Does God speak to people?
It has been said that if we say we speak to God we are praying, but if we say God is speaking to us we are insane.
Some say God only speaks to us through his words written in the Bible, others claim to hear from God constantly about every detail of their lives.
Some believe God has spoken to them about something and it turns out not to be true…but undeterred by the experience they continue on their way believing that they always correctly hear from God.
I knew a lady who lived in decades of sad unreality because she believed God had spoken to her about something that the facts demonstrated he had not.
Others wary of their own inner voice and the self-serving bias…are more cautious and skeptical of these kinds of direct leadings.
What do we do with all this?
This summer our sub-series is a “conversational relationship with God.”
Our overall series is “closing the gap on faith and love”
The selection of this title (a conversational relationship) was meant to describe prayer as a conversation rather than a monologue where we do all the talking.
It is also meant to demonstrate the priority of relationship in our praying.
This morning we are going to look at a historical narrative from the Old Testament of a man who spoke with God with gut level honesty and who continued to learn how to hear from God throughout his life.
His story is unusual…but we have this encouragement from James about this man, Elijah
“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” (James 5:16,17)
Elijah was a man just like us…and we can expect a similar kind of relationship with God, if we approach God in a way similar to how Elijah did.
Of course our experience will not be exactly like his, but similar…this is both challenging and exciting to consider.
Let me give you the backstory, then I will read the passage for today.
The nation of Israel had been split in two in because of the sins of the people and its foolish leaders.
Both halves, the north which continued to be called Israel, and the south called Judah…were in steady decline.
The decline in the North reached a low point in King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
Ahab did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. (1 Kings 16)
During their 22-year reign the husband/wife team lead Israel into the corrupt worship of a demonic inspired deity called “Baal”
And the royal couple received one of the worse descriptions given in all of Scripture…
“There was never a man like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord urged on by Jezebel his wife.” 1 Kings 21
This is the historical/cultural context into which Elijah shows up starting in 1 Kings 17.
He appears on the scene speaking directly to King Ahab.
Though we don’t know about his background from Scripture…he was already a man with access to the king.
He gives the king the reason for the extreme drought in the land, it is God’s judgment and it will continue for several more years.
There was nothing their false fertility gods (Baal and Ashera) could do about it
Meanwhile queen Jezebel was busy killing all those who were faithful to the Lord and raising up more false prophets.
This was a dark time for the nation.
The showdown between the false gods and the true God came as 950 combined prophets of Baal and Ashera gathered against the single man, Elijah.
In addition to these prophets there was a large group of regular people who had gathered to see what would happen and to them Elijah gave this challenge…
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him. “But the people said nothing.”
It seems they were confused and passive…and they didn’t know who to follow…years of bad leadership and wrong thinking…had messed them up.
Their thinking was about to get straightened out.
What happens next is:
- God shows up in a tremendous display of power and clearly demonstrates that he is in charge
- The prophets of Baal are destroyed as the people turn on them and kill them.
- Elijah then tells the King that God will now break the drought…and he does…demonstrating clearly who is in charge of the weather and everything else.
This brings us to our passage…let me read it to you.
1 Kings 19:1-14 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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.” Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 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.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 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. 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.” 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. 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?” 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.” The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” 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. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 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?” 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.”
Like all historical narrative in the Bible, this is descriptive not prescriptive…meaning it describes what happened then; it doesn’t prescribe what God will always do now.
But there are some things to learn from this narrative that are line with how God does continue to act, lessons that directly apply to us today
- Pay attention to the physical “you.”
*Years ago we knew a woman who fasted and missed sleep trying to draw close to God…but she did so unwisely because she was not in a place physically to do those things at the level she tried…she had a mental breakdown as a result.
She did eventually recover.
She was trying to take her spiritual side seriously…but she did not take seriously her physical self…and the outcome was not good.
