God’s Presence & His Voice

Picture by Matheus Bertelli

Elijah was a mighty prophet during the reign of King Ahab, a wicked king of Israel who actively promoted and engaged in Baal worship. He is well known for His miraculous exploits for the Lord. He is mentioned in the book of James as an example of powerful prayer. He is also known for his discouragement and depression.

As we read the story of Elijah, we can be encouraged that God is with us during times of struggle.

In 1 Kings 18:16-46, Elijah experienced an astounding victory against the prophets of Baal. Two bulls were prepared for sacrifice and laid on an altar. The true god would respond with fire. Baal did not pay attention to the prophets’ cries of worship and ritual cutting of themselves. After several hours, it was Elijah’s turn. He had twelve large jars of water poured over the sacrifice and altar. “The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench” (v. 35). Elijah called out to the Lord. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench” (v. 38). The Lord established Himself as the one true God and He used Elijah to do it.

Later that day, the Spirit of the Lord granted Elijah superhuman speed. He ran faster than King Ahab who was racing on horseback. It was a euphoric day for Elijah.

Events quickly changed, however, as Jezebel the wife of King Ahab threatened to kill Elijah. Depression overwhelmed him and he longed to die.

Elijah was exhausted physically and emotionally. The miraculous events of the previous day did not turn the hearts of the Israelites back to the Lord as he had imagined. He felt alone, the only person standing for God in a godless society. Elijah was ready to give up. He was done.

God, in His great mercy, would not allow Elijah to quit. He supernaturally prepared him for a long journey to the mountain of God where Elijah would meet with Him.

The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by’” (v. 11).

Scripture tells us that as Elijah waited, a powerful wind, an earthquake, and a fire broke out before the Lord. Centuries before, the Lord had revealed Himself to His people at Mt. Sinai when He gave His Law. He showed up with thunder, lightning, and fire. The mountain shook and a loud trumpet blasted. “As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him” (Exodus 19:19). Elijah’s experience was vastly different. God did not speak to him in the midst of the impressive and dangerous elements as during the other theophany. When it had all passed, the Lord spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper.

It is common for preachers to emphasize that gentle whisper. Their message? We must not look for signs, wonders, and miracles when seeking the Lord, because His presence is known through His still, small voice. We must be quiet and wait to hear God speak to our hearts. While their point is well taken, something else is overlooked.

The Lord may not have been in the wind or earthquake or fire, but He was with Elijah shielding him from life-threatening elements. How else could Elijah remain safe during these natural disasters? God’s presence was with Elijah the entire time. He may not have been speaking, but He was certainly active on Elijah’s behalf.

Elijah had just experienced the earth-shattering glory of God and was kept safe from all harm. When the Lord finally spoke, Elijah was ready to listen.

What does this mean for us? No matter what we encounter, we are never alone. God may be silent, but He is not absent nor is He inactive. He is Emmanuel, God with us. His Spirit is in us and around us.

God can speak to us in whatever manner He wishes. It may be through thunder and lightning or a still small voice or a nature walk or a song. He won’t fit in a neat, tidy box, although His message will always align with the holy Scriptures. He directs our steps and lights our way.

Our job is to keep our hearts open to receive God’s gracious Word. His voice lifts us from despair, depression, and the desire to give up. His Word heals our wounds and renews our hope. Like the Lord did for Elijah, He will infuse us with new life. Be ready and willing to listen to Him.

Seven Tips for Restoring Relationships

When God saves us, He never leaves us where He finds us. He provides for our transformation and healing by the Holy Spirit. Often it is a messy process.

Full disclosure: My healing process has been messy, and I have hurt others dear to me in my attempt to find wholeness.

The last ten years have been intense as the Holy Spirit has revealed broken places in my soul and walked with me in transformation. My eyes were open to the extent of trauma in both my childhood and adulthood, experiences I had sought to minimize and dismiss. In my desperation to find healing, without warning I dumped an ugly load of pain in the path of my loved ones, hoping they would graciously sort through all the garbage with me. I admit this was an unwise and unfair approach.

