I want to take you to Mount Horeb in Israel, to a dark cave. Inside the cave sits a lonely prophet of God. This godly man is elderly now, probably in his eighties. And he feels all alone. He has completely given up on society.
Some forty days earlier, the prophet had begged God to strike him dead. He was convinced, "This nation is too far gone. And the church is backslidden beyond repair. Every leader is a puppet of the devil. Revival is simply impossible now. There's no hope left. Lord, I've had it. Please, take away my life" (see 1 Kings 19:4).
Who was this prophet? It was the saintly Elijah. And he came to such a despairing state just hours after he'd won the greatest victory of his lifelong ministry.
You remember the story. On Mount Carmel, Elijah faced 850 false prophets in a life-or-death showdown over whose God would prevail. Some 450 of these prophets served the pagan god Baal; the other 400 were priests of the idolatrous groves built by wicked Queen Jezebel. Now, in a demonic ritual, the Baal prophets began dancing and wailing, trying to awaken their god. When the frenzy finally ended, the prophets lay bleeding profusely, totally exhausted.
Then Elijah stepped up for his turn. He simply called on the Lord, and instantly supernatural fire fell from heaven. The engulfing blast of heat consumed both the prophet's sacrifice and the twelve barrelfuls of water he'd poured around it. It even consumed the rocks on the altar.
What an awesome display of God's almighty power. The false prophets trembled at the sight. And the backslidden Israelites who were present all fell to their knees, crying, "The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God" (18:39).
Elijah then slew every one of those 850 false prophets. Suddenly, revival was back in Israel. The awakening Elijah had prayed for had finally come -- or so he thought: "This is God's hour. It's the beginning of the renewal I've preached about for so long."
Elijah was so energized, he outran King Ahab's chariot for twenty-five miles, back to the capital city, Jezreel. His mind must have raced with exciting thoughts: "Who can stand against what God has done today? This nation's sensual, ungodly government must collapse. And Jezebel's next. She may be racing back to her idolatrous father in Zidon right now. No doubt she's heard about the fire from heaven, and she wants to escape the Holy Ghost's purge. This has to be the greatest moment in Israel's history!"
Elijah was convinced the people would listen to him now. I believe he determined to go straight to the abandoned temple, to restore pure worship in Jezreel. But before he even came near the city, he was accosted by a messenger from Jezebel. The queen threatened, "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time" (19:2). She was telling Elijah, "You've got one day to live, prophet, before I slay you the way you slew my priests."
Within twenty-four hours of his incredible victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah was back in the wilderness, trembling under a juniper tree. In his mind, everything had backfired. And overnight, all his hopes for renewal vanished.
Forty days later, we find Elijah lodging in a mountain cave, all alone. The Hebrew word used for lodge means "to stop or stay." It also implies a meaning of "to complain or hold a grudge." Apparently, Elijah had decided, "It's all over, finished. If a miraculous fire from heaven can't motivate a backslidden people, nothing can."
Then the Bible tells us, "The word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?" (19:9). This was God's way of saying, "What's bothering you, Elijah? Why the anger? What's your complaint?"
Suddenly, the prophet began to unburden his pent-up heart: "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel hath forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away" (19:10).
Much of what Elijah said was true. God's people were in a sad state. Wickedness abounded in Israel. And true prophets were maligned and their words mocked. Yet, in spite of this, Elijah remained faithful. He was wholly given to God's cause, praying fervently for revival. But he was wrong to think he alone carried the Lord's burden.
I don't believe Elijah was being proud when he said, essentially, "I'm the only sin-hating, God-fearing preacher left in this nation." In my opinion, Elijah was simply overcome by loneliness. I believe he was saying, "Lord, if others are as zealous for you as I am, where are they? I don't see anyone crying out against sin as I do."
The fact is, many praying people are often loners. And few are great socializers or mixers. Why? Anyone who wrestles with the Lord in prayer shares the burden of his heart. They begin to see as God sees. And they're able to discern the true condition of God's people. They're sobered by all the flesh and foolishness they see in his house. And it drives them to their faces, praying as Elijah did, with a broken heart of concern.
If you're a person of prayer, you've probably felt alone, as Elijah did. Perhaps you too mourn over your nation, especially the never-ending river of blood America has shed through abortion. Maybe you cry out, as Amos did, "Lord, don't let me sit back in ease while such great bondage exists in your church." Maybe you wonder, as Elijah did, "Where are the godly leaders and brokenhearted shepherds? Where are those who still believe in holiness instead of fleshly methods? I feel like an out-of-step fanatic. Please, Lord, bring me into fellowship with others who see the things I'm seeing."
Now think of Elijah, alone in that cave. He must have been overwhelmed by utter loneliness. Then, a still, small voice came to him, again asking, "What doest thou here, Elijah"? (1 Kings 19:13). Once more, Elijah replied, "I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away" (19:14).
This time God answered him, "You're not alone, Elijah. Soon you'll meet my servant Hazael. I want you to anoint him as king over Syria. And there's godly Jehu, whom you're to anoint as king over Israel. There is also the young prophet Elisha, who'll serve beside you."
