May 5, 2020 • Life for Leaders
[The LORD said to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
Last week we began seeking biblical wisdom for “Life in Lockdown.” We learned that we were created, not as solitary individuals, but rather as people in community. Relationship with others is an essential element of our God-breathed DNA. Thus, in a time when COVID-19 keeps us separate from each other, it’s natural that we should feel a longing for connection. But, in a season when it is not possible for us to be with people, we can learn from the Apostle Paul to be creative so as to connect with those who are physically absent. Technology helped Paul to do this and so it can help us if we are both creative and critical.
Relationship with other people is essential to our humanity. Yet, at the same time, Scripture commends the value of being alone at times. Consider, for example, the case of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-18. He had recently experienced the astounding power of God in a life-and-death competition with the prophets of Baal. After his victory, however, the evil queen Jezebel promised to kill Elijah. So, in fear, he fled into the wilderness. He was so discouraged that he asked the Lord if he might die. But, instead, the Lord sent an angel to strengthen Elijah, who journeyed farther into the wilderness. He ended up at Mt. Horeb, where he spent the night in a cave. His physical aloneness exacerbated his feeling of being spiritually alone as the only faithful person left among his people (1 Kings 19:10).
In his solitude, Elijah received a command from the Lord to stand on the mountain because the Lord was about to pass by. What happened next was truly astounding. A rock-splitting wind blew, “but the LORD was not in the wind.” Then came an earthquake and a fire, but the LORD was not to be found in either of these. Finally, there came “a sound of a sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12). In the traditional language of the King James Version, Elijah heard “a still small voice.” Through this whisper the Lord spoke to Elijah, showing him what he must do next, including the anointing of his successor, Elisha.
So much could be said about this remarkable story. But what I want to underscore here is the fact that God spoke to and shaped Elijah when the prophet was alone. He was able to hear the quiet voice of the Lord in solitude and silence. Nothing in this story negates the fact that Elijah, like all human beings, was created for community. But the narrative does show how, at times, God is able to work in our lives powerfully when we are away from our community.
We can think of other biblical examples that make this same point. Moses encountered the Lord in the burning bush when he was alone in the wilderness (Exodus 3:1-6). Jacob, when he was “left alone,” wrestled with God and was given a new name and blessing (Genesis 32:22-30). Jesus, you’ll remember, immediately after being declared God’s beloved Son, was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. There, in his solitude, Jesus confirmed his mission through being tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-13).
I will grant that being sequestered in your home during a pandemic isn’t exactly the same experience as what we see in these biblical stories. But it is worth noting that Elijah did not freely and happily choose his solitude. Instead, he was chased into the wilderness by a queen who sought to kill him. You might say his social distancing was imposed upon him. But—and this is key—Elijah’s lack of choice in the matter did not keep him from encountering God in a transformational way. Rather, God used Elijah’s situation for extraordinary good in the prophet’s life.
I know that some who read this devotion are living by themselves and desperate for company. Others of you find yourselves in small homes with lots of young children demanding your attention. Some of you are working harder than ever. Others of you have lost your jobs or can’t work from home. In this time, there is no “once size fits all” kind of lockdown. But, no matter your particular situation, know that God is with you and that God wants to meet you right where you are. Your encounter with the Lord might come when, like Elijah, you are quiet and alone. Or God might speak to you through the neediness of your toddler or the embrace of your spouse. I want to encourage you to be open to however the Lord wants to speak to you. Let this unanticipated and unwanted lockdown become a place to hear God’s voice for you.
Something to Think About:
Have you experienced God in a different way during this lockdown? If so, what has this been like for you?
Can you think of a time in your life when, in solitude, you were able to “hear God’s voice” distinctly? What was that like? What did God say to you?
Something to Do:
Depending on your situation, it may find it easy or difficult to get time alone during the lockdown. One way or another, however, I’d encourage you to get several minutes of solitude. (A friend of mine needed to shut herself in the bathroom to do this.) When you are alone, see if you can quiet your soul enough to wait upon God. You may or may not hear anything special, and that’s okay. But simply allow yourself to “be” in God’s presence.
Gracious God, thank you for being with us at all times, when we’re in the midst of a crowd and when we’re alone in some quiet place. Thank you for the times you speak to us by your Spirit, no matter the place.
Lord, the example of Elijah encourages us to find solitude so that we might be more attentive to you. Help us to do this no matter our particular situation. As we are quiet before you, may we sense your presence and peace. If there’s something you want to say to us, give us ears to hear you. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the The High Calling Archive, hosted by Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God’s TLC
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.