I get excited when I think about moments in history like that. I want to be a part of moments like those. I hope some day people can look back at some event from my life and say: “Wow, look at that. Now that moment really made a difference!” There was a man who lived a long time ago who had such a life; his name was Elijah. He had many of those miraculous moments, and we've talked about the one that might be the biggest, the day he had a competition against the 400 prophets of Baal.
Elijah issued a challenge. Both sides made an altar, ready for sacrifice, without any fire, call on the god of Baal to send fire. Nothing happens, all day long. Elijah begins taunting them! This is a great story! Finally they give up, and it’s Elijah’s turn. He took 12 stones: one for each of the tribes, dug a trench around the altar and poured four jars of water on the altar and the wood three times! Elijah prayed once. Fire came down from heaven, burned the sacrifice, burned the wood, burned the stones and the soil! Licked up the water in the trench. The people who had been hobbling back and forth between Baal and YHWH fell down and worshiped God. What a sight! Elijah got to experience one of those moments. A life-changing event. A history-altering moment. In that moment, he changed the course of Israelite history! But the miracles for Elijah didn’t stop there.
Elijah then prayed for God to end the three-year drought. You think Texas droughts are bad?! Because of Elijah’s actions, God sent rain to the land. Then, to top it all off, God gave Elijah power to outrun a chariot! Once Elijah saw the sign that the drought would end, he ran to Jezreel ahead of Ahab to bring him the news. Ahab was in a chariot, but God gave Elijah the speed to outrun him! Three amazing events in one day: competition on Mt. Carmel, end of drought, super-human speed! And just after witnessing these powerful moments, Elijah has one of his weakest moments.
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, how he had killed all Baal’s prophets with the sword. Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah with this message: “May the gods do whatever they want to me if by this time tomorrow I haven’t made your life like the life of one of them.”
Elijah was terrified. He got up and ran for his life. He arrived at Beer-sheba in Judah and left his assistant there. He himself went farther on into the desert a day’s journey. He finally sat down under a solitary broom bush. He longed for his own death: “It’s more than enough, Lord! Take my life because I’m no better than my ancestors.” He lay down and slept under the solitary broom bush.
Then suddenly a messenger tapped him and said to him, “Get up! Eat something!” Elijah opened his eyes and saw flatbread baked on glowing coals and a jar of water right by his head. He ate and drank, and then went back to sleep. The Lord’s messenger returned a second time and tapped him. “Get up!” the messenger said. “Eat something, because you have a difficult road ahead of you.” Elijah got up, ate and drank, and went refreshed by that food for forty days and nights until he arrived at Horeb, God’s mountain. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
The Lord’s word came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:1–9 CEB)Elijah ran for his life? Hadn’t God just delivered him from hundreds of false prophets? Didn’t God just answer Elijah’s prayer to end a three year drought? Didn’t God just give Elijah amazing power to outrun a chariot? What was Elijah thinking? He experienced God in ways I only dream about! Have you ever read this story and wondered, “Why did God waste these things on Elijah?” I wish God would have allowed these things to happen to me! Instead of celebrating, however, Elijah ran away from God. He says several times in this chapter, “I’m the only prophet left!” Remarkably, after all of this, Elijah felt all alone.
He runs to Horeb (or Sinai) where Moses had been given the Law. Maybe a subtle reminder from the author of another great time in Israel’s history. There are some striking parallels between this story of Elijah and the story of Moses in the wilderness. But that is a story for another day. But, notice here what God does in chapter 19 of I Kings. Elijah slept. God sent angels to bring him food. Then Elijah slept again. Then God sent angels again to feed him. What is happening here? God is reminding Elijah that he needed rest and food. God is reminding him that even the greatest workers for God need rest. Even the prophet who had done all of these things needed rest. Especially when you feel all alone, you may need some rest! But look at something else that happens here. God makes Elijah stand outside of his cave and like Moses did centuries before on the same mountain, Elijah looks at the presence of God pass by.
The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:11–13 CEB)God was not in the powerful wind. God was not in the earthquake. Instead, God was in the gentle whisper. Let me ask you a question: Why wasn’t God in the wind or the earthquake? Isn’t God supposed to be involved in magnificent moments? Isn’t God supposed to be present in huge events? Remember the competition on Mt. Carmel? The dramatic end of the three-year drought? How God gave Elijah strength to outrun that chariot? Those 1st century martyrs? Those 16th century church reformers like Martin Luther? Barton Stone and the Cane Ridge Revival? The other great event that took place on this mountain? Why wasn’t God in the wind or the earthquake? I thought God was supposed to cause huge history-altering events! God does, but God also comes in a whisper!
When someone needs a ride to a doctor’s appointment and a Christian brother or sister offers them a ride, God is there! When a mother or father dies and the Christian family sits with the children, God is there! As a minister, I often get to see the worst of people, and the best of people. I know of a family who allowed God to make a serious impact through their act of kindness, and no one ever knew about it. A young family wanted to enter ministry together. They had young children at home, and once the children arrive: diapers, food, not much extra money to go around. This young father and husband wanted to go to school to become a minister. But that would mean incurring a tremendous amount of debt. Another family heard about his desire to go into ministry. They contacted me and asked if they could pay for his education anonymously. I served as the conduit for that relationship. The young family never knew who it was that paid for his education. But he has completed the program and is in ministry today. God is all around us working in the lives of people. In this community, in this church, big events are nice, but let’s never forget that God’s power is not confined to big events.
The more I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t be anxiously awaiting a huge, history changing event. Maybe I should be looking for God in the small things of life. Maybe I should be searching for ways to be used by God in the ordinary things of life. As you go though life, do you fail to recognize God’s work around you? Are you looking for God only in the powerful wind? Are you looking for God only in the earthquake? I think this lesson from God came at the perfect time for Elijah. At just this moment, Elijah thought he was the only one left in the world serving God.
Sometimes life feels like that. But God reminds us here that we are never alone. God and God’s people are actively changing the world around us. Sometimes in big ways and more often in small ways, I pray God will give us the ability to stop looking for God only in the history-changing events and to be still long enough to hear the whispers of God all around us!