Sometimes when I’m walking to work or out doing errands I listen to podcasts. Most of them are of the fitness sort, focusing on women’s health, workouts, interviews with coaches, and topics of that nature, but I also like listening to sermons. I’ve found that while I want to work on my ability to read and absorb information (because I think it helps us stay sharp to physically read!), I am an auditory learner, so I look forward to listening to the great information that’s available to us these days.
Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, is one of my favorites to listen to; I love how he explains Scripture and life as a Christian in a no-nonsense, honest way, and always brings us back to the truth of the Gospel. What is the Gospel? In Keller’s words, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope” (source).
What a truth to hold on to, and a description of the gospel that’s maybe a bit different from what you’ve heard before. So I love to think about these things in between clients and while I’m driving our little truck that has no radio. 😉
Recently I listened to a sermon by Keller called “The Still Small Voice,” (you can listen here for free), and it so resonated with me for a few reasons in my life right now that I wanted to dialogue about it a bit with you. We are all at such different life phases; this has never been more apparent to me than this summer on our trips thus far! From the Owyhee River where there are people with different stages of cancer (and both younger, middle aged, married, single, divorced) to the Yampa River trip (which included some couples, one expecting and some trying, others not interested in kids), to camping with our Calgary friends, most of whom have kids.
It’s easy to compare lives, phases and stages, and get discouraged or even dismayed that “we aren’t there yet” and wonder if we’re doing life the “right way.” We shared stories on all these trips about what God was doing in our lives, and it struck me again how everyone has their own story. Our journeys are SO incredibly different and yet God IS on the move in all of our lives, whether we can hear him roaring like a lion or whispering to us like a breeze.
Someone else in the Bible was feeling down after a tough time, and that story is found in I Kings 19:1-18…
Elijah was despondent; depressed and tired and worn out and discouraged. He was a prophet and King Ahab had just killed all the other prophets, his wife Jezebel following up with a note to Elijah to say, “you’re next” (my paraphrase from verse 2). So Elijah ran into the desert, sat down under a broom tree, and said, ” ‘I have had enough, Lord…Take my life.’ Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep” (4).
Exhausted, worried, discouraged his work and purpose are for nothing, and now fearing his life, Elijah is at his wit’s end.
Are you feeling like Elijah right now in your life?
Obviously we’ve all been there for different reasons, both “big” reasons in life like illness, personal loss, dreams unrealized and for “smaller” reasons like missing family, rough days at work, or little feuds with friends. We find Elijah in this same place, kind of like when you browse “People” magazine and see the “Stars, Just Like Us!” section.
So what did God do to Elijah in his time of need? Tell him he needed to buckle up because this was his calling? Send him off on a vacation to recuperate? Nope… He sent an angel to him who cooked him food, gave him water, and encouraged him to rest some more.
Strengthened by food and rest, Elijah got up and made the trek to Horeb, the mountain of God, and spent the night in a cave. He was rejuvenated and in a place to recharge and listen to God, and it’s at this time that God asks him a big question:
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (9)
I love God’s honest question to him and Elijah’s honest answer – “What’s going on?!” met with, “I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me and I’m left with nothing.” So God tells Elijah, still in his discouraged state, to go out and stand on the mountain in God’s presence, for the Lord is about to pass by (11).
A powerful wind shatters the rocks and whips by, but God is not there.
Then there is an earthquake, but God is not found in the earthquake.
Next a fire roars by, but God is not found there either.
Finally, “after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave” (12-13). Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
THIS is where God meets Elijah, and how he does it. He doesn’t show up in a big, glorious way but in a still, small voice. He asks Elijah again to share why he’s discouraged again, and God encourages and restores him, sending him back on his way.
There’s so much richness in this passage that I’m seeing thanks to Tim Keller’s sermon I referenced earlier. First of all, we see how God responds to us in our own ways. When Moses, on this same mountain, went out to meet God he was in a burning bush, so glorious that he couldn’t even look at God. But just when Elijah expects God to show up with a bang, he surprises the man by meeting him as a whisper. We can’t put God in a box! Although God’s character is steady, he meets us differently based on who we are and what we need, reminding us that when we think we have him figured out he surprises us. Elijah needed rest, needed time to recharge, and food. Sometimes when life is hard and we’re discouraged we need this same rest and the chance to slow down, unplug and maybe even go out for a nice meal in our favorite city or take a walk in the sea air in order to recover.
…Don’t you love the God knows our physical limitations and weaknesses?
Sometimes, however, we need to listen to what God’s trying to tell us; we need to know the voice of God to be able to recognize if he’s speaking in the fire or in the wind. And this requires time spent with him. So while there are moments when we need a rest and good meal, there are other times when we need to dig into God’s word and even perhaps fast from food to seek him when life feels overwhelming.
So… How does this all relate to our recent river trips with friends in different places of life? Well, it’s easy to compare journeys and get discouraged with where we are, and then feel disappointed in God’s work (or lack of work) in our lives.
BUT… It’s clear that it wasn’t that God had let Elijah down – God sees the bigger picture when we just see and feel and experience what’s right in front of us. Elijah was not actually upset because God wasn’t showing up in his life; when we dig a little deeper into the story we really that it wasn’t God who had failed Elijah but Elijah’s own plan that had failed him. He had attached God’s identity to his plan, was blaming God, and it was affecting his mood.
Have you ever done this? Thought you were meant for something and attached so much identity to the idea of running your own business, of traveling to certain countries, of being a mother, of being a runner, etc that when something DOESN’T happen you blame God? You become despondent and discouraged and can’t seem to find purpose anymore.
I’m reminded by this story of Elijah that God is always on the move, and that he knows what we need when we need it, even if we think that’s a sunny day and we get a storm. God restores us, picks us back up, and sets us straight when we need encouragement, urging us to set our eyes on what lies ahead. Maybe that’s NOT being a runner and dealing with an injury with grace; maybe that means adoption for those trying to have their own kids; maybe that means working a job you don’t love simply for money and with the best attitude possible, even if you haven’t got your big break yet.Will we still praise God even when we’re discouraged? Even when life isn’t going our way?
Maybe you need to get out for a trip or just on a Saturday and spend time resting and recovering. A pedicure, a sleep in, a meal out with friends with no phones. Perhaps you need to wander in the wilderness a bit and spend time communing with God.
Are you expecting a fire but only hearing a whisper in your life? Are you discouraged and feeling directionless or do you feel like you’re moving ahead with purpose right now? I’d love to hear if you connect with any part of Elijah’s story in your life right now and where you’re at.
May God meet you wherever this message finds you and may you listen for his voice whether it seems super obvious or hard to find. Live well & be well!