Tag Archives: God’s Will

Justus Hunter ~ Letting Go of Your Own Influence: Thy Will Be Done

There are two difficulties with our prayer, “Thy will be done.” We fret over the first, but the second is far more dangerous.

“What is Your will? How do I know it? Where can I find it? Is this Your will?” This is the first difficulty. The second accompanies it, and often escapes our notice.

There is a forgotten moment in Elijah’s early career. First the widow’s jars of flour and oil never fail. Then her son, once dead, revives at Elijah’s prayer. Later, Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal. Those prophets, masters of spectacle, cannot reach their gods’ ears. Elijah’s God silences them. And when Elijah’s God comes, a consuming fire on Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal are wiped out, along with the spectacle of their gods. The Word of the Lord silences them, and at that Word, heard once again by God’s chosen people, the drought breaks, rain falls.

But that Word, the Word on Elijah’s lips, was not so clear in the forgotten moment between the miracle of the widow and the miracle of fire. In that moment, two men meet before a Mountain.

After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year of the drought, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab; I will send rain on the earth.” And so Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria. Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Now Obadiah revered the Lord greatly; when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water.) Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.” So they divided the land between them to pass through it; Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself. As Obadiah was on the way, Elijah met him; Obadiah recognized him, fell on his face, and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” He answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.” And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would hand your servant over to Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom to which my lord has not sent to seek you; and when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would require an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. But now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.’ As soon as I have gone from you, the spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where; so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have revered the Lord from my youth. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water? Yet now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here’; he will surely kill me.” Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. – 1 Kings 18:1-16

Like Elijah, Obadiah is a servant of the Lord. Like Elijah, he defies the Canaanite gods of Jezebel, the Baals and the Asherah, gods tolerated by Ahab, King of Israel. Like Elijah, Obadiah defies the king. But he does so secretly. Obadiah defies Ahab in the king’s own court. He conspires against Jezebel’s plotting. In a time of drought, he secrets water away for prophets pursued by the queen.

Like Elijah, Obadiah’s faithfulness is dangerous. He is a faithful servant of the Lord in the house of Ahab. He risks himself for the Lord’s prophets. In this work, secrecy is his ally. He hides the prophets, fifty to a cave. He hides them.

Obadiah’s secrecy was his faithful service. He knew God’s will: hide the prophets. And he followed God’s will, risking martyrdom. Jezebel silences prophets. But Obadiah guards the word of the Lord on the prophets’ lips. He preserves them, and in preserving them, he preserves the Lord’s word.

When Elijah comes, however, Obadiah is caught. He is caught between two other lords. “Is it you my lord Elijah?” he says. But Elijah replies, “It is I. Go tell your lord Ahab that Elijah is here.”

How often we find ourselves caught between Ahabs and Elijahs – caught between lords, uncertain how to serve the one Lord?

Of course, to us, the decision between Ahab and Elijah is obvious. But it was not so clear for Obadiah. Has not Obadiah been serving both the Lord and Ahab to this point? Not only that, but his obedience to Elijah, another lord, risks the failure of his prior faithfulness. What will happen to the prophets if Obadiah is found out, if Obadiah dies? Who will preserve the Word of the Lord on the prophets’ lips?

Obadiah is uncertain. He is not uncertain as to his Lord – that is clear. It is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. It is the God whose Word is on the lips of the prophets. But what does faithfulness to this God look like in this moment? How does he choose between his prior faithfulness and this new Word?

This is the second difficulty of “Thy will be done” – that God’s will for one moment will become our idol in the next.

We focus our attention on easy idols. We love to preach against the Baals and the Asherah. We preach against injustice and immorality. But we’re afraid to speak of the idols that tempt us most: what God is doing through me, my gifts, my ministry, God’s will for my life.

How easily “thy will” becomes “my will.” Beware: the idol of “my will” is difficult to kick down. “God, if what you’re doing now doesn’t confirm, if it doesn’t extend, if it doesn’t expand the good works you began for me, I’m not interested. God, what about my sacrifices? What about my responsibilities? What about my gifts? What about my…”

“What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7) What do you have that was not a gift? Do not mistake your gifts for possessions. They came from the will of God, and there they must remain.

This is the second difficulty of “Thy will be done” – the temptation to turn “Thy will” into “my will.” Obadiah confronts this second difficulty. He pleads for himself. He pleads for his faithful service to God. And once again, the Word of God confronts him. “Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.”

“So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him.” So ends the story of Obadiah. His departure is as sudden as his appearance. But even if his appearance is brief, his lesson lasts.

Obadiah could have usurped the Word of the Lord. Had he not won the right? While Elijah was away, in Zarephath, Obadiah was sleeping under the same roof as Ahab and Jezebel. Obadiah was hiding prophets. Obadiah was risking death.

And yet he obeys. And yet he submits. Confronted by the Word of the Lord, his prior service to God disrupted, his gifts, influence, and life risked, Obadiah obeys.

Another day, another man confronts the will of God before another mountain. Jesus prayed the prayer he taught his disciples, “Thy Will be done.” “Not my will, but Thine.” And in his prayer, he overturns our most tantalizing idols. He shows us that we too can pray that prayer – “Thy Will be done.”

But God, look at what I can do for you. Look at what I’ve begun. What about my gifts? You don’t give them in vain, do you?

All the gifts of God are ordered to a greater gift: the gift of Christ-in-me, so that all things might be conformed to the pattern of Christ, the One through whom God is reconciling all things to himself.

Unless we hold God’s will as Christ held his Father’s, our gifts corrupt. They grow into the most sinister of idols, more powerful than the Baals.

Obadiah came, and encountered the word of God. His will submitted to God’s, and in his obedience he prefigured Christ. Christ came, and was the Word of God. His will was the will of the Father, and the power of his obedience empowers our own.

Christ’s prayer in the garden, “Not my will, but thine,” silences the false gods and overturns the idols. Christ’s prayer in the garden, “Not my will, but thine,” empowers our own prayer – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” The prayer is there in Obadiah’s silence. The prayer is now on our lips.

And so we pray, and we pray, and we pray, and we pray … and we teach our children to pray, just as we were taught: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…Not my will, but thine.”

This post from our archives first appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2017. Featured image: St Peter in Prison, by Rembrandt.

Edgar Bazan ~ Prayer: A Source of New Life

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea and visit some of largest churches in the world: Kwanglim Methodist Church with 85,000 members and Yoido Full Gospel Church with 900,000 members. We met with their senior pastors and leaders and learned about their leadership. We were, so to speak, drinking from a fire hydrant all week.