Finally, the Lord said to Elijah (as translated from the original Hebrew by Helen Spurrell), "I have remaining to me in Israel seven thousand, all whose knees have not bowed unto Baal, and all whose mouths have not kissed him" (19:18). God was saying, "I've got 7,000 hidden ones, Elijah, men and women who haven't given in to the spirit of this age. They're growing in my Spirit. And they all share the same burden as you."
Among these 7,000 were 100 true prophets hidden away in caves by godly Obadiah. Obadiah was a high-ranking governor who served in evil King Ahab's household. He had hidden the 100 prophets in two caves, fifty at a time, and was keeping them alive with bread and water. Obviously, Elijah must have known about these godly men. And he also knew of Micaiah, a godly prophet who'd been jailed by Ahab for prophesying hard things to him (see 22:8). Yet, even knowing of these men, Elijah was still overcome by loneliness in his calling.
God also has a hidden remnant in this generation who have not bowed to the idols of the age. To grasp this concept more fully, we need to examine what was happening in Israel during Elijah's day.
Baal worship originated at the Tower of Babel, under Nimrod. This godless man declared, "Let us make us a name" (Genesis 11:4). So Babel was built as a monument to human success and accomplishment. At the top was an observatory, where astrologers followed the heavenly bodies. These proud people literally "reached for the stars."
In Elijah's day, the god Baal supposedly granted its worshippers success, fame and prosperity. Those who kissed the idol's feet sought fulfillment in every area of materialism and sensuality. Who were these Baal worshippers? They were God's chosen people, backslidden worshippers of Jehovah. Like me, you may wonder how God's people could be drawn to such blatant idolatry.
First of all, these people had already been judged by God for lusting after prosperity. They had to flee to Egypt, where they faced poverty, hunger and homelessness. There they saw Baal's followers being blessed materially. And they reasoned, "We had plenty of food back in Jerusalem, when we bowed to our idols. We were blessed and successful then, with no suffering. But ever since we stopped worshipping those idols, we've faced only hardship. Let's go back to burning incense and making drink offerings to the queen of heaven. Then maybe we'll get the things we want again" (see Jeremiah 44:16-19).
God's people had fallen under the powerful seduction of a "success gospel." A spirit of greed and covetousness had gripped them, so that their lives now centered around wealth and recognition. Of course, there's nothing wrong with succeeding, if you do things God's way: clinging to Christ, tithing faithfully, submitting to his will. But in Israel, there was an unholy mixture: the people bowed to Jehovah because they feared his judgment, yet they also coveted material things.
Right now, the same spirit of Baal is raging in our nation. On Wall Street, in front of the U.S. Stock Exchange, we see the very image of this pagan god. It's a bronze statue of a huge bull, representing a "bull market": ever-increasing prosperity, great wealth and fame, human achievement. These are the gods our nation bows to.
Think about it: a man is considered successful if he amasses millions. He may have enough money to live the rest of his life in ease. Perhaps he has even obtained some recognition. I tell you, it doesn't seem to matter if his marriage fails, if he consorts with prostitutes, or if he ruins innocent people in his pursuit of fame, power and wealth. He'll still be judged the epitome of success by the world's standards.
What a confused, upside-down view of success. Yet multitudes still strive for it. Our entire nation is asking, "Who wants to be a millionaire?", longing to strike it rich.
In churches throughout America, the same seductive Baal spirit is at work. Multitudes of believers are driven by the urgent need to make it big. As a result, they're being swept into lavish living and bottomless pits of debt.
This spirit has also produced a cockeyed view of success similar to the world's. When a Pentecostal movement in Canada recently held a seminar for "successful pastors," it stipulated that only ministers with congregations of at least 1,000 people could come. Apparently, large numbers was their only criterion for success.
I witnessed something similar when I first started working with gangs and addicts in New York. I was introduced to a well-known evangelist who was conducting a crusade at a local church. What that man told me shocked me. He said, "If you don't make it by the time you're fifty, you'll never hit the big time. I've got five years left to make it. Right now I'm working on a TV series that may be my last chance to reach the goal."
I was dumbfounded. What did he mean by "making it"? Did he want some kind of fame? To me, "making it" meant having enough money to pay the electricity bill at the Teen Challenge Center. Or, it meant finding another drug addict who wanted Jesus to deliver him.
Too often we measure success in ministry by how big a church is or how fat its budget. If you ask the average Christian to describe how God has blessed him, he'll probably answer, "The Lord has given me a new car, a nice home, a good income." Yet, at one time, that same person might have answered, "God's blessed me with a burden for prayer and a fresh vision for lost souls. He?s renewed my hunger for him."
Jesus describes how such believers become lukewarm: "These are they which...hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful" (Mark 4:18-19). Simply put, anything that interferes with our walk with Jesus is sin. If we allow something to press into our hearts — a drive for success, money or acclaim — it will put us on our knees before Baal. Our spiritual eyes will be blinded. And our hearts will grow cold, no longer zealous for Jesus.
The Israelites flocked to Baal's church of success and prosperity. And soon this backslidden church was rife with unspeakable corruption. That's when the Lord boasted to Elijah of the 7,000 who hadn't bowed: "I have reserved for myself 7,000 righteous saints. They have resisted all lust for fame and success. And they are wholly mine."
