It’s like a reverse Elijah story.
Maybe you know the one. Picture Elijah the prophet, dusty, wild-eyed, storming in and out of the royal court to declare the world of the Lord and then disappearing to let others deal with the consequences. But then picture him on the run from Queen Jezebel and her threats, collapsed in a wilderness cave, exhausted and dusty and terrified.
Until God came and both put him in his place and encouraged him at the same time.
How he did it, though, that’s the real story. A whirlwind whipped past the cave, shattering rock. Then an earthquake, making the ground tremble. Then a fire, blazing with heat even in the desert. But God wasn’t in any of them.
And then there came a quiet whisper, a still small voice. And Elijah listened, and he knew. It was him.
You have to think that Elijah was waiting, all along, for God to speak in something loud and dramatic. That each time a force of nature swept past his little cave he wondered, “Is this it? Is this what I’ve been waiting for?” I even wonder if he was a little disappointed when, time after time, it wasn’t. If maybe he wondered if God was going to show up after all.
I say that because that’s what I would have felt. Maybe you know what I mean. Even when we don’t try to, we place certain expectations on God. We schedule him in during the most likely times, and when he doesn’t arrive, we are disappointed.
I didn’t feel nearness to God in worship today? Whoa, something must be wrong. My Bible reading didn’t result in any electrifying revelations of truth I had never noticed before? Maybe I did something wrong. I spent time praying and fasting without receiving a clear vision of what I should do? Oh no, what if I’m not even saved?
It should be said at this point that I’m not saying it’s okay to just kind of accept apathy, to shrug off spiritual dry spells as something you just have to wait out and let the Holy Spirit fix on his own while you’re off popping popcorn for a Netflix binge.
What I am saying is that sometimes God doesn’t show up in ways we can predict and measure. Sometimes, there are periods of silence where you were expecting clarity and don’t get it…and then God speaks in a totally unexpected way.
That’s pretty cool.
In my case, there were several times this month where I figured I would get the answers and life lessons I was seeking, all in a nice, neat package delivered in my timing. And that didn’t happen. Nope. Nothin’. There were perfect settings for spiritual revelations. I was doing all the right things, and with that came a set of expectations…that went unmet when God didn’t give me the answers I wanted.
And then there came The Avengers: Age of Ultron. And I listened, and I knew. It was him.
At this point, you should be laughing. Because I am, of course, referring to the latest lighthearted popcorn muncher of the summer, written by an agnostic. Eight superheroes crammed into one film, with explosions and robots and dramatic slow-motion and more witty quips than any group of normal individuals could expect to deliver in a lifetime, much less in a few days of apocalyptic crisis. This was not a thought-provoking indie film or even a literary drama. It was straightforward Marvel thrills and one-liners and car chases.
As I watched it, though, several disconnected things I had been mulling over clicked into place. And some of my motivations became clear, and I realized some things I needed to change, and I may have actually cried once…at the completely wrong place in the movie for someone to be crying. (This happens to me way too often. Seriously.)
I’m not going to go into what I learned because A. God and I are still working through that, B. that’s not really the point, and C. I wouldn’t want to give anything away from the movie if you haven’t yet seen it.
What matters is this: be careful limiting God’s ability to speak to you, because you don’t want to miss the message just because it comes in a surprising way. If anything, that’s what makes it an even greater testimony to God’s power.
For Elijah, God had to take the noise and power of nature and defy the prophet’s expectations by speaking quietly instead. For me, God had to take the silence and humility of spiritual disciplines, the ways he’s “supposed to” work, the times I requested that he show up…and speak instead in a blow-the-sound-systems loud action flick with explosions in the background. Still small voice indeed.
But, hey, that’s what God does. Every time we think we have him figured out, every time we have a box that seems orthodox enough to contain him, he bursts out of it.
Didn’t see that coming.