The food was great. The people were amazing. And some of the cultural differences were shocking, and I noticed some contrasting differences between Westerners and Asians.

One observation in particular is that Koreans, in general, are not individualists; they have a culture of collectivism. They are compliant with each other, and their main concern is the greater good. This cultural context influences the ways in which they practice their Christian faith, including how they read the Bible and pray.

Here in America, a question that we typically ask is “What is God’s will for my life?” But this is not a question that is common in Korea. A more common question for Korean Christians would be, “What is God’s will?” Period. The difference between these questions is that the latter focuses on God, on pursuing God’s kingdom, and not on ourselves.

To us, this may not be a big deal since we have been taught about the value of individualism. But for many Koreans, this is not typical. They don’t ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” They seek God’s will collectively by studying the Bible and praying. Their main concern is not asking for God’s will but aligning themselves with the teachings of Jesus. In general, the concept of having a tailored plan for oneself is an alien one to them.

In essence, Korean Christians fulfill God’s will for their lives not by waiting for a specific answer from God about a plan for them but by pursuing what they already know God is doing. Their prayer life is more about joining God than asking God.

This experience led me to reflect deeper on my own practice of prayer. A Scripture that spoke to me in very significant ways is in Matthew 20:20-23,

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.'”

This Scripture of Matthew is the story of a mother who wanted only the best for her sons. She came to Jesus with a bold request. She asked that when Jesus comes into his Kingdom, he would have her sons seated on his right and the other on his left. She was doing what any mother would do. I don’t think we can blame her for coming to Jesus and asking what she thought was the best for them.

If we read the other gospels, it’s clear that this was a shared controversy among the disciples all the way until the night before Jesus was crucified. No matter what we may think about James and John (and their mother), the other disciples wanted those seats as well.

The basic problem is that James and John didn’t ask for work in the coming Kingdom but for a place of honor. Through their request, they were not pursuing the purposes of the kingdom but the benefits of the kingdom.

To this request, Jesus provides an answer. He says, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” And they replied, “Yes, we can.” And Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:22-23).

Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the mother or her sons. There was no problem with asking. However, Jesus does tell them that they don’t know what they are asking. And, at that moment, Jesus then asks them if they can drink the cup he is about to drink. With commendable bravery, they replied, “We can.”

Here is a critical moment for all of us as we look to learn more about the power of prayer.

The concept of the “cup” in the Bible speaks of intense personal experience. It is the same image Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that the cup he was about to drink might be taken from him. Luke 22:42 says of this, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

That “cup” for Jesus particularly meant to him the burden of bearing the sins of the world, of having to face death on a cross. His drinking of the cup was his willingness to accomplish the will of God no matter the cost to him. And he did, because he trusted that the Father’s desire would result in the greatest good for the greatest glory and joy possible for all the saints. And so, even while sweating blood in tortuous expectation of his impending execution, Jesus exclaimed to the Father, “Not as I will, but as you will.”

What then is our cup? When Jesus says, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” he is telling us that just as his cup represented his submission to the will of God and the purposes of God’s kingdom, so it means to us how we too submit to God. In this context, the cup is something taken voluntarily when our goal is not personal gain but accomplishing God’s will. Drinking the cup is the ultimate act of obedience and trust to God.

What does this have to do with prayer? When we pray, are we only asking for a seat, or are we drinking the cup, submitted wholly to God? When we pray, are our main concerns our individual comforts, or are we pursuing the kingdom of God?

Of course, Jesus does invite us to ask for whatever we may think we need. The point is not to stop that, but to go beyond that. Jesus spoke of this when he said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

If we look closely, all this time Jesus has been telling us that prayer is not a means for personal gain (a “seat of honor”) but a source of life. Prayer is the cup that leads us beyond brokenness into new living.

When we tell God, “all these are my wants, but let it be your will and not mine,” we are basically saying, “I want that seat, but that is not the most important thing; above everything else, I want to please you.”

This is the cup Jesus was talking about; this is the meaning of the cup to us. And here,is where the power of God is unleashed in and through us. When we drink this cup we are taken to new heights in our spiritual life.

The secret to a powerful prayer life is drinking the cup: humility and submission to God’s teachings. It is not about not asking what you want or pretending that you really don’t want it by forcing artificial piety; but it is about not losing sight of what matters most even as you struggle with your own priorities. There is nothing wrong with asking and talking with God about our wants and desires. In fact, God welcomes that very much. However (in my Korean experience), prayer is not only about asking “what’s in it for me?” but a pursuit to learn to align our lives with God’s Word and the teachings of Jesus.

How have the Korean churches have been so successful in reaching out to the unchurched and making disciples of them? I came across Matthew 20 and realized that their power to minister comes from their unwavering commitment to please God and accomplish the purposes of God’s kingdom.

What are we to make of all this? We learned from Matthew about not being shy about asking but also about making sure we don’t miss what matters most. Don’t stop praying when you are finished asking for a seat; drink the cup after that. Don’t stop praying when you are finished asking God for what you want or need. Once we ask, then let’s consider also praying like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Luke 22:42 paraphrased)

Prayer is ultimately a source of new life, not a means for personal gain. Take your prayer life to the next level. Ask everything you want, but then pursue the kingdom of God and offer yourself in complete obedience to what God is accomplishing around you. Say, “here I am, Lord, let me serve you in any way you want me to.”

Let’s not stop asking, but let’s also never stop pursuing the kingdom of God and offer ourselves in complete obedience to what God is doing around us today and every day.


Note from the Editor: the featured image is “Prayer” by painter Kazimir Malevich, 1907.

Edgar Bazan ~ May All Your Plans Be Successful

There is a prayer that I recently discerned to pray: God, may all your plans for me be successful.

The rationale behind this prayer is that I want to position myself and do everything that is in my power to let God fulfill his plans in my life.

Notice that I did not say “my plans,” but God’s. This is a risky prayer by all standards. Basically, I am putting myself at the mercy of God! And you know what – that is the best place I could ever imagine to be.

However, sometimes I make it really hard for God to do this. Can you relate? We delay God’s success in our life. Don’t we? And because of that, we end up losing opportunities to fulfill God’s plans for us.

This message goes along the lines of what Billy Graham said: “End your journey well. Don’t waste your life, and don’t be satisfied with anything less than God’s plan.”

