Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Gentle Whisper: Further Meditations on the Spirit of God

Some days it's hard to live where the cloud settles. It feels like everything is in a holding pattern, and I'm just waiting for the pillar of cloud to pick up and move to show me what's supposed to come next. In thinking about that imagery for the Spirit last night, I remembered the story of Elijah.

It's easy to envy Elijah; after all, he was privy to one of the most amazing mighty acts of the Tanak (Old Testament). The story, which can be found in 1 Kings 18-19, goes something like this:

An evil king named Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, are in control of the kingdom of Israel and thanks to Jezebel's ties to Baalism, idolatry has taken over the worship of the one true God. Yahweh instructs his prophet Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal to a contest. If the Baalists can convince their god to send fire down on their altar, then the people should worship Baal. But if the God of Israel responds to Elijah's pleading for fire on his altar, then the people should worship Yahweh. So the whole company travels up to Mt. Carmel. The Baalists act like fruitcakes, dancing and singing and even cutting themselves (scholars refer to this act as "sympathetic magic") in effort to get a response from the pagan god of fertility. After hours of this nonesense, Elijah begins to mock them, asking if perhaps their god is on a trip or maybe in the men's room (1 Kings 18:27). And then, at Yahweh's command, he ups the ante. Elijah douses his altar with water.

Of course we know that the flooded altar is no match for the God who created both fire and water. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob comes through as promised: he sends fire down to consume the altar, and the people of Israel are humbled. In obedience to God's decree, Elijah has the Baalist prophets slaughtered, and the people rejoice in Yahweh's victory. Just when it seems like all is well, Elijah lets worry get the best of him. Rather than resting in the sure provision of his mighty God, he slinks off in fear! And ironically, he ends up cowering at Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai, where Yahweh enacted His covenant with the Hebrew people. As Elijah sits there defeated, an angel approaches and tells him to wait for the Lord to pass by. First comes a mighty wind, but God isn't in the wind. Then an earthquake rumbles through, but God isn't in the earthquake. And then a fire burns up the ground, but God isn't in the fire. Finally, there is a gentle whisper, and that whisper is the Voice and the Presence of the Almighty God.

The Hebrew word for wisper or breath is ruach. This is the same word used in the account of creation found in Genesis 2 when God "breathed into [Adam's] nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). Fittingly, in Hebrew, the Spirit of God is referred to as Ruach Elohim. So the Spirit of God isn't a display of power or splendor, rather, it (really, He) is that still small voice that speaks when we quiet our hearts to listen. And just as Yahweh spoke to His people on Mt. Sinai through Moses, just as He spoke to Elijah in the hush of a whisper, just as He spoke through the pillar of cloud, He continues to reveal Himself as the God who speaks to His people today.

Even as I sit and type, I am deeply convicted that I am so like Elijah. In the face of all that God has done to prove Himself in my life, I remain unconvinced that He will come through for me. As Beth Moore reflected on Isaiah 55:8-11 in her blog earlier this week, "sometimes we're so focused on the seed that hasn't shown a harvest that we ignore the bread sitting right in front of us." And what's more, I wait for Him to move me by some act of mightiness when I should be listening for the still small voice, the ruach that resides within me and wispers gently to my heart. I claim to be about waiting on this cloud, but in reality, sometimes I'm looking for God in an earthquake!

In spite of all that remains to be accomplished in my life here in Nashville, and in the midst of the direction I'm still seeking, I'm resolved to stay here where the cloud has settled and wait patiently on the God who speaks.


mowens said...

SAGO...and nice fruitcake reference.

Jason said...

Hey Chelsea! My first time to your blog! What a wealth of refreshing meditations! I appreciate what you mentioned about the Hebrew word for Spirit being "ruach", and it reminded me of a brief study I did once on the Greek word translated "saying" in the NT. Specifically looking at Mark 9:32, I discovered that there are two different words used in different places to mean the SPOKEN word and the WRITTEN word of God. "Logos" is the written word of God that is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb.4:12). We also know that "the letter" (by itself) "kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2Cor.3:6). Which brings me to the second word, "rhema", meaning the spoken word. Spoken by the very "ruach" or Spirit you mentioned. How we need to strive to "quench not the Spirit" (1 Thess.5:19), so that we can keep in step with Him! You were right when you said that His voice is still and quiet, and there is such a need (at least I find this in my own life) to LIVE in a place of a "meek and quiet spirit" (1Peter 3:4) myself, so that I can be obedient when He does whisper. May God continue to bless you with the revelation of Himself as you study His "logos" and listen to His "rhema"!

Kevin said...

Very informative and interesting. Your writing skills are excellent.