in himself, in fact, he ran for his life not thinking very highly of himself at all.
Rather, Elijah planned this showdown for the benefit and sake of all of the people of Israel; that their hearts would be turned back to God’s once again. He did it selflessly with their good in mind. This intent reminds me also of what James wrote:
2b You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Why do we seek after God? Is it for our own selves, that our own lives might be more enjoyable and pleasurable? Or rather, do our hearts break for the mislead hearts of those around us not serving God like Elijah’s did? Do our hearts beat in alignment with God’s for the lost? Do we want the miraculous so that they will see and know that He alone is God?
This morning, I believe that God wants to do a powerful work in our lives by turning our hearts. God longs to turn our hearts away from ourselves and back onto Him first and foremost, then to His people, and finally to the lost world around us. God will prove himself to be true as we seek after Him selflessly and will not only turn our hearts back to Him, but will use our lives to also turn the hearts of many others back to Him as well.
God’s plans for us are greater than we could ever think, ask, or imagine! As our hearts are turned back to Him, we will surely be lead into those plans and prove just how awesome our God truly is!