So it is my hope, whether it is today or in the next few days ahead, you too may find your way back to your life purpose and pray the prayer, “may all your plans be successful in my life, God,” because God indeed has a plan for you.

The question we all have asked in this regard is the key: What’s God’s plan for us?

Let’s look into this.

Our Scripture reading today is Matthew 4:1-17. Here, Matthew narrates the story of how, after he was baptized and recognized by God as his beloved Son, Jesus is taken by the Spirit of God to the desert, to the wilderness to be put to the test. After this time of trial, – 40 days to be precise – he then inaugurated the beginning of his ministry here on earth by proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

In this story, Jesus faced three tests or temptations. I believe there is a powerful connection between one of them and the proclamation of repentance and God’s kingdom that speaks to us about this idea of God’s plans for our lives.

Of the temptations, one dealt with hunger, another with trust in God’s provision, and the last, with love or faithfulness to God. The first one is the one on which I am focusing today because I believe this one in particular is relevant to the proclamation of Jesus about God’s kingdom.

This first temptation went like this:

[Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

After 30 years of preparation, Jesus was almost ready to begin his ministry. Only one more thing was needed. To be completely ready to bring healing and salvation to this world, Jesus needed to be tested. And in this first test, we have the devil basically telling Jesus: It has been 40 days since you tasted any food, why are you starving when you can easily feed yourself?

Of course, the devil couldn’t care less about Jesus’ needs; he wanted to talk Jesus out of his purpose, out of God’s plans, into trouble, and even worse, into sin.

What we see here, then, is that the purpose of Jesus’ temptation or test was about challenging his trust in God’s plan and his complete dependence on God.

Would Jesus take a shortcut? Would he stay faithful to the Father’s will? Would he fall into doing things the devil’s way instead of God’s way? It would have been so easy for Jesus – the Son of God – to turn stones into bread. But in doing so, in choosing the bread, he would have compromised God’s plans for him.

My friends, how many times does bread get in the way of God’s plans for us?

Let me explain.

I believe that in this particular story bread represents a compromise of God’s plans. It is choosing something else before what we know God has said about us or has asked about us. It is the yielding or given up too soon because we can’t wait or endure God’s processes in our lives any longer.

What’s your bread? Is it comforts, satisfaction, or pleasure? Could it be wealth, fame, recognition, or any other? Just like actual bread, these are not bad, but if they take precedence over God’s plans for us, they will become a stumbling block in our lives.

Of course, all of these have merit and are valuable, and they may very well be part of God’s plans for us in one way or another; they are not intrinsically bad. However, they are finite endeavors that provide temporary comfort. Any of these, sooner or later, will need to be replaced with a new something else.

You see how difficult it is to refuse the temptation to feed on the bread because we can. But by doing so, we delay, interrupt, or miss altogether the plans of God for us. What is even more sad about this is that sometimes without even realizing it, our relationship with God is only a means to get the bread; we couldn’t care less about God’s desires and will for us.

But the bread did not get in the way of Jesus, for he said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

This is what I want for me, my family, and I pray you may have it too: I don’t care if I am tempted with bread, crackers, or tortillas, the Word of God comes first, and I won’t compromise my relationship, witness, faith, and character for what is a mere temporary comfort.

This is what we can learn from Jesus’ temptation with bread: sometimes God will make us sacrifice something we want in order to secure our heart for the greatest good – himself and his purposes. What we will be given instead is much more valuable than any goal or plan we could have created for ourselves.

The point is not that God wants to keep us away from the things we want or need, but that we are willing to sacrifice them if they get in the way between God and us. When we submit ourselves to God’s Word, everything else falls into place and all the good plans God has for us become a reality. It is then that our prayer, “may all your plans for me be successful,” begins to take shape and becomes a tangible reality.

Now, what comes out God’s mouth? Words, right? But, what is God saying? I know God has unique words for each one of us just as God has particular plans and purposes for all of us. But there is a universal and constant word that God speaks that defines God’s plans for each one of us. This is the basis for everything that God wants to do in our lives, and without it, nothing can be done.

Here is where Matthew 4:17 helps us to discern this.

God’s plans for Jesus were about saving humanity from death and sin. And the first action Jesus took after being tempted by the devil was to proclaim this simple yet profound revelation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is what the devil wanted to keep Jesus away from: the proclamation of God’s kingdom and its arrival. This is what Jesus would have had left undone if he had chosen the bread when he was tempted early on.

This proclamation of repentance and God’s kingdom was a calling to people then as much as it is a calling for us today: to realign themselves with God’s Word and live in a new kingdom of heaven kind of life.

This proclamation is simple yet profound: “Repent!” he said first.

To repent is to make a radical reversal in life and realign with God. To repent or realign is a dynamic term that is more than a one-time event. Of course, there must be an initial turning to God, but repentance is not only a one-time crisis moment but rather an ongoing way of life.

We could more accurately capture Jesus’ message by translating 4:17 “Realign your life continually to God’s ways.”

Jesus’ words are an invitation and command to make sure our lives are in alignment with God’s character. This realignment involves turning away from obvious evils and sins, but more important than that, it also involves an ongoing assessment and shifting to virtues that represent the character of God and his kingdom – things like being kind and compassionate (Ephesians 4:32), living above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2), attending to the needs of others, especially the least fortunate (Proverbs 19:17), giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), praying for our friends and even enemies, loving our neighbor as ourselves – basically, everything we see Jesus doing and saying in the gospels. This is what aligning with God means.

So, when Jesus was tempted to eat the bread when he knew it was not the time to do that, he was for all practical purposes keeping himself in alignment with God’s plans. Because of this, Jesus blessed all humanity for all eternity because he himself was the greatest follower of God the Father.

Perhaps our challenge or struggle to see God’s plans for us fulfilled is not a lack of faith, but a lack of obedience and alignment with God’s Word.

My friends, this word is for all of us. Can we learn from this? Your life, everything you are, your thoughts, your strengths, your dreams exist for a purpose greater than yourself. Your greatest achievement in this life is to leave a mark of blessing in people’s lives, to leave this world better than you found it. And all of these can happen if we let God be successful in achieving his plans in our lives.

What we see in Jesus is the key to understanding what God wants for us and from us in order for God’s plans to be successful in our lives as they were with Jesus. If we sow in faithfulness and obedience, we will reap in blessings, in God’s promises.

Whatever your career, your education, your skills, and your dreams in life are, glorify and honor God through them by letting him be bigger in your life than everything else.

