Thursday, October 16, 2014

Recognizing the Voice of God


Dennis Marquardt offers this -- A hunter had a very unusual dog and decided he wanted to show it off to one of his not so up-beat friends.  As they waited, a flock of ducks finally flew overhead and the man shot one.  It fell into the water and the man told his friend, "Now watch this remarkable dog of mine fetch that duck,” he snapped his fingers and the dog took off. The dog ran on top of the water all of the way out to get the duck...and all of the way back!  Certain that his negative friend would be amazed he asked him, "What do you think of my dog now?"  The fellow replied, "Dumb dog…he can't even swim!"

Nothing grips the heart more than misery.  And as the saying goes, misery does love company. Sometimes people, including you and me, are tempted to fall into a trap of living in “unbelief.”  It is one thing to need some “blessed assurance” from time to time in our lives. But, living lives of doubt and negativity can lead to greater mental and spiritual maladies, such as depression.  We talked about this last time in relationship to what Elijah was going through in his life. (1 Kings 19:1-8)  Depression is a crippling disease for many people, and believers are not immune to it. It can be a physical issue that leads to depression.  But so often, it is the result of one of Satan's most effective tools against believers, and this is discouragement, which can lead to many sins.  This, or it at least incapacitate believers to be unproductive, resentful toward others, and angry at God and man.  When this happens, rather than drawing closer to God and His people, such ones tend to withdraw, which is the most damaging thing that they can do.  We do not need to give in to the temptation to isolate ourselves, but learn even more so to trust in the Lord.

When we last left Elijah, he was about to begin a long journey of about two weeks on foot from Beersheba in southern Palestine to Mt. Sinai.  He may have been in a hurry to flee from the wicked queen Jezebel, but he must have made a number of pit stops along the way, as it took about forty days. (19:8) It is likely that the Lord was directing his steps to lead him to places where he needed to minister and to rest.  And there may be something symbolic in the fact that the 40 days could represent the 40 years that Israel spent in the same wilderness region.  It is also probably not so ironic that it was Israel’s unbelief that caused them to wander in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 13-14)…and it is Elijah’s unbelief and fear that have led him on this journey.  And did I also mention that the Lord also spent 40 days in the wilderness when He was tempted? (Matthew 4:2) We can understand that there is some spiritual, symbolic significance to all of this.

At some point, Elijah comes to a cave where he waits on the Lord. (1 Kings 19:9-14) This is something of a “retreat” center – a retreat from the realities he is facing.  The Lord shows up and…He does not rebuke him or instruct him…but he asks him a question – “What are you doing here?”  The prophet’s reply doesn’t really answer the question.  The indication is that Elijah is not necessarily “retreating” in order to solve some problems and get closer to the Lord.  In reality, he is depressed and willing to give up his calling and his life.  Elijah says he has experienced many trials and hardships in ministry, but that he has been faithful to the Lord.  Elijah’s reply seems to reveal a certain pride and self-pity.  God commands him to stand on the mount at the entrance to the cave, but it doesn’t appear that he does this until v.13. Or, he may have stepped out of the cave, only to flee back into it when the Lord shows up with manifestations of His power.

“The Lord passes by” reminds us of Moses’ experience on the mount (Exodus 33:21-22).  All Elijah needs is a fresh vision of the power and glory of God to get him going, right?  First, the Lord causes a great wind to pass by, a wind so strong that it breaks the rocks and tears up the mountain.  Then, the Lord causes a great earthquake that shakes the mountain, and finally the Lord brings a fire.  The technical word for these manifestations of power is “theophany”, which means “God appears”.  But, there is no direct message from the Lord in any of these manifestations.  What does God seek to do in Elijah’s life by means of these awesome and frightening object lessons?  For one thing, he is reminding His servant that everything in nature is obedient to Him…He doesn’t lack for a variety of tools in order to accomplish He work.  Yet, after the dramatics, there is a “still, small voice” which is translated, “a gentle whisper, or a tone of gentle blowing.”  This reference might remind us of Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus, concerning the power and working of the Holy Spirit. (John 3:1ff)  In fact, “still, small voice” is still a reference to the Holy Spirit that we use today.

When Elijah hears the voice, he steps out of the cave to meet the Lord. The mighty power and great noise of the previous displays did not stir him, but when he hears the still, small voice, he recognizes the voice of God.  And now, Elijah hears a repeat of the same question that the Lord posed in v.9 – “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  And Elijah, once again, repeats the same evasive answer. In essence, God seems to be saying to Elijah – “You called fire down from heaven, you had the prophets of Baal slain, and you prayed down a terrific rainstorm, but now you feel like a failure.  But, you must realize that I don’t usually work in a manner that is loud, impressive and dramatic.  My still, small voice brings the Word to the listening ear and heart.” This is an important message to consider.

In this day of mammoth meetings, loud music and high pressure everything, it is difficult for people to understand that God rarely works by means of the dramatic and the colossal. When he wanted to start the Jewish nation, He sent a baby – Isaac; and when He wanted to deliver that nation from bondage, He sent another baby – Moses; and when He wanted to teach His people a lesson in faith and trust, He sent a young boy named David to defeat a giant named Goliath. And, when God wanted to save a world, He sent His Son as a weak and helpless baby.  This offers some perspective for us when we consider God’s work among humankind.

Clashes at Ferguson, ISIS, Ebola, wars and rumors of wars…there is certainly plenty to occupy people’s thinking and give them reason to worry.  But, the environment we live in today in America, particularly, still does not approach the vile nature and culture of what Christians had to deal with in the first century.  Even in places in the world today where it seems that things are spinning out of control, much as Elijah thought his world was spinning out of control, there is still only one solution that truly matters – listening the God’s still, small voice.  What if God does want our attention?  What if God just wants to speak to us from the ruins that are left after disaster has passed us by?  What are you doing here in a nation that is fast forsaking its God?  What are you doing here when there is talk about removing the nativity from Christmas? What are you doing here in a nation that is so consumed with the rights of every religion that Christianity barely has any right at all?  The still, small voice calls out to you and to me -- "What are you doing here?"  One thing is certain -- listening to God, trusting in His Son, and being led by His Holy Spirit is the only way to peace and spiritual prosperity, whether we are in a disaster or in the calm.

Blessings, Don

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