Not in the fire…

[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?” 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.”

Elijah Meets God at Horeb

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. 13 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?” 14 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.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

1 Kings 19:9-18

As we reach the end of this particular train of events in Elijah’s life I was particularly struck by the way it shows us how God guides us and deals so, so gently with us.

On Wednesday we heard the story of Mount Carmel and the encounter with the prophets of Baal. Elijah prays as follows: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding.” (my italics and bold). Elijah wasn’t acting in deliberate disobedience when he got it wrong – he genuinely thought God was bidding him to do as he was doing. And God went along with that – and then rescued Elijah from the consequences of burnout, depression and the threat of death! It was only over a month later that Elijah, finally rested just a little and at last able to hear the true voice of God, realises where he went wrong.

It’s so, so easy to hear wrong. To be utterly convinced that we are hearing the voice of God when we’re actually hearing our own Inner Drivers – Work Harder, Be Perfect, Be Pleasing (by implication to everyone). This can lead us to think we are indispensable. The needs of others are so great that we do not feel we can set boundaries, say “no”. Or we take that old saying “God has no hands… feet… lips… other than ours” and warp it and twist it into “God has no hands… feet… lips… other than mine“… Do you see the didfference? It’s crucial. Because we are not meant to walk, to live, to work in isolation. God requires our willingness to step back from a particular task, a particular responsiblity, just as much has He requires our willingness to step up to the mark in the first place. We are members of the body of Christ – not isolated individual clones of Christ. No one of us can do it all.

When Elijah finally heard the voice of God – the still, small voice – and realised at last that God had not been in the earthquake, wind or fire there was no condemnation, no wallowing in guilt. Simply instructions to return to the task to which God had assigned him, and this time to work in partnership with others. Each to their own allotted task – and taking time out to eat, drink, sleep…

May God grant us the grace and the space to hear His still, small voice in the midst of the madness in which we find ourselves.

May we never lose sight of the simplicity of the stable.

May we take His yoke and learn from Him and so find rest for our souls (and bodies and minds)

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