Sunday, October 1, 2017

Listening for the Voice of God - 1 Kings 19: 9--11

 The purpose of Christian friendship isn’t just to keep us company, but to point us to Christ. If our Christian friendships are like our other friendships, then we are not experiencing all that Christian friendships can be. In times of trouble, we want to help, but are limited in the help we can offer. But if we can point our friends towards Jesus, there’s no limit to the amount of help they can receive.

A friend walks with you. A soul friend walks with you to Jesus. That’s what spiritual friends are--just walking to the Cross with a friend who cares. 

We can’t help a person find Jesus just by preaching to them. We must walk with them. Usually it’s not what we say, but what we don’t say. Just walk with them to the Cross where we meet Jesus together. Together, we hear the voice of God. 
Have you heard from God lately? How can we know if we’ve heard God?  There’s no better teacher of the art of listening to God than Elijah the prophet.

Elijah was everything we want a prophet to be. He dressed like a prophet. He wore a sheepskin cloak. He wore sandals or was barefoot--like a prophet out of a Hollywood movie. 

He was full of the Word of God and the power of God. His prayers caused a three-year drought. He raised a boy from the dead. On Mt. Carmel he defeated over eight hundred prophets of Baal in a duel before the whole country by calling down fire from heaven. If any man heard God, it was Elijah.

 Elijah was the perfect prophet—or so everyone thought. But he had “trust issues.” After his stunning victory on Mt. Carmel, Queen Jezebel sent out assassins to hunt him down and kill him. Despite having stood down the king with all his wizards and shamans, he ran in terror from the evil queen. In 1 Kings 19:4 we read: “He himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’”

He became depressed and he wanted to die. A short time before he brought down fire from heaven--now he couldn’t believe that God could help him escape one angry queen. One day he was full of faith, and the next, he cowered in fear. 
Most of us have an inconsistent faith. We sing about God taking away our burdens. We crow about having a personal relationship with God. Then we act as if God isn’t there when we are anxious.

 It would be nice if someone could walk with us to the Cross. Instead, our friends just preach at us to “hang in there.” When we are afraid, being told to believe is like being shot and having someone tell you to stop bleeding!

Psychologists have a field day with Elijah. Some have written based on this passage that he showed symptoms of bipolar depression—with his huge blasts of manic energy, followed by a deep depression. Maybe so, but when we get exhausted, it’s easy for us to get depressed. When we are depressed, we no longer feel the presence of God.  Our deepest fears take over. But God spoke to Elijah and encouraged him. 

God doesn’t take the sources of our anxieties away, but He gives us courage and strength to face them. Most of all, he assures us that He loves us.

When we are depressed, it isn’t what God says that chiefly matters. It’s knowing God is with us. Imagine being in stuck in a mine that has collapsed. You are alone in the bowels of the earth. You want to hear a human voice from the outside world. If you hear anything, you know rescue is on the way. You don’t care how they reach you—you just want to know they hear you and are on their way. When cut off from God, we listen for His voice from the other side to assure us that He’s there.

One message got through to Elijah---go to Mt. Sinai, and God would speak to Him there. So Elijah went there, hid in a cave, and waited for God to speak.

When we are listening for God’s voice, whether we are doing it alone or on behalf of someone else, we expect it will come the way we heard Him in the past. If we are Bible readers, we read the Bible, expecting to hear God there. If we are churchgoers, we go to church and think the preacher will give us a message from God. If we are nature lovers, we walk in the woods and listen with God among the trees.  But God doesn’t speak the same way all the time.  God wants us to be attentive to Him. He speaks to us in a thousand different ways, not just one.

Elijah heard God’s voice just by opening his mouth. God spoke through the wind in His own lungs. He spoke in the fire on Mt. Carmel when He destroyed the prophets of Baal. He had heard God in the shaking of Ahab’s kingdom. Now, God was not in the fire, the wind, the thunder or the earthquakes.  He did not hear God in them, as he had done before.
 When we are depressed or far from God, we don’t see him in the usual ways. He doesn’t appear to us in worship, or in Bible study. Our prayers feel like they just hit the ceiling and bounce off. But then, in an unexpected way, God speak to us and we hear Him.

