He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus." **************************************************************************************************** Elijah had won a great contest. He was a glorious victor of God one day, but the next day, when his life was threatened, it was like, “God who?” and he ran out into the wilderness and wanted to die. God sent angels to minister to him, give him food and encourage him for the long journey ahead. And Elijah gathers the strength to get out of his "wilderness" and travels to the mountain where God instructed. Doesn't that sound wonderful? The angel who cared for Elijah was sure sign that God had the situation in hand- and Elijah was empowered to move from his 'wilderness escape' to the place where he could (potentially) have a "mountaintop experience"... a face to face with God! But once he gets to the "mountain," Elijah finds he is not quite ready for the "experience." So instead, Elijah finds a cave in which to spend the night.
And I can't help but wonder... Why? When Elijah knows he could hear the voice of God, would he instead choose to hide in a cave?
Or maybe it isn't that farfetched. Wasn't it just yesterday that I was wandering around the caves of denial and despair? They are located just past the wilderness of escape... (shopping, drinking, working, surfing the internet and any other escape routes I have set up for myself to find temporarily numbness) And although God may have strengthened me to put down the bag of candy bars, (for the moment) I'm not quite ready to listen to anything else God may have to say. I don't want anyone- not even God, telling me my situation is, 'not so bad,' or that I can do something proactive to help myself, or God forbid quoting me a scripture! The only thing I want to hear from God or anyone else at that moment is that my situation is unique... and that no one in the history of humankind has ever felt like I do right now, or suffered like I am suffering... I want sympathy, and lots of it. Everyone should know of the pain I'm enduring.
Except- I know that isn't God's "MO". While God may dole out compassion in abundance, and allow and even encourage me to pour out all my pain and problems during prayer, there's also that "get up and eat" part of God that I don't want to hear from right now. The part of God that prompts ME to take some responsibility in my own life... and to act like a 'minister' of all things! I know that in my 'face-to-face' with God, I am going to come 'face-to-face' with myself, and then actually have to DO something... so instead of going to prayer, I go to a cave. And I have found over the years, that If I enter the right cave, it's dark enough to hide from just about anything. (Especially if I bring chocolate)
So as dawn brings a ray of sunlight to the cave that morning after, Elijah wakes… he unconsciously licks the ring chocolate off his lips, sits up, rubs his eyes and looks around his cave getting his bearings: "Where did all these wrappers come from? Oh that’s right… Oooooh, why did I do that to myself?"
But from deep inside his being, struggling for presence amidst the sounds of bloating and gas and indigestion… Elijah hears a little voice…”What are you doing here Elijah?” Elijah lets out a big sigh… “Maybe I’ll lay back down for a while... What am I doing here?... That stupid Jezebel… God I hate my life… why did I agree to do any of this anyway?” And he rolls over onto his side and pulls his knees to his chest… “I did what God told me, or at least I did what I thought God was telling me to do, and look how it turned out? I must have messed up, because Jezebel has killed everyone… And I’m the only idiot left who even believes in God… I can’t do this anymore… dang… where are those marshmallows?"
And as Elijah is mulling around the cave regretting that he didn’t pick up any graham crackers, (cause you can make s’mores without graham crackers)… the voice of God within continues; growing louder and more persistent… “Come on man, put the bag down… enough… get some air… get out of the cave and clear your head… come and meet with me… I’ll even come to you; you don’t have to do anything... just get out of this stench!”
And Elijah stops… and he thinks about this one. And as puts one last Twix bar into his mouth… (hey, ease up on him...he’s about to meet God in a face-to-face… maybe he needs a moment...) Elijah makes his way just about to the mouth of the cave- and the text says this…
“There was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”
And while the forces that threaten human life swirl around the outside of his cave, Elijah shudders. Who wouldn’t be afraid? But Elijah would have taken these big signs of earth’s fury a little differently that we would. Although we sometimes look at nature’s power and see God’s mighty hand, in ancient Israel this is the way God would show up! In fact, in all of the history of Israel, up to this point, every time God would appear, it was accompanied by one of these things- wind, earthquake, or fire.
