The summer I turned 16 Barb was still 15 and we hadn’t started dating yet though I liked her; I just didn’t have the nerve nor know-how to ask her out on a date. But that summer day I took a step closer - I had heard Wildcat Creek was flooded due to the heavy rains we’d recently had, and about 4 miles (6 km) west of my home was a neighborhood built around a golf course called ‘Green Acres’, and the Creek wound through it. I invited Barb and her best friend to float the creek with me and some friends.
Of course we didn’t tell our parents we were going to float down a flooded, debris filled creek! (We told them the truth, we were going swimming, just not where we were going swimming.
Stupid, stupid, stupid
We would jump in and float downstream a few minutes, climb out, walk across the golf course to our starting point and do it again and again. The creek was flooded with branches and even small trees, and beneath the surface we knew the biggest danger was getting a leg caught in a sunken tree branch and being dragged under by the intense current. So we kept reminding each other to keep our legs tight under us as we floated, or better yet, float on the surface on our backs or stomachs.
We were nervous but we appeared brave and confident. We wore big smiles partly out of sheer joy and part not wanting to appear scared. Inside we WERE scared of being pulled under, but other than the occasional loud cry of pain after hitting a leg on a sunken tree, you’d never know it; all was calm on the surface.
When I dropped the girls back at their homes that afternoon we talked of multiple bruises on our legs, thighs, and backs from hitting underwater obstacles, but we thought that was the price to pay for the adventure!
Keeping up appearances
Like us floating down the creek appearing calm on the outside but beneath the surface doing all we could to keep our heads above water, religion tends to emphasis the outward appearance while never touching the inner appearance of the heart, which is often bruised and battered from life as our legs and thighs were.
How many of us have had that Sunday morning rush to church with dad yelling at mom to hurry up and mom yelling at little Joey to find his other shoe with everyone grumpy and angry up to the point the car stops in the church parking lot.
Then as if by magic snot disappears from little Joey’s face, the sisters stop slapping each other, mom and dad forget the chaos and tempers of the morning, and in walks the perfect Christian family with smiles plastered across their faces as neatly as every hair has been combed or brushed into place.
Do you think God sees the outside of the perfect family, or the hearts of the perfect family?
What happened to Elijah
Elijah had an amazing victory over the prophets of Baal by God’s fire consuming his sacrifice.* And God’s demonstration of power fit neatly into the various religions in the area’s idea of the gods – earth, wind, and fire - so it was a loud message to the people of Baal. They believed the gods were in - inhabited – those elements. Among other designations, Baal was the Canaanite Thunder God, so God answering by booming fire was a statement that He was more powerful than any god of earth, wind and fire. *I Kings 18:16-40
But immediately after that Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life and he ran in fear to a cave*. In his despair he complained to the Lord and the Lord responded. First was a very strong wind, but the Lord was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then came fire, but He was not in the fire.
Last came, in the Hebrew, “a sound like a whisper” or “a gentle whisper”, and the Lord was heard in that whisper. *I Kings 19:9-12
The idea of God being in the whisper was revolutionary. Every religion around Israel believed their god was external in the forces of nature – gods of the visual, of keeping up appearances, outwardly focused. But God revealed to Israel He was all about the internal, the invisible, the motives, the still small voice. He could be found in the heart, in the motives, in the whisper – and that was new!
The meeting at the cave changed everything
The Lord answered Elijah in the whisper of the heart. This God isn’t like other gods, He is concerned with the innermost being. This God is a Spirit* and therefore He communicates to a person’s spirit in the whisper.
The spirit of man is the home of our sense of self-worth, our purpose in life, our love of self, and this is where God demonstrated to Elijah that He lives. This God commanded Israel to love others as they loved themselves*, and no other god had ever wanted its subjects to love themselves and then express that love to others. *John 4:24, Leviticus 19:18
That moment at the cave changed everything, the cave represents the human heart, the hiding place where God whispers to us. David demonstrated he knew this as well, for when he was confronted about his sin with Bathsheba he wrote Psalm 51 in repentance, saying in v6:
“Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts (spirit and soul); and in the hidden part (spirit) you will make me to know wisdom.” The spirit of man is where God sees us, requiring truth and revealing His wisdom.
Samuel learned this when he was sent to anoint the new king after King Saul backed away from the Lord and had to be replaced. Samuel went to Jesse’s house and lined up all his sons, thinking the oldest, Eliab, would be the natural choice, but the Lord instead replied:
“…for the Lord sees not as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7
Through the centuries leading to Elijah’s cave experience, Israel had lost their way. Have we? Has church culture? Do we or our church culture focus on the whisper, or on the external expressions of appearance designed to attract and impress? Religions try to approach God on external terms, putting up a good front, like the prophets of Baal, thinking that is what He wants. But He is found in the internal whisper.
When Jesus took away the sin of the world, with all of our individual sins within that sin, Jesus took away all need for false appearances, any need for a facade, any need for a false front for the sake of the gods. Jesus made the way for us to be honest with ourselves, and with the Father. There is no fear in Him knowing us way down where we whisper our innermost thoughts and motives to ourselves. He is in the whisper too.
And that is why this most humble God, the Father of the also meek and lowly of heart* Lord Jesus, says “Come with boldness to my throne to receive mercy and grace to help in a time of need.”* He knows the heart for He lives in the whisper, so stop keeping up appearances and just let Him know how hard you are paddling beneath the surface, getting bumped and hit by unseen obstacles – whisper in your heart to Him and then pause to hear Him whisper back. Stop looking for Him in the earth, wind and fire. *Matthew 11:29, Hebrews 4:16
Close your eyes and listen for the whisper.
More next week, blessings,