We should be grateful to God for the many great heroes of the faith: zealous prophets like Elijah, unbending prayer warriors such as Daniel, mightily used officials like Obadiah, men and women who did mighty exploits such as David and Deborah. I believe it's right for us to study their examples to discern the secrets of a godly life.
Yet, how many of us seek to emulate those 7,000 unnamed, unknown servants who refused to bow to Baal? Such hidden men and women of faith are rare and few. Indeed, I believe the remnant God has reserved for himself isn't as large as we might think. The Bible makes clear that in every wicked generation, only a small remnant stood true. Moreover, in the coming days of chaos, the church will face a great falling away of believers.
Paul writes, "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5). And Jesus warns, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
You see, it wasn't Elijah's prayers alone that brought down fire from heaven. It was the cries of 7,000 hidden, praying God-lovers. These people were shut up in underground meetings, praying in fields, some serving alone in Ahab's house, unknown to all but the Lord. Yet they were faithful in their calling to intercede, and God heard them.
Success in God's eyes is being totally fulfilled in ministering to him. Such servants aren't striving to "make it" or seeking earthly security. They only want to know their Lord and to minister to him.
Think about the 100 prophets hidden by Obadiah. They lived an isolated existence in caves for at least three to four years, during a severe famine. These men had no outside ministry. They were completely out of the public's view, forgotten by most people. They couldn't even share in Elijah's victory on Mount Carmel. No doubt, the world would call them failures, insignificant men who hadn't accomplished anything.
Yet God had given these devoted servants the precious gift of time. They had days, weeks, even years to pray, study, grow and minister to the Lord. You see, God was preparing them for the day when he would release them to minister to his people. Indeed, these same men would shepherd those who returned to God under Elijah's ministry.
Years ago, the Lord blessed me with this gift of time. Before I ever pastored a church, I went into the woods and preached to the birds and trees. I had no plans, no agenda, no dreams. I only wanted to get to know God's heart. So I prayed daily, seeking the Lord and ministering to him. And I marked my Bible from cover to cover.
Later, as a young, skinny, inexperienced preacher, I pastored a small congregation in a tiny Pennsylvania town. We held services in a nondescript building with a tarpaper roof. Our congregation was made up mostly of farmers and coal miners. And I was totally unknown. Thanks to the examples of my praying father and grandfather, God had already made me a man of prayer. And today I can honestly say that every day of blessing I've experienced since then has come from that precious, early time with the Lord.
I was hidden, not seen by anyone. But God knew my address all along. And I'd spent my time wisely. Today, I urge every young minister to do the same. I regularly hear from young preachers all over the country who are desperate because they can't find their niche in ministry. My advice is, "Quit looking for ministry. Spend your time seeking God instead. He knows where to find you. He'll summon you when he sees you're ready."
"Forget what others are doing. They may look like they're bypassing you with grand works. But in truth, you can have no greater ministry than prayer. Strive to be a success at God's throne. If you're ministering to the Lord and praying for others, you're already a success in his eyes. All true ministry is birthed in prayer."
We know that all through the Bible, the number seven is equated with God's eternal purpose. Therefore, I believe the number of 7,000 that God quoted to Elijah simply denoted everyone who made up his remnant. The people he sets aside for himself could number 70 or 7 million. What matters is that they're wholly given to him.
So, what are the characteristics of this remnant? Here are three defining marks:
Paul warns, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing"s (2 Corinthians 6:17). At some point, you have to make a commitment, declaring, "I don't care what others say or do. I am the Lord's. And I won't give in to the wicked spirit of this age."
I thank God for every believer who is successful. Our ministry is blessed by generous gifts from some very successful believers who love to identify with the needs of the poor. Yet my question to you is, can you identify yourself in the following verse? "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and...the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen...that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Corinthains 1:27-29). There simply aren't many wealthy people in the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24). Why is this so? It's because very few wealthy people are willing to identify with the despised of the world, whom God has called and chosen. I think of several wealthy visitors who enjoyed our worship services at Times Square Church but didn't want their friends to know they attended here. Our services included too many poor, too many ethnics, too many unexpected things going on. Eventually, those people chose to attend more socially accepted churches. I also think of a dear woman in our church who passes out evangelistic tracts near our offices. She speaks broken English, and she doesn't dress in the latest styles. When I met her on the street recently, the Lord prompted me to give her a small offering. But when she saw the money in my hand, she smiled and said, "Oh, no, I'll bring my tithes tomorrow." She thought I was reminding her to pay her tithe! Here she was, already doing the Lord's work, yet uppermost in her mind was to be at church so she could pay her tithe. She quickly added, "The Lord has kept me, pastor." She is numbered among God's remnant, and she probably doesn't even know it. I've overheard several well-dressed visitors to our church remark, "That woman gives a bad impression of the church. She's poorly dressed, and she can hardly speak English." I say to them, "If you want to be part of God's holy remnant, you'd better want to be in this woman's company here on earth. Otherwise, Jesus says you won't be allowed to be with her in glory. She's already a shining star there."