I was tired. I was sick. I was very much alone…AND, I was surprised this was happening to young, healthy me. It was my first summer school in college – the summer of 1981 – and, as I looked into the mirror in the little restroom on my Lutheran fraternity’s first floor, I saw myself in a new way. I was covered…covered with red spots, all over the upper half of my body. And I. Freaked. Out.
I called my folks and they told me to go to the doctor, which I did. She said I had hives due to a virus that had also caused my throat to be sore. Because it was a virus, I had to isolate myself for two weeks. Get some food and drink as you go back to your room, she told me, and let everyone in the house know what you have, and then hunker down. Which I did, but I did NOT like it.
No one really knows what it’s like to be completely isolated until one has to go through it. Isolation is especially aggravating when it is not your choice to do so – when you are forced to be alone. Well, my illness forced it on me, and at the time I got a little depressed about it. Later, near the end of those two weeks, my parents drove three hours to campus to cheer me up and physically check in on me, but, other than that, I had only one companion at that time – I’ll get to who that was at the end here.
I bring my 1981 experience to this devotion for obvious reasons. We have been in and out of voluntary and forced isolation for months and, for the most part, most of us don’t like it. To mention a trivial example first, you can see how long my hair is getting, if you were to go back and review my Thursday devotion after Thursday devotion; it’s obvious I have NOT tried to get it cut – yet. Many of us having long, itchy hair Just adds to the general disgruntlement we are apt to feel these days, and that growing disgruntlement CAN have spiritual implications. Let me give you an example using terminology some Christians use. I know some Christian small groups – wonderful people that meet once a week and say to each other, “Okay, let’s first share with each other times this past week when God was close to you and times this past week when God was far away from you.” Well, you see, the problem I have with THAT approach is the fact that God is ALWAYS close to you, even if you do not FEEL that God is close to you.
But sharing our experiences in that way DOES reveal one thing that our flesh – our self-serving mind – tends to do when it contemplates God in the rough times: Often our flesh will demand of God, “Well, what have You done for me lately?” Unlike the Christ-like spirits inside of us…our self-centered flesh, even when trying to be religious, is mainly concerned about “number one” and is constantly disappointed when things don’t go 100% the way our flesh wants things to go. When nine things go well in a day and one thing goes wrong, what does our flesh tend to dwell on? Right – the one bad thing. And now we find ourselves in a circumstance, this virus time, when many things can go wrong at once. So our flesh cries out, “I’m in trouble! Where are You, God?”
That’s what the great prophet Elijah felt like, back in the day. Our boost from the Bible for today goes back to an incident near the end of Elijah’s long life as a prophet. Originally, Elijah was given a tough assignment by his God, Yahweh. Yahweh commanded Elijah: “Go and preach that everyone is to do My will,” Yahweh God said, “so that you may work against what that evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel are doing against Me.” Now, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were not only corrupt and selfish rulers, but they also were well on their way to eliminating ALL worship of Yahweh, Israel’s god, in order replace Yahweh with Jezebel’s god, Baal; you see, Jezebel was from the kingdom of Tyre, and she wanted Tyre’s god, Baal, to be the new chief god of Israel, replacing our God, Yahweh.
Now, when we come to this passage in 1st Kings that is our boost from the Bible, please know that Elijah had just gone through a “high-high” and, following that, a “low-low.” The “high-high” for Elijah was defeating the priests of Baal in a contest about who’s God could command the elements of the world; Yahweh defeated Baal, and, after that, several priests of Baal died, which deeply angered the ruthless Queen Jezebel. She then threatened to kill Elijah, and he knew she was deadly serious. As recounted in 1st Kings 19, we read: “Then Elijah was afraid; he got up and fled for his life.” Fleeing the nation of Israel entirely, Elijah ran south through ALL of nearby Judea and then much farther south into the desert, to where Moses had received the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai – which is just about as far away as Elijah could go! Along the way, fearful and wondering if God would EVER come to his defense, Elijah in all honesty complained to God: “I’ve had enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not any better than my ancestors.” Elijah’s spirit was indeed crushed.
And, you know, we can relate to Elijah. That’s the thing about times like these. We are not able to do much of what we are used to be doing, and we are concerned about all the losses, and it takes a toll on us. Elijah became afraid and he probably felt that prophets aren’t supposed to BE afraid; prophets are supposed to be, as he put it, “better than their ancestors.” But he was NOT better this time, and he became depressed. Now we can understand that; at times like these it is easier to get depressed, and when depressed – as I have been on a few occasions in my lifetime – we tend to retreat into a little corner in our world.
Elijah did that. He not only ran as far away as he could, he deposited himself into a dark and murky cave when he got to Mt. Sinai. So let’s pick up our boost from the Bible there, starting with verse nine of 1 Kings 19:
“At that place Elijah 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.’
“God said to Elijah, ‘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, and 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.”
Did you catch that? God did not present Himself to Elijah in the way that we might have expected. God was not communicating with those special effects typical of movies and television: the high winds, the earthquakes, and great fires – NO: God was there in the silence…and, in that careful, loving silence, Elijah heard his God, and went out of the cave to listen to Him some more.
Like Elijah, when we are fearful, our fears often happen when we lose track of where God is…when we feel we don’t have enough help from God or from others…when we feel out of control, which is a normal feeling to have during these unprecedented times. Where are you, God? Well, as we learn from the story of Elijah today, GOD IS THERE WHEREVER WE ARE, BUT ESPECIALLY WHEN WE FEEL ISOLATED, AND ALONE. AND, WHEN WE PRAY, OUR HEARTS, BOLSTERED BY GOD’S SPIRIT ALREADY INSIDE OF US, CAN HEAR GOD SAY: I AM HERE…I REALLY AM…AND I AM TAKING GOOD CARE OF YOU…I AM GIVING YOU MY STRENGTH…I AM GIVING YOU MY LOVE…I AM GIVING YOU MY SPECIAL BRAND OF COMFORT. DO YOU FEEL IT? TAKE IT. YES, TAKE WHAT I GIVE YOU. IT’S MY AMAZING GRACE. AND IT’S FREE.
When I was alone that first college summer, sick as a dog and itching all over, I went to my God and pleaded, “Help me.” And God did. But, as with Elijah, God helped me in a strange way…a way I never anticipated. You see, I had been taking a course that summer in “Classical Music.” And, when our homework called for us to listen to these great classical symphonies, I fell in love with them – but especially with Beethoven’s. I loved ALL of Beethoven’s symphonies – the ones everybody’s heard of, but also several that most don’t know about, like the fourth symphony. Listening to this music that God inspired in Beethoven while I was sick helped me not be so lonely…and the beauty of the melodies helped “isolated little me” understand that, somehow, I would get better again – better and able to listen to this wonderful music for the rest of my life.
You never know, in the silence that is more prevalent around us now, even at home, what new and different ways God is speaking to us. God might speak through an online worship service, or when you read the Bible on our own, or when praying and not just talking to God but also LISTENING for a while to God in that “sheer silence.” Whatever it is, God IS there – oh, yes, the God of love IS there for you, my sisters and brothers…just as God was there for Beethoven in what is the ULTIMATE kind of silence that can exist in this world…God helping the totally DEAF Ludwig von Beethoven compose his last and most inspiring symphony [HUM “JOYFUL, JOYFUL WE ADORE THEE”]. In exactly the same way God is there to inspire you in YOUR ISOLATION…while GOD moves us ALL forward, forward past the wind, fire and earthquake that is striking our world these days. Amen.
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