Now, I recognize how this may be challenging and perhaps even scary to do: surrender everything to God? Don’t be afraid to surrender your most wanted dreams, desires, and possessions to God. I know some people fear, if they give to God, what will there be left for them? What they don’t understand is that when you do surrender to God and confess, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God…” God is going to multiply the blessings in your life, and your cup will be overflowing.

Don’t believe me? Here is the proof: So, Jesus was tempted with bread, right? How ironic is that, because later we see that Jesus’ ministry was heavily centered around bread, feeding it to people and multiplying it miraculously.

What you are surrendering to God today may be the very thing that God will give you in abundance to bless many.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that if you submit yourself to God in all that you are and all that you have that somehow you are going to lose. When you unleash the Word of God in your life, pray to God, “May all your plans for me be successful,” and follow him as your shepherd, and you will lack nothing.

Jesus said best when he said in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

This is the invitation today: stop eating the bread that is getting in the way between you and God. Get back to the path. Get yourself together, and realign with God’s plans for you. Has it been a day, a year, maybe five or 20 years since you gave up on what you knew in your heart God wants to accomplish for you, in you, and through you? Well, you can start making it right today. Yield to God.

What is your calling? I pray for you: May all God’s plans for your life be successful. Amen.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Will to Prepare the Way

“The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” – Everyone from Vince Lombardi to Bear Bryant to Bobby Knight is cited as the source of this quote. The wisdom found in it has outlasted the origin.

Everyone wants to win. It doesn’t matter how you define winning – career success, relationship goals met, curling up everyday by a fire to read, being left alone, having friends, running marathons, sitting quietly, however you define it, everyone wants their goal to be met in the area most important to them.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately. Most people don’t Instagram the moment when they’re scrubbing the toilet bowl, or taking out the trash, or dusting the mantelpiece. Most people don’t live Tweet the truly difficult parts of a workout, or share a Facebook Live stream of a mundane, grinding dispute with a loved one. We like to edit our ongoing portrayal of our lives, and in part, that’s alright.

We pray, “thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” We ask God, we submit to God, that God’s will might unfurl across the universe, on earth, just as it is in the heavenly realms. Whether or not we see the connection between scrubbing a toilet and God’s will being done on earth, we do the first and pray the second.

Consider this passage from James 2:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.

Any Christian who wants to appear pious knows that he or she should want God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Few people want to scrub a toilet, wipe down its exterior, and clean the floor surrounding it. But you cannot separate faith from works. 

In other words, the will to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven is not nearly as important as the will to ask God how we might help bring about God’s will to be done on earth today in our home and town and nation. If I ask God to take care of lonely shut-in’s, but I leave them off my Christmas card list, I am a, “resounding gong, a clanging cymbal.” And if I ask God to bring peace, but I harbor resentment in my heart, giving it room to settle and nest, then, “if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” If I believe the right things, but I do not live sacrificially, I have missed the Kingdom of God. Even the demons can recite the Creed, say the Eucharistic liturgy, quote modern saints, recall Scripture passages. So what? They do not love their neighbor.

James demands, “can faith save you?”

Can praying, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” save you?

We read in the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40,

A voice cries out:
 In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

The Gospel of John follows up on Isaiah, as we read in John 1:

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

John the Baptist did not just pray for God’s will to be done: he obeyed God by preparing the way for the Lord. John the Baptist went ahead in the wilderness, crying out, clearing the path so that Jesus could be revealed to Israel. The will for the Messiah to appear was not nearly as important for the will to cry out in the wilderness, clear the path, and make straight the way of the Lord.

God has given us the Holy Spirit so that we, like John, can prepare the way for the Lord. Only instead of looking for the first coming of the Messiah, we look for the second. Advent is a season when we celebrate both: we read of the census and the wise men, the slaughter of the innocent and the shepherds, Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus and Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John, while also reading from Revelation, of the prayers of the saints and the blood of the martyrs, of the Lamb of God and the loud chorus of heaven.

Do we have the will to pray without the will to prepare the way of the Lord?

We must both pray for God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, and prepare the way of the Lord, clearing his path, making God’s road straight and even. Otherwise, we’re a clanging gong, willing to Instagram our Sunday morning piety but not scrub our elderly neighbor’s toilet.

The will to see God’s Kingdom come is not nearly as important as the will to…what?

What is it you hope God doesn’t ask you to do, to prepare the way for his Kingdom?

Maybe that’s what we need to present to God this Christmas.

God, help us to be willing to prepare the way for you to arrive in people’s hearts and lives.

Danny E. Morris ~ How Do You Feel About God’s Will?

“God’s will is the greatest gift we can receive under any circumstance.”

If this is true, shall we tap into the infinite wisdom of God, or shall we “pool our ignorance” and go it alone? We have been discerning God’s will all of our lives: Some of us have spiritual intuition; we attend corporate worship.

Consider the multiple choices you are presented in just one day – we read the paper (God’s will is involved in current events). We discern God’s will every time we buy groceries . . . instead of arsenic!

Some think that fulfilling God’s will would be a hardship.

Many think God’s will is fixed and rigid. You may easily believe that God’s will is frightening. “God might want me to become a preacher, go to the foreign mission field, or sell my boat, for goodness sake!”

I moved through many of these attitudes and stages of running from the divine will.

My early image of discerning God’s will was a wheat field: I was standing in the balcony of heaven. God took his will for me and dropped it (like a concrete block!) in a wheat field. My task in life was to run and run until I found God’s will. If I failed to find it, or stumbled over it, I would never be the same as before.

This was a terrible image!

What do you think of my present image of discerning God’s will?

God and I are together as co-creators in my life.

With that as my image, my present goal is to seek God’s will; to know God’s will; and to do God’s will.

How do you know if you have a discernment issue? This doesn’t mean, “which shopping center shall I go to today? What should I put on my grocery list? What color shall we paint the speed bumps in the church parking lot? Which kind of car shall I buy?”

Rather, the test is the question, “does God have anything to do with it?”

You must ask the “God Question”: “God, is this your will? Yes or No?”

The “God Question” is a vital question for any person, any church, any day.

While doing discernment workshops in numerous churches I discovered a major surprise. Many people in the church are afraid of God’s will. I was frequently told, either publicly or privately, of fear that if a person asks for God’s will to be done, it could bring a definite hardship, as if God’s will is the worst thing that can happen. Many of us fear that God’s will may have cutting edges or hard and unhappy results. “God always wants you to do the most difficult thing. It is best not to get too close to God; after all, God will get you, or make things difficult for you.”

