Presence – Recognizing the Presence
This year we have been looking at 4 keys that are vital to a successful and fulfilling Christian life
Those keys, in no particular order, are
Prayer and Fasting
I think all of us would agree that these 4 things are most definitely keys to a successful Christian life
We have looked at each of these 4 keys and started to explore them, but have by no means done an exhaustive study on any of them
When I was praying about what to preach on this week I really felt that the Lord wanted me to talk about something pretty significant that happened to me recently
For those of you who are not in the know, this is my first Sunday back after a 5 week sabbatical
It was a much needed break that allowed me to clear my head and re-prioritize some things
I took the first 10 days of my sabbatical and went on a 4,300 mile motorcycle trip
I hit 9 states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma
It was so amazing!
I learned a lot of things
Things like Oklahoma has the worst roads and Pennsylvania has the worst drivers!
Seriously though, it was a very life changing, very positive trip
I knew I needed it, but didn’t realize how badly I needed it until I tool it
In fact, it took me until I was in the Rockies in Colorado before I started to feel somewhat normal again!
I had someone ask me why it took that long and I had to think before I came up with an answer
I believe that the answer is that I am so used to constant distractions that it took 2,000 miles of almost no distraction to allow my brain to clear out!
Think about how distracted we are as a society
I do not have any evidence to back this up, but I feel that we are probably the most distracted generation this world has ever seen
We are uncomfortable with silence
We fill it with music, television, movies, etc.
As a society our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter
In fact for many of us, myself included, we have a strange fixation with our phones
We don’t go anywhere without them – even in our own homes we carry them with us from room to room
And when we get a text we answer immediately
Yes, we are quite distracted!
On my trip I was riding my motorcycle so I couldn’t respond to any calls or texts
There was no one to talk to and no music playing in the background
The only sound was the rumble of my exhaust pipes and the other traffic
That many miles with virtually no distractions really allowed me to think and to process
It took much longer than I expected to get to the point where I felt the effects of the constant distractions in my life go away
As I said I was in Colorado when I realized that I was somewhat back to normal – whatever normal is!
I had to smile when I realized it because I was in the Rockies and had the words to John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High going through my head
One line in particular stood out to me “You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply”
I almost cried when I realized the significance of that line
I had gotten so distracted in my life that it was hard recognizing the presence of God in my life and even harder hearing God’s voice
I didn’t realize how big of a problem this had become until my mind was free from distraction
But once it was free, oh the fellowship I was able to have with Abba!
“Abba? You mean the rock group from the 70’s?”
Not at all – although they do have pretty good music
Jesus, when He was on this earth, would have spoken Arabic
Abba is an Arabic word that means “daddy”
Jesus uses this word as He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion
Significance of Father vs Dad and Daddy
Father is a position of authority without any implication of intimacy
Dad is the same position of authority, but with a relationship
Daddy is the same position of authority but with intimate relationship
Prior to clearing my head I could relate to God as Father, and sometimes even as Dad, but it wasn’t until my head was clear that He became Daddy again
The thing is, God never changed
His desire was to be Abba, but my overly distracted brain only allowed Him to be Father and Daddy
God’s presence was active and alive in my life, but I had trouble recognizing it
Which brings me to my message today – Recognizing the Presence of God
Our story for today is a fairly familiar one found in 1 Kings 19
Let me set the stage for you a little first
The prophet Elijah is on the scene and in 1 Kings 18 has his famous encounter with the prophets of Baal [recap]
I think all of you would agree with me when I say that Elijah was most likely on a pretty big spiritual high!
No one could deny that Elijah had experienced the presence of God in a very real, very powerful way
But something interesting and unexpected happened next
1 Kings 19:1-18 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them." 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 10 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." 11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."
What’s going on here?
What’s happening is that Elijah is depressed
You would think that after such a huge spiritual victory over the prophets of Baal that this wouldn’t happen
But it did
Even after such a great victory, one threat from the queen sends Elijah spiraling down into such a deep depression that He asks God to take his life
God said His presence is going to pass by, which must have been very exciting for Elijah!
I know it would certainly be exciting for me!
But then something very unexpected happens
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 14 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." 15 The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."
I love what happens here
God tells Elijah that His presence was about to pass by
First there was a powerful wind – so strong that it broke rocks
But God was not in the wind
Then there was an earthquake – but God was not in the earthquake
After this was a fire – but the presence of God was not in the fire either
How did God’s presence show up?
In a gentle whisper!
I can guarantee that Elijah was not expecting that, and quite honestly I wouldn’t be expecting it either
We always think of God showing up in a mighty and powerful way – and sometimes He does
But God can also show up in a gentle whisper
At the end of Elijah’s encounter with God’s gentle whisper God reminded Elijah that he was not alone
That there were seven thousand in Israel that were still following God
That God would take care of the issue and even allow Elijah to anoint his successor
Elijah would have never know this if he had not heard God’s gentle whisper
Here’s the thing though
We cannot hear the gentle whisper of God when we are surrounded by distraction
Powerful winds, earthquakes, and fires can grab our attention most of the time – but the gentle whisper requires silence
So, what do we need to do?
We need to make sure that we purposely have time every day with no distractions
Where it’s just God and us – where we can hear that gentle whisper
What does that look like?
I’m not sure how that looks for you, but here is what I have been trying to do
Notice I said “trying” because it hasn’t happened as consistently as I want it to, but it is something I most definitely want to happen consistently
Every day I want to spend at least 20 to 30 minutes in silence with no distractions
A time in which I can clear my mind and focus on my relationship with Abba
By silence I mean no talking, no music playing in the background, and no praying
WHAT? No praying?
Nope – this is a time to clear my head of any thoughts and distractions so that I can pray more effectively
What I do is take an aspect of God – like love or grace – or a Scriptural principle like forgiveness – and focus my thoughts totally on that
Getting rid of distractions and clearing my head opens me up to the voice of Abba and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within me
It brings a peace of mind and a focus that I have found refreshing and comforting
I know some of you might be thinking “If I sat down and try to do that for 20 to 30 minutes I’d fall asleep!”
And that is a perfect example of WHY you need to start doing it!
If your life is so busy and if your mind is so distracted that 20 to 30 minutes of silence and no distractions would put you to sleep, then you desperately need to start doing this!
Remember that this is all about building relationship – it’s not a discipling that has to be done just right or God will be mad at you
If you fall asleep then so what?
The next time try to do better
Why is this so important?
Why have I spend the last 30 minutes talking about this?
Because I am convinced that in order to fulfill the call of God on our life
In order to go into the world and make disciples of all nations
In order to build God’s Kingdom
We must be aware of the presence of God in our life
We must be able to hear God’s gentle whisper
And to do that we must take time every day to free ourselves from unnecessary distraction