“Facts are stubborn things”
Fact: You are a spiritual being
Fact: You are a physical being
We must align our thinking and our living with these twin facts…trouble comes when we fail to pay attention to one or the other.
-We are not merely a temporary collection of matter and energy…we are beings that are more than the physical, made by a God who is totally spirit.
-Our culture has been trained to think like this: Physical=real, Spiritual=sort of real or not real at all.
-Christian sub-culture tends to think like this: Physical=not important (act as if it is, but think it should not be), Spiritual=most important (think it is, but act otherwise)
For us, spiritual and physical defines who we are as created beings…neither is less real or important than the other.
God alone is an eternal personal being, who is pure spirit…he has an unlimited mind, a completely free will, and unlimited power.
We are eternal (eternity future not past) personal beings with a limited mind, will, and power…but we, unlike God are not pure Spirit…we live in physical bodies.
The challenge is, as in all things, balance, Do not:
–Pay too much attention to the body
-Pay too little attention to the body
Elijah in his spiritual and emotional despondency verbalized his suicidal ideations to God…he was worn out and hungry.
“I’ve had enough God, take my life”
God’s response was not “Don’t think that way.”
It was to send a messenger (that is what the word “Angel” means) to bring him food and drink…this after he had slept.
This happened a second time, before God sent him forward on the next leg of his mission.
We don’t want to read too much or too little into this part of the story.
The biggest takeaway is God’s provision…God provides for his people…even when they are not thinking correctly.
God did not scorn Elijah in his despair…he provided for his needs.
But what needs did he provide first?
He did not speak to him yet about his “spiritual/life vision” needs (he would)…he first met his physical needs.
This is not a license to further make our physical selves our idols…this is too often the case.
This is a challenge to understand the impact of our physical selves on our spiritual well-being.
Sleep: Do you get enough sleep (when it is within your choice to do so)?
-When it is not…do you carefully work to protect yourself against this lack of sleep (not trusting your emotions and decisions as an example)
Sleep is essential to having the energy to commune with God and to love people?
-Do you sleep as wisely as possible so you will be able to think well?
*Airmen: started having mental, relational issues…because he couldn’t sleep
-Drank Red bull at work through his shift.
-Played “Call of Duty” on a big TV in his bedroom as his bedtime routine.
Poor sleep hygiene is something we can and must give attention to.
Physical choices have spiritual implications.
Of course the reverse is true…spiritual choices have physical implications as well.
Look at what is said of the man who doesn’t trust God as revealed in his life choices…he loses sleep.
Psa. 127:2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Some don’t rest enough, others recreate(play, rest) too much.
-Physically Laziness can breed spiritual apathy even as going too hard can produce exhaustion.
Lean into the wind that blows in your life…pay attention to appropriate rest.
Food: Does over eating, or poor eating interfere with your ability to stay alert, to hear from God and to be kind to people?
-When we eat crummy we feel crummy and we tend to act crummy.
Exercise: Do we get adequate physical exercise to maximize the mission for which God has given us these bodies?
-Again this is about balance not guilt.
Sometimes we pray and ask God to help us in our spiritual walk (close the gap on faith) and relationships with others (close the gap on love) and then become frustrated, or doubt God because the change we want isn’t coming.
Meanwhile we are living in our physical bodies with the equivalence of trying to drive our vehicles without oil, gas, or water.
If we live outside our design parameters then must not blame the designer when it doesn’t work.
Prov. 19:3 A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD.
We must not let this be true of us…live in line, as best you can, with the way God has designed your physical self.
Second thing we learn about a conversational relationship with God here is that…
- Honest emotions are important…but good thinking is essential.
(The Lord spoke to Elijah and said), “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
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.”
This thinking (I am alone), along with his “just kill me God” was emotionally honest but wrong.
Also implied here is the thought, feeling…”Look at all I have done for you God, and yet, what have you done for me? In fact I have sacrificed for you(been very zealous) and you have mistreated me.”
