Elijah’s life and ministry had been going pretty well. He was a prophet in ancient Israel during the reign of an absolutely wicked King named Ahab. It was a day when more people believed in the Canaanite god named Baal than the Lord God of Israel.
But Elijah was standing strong in the Lord. God had provided for Elijah. God used Elijah to show Ahab that his Baal god didn’t have as much power as he imagined as God withheld rain for a time. God used Elijah to provide for a poor widow and her son, and when the son died Elijah brought him back to life.
And then there was the confrontation between the prophets of Baal and Elijah. Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of the Canaanite god to call on their god while he called on the Lord his God and they would see who would respond. Elijah called out to the living God and fire came from heaven. It was Elijah’s God who showed up while Baal was silent showing the Lord God was not some statue but living and real.
This was a tremendous victory of the prophet.
But when the heartless Queen Jezebel heard that Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and killed them, she put out a bounty on Elijah. It says Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
You would think that after seeing God work so powerfully that Elijah would again be ready to step up and courageously stand for God. But it says Elijah became afraid. And he fled for his life. Elijah went from great victory to feeling defeated.
He gets to Beersheba, which interestingly enough is where Jacob – who was the main player in our sermon last Sunday – was going away from. Elijah gets to Beersheba in the southern desert of Israel and goes a day’s journey into the wilderness by himself. Surely Jezebel and her henchmen can’t find him now.
But he comes to a broom brush tree, lies down, and prays to the Lord. This is Elijah’s prayer: “I have had enough, Lord.”
I have had enough.
Enough of the battles with Ahab and Jezebel.
Enough of the battles with the false prophets.
Enough of helping others.
Enough running away and hiding.
So Elijah asks the Lord to take his life. He wants to die. He is not suicidal. He will not take his life. But if the Lord wants to take him that is just fine with him.
Have you ever felt like you have had enough?
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We overextended ourself, running on adrenaline and finally crashed. We end up discouraged, bruised, weary.
We say, “No one cares. My efforts haven’t been making any difference. Nothing is changing. We have had enough.
Elijah is exhausted and out of hope. He is a broken man. He is depressed and burned out. He goes to sleep.
Elijah is awakened by an angel who shows him freshly baked bread and water and tells him to eat. He does and he goes right back to sleep.
The angel awakens him a second time and tells him to eat again because the journey is too much for Elijah. He does and then he travels forty days and forty nights to a place called Horeb where he finds a cave at the mountain of God. Horeb is where God spoke to the people of Israel through Moses and made them his people. At Horeb God spoke with fire, smoke and thunder.
Elijah spends the night in the cave. And the Lord asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I don’t think the Lord asked him that because the Lord needed to know. The Lord knew. I think it was the Lord guiding Elijah in a little self-reflection.
I’ll bet the Lord asks us that at times. We may not think it is the Lord but it is. We go and go and go. Things happen. And we end up in a place we never thought we would be. And we wonder, “How did I get here and what am I doing here?”
Elijah answers by informing the Lord. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
Elijah sets his case before the Lord, how faithful he has been, serving and working for God amidst great hardships. He feels that he is the only one even trying to live for God. The culture is going to pot. The Israelites have broken the covenant with God and now are trying to kill the prophets. He is the only one left.
The Lord tells Elijah to go and stand on the mountain. He is to stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord because the Lord is about to pass by.
The Lord is about to pass by. Won’t this be something!
“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.”
A gentle whisper. The word can also mean “a thin silence,” or “a still, small voice,” or “sheer silence.”
What does that sound like?
The quietest place I have ever been was a hermitage in the wilderness of the mountains in the western part of Idaho, about two hours north of Boise. I used to go there for prayer retreats and quiet when I was pastoring a church in the southwest part of rural Idaho. The hermitage was run by two Benedictine nuns. There were four dwellings, a chapel and a common house.
It was about two miles off the highway. There was no sign. There was a gravel road between two mile markers. That is what you were told. Don’t miss it.
There was nothing out there. You couldn’t hear the road. There weren’t even many birds. It was absolutely desolate and quiet. You heard nothing.
One of my favorite things was to sit all alone in the chapel as the sun was going down, with no lights, until it got totally dark. And still. And absolutely silent.
One time I went several weeks after 9/11. I was visiting with Sister Mary Beverly in the common house. These sisters had no television, no radio, no computer, and no phone. They lived in silence. They do this in order to pray and hear God. It is a profound life.