I have found that just the opposite is true.

God’s will is absolutely the best that can happen to us under any circumstance. Cooperating with God doesn’t produce hardship, but harmony. God’s will is not intended to cause problems but to produce power that cannot come to us outside of God’s will.

So, the God Question may be our most important question: “God, is this your will? Yes or no?”

Asking the God Question is not necessary at every turn of one’s life, but it is essential for all major decisions where you feel or suspect that it would be good for God to help. (If it would be, you need to know it.)

Therefore, here are two questions to consider: How different would your life be if you had frequently and earnestly been asking the God Question?

And, What would your church be like if you were corporately, consciously asking the God Question about every ministry, every feature, or every action of your church?

It’s worth pondering.


Danny Morris ~ Asking the God Question

God, is this your will? Yes or No?”

Let us consider the God-question – a vital question for any person, any church, any day.

While doing discernment workshops with numerous churches, I discovered a major surprise: many people in the church are actually afraid of God’s will. I was frequently told, either publicly or privately, of the fear that if they asked for God’s will to be done, it could bring a definite hardship – as if God’s will is the worst thing that can happen. Many feared that God’s will might have cutting edges or hard and unhappy results. “God always wants you to do the most difficult thing. Ask for God’s will and you might have to quit your job, or become a missionary, or sell your boat! It is best not to get too close to God for, after all, God will get you, or make things difficult for you.”

I have found that just the opposite is true. God’s will is absolutely the best that can happen to us under any circumstance. Cooperating with God doesn’t produce hardship, but harmony. God’s will is not intended to cause problems but to produce power that cannot come to us outside of God’s will.

So, the God-question may be our most important question: “God, is this your will? Yes or no?”

Asking the God-question is not necessary at every turn of one’s life, but it is essential for all major decisions where you feel or suspect that it would be good for God to help. (If it would be, you need to know it.)

Therefore, here are two questions to consider: How different would your life be if you had frequently and earnestly been asking the God-question?

And, what would your church be like if you were corporately, consciously, asking the God-question about every ministry, every feature, or every action of it?

Danny Morris ~ How God Communicates

Nothing is more vital in spiritual discernment than to know that God communicates, and to know how God communicates.

Father John Powell, S.J., shared his insight that God communicates with us through five “ports of entry,” those means being the mind, emotion, imagination, memory, and will. I have explored his concept with dozens of groups in The Adventure of Living Prayer, a retreat model sponsored by The Upper Room and developed by Maxie Dunnam and myself.

I wrote the five “ports of entry” on a chalkboard and asked participants to tell their group-of-three about an experience with God, and name the port of entry which God used to communicate. I was always impressed with how quickly they could identify their experience.

After their discussion I called for votes “by precincts” around the room when each person designated his or her port of entry. I have done this with more than 50 groups, and a pattern became predictable. Typically, “emotion” was first; “mind” was usually second but sometimes third; “will” was usually third but sometimes second; and “memory” and “imagination” always competed for fourth and fifth places. I have never found an exception to this pattern, no matter how large or small the group.

Emotion was always first. When I asked the group what this tells us, the immediate and invariably apologetic conclusion was that it reveals we are emotional people (spoken as a downer!). I was saddened that many of the participants were ashamed of their human emotional nature. They assumed that to be emotional is to be weak, and the “worst case” of emotion they could imagine was religious emotion. They also assumed that emotion in religion connotes sadness, guilt, or remorse. They seldom talked of emotion in religion as joy and celebration.

Here are four additional beliefs that surfaced:

1) Emotion is caused by religious excess.

2) If you open yourself to emotions, you may not know how to handle the situation.

3) An emotional response indicates that one has lost control.

4) The person and/or their group might be embarrassed by “an emotional outburst.”

The church must address these negative attitudes about emotion in religion. Head-religion and heart-religion cannot flourish without each other. Separately, they only reproduce themselves while together they enhance Christian maturity.


My next question to the group was, “why does imagination get so few votes?” I began to answer my rhetorical question by telling my own story, and I could see nods of agreement all around the room.

As a child, I was told not to use my imagination. As a first or second grader, I was scolded for daydreaming instead of doing my work. Letting one’s mind wander was a no-no. I was told that if my mind wandered, I could soon be fantasizing, and that fantasy was dangerous: “you could go off the deep end if you are not careful.” They reminded me that I had work to do if I wanted to learn how to be productive. How many times was I told that an “idle mind is the devil’s workshop”? (At six and seven, I had no idea what they were talking about.)

My high school curriculum was no help. It offered only a smattering of poetry and no art. Throughout my high school years, great literature was never held up as a source of “food” for one’s imagination.

Later, the “Protestant work-ethic” kicked in, and there was no turning back.

Imagine my shock when at 40, I visited Disney Land (back then). I walked through the park with childlike intrigue. Everything was fascinating and colorful and creative. Everywhere I looked I saw sheer fantasy. It was wonderful! I loved it! Everyone loved it!

That day I made a discovery: all those people were wrong. Fantasy is good. It is creative imagination at work.

And creative imagination is a gift from God!


When we considered memory as a port of entry through which God communicates, many were puzzled. We thought of memory as our ability to recall dates, facts, telephone numbers, and names. But substantive memories, the good memories that nourish and sustain us, give us a sense of our history with and without God.

Professor Henri Nouwen described healing, guiding, and sustaining memories. My classmates were most keenly interested in healing memories because many of us had memories of negative experiences that had never been healed.

Professor Nouwen also wrote about “celebrating our hurts.” That was a new thought for most of the group. “What is there to celebrate? I am trying to forget a hurt and move on.”

But celebrating one’s hurts seemed to be a valid point. We celebrate a hurt by giving it prominence in our memory. Our memory has no power over us. Only when the hurt is remembered and offered to God can the hurt be healed.

God communicates with us through our good memories. They put us in touch again with the care and providence and grace of God. God also communicates with us through our bad memories when we place them into God’s care and grace.


The will is also a port of entry. It is probably the easiest of the five to understand. All of us have experienced either the presence or absence of strength of will. Father Powell referred to people in AA who find strength in their wills to do something that in themselves they had not been able to do.

During a week when I paid attention to persons around me, I witnessed dramatic effects of God’s communication through the will:

-A blind woman in her mid-twenties received her college diploma.

-Someone sitting behind me commented as a man walked forward to get his college diploma, “that man with the wooden leg is my 57-year-old daddy.”