His suicidal ideations were real, but they were wrong thinking.
His feelings of being the last prophet alive were real feelings but factually false.
His feelings that God had been unfair were also, of course, wrong.
It matters what we feel…but it matters much more that we actually think what is real and align our feelings with what is in line with the facts.
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. Also, anoint Jehu king over Israel, and anoint Elisha to succeed you as prophet…and there are 7000 who are faithful to me, you are not alone.
Look at what God said to him here.
- Turn around and go back the direction you were running for your life from.
- I have a mission for you still: Means to formerly “appoint” who God has selected.
- International: Anoint a king in the country of Aram
- National: Anoint a king in Israel to replace Ahab (who was about to die)
- Personal: Anoint a man to replace you as Israel’s key prophet
- You are not alone, there are 7,000 prophets who are faithful to me.
Look at how God addressed his wrong thinking and feeling.
- “You are running in fear…turn around and run back in the direction of what you fear.”
-You are to obey me, not your fears.
- “You are ready to die, because you think I’m done with you or you are done with life…I have a three-fold mission for you…you will die when I say so.”
- “You think you are the only one left, you are off by 6999.”
-Certain feelings can be emotionally satisfying (wallowing in self-pity can feel good) but they are just plain wrong.
“I am all alone!”…No…you are not.
*Big take aways here:
- Be honest with what you feel, but prepare to have your thinking corrected if you actually want to hear from God.
-Don’t just listen to hear God say…”Yes, I agree with everything…your thinking, feeling, treatment of others…all spot on.”
-That’s not going to happen…listen to hear what you need to hear.
Love says to us what needs to be said, not what we want said…God is love.
- Then when your thinking is corrected…be prepared for your feelings to change as well.
-They may be feelings (like self-pity) that you have really learned to enjoy.
-But wrong feelings, like wrong thinking…need to be addressed.
- If you only want God to tell you what you want to hear…then it is unlikely you will hear from God.
-What if he tells you to move in the direction of what you most fear?
-What if he speaks and says “Go the opposite way from where you want to go right now?”
*Third lesson we learn about hearing from God is that…
- We must make “space” in our lives if we want to hear from God.
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” 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. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 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?”
We don’t know all that God was teaching Elijah (and us) from this process of hurricane wind, earthquake, fire, then gentle whisper but we can make some solid assumptions.
One is that God doesn’t always speak in the spectacular…he often does in the more mundane…but we tend to look for him in the spectacular and miss him in the day to day…the gentle whispers of God.
Another is that you don’t have to be quiet to hear a hurricane, earthquake or a raging fire…but you do to hear a gentle whisper.
A big reason we don’t hear from God as often as we might is that we have left very little “space” in our lives for him to speak.
College Roommate on football Road trips: Slept with TV on, I turned it off, opened his eyes in the morning and turned it on.
-He was a man who did not want to be alone with his own thoughts…sleeping or waking.
-That was 1979…how much more is this true now?
Do you leave space in your schedule, in your ears, in your mind for God to speak?
Do you ever just sit and listen, wait for God to get through to you?
When I walk and pray it may be the last 5 minutes of a 45-minute walk that I hear God point out something important in my life.
He is not always slow to speak; I am always slow to hear…I must provide space to hear.
You may believe that you don’t have time to be still.
We all have time for what we most value…how valuable is to you to hear from God speaking to you about your life?
It is very likely there is space available in your life…will you look for it and capture it?
No telling what God might want to lead you to or keep you from…no telling how he wants to get to your thoughts, feelings, actions.
Psa. 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Stop, be still, turn it off, wait…know that he is God; he will be exalted among the nations.
You may need to silence the constant noise of your own wrong thinking…fears, bitterness, worry, whatever…turn that down, he may be speaking to you about those very things but he is being drowned out by their constant loudness.
Hear him say “I am God of your troubles, stressors, work, health…I am Lord of the nations…be still and know these things.”
