Almost fifteen years ago, the Lord spoke a promise into my heart through a name. To His promise, He has always been faithful, even when I had doubted it, forgotten it and at times given up on it. My unfaithfulness and God’s faithfulness are scripturally recorded character traits for men and for God (II Timothy 2:13). The promise He gave me came through the name Elijah.
Elijah happens to be the name of my two month old son, and his life is the promise. Let me qualify that remark. I have five children, and each one of them is a gift and blessing from the Lord Jesus. I consider none of them more important than the others, and they all have a purpose in God’s kingdom. The reason for the focus on the birth of our fifth child is to display God’s faithfulness and plan, through years of human struggle to hold to a promise that was a guaranteed from the moment it was spoken to my heart. Let me take you back and walk you through my journey with Jesus concerning the promise He made to me through the name Elijah.
My son Michael, was born over fourteen years ago this past January. We were unsure if he would be a boy or a girl, so when he was born, as you can imagine, I was overwhelmed with joy. We named him Michael, after me, but I was less than thrilled with his name at that time. I had another name on my heart; ELIJAH. No offense to my son Michael, for he has honored the name well, which means, “Who is like the God”. The name I had picked out was Elijah, which means “My God is Yahweh”. My dear wife, had an excellent rational for not wanting to employ the name Elijah, or so she thought (we laugh now). She said he would get beat up at school. Of course I declared, “Are you kidding?” Elijah called fire down from heaven, put to death the prophets of Baal, rode in a flaming chariot to heaven. In spite of all my effort, my wife refused to budge, she was not feeling Elijah. I was scorched, but relented as she said she wanted to name the boy after his Daddy. I did not like it, but now can see the Lord was working in her, even though neither of us knew it, when it came to the name Elijah.
When my wife was found to be pregnant for the third time, I made her promise to name him Elijah if the baby was a boy. She agreed as long as she could name the baby if it was a girl. As we waited, she came up with other boy names, and I would not budge. I would ask her about girl names and she never did come up with any she liked. One day I simply said, “I really like the name Abigail” after the Biblical woman by that name. Kimmy said, she really liked that name. We had a girl. Her name is Abigail. After the birth of Abigail, God had led us to pursue full time ministry, and as we did, only occasionally discussing the prospect of another child. In the midst of three children and the new journey with Christ through ministry, months turned into years. When we returned home to Ohio, and settled into ministry in our hometown, we began to discuss having another child (8 years after the last one). Through the process of prayer, we believed God was leading us to conceive again. Of course Kimmy and I discussed names but this time she said from the beginning if we have a boy his name will be Elijah. When we found out we were having a girl, Kimmy was concerned I would be disappointed; I was thrilled with the blessing of another baby. My disappointment came from thinking I had miss heard the voice of the Lord, on having another boy.
Interestingly, after the appointment where they determined the baby’s sex, my wife and I decided to celebrate with some Chick-fil-A. Living in New York where there are zero (count them zero Chick-fil-A restaurants), we understand how great a privilege it is to celebrate with their chicken sandwiches. On the drive to the restaurant, I asked her what names she liked and she was at a loss; having none that set her world on fire. As we entered the restaurant I threw out Ellie Mae. My wife loved it instantly. It is rather funny that I had inadvertently named all four of our children. As many of you know on May 23, 2015, Elijah James Erdel was born into this world, yet I was before his birth that the Lord would reveal His promise in the name.
From the beginning Kimmy desired to name this baby Elijah. It seems the years had softened her position and she, as well as I knew it was the right name. We found out in early December that we were having a boy. December was unseasonably warm with little snow, so towards the end of the week after we found out we were having a boy who would be named Elijah, I decided to walk home from the church. I had my Bible out and began to read as I was three quarters of the way home. My journey through His word had taken me to the first chapter of Jeremiah, as a month earlier I had been impressed to read through the major prophets. I began, in the unseasonably warm December afternoon, to read aloud as I walked.
Jeremiah 1:1-5 (NKJV) The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying:”Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
As I read the words in verse five, I stopped walking immediately. It was as if I could not move forward, being held in place by God’s invisible hand. My mind became silent, my breathing was still because I knew what I would hear next would be right from the Holy Spirit. Almost immediately I heard the voice of the Lord in my heart, like thunder in the midst of an august storm. “The reason you never gave up on Elijah as a name, is because I put the idea for this child in your heart all those years ago.” He continued, “He is a promise to you from Me, for before I formed him, I knew him”. He said, “Before His birth I sanctified him and have called him for my purposes”. Needless to say I was stunned and overwhelmed with joy, but afraid to move, not wanting to miss if Jesus was going to continue. I waited in this stillness a while, but He said nothing else, so I began to run/walk the rest of the way home. I told my wife with tears in my eyes and read the verse of scripture and we laid hands on this child still in her womb and prayed to receive this blessing from the Lord.
