"Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops" - James 5:17-18
Elijah is one of the most theatrical and mysterious figures in the Bible. His miracles are dramatic and memorable, but he appears and disappears in the biblical narrative like Endora from Bewitched. He's confrontational, eccentric, and moody. He's remembered most for a bold stand against Baal, but the next day he didn't think his life was worth living.
I am particularly intrigued by the last mention of Elijah in the Bible. Teaching on how to make prayer effective and powerful, Jesus' brother writes, "Elijah was a man just like us" (James 5:17-18).
How, exactly, was Elijah "just like us?" Certainly Elijah was a fellow human subject to the same emotional and spiritual needs as we have, but there's more.
First, Elijah struggles with his significance. If you have felt set aside, overlooked, marginalized, abandoned in the wilderness, undervalued, made far more vulnerable and needy than you're comfortable with, Elijah is just like you.
Second, Elijah is up and down. He can soar to the heights of courageous confrontation on Mt. Carmel and cringe in Gilead Valley. He doesn't seem to know why his own passions rise and fall.
Third, Elijah doesn't always get God. God takes care of Elijah in the wilderness, but the way and the timing of God's provision surprises him. Just like Elijah, you can't plan around what God will do and when he'll do it. You have to let God be God and trust him.
Finally, Elijah's identity is his security. In Hebrew, Elijah's name means "My God is Yahweh." You may not literally share that name, but as a believer you can share his sense of security. Every twist in Elijah's journey forced him to decide whether he would trust the gods of this world or the God who creates and calls and rules.
Elijah's story was preserved and passed down to us precisely because he's "just like us," and yet God directed and used Elijah in unusual ways. That encourages me to believe God can call and use someone like me.
Holy Spirit, on my best days and my worst days, help me to remember you are with me to guide and change me. Amen.
Bob Thompson is Pastor of Corinth Reformed Church (UCC) in Hickory, North Carolina, and President of Faithful and Welcoming Churches of the UCC. He posts sermons and other reflections on his blog, corinthpastorbob.com.