Committing ourselves to the Jesus way does not mean that we will be spared moments of crisis—moments when we are filled with fear and paralysis. However, we must be prepared and make use of the spiritual resources that God has provided. Elijah’s experience helps us understand those resources.
God’s directions provide us with insight. God offers Elijah, and us, three specific spiritual resources: visioning, speaking, and acting.
Elijah obeyed God’s command and stood on Mount Sinai; and as he stood in that place of vision, he encountered God. There was a mighty windstorm; the wind was so strong that it broke rocks from the mountain. There was an earthquake. There was a fire. Then there was a whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). Envisioning faith, keeping that picture in front of us, requires attending to aspects of life that aren’t readily apparent. God wasn’t in the wind, wasn’t in the earthquake, and wasn’t in the fire.
God was found in that “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, RSV).
The voice of God is not always readily noticeable. It is not something we always have an ear for. Yet following in the Jesus way involves attending to things that aren’t readily apparent. It involves listening for the voice of God and placing ourselves in a position to hear it often.
My Belgian friend Mieke has lived in the United States for many years. One time she participated in a program that required her to ride along with a local police officer during an eight-hour shift. During her ride along, she encountered a police dog and heard the officer giving the dog commands—in Dutch! As she relayed the story, she exclaimed, “It was a Belgian dog!” I laughed because the thought occurred to me that here was a dog that could comprehend a language that I am completely unable to understand. A similar thought occurs to me every time I visit Mieke’s family and hear them conversing happily in Flemish—especially the children. Here I am, an educated adult, and I can’t understand a word they are saying; yet there they are—four-year-olds!—and they have no problem understanding whatsoever. I understand that I speak English because I grew up in an English speaking home. Mieke speaks Flemish because she grew up in Belgium, in a Flemish-speaking home. The police dog understood Dutch because its handlers, those who trained it from its earliest memory, spoke Dutch.
We recognize the voices, the language, of those with whom we surround ourselves. We speak whatever language we hear regularly and often. If we are to hear the voice of God, and thus have an understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in real time, we must surround ourselves with the language and voice of God.
If we desire to attend to the things that aren’t readily apparent, to hear the voice of God that molds and shapes our vision of faith, we must hang out in places where God’s voice can be heard, where we can consistently see people who are further along on their journey of faith and can energize us to push through in times of disruption and paralysis. God offers Elijah the spiritual resource of faith visioning in order to help him push through his state of paralysis and follow more closely: ”Stand before me on the mountain.”
Then God offers another directive: “Speak.” God tells Elijah to find Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha and tell them about what he has experienced, anointing Hazael and Jehu as kings and Elisha as the next prophet. God’s directive to speak is a significant directive if we are going to push through our difficulties in order to follow in the Jesus way.
If we hold an idea or belief within ourselves, it will always remain an idea; it can never become a reality. Only by speaking our idea or belief aloud, by sharing it with others, is it empowered to become a reality. In speaking, we give life to our ideas and beliefs; they begin to exist outside ourselves, becoming infectious and dynamic.
That is why the apostle Paul included both speaking and believing in his instructions to the Romans: “For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NLT).
Like the experience of many of us, my adolescence was rocky and difficult. My classmates spoke resistance and disruption: “Nerd,” “Brain,” “Loser”; but my mother always spoke faith: “Your day will come, you will shine, you will blossom, you will flourish.” She was like Moses in the wilderness. There was adversity all around. But Moses spoke about the land that God had promised, a land flowing with milk and honey. Speaking faith grows faith. It creates and solidifies our faith visions and those of others around us. It enables Jesus to work through us to work miracles in the lives of those around us. It moves us forward through adversity, fear, paralysis, and resistance to keep us following Jesus.
When we speak, we make ourselves accountable. We expand our sense of following from a solely internal project to an external one. As we speak faith, the vision we place beyond ourselves takes on a life of its own. Speaking faith keeps us close to the fire, enabling us to follow Jesus side by side even through periods of paralysis and fear.
Elijah received three spiritual resources to aid him in pressing on despite his fear and spiritual paralysis. God asks him, Why are you here? And then instructs Elijah to stand before God on the mountain— to envision his faith. God also instructs Elijah to tell three others about his experience with God—to speak his faith. God asks Elijah a second time, “What are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:13, NLT).
I believe that is a question for all of us.