-“I don’t want to put the tests off. Whatever is wrong, we need to know, so it can be treated.”

-“I love my car and I hate like anything to give it up, but I know it is only right that I do.”

In each case, strength of will made the difference. We know that God has communicated with us when we do that which is beyond our natural strength.


The mind is one of the strongest gifts we have going for us in spiritual discernment. To be able to think and reason is to use logic, assemble and assimilate data, make choices, and act out of “what comes to mind.” None of these is a contradiction or violation of spiritual discernment. On the contrary, we could not properly discern without our mental faculties.

God’s ways, for the most part, are not shrouded in mystery. They are usually reasonable, logical, simple and obvious. When I read the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” I can grasp it with my mind.

Our world is full of innumerable examples that are far less dramatic. When I want to know God’s will on such matters, I simply use my mind. When my mind is influenced by the Holy Spirit, it is a reliable discerner of God’s will. I don’t need a theology book or a prayer group to help me discern whether God want me to abuse drugs.

Usually at some point during a discussion of the ports of entry someone will question whether the list of five is complete. “How about Scripture or the witness of a Christian friend? Doesn’t God speak to us in those ways?”

I distinguish between a source and our perception. The Bible is a source of God’s witness. But the Bible may sit on the table, unopened and unread. It is the same with the Christian witness of a friend. One’s Christian witness may have been given in word and deed on numerous occasions, yet it can remain unheeded-never really heard!

Only when one makes use of the Bible, or heeds a Christian witness, do they move through a port of entry into one’s consciousness.

Because of the story of a friend, I choose to add a sixth port of entry:


A professor friend described a personal experience that strongly suggests that our bodies are channels through which God communicates. He was an effective teacher. He received affirmation in his work. The university moved him into a coveted, tenured faculty position within six months, when for others it took five years. His ample salary also affirmed the quality of his work.

Everything was great, except that every morning when he went to work he became nauseated-really sick! A medical checkup did not reveal a cause. After nine months of daily nausea at work, his wife asked, “is it possible that God is trying to speak to you through your body and you are not listening? Maybe this is not what you are supposed to be doing with your life.”

In due time, he left the university and began a year’s sabbatical in residence with his family at Pendle Hill, the Quaker Retreat Center near Philadelphia. He stayed at Pendle Hill as a leader for ten years at a sizable reduction in salary compared to the university. He never again experienced daily nausea. His body was a port of entry.

In the midst of these ports of entry, to discern God’s will, two basic understandings must be fixed in one’s prayer life and personal theology: first, God is good! If you don’t hold that basic conviction, why would you want to know God’s will? Second, communication with God is possible!

 If you wish to be intentional about developing your capacity for discerning God’s will, the best way is to be open to, and utilize, all of the ports of entry that are available for God to communicate with you. We have considered the question of how God communicates with us. Let me raise a quantitative question. Let’s now ask, not how, but how much or how little God communicates with us?

We can never calculate this for sure, but we can surmize some things because of what we know about the nature of God. We know that God’s grace is given freely and abundantly. We experience weather, air, and the seasons. These simple reminders suggest that we never have to question God’s constancy.

Ironically, God does not always have to be “speaking” or “broadcasting” in order to be communicating. Nor is communication from God stopped if I am not attentive. The very possibility of our presence to each other is the beginning of communication. And God is constantly calling for the full realization of that possiblity. God’s constancy in relationship-even constancy in availability for relationship-is in itself a powerful form of communication. In a deep, deep sense, that communication goes on constantly. It is like my relationship with Rosalie. We have a deep relationship of communication in part because of our availabilityfor a deep relationship.

How much God communicates with me is a wonderful thought that opens marvelous images of totality and consistency that reflect God’s nature.

How little I communicate with God is a terrible question because it confronts me precisely at the point of a weakness. The answer to that question judges me because of my inability to receive what God is saying when I refuse to “have ears to hear.” A major factor determining how little I communicate with God is the closed or underdeveloped Ports of Entry in my consciousness.

How much God communicates with me by being constantly available to me is a matter of everlasting grace on God’s part.

Danny Morris ~ The Gift of Spiritual Intuition

Intuition is a direct knowledge or awareness of something without conscious attention or reasoning; it is non-intellectual perception. Nothing innately spiritual is either stated or implied in that definition. When a person allows the Holy Spirit to take control of his or her natural intuition, the result is spiritual intuition. Discernment through spiritual intuition provides deeper understanding and expands the boundaries of awareness.

God communicates; and a human being with a sensitive spiritual intuition may process what God communicated. This suggests a strategy God uses much of the time: God teams up with human beings and relies upon us to respond to divine promptings.

That communication is the pivotal point of everything described in this article. In this event the intuitive response of team work, and God’s providential care, were at their highest levels.

When defining spiritual intuition it is a marvel think that God can put an idea into someone’s mind, and that person can comprehend that idea, and immediately act with unquestioning determination; it is a remarkable wonder! God has freely given each of us this capacity. We get little nudges—feelings that this or that should be done or not done. We get hunches and leadings, signs and signals, and sometimes direct messages. Many persons have related experiences of God’s direct communication.

The next time you experience spiritual intuition, put away worry about what others will think. Instead, carefully consider your leading. Test it with spiritual friends. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you.

The Gift of Spiritual Intuition: A Case Study

Rosalie and I were privileged to spend some vacation days on the Island of Kauai. On the first afternoon, we had an experience of a remarkable kind of spiritual discernment-spiritual intuition.

We decided to go shopping in one of the colorful hotel shops. I was eager to get an elegant Hawaiian shirt. I had passed over several shirts and was on my way to making a final choice when Rosalie said, “let’s go to the beach.” I said, “help me select my shirt and I’ll wear it to the beach!”

Intuition at Work in Real Time

“No!” she insisted, “we can look for a shirt later.” She took two shirts out of my hands, laid them aside, and with a strong grip on my wrist led me out of the store against my protest. She said, “Come on. I want to go to the beach!” I was shocked, because she is not a “beach person.”

Surprisingly, the beach was almost deserted, which was unusual for 6:00 on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We saw only a woman and a man on the beach. The man ran down the beach, leaving the woman alone. We were perhaps 50 yards from her. She seemed to be shouting to us, but we couldn’t hear her because of the wind. Finally, we heard her scream, “my husband is drowning in the surf!” (She had told the stranger and he had gone to find help, but he ran in the wrong direction.)

