...Eventually, we find the place of being hidden in his heart
When we are truly dwelling in the shadow of God, we are hidden to things of the world. He becomes our safe place, our defense, and we place our trust in him. These ongoing cycles of spiritual growth serve to shake us out of our comfort zone and induce us to find the inner machinations of our hearts that drive our judgements, anger, and sin. Without these seasons we are in danger of our prophetic words being worthless and based upon our malformed hearts:
“And the Lord said to me, “The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart.” Jeremiah 14:14
The stages of a grace-awakening are laid out by Theophan the Recluce.
“…the first movement of a sinner is towards self, and the second is from self to God. In the first turning a man regains his lost mastery over himself, and in the second, he offers himself as a sacrifice to God--the burnt offering of his freedom. In the first, he reaches the point at which he decides to renounce sin, and in the second, drawing near to God, he makes the vow to belong to Him alone all the days of his life.”
The Example of Elijah
Elijah’s ministry begins in hiddenness. He prophesies a drought and then is sent into solitude. It is here that Elijah learns to exist on God. He could not provide for himself, his only source of sustenance was what God provided. This is a vital lesson for prophetic people. God is to be your source and no other. We spend too much time placating our own appetite. God must teach us a new appetite, for his sweetness.
“And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.” I Kings 17:7
It is when the brook dries up that he knows he is to leave his place of solitude. There is a definitive moment in his life that sends him back into public ministry. This particular time frame possibly lasted 3 years. He knew God was sending him when he realized that the way in which God had sustained and interacted with him has changed. The lesson was done. Elijah had learned to exist on God’s life.
As he goes forward, he has the incredible interaction with the prophets of Baal. 400 prophets of Baal challenge God, and Elijah is the ambassador God sends to represent him. You may be familiar with the story, so here is a a quick summation.
There is a drought in the land, which Elijah has prophesied would come. The prophets of Baal and Elijah set out to challenge the power of their respective deities. The 400 prophets of Baal try their best to call down fire on a prepared sacrifice to no avail. Elijah challenges the people to pour more water on the sacrifice, prays to God, fire descends and consumes the sacrifice. The fire is so intense it breaks apart the stones of the altar. Then Elijah prays and God sends rain for the first time in years.
Elijah has an incredible victory. He is on a God-high. But Jezebel is not happy. Elijah has killed the prophets she was employing. She threatens his destruction and he runs, terrified. Talk about the highest of highs and then the lowest of lows.
Then Elijah is driven back into the wilderness, into hiddenness.
“And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” I Kings 19:3-4
Where the initial stay in the wilderness was to launch him, here the wilderness is for healing. The first lesson of the wilderness is that our inner thought life is exposed. Elijah prayed that he would die. This is born of deep insecurity and little faith. The trial served to expose what was in his heart.
The high of victory became a low of defeat. Elijah needed peace and he had tumult. His success did not mean great maturity, his success merely meant God loved him. This is his dark night. The first time of solitude was probably a dark night as well, but this one is much deeper. Elijah says,
”I am no better than my fathers.”
Solitude highlights the ways in which you compare yourself to others, and always find yourself wanting.
“Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” I Kings 19:5-8
In the wilderness of silence and solitude, Elijah received strength for the journey and heavenly help. He is given direction but not purpose, instruction but not meaning. Our submission is tested in solitude, will we pursue God and respond, or will we wallow in our own sorrow. Why solitude at this point in Elijah's ministry? Because he lacked strength to finish the journey. What he received in this period of his life enabled him to finish what he could.
“And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” I Kings 19:9
The question what are you doing here is really, "What are the thoughts of your heart?" God is not asking Elijah because God doesn't know, or because of the physical location. It is about what brought Elijah to that place. God asks questions to induce us to search for the answer.
Elijah responds brokenly.
“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
His statement is, "I have been faithful to you as you haven't been faithful to me." This is really an accusation. Elijah has letter bitterness settle down into his heart. You can almost read his thoughts as something like this: “What the heck God! How come you came through in the situation with the prophets but didn’t defend me what I needed you most? I have been zealous for you and I have been let down.” This season of hiddenness begins to reveal faulty belief structure in Elijah’s heart. But the Lord had an answer.
“Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the 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 still small voice.” I Kings 19:11-12
Elijah was tasked with becoming familiar with the gentle whisper of God, the still small voice. He was familiar with the powerful manifestation, God wanted to know him in the intimate quiet. This is the grounding for any ministry, and for all of life, to listen to the quiet whisper. An older translation states it as the “whistling of a gentle air.” (DRC)
If the way we relate to God is in the strong wind, earthquake, or fire, we never learn his gentle nature. It is difficult to be wooed if we are waiting for a fire. I can’t have a wedding every day with my wife. The mundane is where we fall in love, daily. The wooing of God happens in the quiet moments of our heart. Elijah had just met God through the fire (sacrifice), the wind (the drought ending) and the earthquake (the rocks were consumed). God was challenging Elijah, “Will you serve me because of my power, or because of my love?”.
And here is the question to us…
“Will you serve because of what you can get out of God or because He is God?”
The strong wind, the earthquake, and the fire are powerful but impersonal. They don’t convey the tenderness of His touch. Will you serve because you have fallen madly in love with His heart, or because you want to see a powerful display? Powerful displays come and go, but His heart will always be with you. In order to be used by Him, we must be useful for Him.
When Elijah's heart reflects the stillness around him he hears the voice of God. And this is the ultimate purpose of solitude and silence, to teach our heart to remain hidden in the heart of God.