He is ready to speak; we are often not positioned to hear.
“Terry you are making me feel guilty.”…let’s talk about that for a minute.
What we call guilt is often one of three different things:
- Guilt can be a reality that is the result of sin. I feel guilty because I am guilty.
- We can feel guilty because of a false sense of doing something wrong…or not doing enough right. (so it is a false guilt)
- What we call guilt can be a feeling that is result of being challenged in some legitimate way. We feel guilty because we are falling short of some thing we know we should do better in. (so it is an emotional response to challenge, not sin per se)
Response: Depends on what “kind” of guilt you are dealing with
- Guilt: the reality of having sinned: (you are guilty) confess the sin, ask God and others to forgive and choose to move into freedom.
- Guilt: the emotional response to a false sense of having done wrong…refuse it, deny it.
-Its just a lie
- Guilt: the feeling of being challenged in some legitimate way…learn to embrace the challenge, the opportunity…certainly don’t wallow in guilt feelings and avoid the benefit of moving into the challenge.
Finally, combing the passage from 1 Kings and James we see this principle at work.
- “Righteousness” opens up powerful, effective praying.
“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” (James 5:16,17)
What we know about Elijah is that he was both a righteous man and he was an imperfect man.
Righteous has several meanings in Scripture.
It is a “legal status”…we are declared “righteous” or “not guilty” by God as we trust Christ’s work on the cross for us.
It is also something we grow in over time, (its the personal experience of what Christ has done)…this is becoming more like Christ in our character and faith.
It the result of God’s work in us and our ongoing choice to remain surrendered to Christ.
We do not earn righteousness through obedience but we do live in it through obedience.
Obedience is not the source of righteousness, God is…but obedience is the way of righteousness.
Elijah was not perfect, clearly…but he was obedient.
The trajectory of his life was to say “yes” to the will of God.
He did in fact head back into the danger, and God did do through him all that he had promised.
God did not despise or disown Elijah in his weakness…but he did move through him powerfully through his obedience.
Elijah was just like you and me in two main ways:
- He was not perfect
- He was able to use his will to obey and experience God
Hearing from God doesn’t require perfection in every action but it does require a settled direction.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
-Important promise…we really should want wisdom from God for our lives.
But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1)
-So to live in God’s wisdom (hearing from him)…we must have settled minds on who God is.
Elijah told the people in his time…”How long will you waiver between two minds…Make up your minds.”
Important to know: This “double-mindedness” is not about emotions that come and go.
-I tend to “feel” less faith in the morning when I first get up, than I do as the day goes on.
-Others…have the reverse experience…they have more faith feelings in the morning than at night.
These feelings of faith are not about real faith in God, this is about emotional stability…feelings of confidence…or feelings of insecurity.
First thing in the morning…I feel unready for the day, give me some time…those feelings change.
That is not what we are talking about here.
*What James is addressing is a settled will…who will you give your life for and to?
The double-minded man is undecided as to whether God is to be trusted or not.
**I trust God with my life morning or night…regardless of what I feel about it.
-In fact it is a sign of real faith that I act with trust, when I don’t feel confident.
So…to hear from God…settle that he is your God.
If you want God to speak, to direct, to give wisdom…you must “believe and not doubt”
Again…not “belief and doubt” as emotions that come and go…but as a life lived in a settled direction.
Look again at what Elijah said to the people.
“How long will you waver between two opinions(two minds)? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him. But the people said nothing.”
So perhaps the Lord is saying to you today “How long before you will live a decided life?”
If the Lord is God, follow him…if not…then go do something else with your time and your life.
But if he is God…then decide…choose…and live decided, stop living deciding.
Then you will be positioned for God to speak…to direct your life…to give wisdom.
Feelings of faith and doubt…can ebb and flow…but you decide whether you will actually live a life of faith and not doubt…your will, not your feelings are key here.
The facts of faith, not your own feelings of faith must set the course of your life…and your praying.