God’s Helpers

I sprinted toward the hotel for help. Rosalie ran into four lanes of slow-moving traffic and stopped a car. The two motorists dashed across the beach and charged into the roaring surf.

By the time I returned from the hotel with help, they had pulled the man to shore. Rosalie, a registered nurse, was bent over the man’s inert form, applying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Because of exhaustion the two men were prostrate on the beach. The man had already turned blue then chalky-white around his mouth and in his hands and feet. We were losing!

Another Helper

A crowd quickly gathered. A doctor rushed up and quickly went into action. “We have about 15 seconds!” he declared as he applied oxygen that had been brought from the hotel. He began to pump his chest and yell, “Breathe man! You’ve got to breathe!” He hit him on his chest a couple of more times. “Breathe man! Breathe.” Miraculously, he struggled for breath. Then another breath! And another! By the time the ambulance arrived he was breathing and some color had returned to his face, hands and feet.

Talk about God’s providential care!

Consider this list of provisions:

-Rosalie and I were the only persons on the beach, except the man’s wife and a passer-by she had sent for help.

-Rosalie is a registered nurse and trained in CPR.

-The two men she flagged (the only car that stopped) were native to that island, were young, expert swimmers, and were trained as EMTs.

-If I had not run to the hotel, we would not have had the oxygen.

-The doctor who ran out to help was a cardiologist.

Coming down to the wire with fifteen seconds to go… if I had looked at one more shirt we would have been too late! The uncanny sequence of events laid end-to-end like dominoes was miraculous! What began as a leisurely shopping expedition turned into an unforgettable afternoon.

As I recall this experience, I realize that at the time I was not particularly surprised by Rosalie’s out-of-the-blue insistence that we go to the beach. Often, I have wondered whether she was standing in light I couldn’t see or was just being stubborn. But spiritual intuition is not the same as stubbornness. Earlier, we said intuition is a direct knowledge or awareness of something without conscious attention or reasoning; it is non-intellectual perception.

The Big Question

After this episode occurred, I tried to sort out “what happened” on the beach that day. My mind keeps going back to the abundance of God’s providential care.

But there is something more profound than the unusual events on the beach. I am intrigued by the question: where was God that day? Is it fair to say that God was not on the beach-only a couple of EMT’s, a nurse, a doctor, and a few other helpers?

Perhaps God’s will was mediated in two parts:

(1) God communicated in the shirt shop . . .

(2) . . . causing a human being to respond.

Would that make God’s communication in the shirt shop the sum total of God’s intervention? Could it be that God was actually involved only in the shirt shop where God communicated?

It is clear that a human being with a sensitive spiritual intuition processed what God communicated. That does not diminish God’s part. Rather, it suggests a strategy God uses much of the time: God teams up with people and relies upon us to respond to divine promptings with redemptive acts. Communication was the pivotal point of everything that followed and the intuitive responses from several people were exceptional teamwork.

Those ministries of care on the beach were essential. But they seem less dramatic than God’s act of communication, and Rosalie’s response to that communication in the shirt shop. That seems perhaps the most phenomenal event of that day.

To think that God could put an idea into someone’s mind, and that person could comprehend that idea, and immediately act upon it with determination – what a remarkable wonder! A second wonder is that God has given all of us this capacity. God communicates with all of us: we get little nudges-feeling that this or that should be done, or not done; we get hunches and leadings, signs and signals, and sometimes direct messages.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you nudges, hunches, leadings, signs and signals, and direct messages. Any of these is more precious than a precious stone.This prayer to the Holy Spirit is so important, it must be prayed over and over and over.

After “all was well” on the beach we went to the man’s hotel room to tell his relatives what had happened.

Then, we went to our room-in awe of everything!


Robert Gorrell ~ God was not in the Wind

This sermon was preached in the days following tornadoes in Oklahoma.

Elijah was on the run. He had fled the wrath of his archenemy, Jezebel. The Queen had sworn to kill Elijah. The prophet had just defeated her priests and had proven their god, Ba’al, was nothing more than a lump of stone.

Jezebel was furious. So Elijah ran…

He ran into the desert. He left servant and friend behind. Eventually Elijah made it through the desert to a mountain called The Mountain of God. God told Elijah he would meet him there. As Elijah stood on the mountain a great wind came. It was a wind so forceful it sucked the trees and even the grass right up from the ground. The wind was so powerful it even shattered rock and tore the mountain apart. Then the scripture says:

“…but God was not in the wind.

For the past few days since the tornado struck I have heard people make a lot of claims about God. People have said:

God has a purpose in this.

God is teaching us something.

God is using this to bring people closer to him.

One Baptist minister said, God is punishing Oklahoma City.

I want you to repeat after me: God was not in the wind.

I know God was not in the wind because a real theologian, my grandpa, told me so long ago. On April 28, 1960 a tornado hit South Oklahoma City. The tornado was wider than three football fields, traveled on the ground over 12 miles and had winds approaching 200 miles per hour. Incredibly no one was killed. But 57 were injured and a number left homeless. My family numbered among those left homeless by the storm.

We climbed out of the shelter to a different world than the one we left. Our outbuildings were gone including the kennel where my grandfather kept the dogs he raised. Our house looked fine to me. I remember walking inside and seeing the bills still neatly stacked on my dad’s desk. Then I looked up: no ceiling…no roof… just sky.

Feeling very upset I asked my grandpa, “Why? Why did God send a tornado to our house?”

My grandpa was a fine Christian who really knew his Bible. He said, “Junior, God was not in the wind.” And then I had my first real theological discussion in which the mystery of God and the power of faith became a part of my life. What I remember most about that conversation is this:

God was not in the wind!

Today we live in a culture that sees only cause and effect. It’s the kind of culture that seeks easy answers and reduces faith to a simple formula: Do good and you’ll be rewarded. Do bad and you’ll be punished. If you believe that then yes, you’ll probably believe God is punishing Oklahoma City for some bad Karma. But that is a pagan god (little g), not the God of the Bible. The Bible clearly says:

God was not in the wind!

But why do so many Christians believe that God somehow caused the storm? Most Christians, especially in Oklahoma, are part of the radical reformist theology that dominates Protestant Christianity today. One major belief in this kind of theology is the sovereignty of God. Don’t get me wrong – Methodists believe in the sovereignty of God, but not in the same way.

