Where did you come from? What community of faith shaped your spiritual journey? I grew up in a vibrant church that was continuously expectant for encounters with God. Theologically and practically, meeting with God, sensing His Spirit, and hearing His voice were part of the church culture. Now, I do not know how you grew up. I couldn’t guess the type of faith community that impacted how you were influenced during your formative faith years. Regardless of your church upbringing, we all have expectations as it relates to the ways God will show up in our lives – especially at the times when we need Him the most.
Elijah is a prophet whose story is found in the book of 1 Kings, beginning in chapter 17. It begins by establishing the fact that Elijah is a servant of God speaking on God’s behalf to the leadership of Israel. Now, Elijah’s messages from God and challenges to power are most unwelcome. Early on in the narrative, the conflict between Elijah and the political and religious power of his day (King Ahab and the prophets of Baal) came to a crescendo on the side of Mount Carmel. In this moment, God displays extraordinary strength as He responds to Elijah’s prayer and renders Baal and his prophets powerless as He consumes the sacrifice with fire from heaven. The 4th and 5th grade boys in your ministry probably love this story because it involves sarcasm and fire (which, by the way was the name of an emo band I joined my freshman year… 😛 ). As Elijah leaves this moment on Mount Carmel, the message he receives from King Ahab prompts him to flee for his life and he becomes very discouraged.
I want to pause here because many of us who serve in ministry experience the same thing. After we expend all of our energies into a significant movement within the life of the church (Easter services, a community outreach or event, VBS, or Christmas Eve services), we can come face to face with a significant letdown. The adrenaline wanes, exhaustion sets in, the results are not what we hoped for, or we are simply just worn out and needing restoration. My friend Josh Denhart talks about how we plan so much for every detail of a church event, yet we often fail to plan for recovering from those events. And it’s this recovery that Elijah faces in a cave of Mount Horeb. He is simply depressed.
God begins to minister to Elijah in significant ways, but here’s where things get interesting. God asks, “What are you doing here?” And Elijah answers, “I have been very zealous for God.”
I know you’ve been to this place – where God asks: what are you doing here? How did you get here? Here is not there. Here is actually a long way from there. And when we’re here, not there … well, we end up needing to be ministered to. Here, by ourselves, we feel empty and alone. I’ve faced this so many times. Even in the last couple of weeks. And it hurts.
Friends, God’s voice penetrates the lowest moments in our story. When we feel alone. When we feel tired. When we feel afraid. When we feel out of control.
And now we arrive at the most familiar verses of this story.
“The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”1 Kings 19:11-12 NIV
I always thought there was this notion that Elijah expects God to be in the wind and the earthquake. We don’t read that in these verses – it’s just not there. Elijah is not surprised by the way God reveals himself. He was just patiently waiting, as he was asked to do, for God’s presence to be made known.
God ways are higher than our ways. He is YHWH, the Eternal God, constant, true, and never changing. And so often I fail to wait for God – because I want Him to come down with an earthquake and shatter some stuff. I want the wind of His power to rip through something. I pray specifically for God to act or intervene or speak, and when He does not do so the way I expect or in the timing I desire, I think I either made a mistake or He is not listening. When I read this story, I realize the person not listening is me. What about you?
Right now, take an open hands posture – and receive this blessing…
As we engage in this season of Lent, sons and daughters of the Lord Most High, quiet your heart. Slow down the rhythms of your heart, of your life, so you can wait on God. And in the waiting you will hear God speak. And as you hear God speak, you will learn to know His voice. And in these moments, you will experience His presence.
We put together a Spotify playlist for the Encounters Lent Devotional series. Pause and listen to this as you reflect on the Scripture passages today.