Weekly Bible Devotional
“What Is Saving Your Life Right Now? Getting Lost”
June 21, 2020
Scripture for Sunday: 1 Kings 19:1-12
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8 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. 9 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?” 10 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.”
11 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
Notes on the Text:
This is an important part of the story of the prophet Elijah. He was running for his life. The winds of change were blowing in the kingdom of ancient Israel. The new king, Ahab, and his wife, Jezebel, were power hungry and were trying to prove that the ways of the gods of Baal were better than the ways of the God of Israel. The ways of Baal were the ways of greed and violence and that is what Ahab saw as the way to rule and run the land. Elijah and other prophets like him had spoken words that challenged the dominant truth which Ahab and Jezebel were promoting and proclaiming. Elijah was being hunted down by the king because he dared to speak God’s truth of love and justice to the powers of his day. In fact, in our scripture for today, we know that Elijah was facing certain death as he was being hunted down by the king’s men.
Sitting under the broom tree, he uttered this prayer, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” In other words, “I’ve had enough, O God, this is way too painful. I can’t take it anymore. I’d rather die than live like this. A fugitive’s life is no way to live. Please make this pain go away!” Elijah was completely lost with no way forward. But that is when his senses were finally heightened to the point of being able to hear God’s voice in the silence! Elijah who was most likely trained and certainly very experienced in listening to God was trying to listen to God in the normal ways he had heard God’s voice before. At first, he thought he would find God’s presence and hear God’s voice in the great wind, but God was not in the great wind. Wind is usually associated with the power of God. The word in Hebrew for wind in this text is “ruah” which is the same word for the Spirit of God which hovered over the watery chaos in Genesis 1. So, this is a great surprise for the Hebrew speakers to hear that God was not present in the great wind. The second element where Elijah looked for God’s presence was the earthquake. Divine activity and revelation was often associated in the Bible with the earth shaking. One famous incident is the time when the mountain shook when God gave the Law to Moses and the people of Israel on Mt. Horeb which was the same exact location where Elijah was standing. But again, surprisingly enough, God was not in the earthquake which would have been the assumption of the Hebrew people upon hearing this story. Then of course, there was the fire. This was another unmistakable sign of God’s presence. Think of the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3) and the “pillar of fire” which led the people during the night as they wandered in the desert on their way to the Promised Land (Number 14:14). So, in all these typical elements where people would normally look for God, Elijah did not experience or hear God. What finally connected was the sound of sheer silence or the small still voice. What a surprise! God was not present for Elijah in all the big signs that he knew before. Instead God was present in silence. Because of this experience of being lost in the wilderness, Elijah learned to be attentive to God in a new way which he went on to teach to others.
This week’s spiritual practice is “getting lost” which seems like an odd way to save our lives and to align them with God’s love. How does something that seems so threatening to our safety bring us wholeness and growth? This practice is about letting go of the safety of what we know to open ourselves to the mystery of God. Spiritual practices are always about helping us to stay alert, open, and in love. Our primal instinct for survival often hinders our ability to keep growing and to stay open. We try to stay with what seems to be safe and predictable. That is why this practice has the potential for us to grow and to gain new wisdom. When we let go of our familiar and comfortable ways, we are able to continue to go where God is leading us.
The prophet Elijah did not choose to get lost. He was forced to leave his familiar territory. But during the experience of being lost, he gained new power and new insights. In the same way, we did not choose to be in a time of pandemic or of racial injustice. Yet, this time which feels like a time of being lost can be a time of great renewal if we consent to God’s presence and guidance in it.
The story of Elijah is a reminder that in times of grave fear, disaster, and loss we need to trust in the power of letting go and of listening to God in new ways. This is countercultural on so many levels. Our culture often offers us certainties, quick fixes, and clichés to deal with our fears of the unfamiliar and the unknown. Our human tendency to stay with what we know often hinders us from finding new ways to fulfill God’s vision for us and for our world. Embracing “getting lost” and not always knowing where we are going is essential to the spiritual journey. In her book, A New Set of Eyes, Paula D’Arcy writes, “The last experience of God is frequently the greatest obstacle to the next experience of God because we make an absolute out of it. I wonder if my own heart can be courageous. It’s so much easier to embrace religion than to encounter God. In encountering God I can find no reassuring doctrine that predicts exactly what steps to take and how things will unfold.” That is what Elijah learned in his encounter with God. When he let go of the safety of what he knew about God, his whole being was transformed and he eventually found a new way forward.
The Heart’s Cry by Paula D’Arcy:
We make difficult demand on life…that it be safe and secure.
We make a difficult demand on you… that you live up to our own beliefs about you.
It is not that way.
You take us in and breathes us out.
You refuse to gratify that which is not clear in our hearts.
You pursue when we hide in narrow places.
You are wide, limitless possibility,
the embodiment of every longing.
When we get anywhere close to your true
Essence, we become frightened, because it is too real.
Yet you refuse to remove our great darkness, until we long for you light.
Even the elements obey you.
It will not be finished until we remember who we are. Amen.