The sovereignty of God is the teaching that all things are under God’s rule and control, and that nothing happens without God’s direction or permission. God works not just some things but all things according to the counsel of his own will (see Eph. 1:11). These folks believe that God’s all-powerful reign guides everything and that nothing happens that is not God’s will. So…if a tornado hits a couple of schools and children are the victims it must be God’s will. Our job then is to accept God’s will and learn something from it.

ButGod was not in the wind!

So what do we believe? Well I need to warn you – Methodist beliefs are radical. They are so radical that a long time ago our beliefs were put on trial at the International Court at The Hague.

So let me give you a little key to use while I explain. Put simply, we believe:

God was not in the wind!

We believe that God created a perfect world…a world without pain, suffering, death, or tornadoes. We believe God created free beings to live in that world. Those free beings had the God-given ability to choose just how they wanted to live. And they chose to rebel against God…to sin.

We believe that sin left the world a broken place. And since that moment there has been cancer, and the flu and yes tornadoes all because the whole world is broken. You see in America we think about everything from an individual perspective. But Scripture tells us that sin is bigger than any individual. Take a little time this afternoon and read Romans 8 (verse 22 in particular) where Paul describes the groaning of all creation as nature itself longs for salvation and to be lifted from the brokenness of sin.

So what does all that mean exactly? It means:

God was not in the wind!

Are you starting to get it? That wind is not God’s mighty hand reaching out to correct and punish. That wind is one quivering shake of the whole body of creation writhing in pain from sin. The wind is not and was not God.

So, where is God?

First, back to our story about Elijah…Verse 4 begins by telling us that Elijah goes beyond Beersheba, another day, into the wilderness. In terms of geography, he is safe – he is in the land where Jezebel does not rule. In terms of time, he is safe – Jezebel’s death threat was supposed to be fulfilled by this time. But Elijah’s words and actions belie any sense of relief or safety. He sits under a large desert bush (NRSV and NIV: “broom tree”) and asks to die, telling God, “It is too much; now, Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

Whether Elijah is talking about his dead relatives or the prophets killed before him, the point is pretty concrete. He wants to die.

After making his request, Elijah lies down and sleeps under the bush, but his sleep is interrupted by the touch of a stranger who commands him to rise and eat. The Hebrew word for angel, mal’ak, is the same word for messenger used in verse 2, when a mal’ak was sent with Jezebel’s death threat. Thus, there is some tension with this first appearance of the angel. It is not until the mal’ak comes to Elijah “a second time” (1 Kings 19:7) that the text specifies this is an angel of the Lord, and the tension is relieved.

The food that is before Elijah is described as a “cake baked on coals, and a jar of water” (verse 6). The only other place in the Old Testament where we find the Hebrew word used for coals (resapim) is in Isaiah 6:6, referring to the coal that touched Isaiah’s lips to purify him, when Isaiah expressed his dismay at his ability to accept God’s commission. The word used for jar (sapphat) is another uncommon word, appearing only in 1 Samuel 26:10-16 and 1 Kings 17:12-16. In the latter set of texts, it refers to the jar of oil belonging to the widow of Zarephath.

Elijah doesn’t realize it but God is already answering his prayer and seeing to his care. And God is preparing Elijah for their meeting.

After Elijah eats and drinks the first time, he lies down again, and once again, an angel touches him and commands him to rise and eat (verse 7). During this second encounter, the angel explains the reason why Elijah must eat, “because the way is too much for you.”

The Hebrew points us back to Elijah’s complaint in verse 4 that it was “too much” (rab), when the angel uses the same language in his frank assessment of what lies ahead.

What lies ahead is “Horeb, God’s mountain” (19:8). This is the same mountain, after all, where Moses communed with God, saw God’s backside, and received the Ten Commandments. This is the same mountain, too, where Israel entered into covenant with God.

Elijah is here confronted by “the word of the LORD” with a divine question to answer: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (verse 9b). Elijah’s answer (verse 10; cf. verse 14) that, despite his extreme zeal (an emphatic construction) for the Lord, Israel has abandoned God’s covenant (the location at Horeb should be recalled), destroyed God’s altars, and killed God’s prophets (Elijah’s repeated use of “your” referring to God should not be missed). Elijah claims to be the only one left but is quick to add that he is now public enemy number one.

This exchange leads directly to the divine command that Elijah should go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, because the Lord was about to pass by (verse 11).

We want God to come when we are in trouble. Right? We want a big powerful God who can defeat our enemies and make nature right again, save us from death and save us from our own worst mistakes.

We want a God with special effects! And that is what Elijah thinks he’s getting. There is an earthquake, fire, and of course…the wind.

But God was not in the wind

The danger of course is that we tend to confuse the special effects with God. If God is in the special effects and if the special effects are big enough then we don’t have to choose. We don’t have to be responsible for our choices. In our sinful nature we tend to worship the boom and the roar of thunder but miss the “who” of God.  The wind feels like an answer. And we want an answer because an answer means we control God. An answer means we know what to expect. We want a God who is predictable and controllable. So…we bow down to the wind.

But God is not in the wind.

Scholars have debated the text that follows since it first appeared – ancient Hebrew is a very difficult language. But I think the new Common English Bible captures it best:

“After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”

That “sound” may be a “voice” – the Hebrew word can mean either – and it seems to be soft and quiet.

Elijah has taken his cue: he wraps his face (to avoid seeing God?) and goes to the entrance of the cave. There he hears a voice or sound (again Hebrew qôl) that speaks to him (verse 13).

The divine question regarding Elijah’s presence is repeated, word-for-word, as is Elijah’s answer (verse 14). God then simply tells Elijah, “Go back the way you came.” God gives Elijah a list of things to do. When a crisis comes, God tells Elijah to do the simple, necessary things. “Do your job and trust the rest to me.”

So today…we pray, we take an offering, we collect some baby diapers for the little ones and get back to work. Trust the rest to God.

Where was God when the tornado came? Not in the wind! God had been at work inspiring and strengthening people to study to become meteorologists. God had already been at work training doctors and nurse, ambulance drivers, firemen and policemen.

God was not in the wind. But God listened to every prayer and held every little hand while the wind raged.

God was not in the wind. God was in the quiet after the storm. God guided neighbor to find neighbor. God whispered in ear of the rescue dog, “here, over here…”

God rode in every ambulance, walked by the side of every member of the National Guard, and stood by every hospital bed.

And God whispered a million times to a million hearts and caused them to respond to the hurt of our neighbors. Hearts like yours and mine.

But Godwas notin the wind.