Some would scoff at what I just reported, giving me a lecture declaring this was Jeremiah’s call only. Scoff if you want, but the scripture is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword. There are times when the voice of the Lord will speak directly to us, even when in its primary sense it was meant for its original hearer. The nature of its being living an active is seen in what illumination it brings into our life. For me it was not just the blessing of knowing that God specifically pick the boy’s name (I do not know about our other children’s names, if God ordained them specifically). Our Father wanted to teach me a two-fold lesson concerning His faithfulness and my struggle to remain so. This second part of the lesson hit me after my wife and I prayed. It brought instant conviction and continues in day by day contrition. You see the Lord did not want me to forget I almost missed the promise. Let me explain.
My first love, from the day He revealed Himself to me, has been Jesus. My strongest desire over the years has been to share His testimony with anyone who would listen. Whether at General Motors, in the neighborhoods we lived in, at the grocery store, or in churches, my desire has been to please Him, and make Him known. My heart is to do something great for Jesus and this has no numeric value, for those who did the greatest exploits for Christ, were not very popular, nor did they have large followings while alive. My greatest joy is to speak His name, but over the years, the cost of speaking His name was painful; pain I wanted to gladly bear. The rejection by “good” Christian people was hard to take, even though I wanted to take it for His sake. The insults, hate, lies and misunderstanding of what I was called to do in the church, began to weigh. Seeing people walk out of churches and show how little they actually loved the body of people they professed to love, was maddening. These things happened with no biblical justification. In the wake of all this, I questioned His calling in my life, blamed myself a thousand times for other peoples sins, and began to fall into despair. This may be a little too real for some to deal with in a pastor, but this is the testimony of the servants of God. We tend to want to chlorinate our experiences, but many a man of God has been to his wits end and with Paul declares to being “burdened beyond measure, so we despaired even of life; yes we had the sentence of death in ourselves,…(II Corinthians 1:8-9).
Where does this come from in men who love God and have dedicated their lives to making Him known? Imagine a desire to see the best for God and His people yet seeing little obedience in those who profess to know Christ, or little love for the brethren, or selfishness that masquerades in a thousand little “Christian wars” fought to the detriment of the glory of Christ. Imagine laying your integrity on the line to help a sinning brother, or sister, to speak the truth in love, only to have the magnifying glass of cynicism and distrust attempt to magnify your every perceived flaw. This happens so others can avoid dealing with their disobedience. In spite of knowing this the damage is real and often times deeper than we can get to. This is how a man becomes sick in their heart as the scripture declares “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Proverbs 13:12), and weary in well doing, “I would have fainted, lest I believed to see the glory of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). Men and woman who love God, will face these things, and they will at times struggle to process it, begin to grow weary in well doing and even think the kingdom would be better off without them. Even my son’s name sake Elijah, after perhaps one of the most recorded and cited victories over darkness prayed that he might die. I would offer it is potentially sinful to fall into such a state, where one might pray to die, as it is possibly shortsighted and selfish. And that is the point, what would Elijah have missed if God answered his prayer? What would I have missed if He answered mine?
When I arrived in New York, I was struggling fiercely with all of the above. In confusion I was seeking an answer to bring me peace. It seemed depression and despair were never far away. In spite of this season of trial, the Lord was working through my efforts to minister Christ, because He is faithful. In spite of what He was doing, it seemed Satan was constantly reminding me that I did not belong, was the reason for all the failure and was better off being absent from the body and present with the Lord. I began to pray that Jesus would bring me home to Himself. Make no mistake, I affirmed until my dying day, I would not turn from Him, but I asked him to take my life from this earth. Let me remind you this was not because I was involved with some immorality or sin issue, or because I was not responsible to perform in the calling of God. It came from what was a great beginning in a heart that wanted to please Jesus and make Him known. It came from the error prone thinking that I was failing Him. The only place I was failing Him was in listening the lies of unfaithful people, and believing in the error that I was not doing enough to glorify Him. I am so glad He did not answer that my prayer.
Arriving back to that December day, in the moments after Kimmy and I prayed, all of what I just wrote became known to me. I wept and asked my wife to forgive me. I wept and asked God to forgive me. I learned that loving Jesus is spiritual dynamite in a good way, yet our emotions need to be tempered by His Spirit, or the world, the flesh and the devil can manipulate our misplaced passion. Ultimately the Lord reminded me that the greatest thing we can do for His glory is not numeric, unless it is our one heart and life to give fully, enduring to the end in faithfulness. This faithfulness is no different than His toward us.
My son Elijah as well as my other children have a great purpose in the kingdom of God. In His faithfulness, Jesus wanted me to see how successful He had been through my wife and I in bringing them into His world and raising them in His instruction and admonition. He blessed me to be a part of what He is building in them for His glory and their highest joy. Our Father wanted me to also see that He had made me faithful to Him, as even in despair I would stay if it was for His glory. Elijah is a promise illuminating God’s faithfulness and love to me… a man who never deserved His love, but has received the Spirit of adoption where I cry “ABBA”. My hope is that you will never forget God’s faithfulness, needing a journey like mine. I suspect you may have moments in your walk like mine. When you do, never forget His faithfulness in the midst of your dark night of the soul. He will pull you through, and pour His love into your weary soul. That is His promise.