And so although he knows God is out there, he waits in here… and when all the brouhaha has stopped outside the cave and everything is quiet… Elijah sighs…finally… silence. But the silence begins to have a strange effect on him… its drawing him nearer the mouth of the cave… urging him toward the way out. He gets his cloak and pulls it over his face and he inches his way toward the light- and the moment he gets to the entrance, God grabs him bear hug style and just holds him for a few minutes like a parent holding a frightened child… And Elijah’s body begins to relax in God’s arms, he realizes that God didn’t meet him in a way he'd come to expect... God wasn't in the turmoil or the storm or drama… but in the silence…
And God pulls him to arms length and holds him by both shoulders and looks into his eyes… “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And Elijah, with nowhere left to run, breaks down and pours out his fears, his hurt, his anger, even disappointment; “That stupid Jezebel… God I hate my life… why did I agree to do any of this anyway?...I did what you told me God, or at least I did what I thought You was telling me to do, and look how it turned out? I must have messed up, because Jezebel has killed everyone… And I’m the only idiot left who even believes in You… I can’t do this anymore… dang!”
But as he pours out everything he has been thinking and feeling over to the one who knows it already and is listening with love, Elijah finds himself being filled with God’s presence and with God’s peace.
It’s beautiful, really, when you think about this. That we can be free to give God all we have- all our fear, or anger or hurt or disappointment, even when we are angry or disappointed with God… and God listens with love, and fills us with God's presence and peace… I like that… I like venting too… and I want to be in a place filled with God’s presence and peace.
But here’s the thing… Elijah needed to move from where he was, into the silence in order to get to that place. That is a tougher one for me to do, because like most of us, I am more comfortable almost anywhere than just sitting in the silence.
Like Elijah, when things are going wrong, I retreat to my cave for security. And get so busy in the Twix bar moment, where my fear and anxiety builds as I try to figure things out myself… I can’t block out the drama…and I leave the cave too early and pour myself right back into the storm. I’ll let myself get blown around by the wind and dodge falling boulders- I’ll hang on when things get too shaky and I’ll even let myself be burned if necessary- and I’ll take those things as “part of it!”
Instead of welcoming silence, I fight it! It’s better than just sitting; waiting… doing nothing! I was raised with a German work ethic... there is no sitting still when there is work to be done… "Get back at it, Linda!" And I tell myself that is better than waiting for God in silence…even though I KNOW that is the way to God’s presence and peace… but it’s not productive! I could get thirty things done in the fifteen minutes I try to spend in silence waiting for God to show up… if God shows up!
That's a real fear, isn’t it? It's not the setting aside time that is so difficult... it's, "What if I don’t hear anything?" Or even, "What makes me think God has anything to say to me at all?" But as much as all of that makes sense, there may be even a bigger fear out there that keeps us from welcoming silence… and that is this: What if God does talk to me? And what if God has heard my cry and I pour everything out to God and God doesn’t respond how I want God to? What if that still small voice deep in my soul says something I don’t want to hear… or calls me to something I don’t want to do?
What if, in spending time with God, I realize that God is really telling me to get up off my cushion of candy wrappers and start living out what God wants for me? Because if I admit that what I am facing is not just about ME, that I have been called to ministry, or teaching, or reconciling with someone, or helping feed the hungry, or to heal the sick, then that means I have to risk. We could talk about that all day…but for those of you who are in this situation, here are words of instruction & hope…
After Elijah was filled with the presence and peace of God, and was ready to get on with the next step of his walk with the Lord, God showed him what path to take… “Go back the way you came…” in other words, “as you go from here… remember what has gotten you to this point…look where we have been together… I’ve called you, I’ve anointed you.. I’ve made you my own and have been with you throughout your life… remembering that I’ve promised to never leave you.”
I don’t know what God is calling you to do today… or what cave you may be hiding in… but I do know that you are God's own... that God has called you, and has promised to never leave you. God is drawing each of us, from wherever we are into new life in Christ. And If you stay quiet enough to listen, you can hear God calling in that still small voice… "Come and meet with me, Elijah… you don’t have to do anything… I’ll come to you. Just stay still… I’ll meet you in the silence."