Where is God?

It has been a while since I have posted anything, but my wife posted the following to my Facebook and it made me realize that lately I have not been paying attention to God’s presence in my life.

God Whispers

It made me think of Elijah in the Old Testament and the despair that came upon him.

[1Ki 19:1-18]
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks 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 still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

So here’s Elijah, exhausted, hungry, pursued by his enemies, thinking his life is now worthless, and asking to die.  But God has other ideas.  He feeds his prophet miraculously for forty days and nights, so Elijah can gain his strength for the tasks that God has waiting for him.

But even then Elijah sounds a bit petulant.  When God asks what he’s doing there, Elijah gives a list of his grievances, as if he had rehearsed them in his mind over and over.  It is almost an accusation against God for the situation he finds himself in, as if God owes him an explanation, and not acknowledging in any way the recent care he has received without any of his own effort.  So God gets his attention, not with a tornado, not with an earthquake, not with a fire, but (as the Hebrew poet said) with a “whisper in the breeze.”

Elijah’s words are the same, but his demeanor is very different.  Now he is a supplicant, telling his God of his troubles, but now seemingly in anticipation of instructions. God gives him those instructions, showing him that his life is not over, that he has great plans for Elijah.  And not only that, but Elijah is also not alone.  There’s not just a handful of men ready to serve God like in the days of Gideon, but seven thousand men!

It is easy to let the circumstances of life become the focus of our energy.  Like Elijah, we look at what led us to where we are and what we think is going to happen next, and figure that there’s no use, that whatever we might do will not make any difference and we want to just give up.  But God is always right here, keeping track of everything.  Sometimes “the journey is too great for thee,” and you have to slow down and replenish, and maybe not much happens in your life that seems of any value.  But listen for the whisper in the breeze.  Listen for the plans that God has for you, and know that there are others around you who are waiting for the same whispering words.

[1Co 2:9 KJV] But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

Advertisements

A Matter of Degrees

It’s coming up on Sunday and time to go to church meeting. But you’re not feeling very motivated to go. Mostly it’s because of some of the people there. You know how it can be, the bossy sister who always has unsolicited advice, the brother who seems to only see people’s faults (especially “the young people”). Maybe it’s just you, or maybe just your congregation. What to do?

Back in the days of Moses, God set up his seven feasts in Jerusalem. In particular he said, “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD (Ex 23:7)”. Everyone had to leave home and go to Jerusalem to keep the feasts. Psalm 120 through Psalm 134 are each denoted as “A Song of Degrees,” and it has been suggested that these psalms were sung by the children of Israel as they went up to Jerusalem and then up to the temple. The first one doesn’t sound very promising:

Psalm 120 [A Song of degrees.]
In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me.
Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, [and] from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, [that] I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
I [am for] peace: but when I speak, they [are] for war.

“I’m OK, it’s all those other people!” You can hear the conversations: “Those men from Gad think they’re really something. And don’t get me started on the Judeans. They act like they’re the only ones who know what God wants. Boy, it’s going to be long trip.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? After being away from God’s people for any length of time, even a week, we can begin to dwell on a lot of negative aspects of our experiences with them.

But we can turn our eyes to the Lord as the next Psalm reminds us:

Psalm 121 [A Song of degrees.]
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

You get to the church/chapel and you head inside and you see your brethren and sisters and think about why you’re there. The next psalm takes a different tone:

Psalm 122 [A Song of degrees of David.]
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.
Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:
Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.
For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, [and] prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace [be] within thee.
Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.

Why are you there? For “the testimony,” “to give thanks unto the Lord.” In spite of any misgivings, you can take up the attitude in the last two verses, “For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace [be] within thee. Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.” After all, it’s not “my” church or even “our” church, it is “the house of the Lord.” It’s what Paul wrote to remind Timothy, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim 3:15)”

The next one takes it a bit further. Psalm 123:3 says, “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt.” Turn your critical eye upon yourself, and you will see again that we need the Lord’s mercy because of our OWN shortcomings. Jeremiah wrote, “[It is of] the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. [They are] new every morning: great [is] thy faithfulness. (Lam 3:22-23)” Even as believers we must depend on God’s mercy to keep our heart right.

Psalm 124 ends with, “Our help [is] in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Three psalms back it was MY help that came from the Lord; now it is OUR help. Psalm 126:3 says, “The LORD hath done great things for us; [whereof] we are glad.” What an improvement! Instead of “I am this” and “they are that,” it is all of us together, recipients of God’s goodness and grace, and together we are glad. When we get to Psalm 133, look how different things are:

Psalm 133 [A Song of degrees of David.]
Behold, how good and how pleasant [it is] for brethren to dwell together in unity!
[It is] like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, [even] Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
As the dew of Hermon, [and as the dew] that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, [even] life for evermore.

Now we remember why we’re here! To give thanks to the Lord for what he has done for us, and to enjoy the fellowship of the saints. It’s good, it’s pleasant, it is precious! We can turn our eyes away from ourselves to the one who alone is worthy. So we can end with the last psalm in the group:

Psalm 134 [A Song of degrees.]
Behold, bless ye the LORD, all [ye] servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD.
Lift up your hands [in] the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.
The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.

I’ll bet by then you can hardly wait to come back next week!