Don’t misinterpret this passage to say that God always speaks in a still, small voice. There is no reason to assume that God will speak through any particular way. God’s voice is coming to us from every direction. It’s only our inner blindness that keeps us from hearing Him everywhere. 

Martin Luther heard God’s voice first in a thunderstorm, when a lightning bold hit a nearby tree. Soldiers have heard Him in shipwrecks and foxholes. God’s way of speaking is not always quiet. But what Elijah needed right then was a still, small voice speaking in quietness and solitude.

Let’s imagine that you were Elijah’s friend, and you were sitting with him in that cave. Elijah needs to hear from God, but how can you help him hear.  Our first instinct would be to try cheering him up, or lecturing him about the voice of God. We might try reasoning with him about all the great things God had done in the past. No doubt our efforts would have resulted in just making more wind. But God’s voice was not in the wind. 

Then we try a little fire. We say, “What’s wrong with you?  Come on, let me light a fire under you.”
It doesn’t work. 

Then we try a little thunder. We think if we keep saying the same thing louder, they will eventually hear us.
It doesn’t work. Elijah wasn’t deaf—only depressed.

Spiritual depression is a kind of deafness, but speaking loudly doesn’t stop it. It is not a lack of hearing, but a lack of recognizing what we hear is a spiritual voice. We go through depression or commit a sin that robs us of spiritual joy, and we cry out like Jesus on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But God is still speaking to us. We just went temporarily deaf. 

Many of you who read these words can think of friends or loved ones near you who are lonely, depressed, in sin, or estranged from God. Maybe you want them to hear from God and be encouraged. But how? We must listen to God ourselves. We must be willing to sit with them in silence, listening along with them for God to reveal Himself. We must allow the Lord to speak in His own unique way to the soul of another. 

Most Christian churches are uncomfortable with silence. We like a lot of wind in our services. We don’t like quiet in our worship services, so we fill every minute with music or talking. When we evangelize, we keep or mouths moving. When we teach, we are talking, too. In most of our churches, everything is built around the sermon, which is twenty to thirty minutes of nonstop talking. The pulpit is central, and usually lifted high. We think of prayer as talking aloud and if we are shy about talking aloud, then we think we can’t pray. Our church standards require the preaching of the Word at every service—not just reading it, but preaching it. A Presbyterian minister robe is a scholar’s robe. It looks just like a graduation robe, because we are supposed to be filled with words and able to talk. We think that hearing a preacher’s voice is the same as hearing God’s voice, as if our voices and God’s voices are the same. They are not. I speak to the ear, God speaks to the heart. 

We carry that same idea into the realm of soul friendships. We think we have to be teaching and telling people things. Our job is to talk them out of whatever they believe to be true. If we aren’t making a lot of wind, God can’t speak.

My Pentecostal friends seem to be looking for an earthquake every Sunday. They refer to a good service by saying, “God really shook the house!” But God isn’t in the wind, or in the earthquake. Wind and earthquakes can both reveal Jesus, but He isn’t either of them. Jesus is bigger than the results we see.

In our relationships with the people we love, we think that we must move them, not God. If we haven’t talked them into seeing our view, or if we haven’t shaken them out of their bad mood, then we feel we have failed. We can’t be the voice of God to another. In our zeal to make them hear God’s words, we just put up barriers to them hearing it. We push too hard, and they cannot hear God.

We hear God when we listen. Fire, thunder and earthquakes wear us out in the end. We can’t always have earthquakes. It’s in stillness, when we listen, that we hear the voice of God.

There is a difference between solitude, silence, and stillness. Solitude and silence are things we create in our environment by withdrawing from people and turning off the noise. Stillness is something that exists in our souls. If we are alone in a quiet room with minds that are anxious and full of thoughts, then we are still drowning out the voice of God. Stillness is something else. It is sitting alert and attentive, like a deer listening in the words, The psalms put it this way in Ps. 123: 2, “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant, to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God,”

The next time you are tempted to give someone advice, or fuss at them about their behavior, or preach at them, don’t do it. Just listen and pray. Don’t fall victim to the urgency of those who believe that God is not capable of speaking for himself.  Instead, trust Jesus to speak to their heart. He may use you, and give you the right words to say, or he may not. Either way, He will speak. It may be that the best way to help someone hear God is to say nothing, and listen in prayerful silence. 

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