I asked her how she knew 9/11 had happened. And she said, “Because it got real quiet.”
I already thought this was the quietest place on God’s earth. How could it get anymore quiet? She said that she realized the airplanes had stopped flying. Her life was so immersed in silence that when planes stopped flying she knew something was up.
The Lord came to Elijah not in earthquake, wind or fire but in a still, small voice. Sheer silence.
And it says when Elijah heard it then he came out of the cave. What did he hear in that silence? Whatever it was that is what brought him out of the cave.
The Lord again asks him what he is doing there. Elijah again gives his spiel about how much he has been giving and how hard it is and that it’s only him, no one else.
The Lord gives him a task. He is to go anoint a couple of kings – part of the prophet’s job in those days was to anoint kings. And he was to groom Elisha to succeed him. Oh, and by the way, the Lord had seven-thousand people in the land who have not bowed their knee to Baal but have also been faithful to the Lord, just like Elijah. He is not alone and things aren’t as bad as he imagines.
The Lord let Elijah run and fall exhausted because he wanted to get him to the place where he could speak to the prophet and Elijah would actually listen. How does the Lord get us to the place where he can speak to us? For Elijah, he is scared, exhausted, and alone.
How many times people have come to a crisis in life before they start paying attention to the Lord? We end up in a hospital bed, a recovery program, alone in an empty house. Sometimes it takes that before we get real with God.
But it doesn’t have to be that difficult. It’s in the quiet place that we can hear God. Don’t assume God is only in the big, showy, splashy things. He was not in that storm, earthquake or fire. We think God is going to flash us some big sign. We want a billboard, “Do this Phil!” We expect him to shake our lives. He can work that way, but not always.
We need regular times of quiet with the Lord. We do this when we need to concentrate or think or accomplish some project. We shut the door, tell people not to disturb us, or go away where we can’t be found. So with God. We need those quiet times away from news, phone, computer, and people where we can open his Word, seek him in prayer, just sit at his feet and receive what he might have for us.
It’s there that we can take our worries to Jesus. It’s there we can find refuge from the disappointments of life. It’s in that quiet place that we can pour out of hearts to the Lord and know that he hears us and knows exactly where we are.
Jesus lived in the quiet of his Father, making it his custom to hear the still, small voice.
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
And if you read this verse it comes between lots of activity. Before this all the town comes to Jesus seeking healing and deliverance. He gives himself to others who need help. After this Jesus tells his disciples he it is time to hit the road and preach in various towns.
But in between, Jesus gets off by himself to be quiet with the Father. A “nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action.” Maybe this was the secret of Jesus’ ministry. After all the activity there is rest. After all the movement there is stillness. In the midst of being involved with everything and everyone there is withdrawal. In the midst of action there is contemplation.
“In the lonely place Jesus finds the courage to follow God’s will and not his own; to speak God’s words and not his own; to do God’s work and not his own.”
And I’m sure there were times when Jesus went to be quiet when he was tired, depressed or conflicted. We get a glimpse of that when he prays in Gethsemane.
Psalm 46 begins, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” And then it goes on to say how the mountains are shaking, the waters are roaring, the nations are raging. But then we get this: “Be still and know that I am God!”
Be still and know that I am God. Commotion can absolutely take away any awareness of God’s presence.
Part of this story is about God recalling Elijah. Elijah was running. Elijah was done.
God never asked Elijah to get out of his funk. Elijah was depressed and worn down. Sometimes those things need their time. The Lord feeds him. Lets him get some sleep. Lets him go on a little further. Listens to Elijah complain. He never condemns him. But after all that then he comes to Elijah at that cave and gives him something to do. Sometimes a sense of purpose gets us out of our depression. The Lord gets him back on the field. It comes by hearing the Lord’s voice. Elijah leaves and walks on.
This is a noisy world. Pandemic, political chaos, and Putin are screaming. Our lives are crowded with activity. To keep an awareness of God we need to hear that still, small whisper of a voice.
I hope you build some recreation into your life. I hope you build some work into your life. I hope you build some sleep into your life. I hope you build some service into your life. I hope you build some learning into your life.
But I also hope you build some quiet.
It’s in that quiet that we become aware of God. That he is there. That he is speaking. That he might even have something to say to us.
Prayer: Lord, make us more aware of you. Especially amidst the noise, the frenetic pace, the frustration of our lives. Give us ears to hear, even in the smallest and quietest of things. Amen.