When I was thirteen, my dad and I got caught in a torrential summer downpour while canoeing the Little French River in the wilds of Ontario, Canada. It felt like a miniature hurricane. We hastily paddled to a nearby wooded island, dragged our canoe ashore, and when the rain cleared, we started to forage the island for firewood.
I’m no survival expert, but I’m pretty sure conventional wisdom calls for dry firewood, not the miserable, soggy sticks the recent deluge had left us. It took no small effort — along with a fair amount of birch bark (which, by the way, makes excellent tinder in a pinch) —to finally get the fire going, around which we gladly huddled and dried out ourselves and our things. The moral of the story: wet logs make terrible firewood.
There’s a well-known instance in the Bible where wet firewood also plays a part. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah the prophet has a holy showdown with the prophets of the demon god Baal on the summit of Carmel. The Baal worshippers have pulled out all the stops: there are 450 of them and just one of him. They take almost the whole day; he only has a short time in the evening. And they have by far the more impressive routine. But when they have given it everything they had, even to the point of causing themselves great injury, nothing happens.
Elijah’s turn. First, he rebuilds a broken altar of simple stones. Then he digs a trench in the dirt and places the firewood and the sacrifice on top. Then he does something utterly mind-boggling: he dumps the equivalent of twelve jugs of water (four jugs three times) over the whole thing, soaking the sacrifice, the firewood, the altar, the stones, and filling the trench.
In doing so, he creates a most unlikely scenario. It’s so laughably impossible to start this fire now, no one can ever accuse him of trying to “help” God: no hidden tinderbox with flint and steel, no lighter fluid, no gimmicks. There is no conceivable way this altar is going to light.
Here’s the thing with Elijah’s offering, though—the fire wasn’t his problem. And just like Elijah, our job is simply to fix our altar and provide the sacrifice. Romans 12:1 calls us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”
And just like Elijah, our job is simply to fix our altar and provide the sacrifice.
Maybe our simple altar of stones and firewood is just as unlikely as Elijah’s to catch flame. There are many things that could have poured a bucket of cold water—or several of them—on our offering: that debt spiral never seems to end. Marriage conflicts abound. The kids are making us pull out our hair. We’ve made very little headway in conquering our own sins and destructive habits. We feel stuck in that unfulfilling job. Our entire adulthood didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. Our emotions are spent.
Maybe things aren’t looking so promising, but “not so promising” is a good description of a lot of heroes of the faith in both Testaments. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord tells the afflicted Apostle Paul, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” In a different passage, Paul writes, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27).
Maybe things aren’t looking so promising, but “not so promising” is a good description of a lot of heroes of the faith in both Testaments.
In our need, in our feebleness, we can still obey. And obedience doesn’t necessarily pair with a faith of flowery prayers or pious feelings—just the hard, cold decision to say, “Here I am, a living sacrifice to my Maker.”
If you’ve heard this Bible story before, you know how it ends: “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” (1 Kings 18:38). Not even the stones, dust, or the very water itself—the elemental antithesis of fire—stand a chance against the Consuming Fire of God. Human endeavor comes up empty, and the power of God triumphs.
Regardless of how naturally optimistic we may or may not feel about this new year, let us choose to mend our broken altar and prayerfully surrender ourselves, our will, our ambitions, our failures—everything—to the Consuming Fire. Who knows, but that the Great I Am will choose this year to fall in a torrent of supernatural power, and glorify Himself through our lives?
Remember: God has no problem using wet firewood.
Note: All scripture quotations from New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.