I am grateful to the Lord for His lovingkindness and grace. I am in a far better space today, but Jesus and I are not done yet. I am in awe, that in spite of myself, Jesus has restored my significant relationships. I FaceTime with my mom twice a month and have meaningful conversations. This week I had a wonderful visit with my dad and stepmom, two people incredibly dear to my heart. Throughout our time together, I marveled at the healing work of God. Every moment spent with them was a gift.

I can’t go back in time, but I can be more aware going forward.

Here are some tips I have gleaned about seeking to restore relationships. It takes both parties for restoration. If both parties are not willing, restoration is not possible, but you can still find peace through Christ.

Be patient. Restoration is a process. It takes time to rebuild trust. Also, heart change is a work of the Holy Spirit. God’s timing is not our timing. “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a NIV).

Take responsibility for yourself. You are only in control of yourself. Talk about your feelings, perceptions, and experiences. Do not assume the worst or blame others. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12a).

Forgive. Just as you have been forgiven in Christ, extend forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgive again. Every time feelings of hurt or offense arise, remind yourself that you have chosen to forgive. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Listen well. As Stephen Covey recommends, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Listen to learn and understand. Put yourself in the other’s shoes. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

Walk in love. Read and meditate on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Model the example of Jesus regardless of the response you receive. Some issues just need to be dropped. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Remember that life is short. Each day is a gift from God. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow. I certainly don’t want a loved one to pass away, knowing that I didn’t do my part to work toward restoration. We don’t have the luxury of withholding forgiveness. “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Proverbs 90:12 NLT).

Friends, our God delights in restoring relationships. We thrive in life and leadership, as we keep our hearts open to restoration with others.     

(Re)acquaint yourself with God’s grace

Resurrection Sunday is here! We put to rest the Lenten season of preparation and focus on the culmination of God’s plan to redeem humanity. The long-awaited and hoped for deliverance, the final blow in the battle against sin, they have been ushered in by the New Covenant of grace and faith in the risen Jesus.

picture by David Dibert, Pexels.com

Lent is observed during the forty days before Easter. It symbolizes the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by the devil. Afterward, He emerged and began His public ministry. The season of Lent is dedicated to reflecting on our lives and opening our hearts to the sacred work of the Holy Spirit. We respond to God’s invitation to prayer, fasting, and giving.

I was drawn to observe Lent twelve years ago. Previously I hadn’t been aware of the church calendar. Through the influences of friends and authors, I learned about the life-giving practices of Lent that draw us closer to Jesus. Since then, I have established a rhythm of renewal each year during the Lenten season.

I’ll be honest with you. This year, Lent was difficult. It felt much more laborious than other years, like walking through the wilderness without any shade or water. I read my Lenten devotional and engaged in prayerful introspection, but fasting was brutal. Self-discipline, which is usually my faithful companion, was nowhere to be found. I related to Paul who described our battle with sin in Romans 7:15.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

The harder I fought, the weaker I felt. The more restrictions I put on myself, the more I food I ate. The vicious cycle spiraled steadily downward. Discouragement took root and feelings of failure settled in. What was happening to me?

It took almost thirty days before I could hear what the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart. (What can I say? I’m a slow learner.)

I needed to get reacquainted with God’s grace.

Sometimes we can become masters at outward, godly behavior. We do and say the right things so well that they become automatic. We know how to play the Christian leader role with excellence. We are so good on the outside that we lose sight that the one and only reason we are good is because of Jesus.

God extends His grace to save us. We need His grace to change us. We survive by His grace as He renews us from the inside out. His transforming grace empowers us to honor Him with our lives.

I say “we,” but I really should say “I.” I had allowed self-sufficiency to infect my thinking. It showed up in my failure to fast. I couldn’t pat myself on the back for maintaining a routine with reading and prayer either, because I wasn’t relying on Jesus.

I was including Jesus in my life, but I wasn’t completely relying on Him.

I decided that the remaining days of Lent would be spent embracing His grace. I realized that the end game isn’t to be perfect at reading the Bible, praying, and fasting. It took off the pressure to perform and freed me to joyfully surrender to Jesus.

God’s grace is offered to you and me for every area of our lives every single day. We are blessed when we receive it.

In which area(s) do you need to get reacquainted with God’s grace? Ask Jesus to give you a fresh start.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3 NLT).