There are times I wish God would do something stunning, jaw-dropping, attention getting, so that his existence would be undeniable. The world does not seem concerned with him. At all.
At least that’s the way it looks to me. The United States has become so divided and corrupted that every aspect of government, business, news media and entertainment strikes me as motivated by a money and/or power grab. There are days that I can’t even bring myself to read the newspaper.
Where is God? What is he doing?
Last night I attended a World Relief Dupage/Aurora event highlighting an updated and expanded book by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang, entitled Welcoming the Stranger. The book was first published in 2009, and both authors talked about how dramatically things have changed since then. Immigration policy in America is still a mess, but the church has stepped up their involvement, support and advocacy for refugees and immigrants.
Individual Christians leading everyday lives have responded. I’m reminded of a story about Elijah and God’s whisper.
Elijah was an Old Testament prophet who was fiery, bold, and zealous, and he liked impressive displays of power. One of the most dramatic Bible stories is about Elijah, a famine and King Ahab, one of the worst kings of Israel. Elijah declared a three year drought, which was obviously hard on the people of Israel, but he did it so that they would return to God.
At the end of three years, Elijah had the king bring all the people and the prophets of Baal, the god they worshiped, to Mount Carmel. Elijah challenged them to make a decision.
How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him. I Kings 18:21
Elijah told the prophets of Baal to ask their god to send fire down on the bull they had prepared. They prayed, danced, shouted, and cut themselves from morning until evening. Nothing. All day the people watched the prophets dancing and slashing without effect.
When it was time for the Jews’ evening sacrifice, Elijah interrupted and called the people over to his side. He prepared the bull and drenched the altar with water. Elijah prayed:
“Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again. I Kings 18:36-37
He had set up a showdown. It would be perfectly clear who was God and who wasn’t. Elijah’s desire was to demonstrate to the Israelites that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the only God, that he was powerful and that he wanted them to turn back to him.
In answer to Elijah’s prayer, fire came down from heaven so decisively that it licked up the water that had overrun into trenches around the altar. The people fell to the ground and said, “The Lord – he is God!” (I Kings 18:39)
No doubt. It had been definitively proven. The Lord, he is God.
But it didn’t make much difference to the leadership of Israel. Ahab didn’t seem to change. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, was still after Elijah, so he ran for his life to a cave in Mt. Horeb, ‘the mountain of God.”
There the Lord spoke to Elijah.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “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.”
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
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. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. I Kings 19:9-13 (Italics mine)
Perhaps God was saying to Elijah, and to us, that the wind, earthquake and fire, like Elijah’s Mt. Carmel showdown, are not the only ways God works. No doubt some people changed their minds and turned back to God, but the leadership of Israel remained stubbornly resistant.
We tend to focus on big names, politicians, influencers in business, entertainment and the church; the wind, earthquakes and fire of our society. God can, and does, work through them, but Elijah’s story reminds me that he often does his best work through everyday people living everyday lives. Nothing special. It will never make the news.
Soerens talked about churches that have invested time and money to teach English to countless immigrants and their children, have gladly received immigrants of all races and nationalities into their churches, and have welcomed refugees at the airport and helped them with everything from equipping their apartments with pots, pans, blankets and towels to showing them how to register their children for school. These people have responded to God’s whisper. It is very good work.
Our leadership may not change any more than King Ahab and Jezebel did, but God’s message to Elijah was that he had many people who were listening to his whisper, and that is a message that should encourage and embolden us.
As we lead our everyday lives, if we listen to the whisper of God and serve him obediently, we may have more of an eternal impact than the politicians, entertainers and influencers.
The whispers of God are powerful.
What do you think? Have you known people who listened to God’s whispers and made a difference?