SHAKEN AND STIRRED
SCRIPTURE: I KINGS 19:11-16; ACTS 16:25-34
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
Will Rogers is reported to have said. “I guess there is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf. But, I have never been depressed enough to take up the game. They say you get so sore at yourself, you forget to hate your enemies.”
Perhaps the Old Testament prophet Elijah should have taken up golf. He certainly needed to forget Queen Jezebel and the hatred she had for him.
Elijah had had remarkable success. He had gotten in a world-class competition with 450 prophets of Baal, and had not only defeated but killed all of them. Queen Jezebel, was a fanatical devotee of Baal, was furious and threatened Elijah’s life. He ran. He went to Mt. Horeb, the mountain on which Moses had met God, and like Moses he spent forty days and nights there.
Elijah had run scared. He was ready to quit. He was suffering from ministerial burnout. He was depressed, worn out, fatigued, sleeping a lot, complaining, suicidal, needed to be told to eat, his view of reality was distorted, he was quick to blame others, and he felt all alone, that he was the only faithful one left.
On second thought, probably not even golf would have helped Elijah.
However, God did help; but in a most surprising way. Elijah runs to the cave at Mt. Horeb. In the original Hebrew the definite article is used, “the” cave. This may well be a reference to “the cleft in the rock” where Moses had also gone. Elijah was torn. One the one hand he wanted out of all this threat and fear. He wanted out of life itself. However, if that was not to be, he wanted to be in the best possible place to get help from God. It’s not a bad game plan. Leave your problems behind if you can. But if you are staying on, get the best professional help available.
In his competition with the prophets of Baal, Elijah had experienced God in a rainstorm and in fire. Now on Mt. Horeb God asks twice, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” There follows an earthquake, then wind, and then fire. All three of these were familiar signs of God’s presence. But God was in none of them. Then in the calm after these, there was “a fine silence,” “the sound of sheer silence.”
It is here that Elijah hears God’s voice for a third time. God does not rebuke Elijah for his weakness and failure. He is accepted as he is, and called back to his ministry. He is called not through spectacular means but by “the still small voice.” He is called to his regular work. Elijah is called to anoint two kings and his successor prophet.
God is saying the divine shall be carried out in the course of history, and it was, as Jezebel was killed during the reign of Jehu whom Elijah anointed as King of Israel.
In his competition with the prophets of Baal, God had been dramatically present in Elijah’s life. Many people today think spectacular experiences are the only true experiences of God. Some preachers have been known to have creative imaginations about the extent to which God had to go to convert their poor miserable souls from outlandish sin to the life of salvation. What we see here is that God is not locked into one way of appearing in our lives.
We also see the contrasting appearances of God in peoples’ lives in the book of Acts of the Apostles. Luke tells three back-to back-to back stories. The first is a woman named Lydia, who is a worshipper of God though not a Jew, attached to the synagogue in Philippi. She is converted by Paul’s teaching and along with her household is baptized. Hers is a low-key conversion.
Paul also exorcises a spirit of divination from a young slave girl who was stalking him. Paul frees her from the control of this spirit. However, since her activities earned her owners money, they bring false charges against Paul and he and Silas are thrown into jail. For freeing a person of a spirit possession, Paul is confined in jail in harsh conditions.
In the passage we read, it is midnight and the earthquake shakes the jail open and all the shackles of all the prisoners are shaken loose. (We could play Jailhouse Rock for effect) The jailer, thinking this is God’s judgement, God acting in the spectacular, falls on his knees and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answers, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and be baptized.” The jailer and his family do so and receive Paul and Silas into their home as guests.
So here are the three experiences of God: Lydia comes to faith in a low-key conversion. The spiritual exorcism and freeing of the young slave girl is more dramatic. The jailer has a spectacular experience and is converted. God is not limited in how to appear in our lives and relate to us.
One of my favorite movie characters is James Bond. I have most of the James Bond movies. One of Bond’s most famous lines is the way he orders his martinis, “Shaken, not stirred.” (Number 90 on the list of famous movie quotes) We can say from these stories, God is present with us both “shaken and stirred”. God can use earthquakes and other dramatic means to get our attention.
Both Elijah and the jailer had such experiences. Yet God also can quietly stir the soul again, Elijah and Lydia both were touched that way. God can use a whole range of means to reach us. God is not limited, but uses the means that seem most appropriate for each of us.
There is a universal scope of appeal in God’s saving work. Earthquakes and sheer silence are but two approaches. God speaks even in the birth of a child to an unwed mother in her fiancée’s hometown during tax enrollments time. God’s voice speaks to us in the death of an innocent man on a cross. God speaks in the beauty of the flower, in the song of a bird. God speaks to us when we are in prayer. God speaks to us in the smile of a young child, in the carefully chosen words of a poet or author, in the panoply of stars at night, in the loving touch of another human being.
Think for moment, how has God been manifested in your life? Let us not unnecessarily limit God’s access to us by our narrow thinking.
Yet there is another dimension here in these interactions for us. As parts of the body of Christ, those who represent Christ’s ministry in the world today, there are many ways for us to be God’s voice in the world. We see this especially in the contrast in Elijah’s ministry between chapter 18 and chapter 19.
In chapter 18 Elijah is the strong stereotypic prophet. He confronts a powerful leader with his sins. He calls people to be faithful to God’s demands. He acts to convert others with God’s powerful words.
In chapter 19 his ministry is much different and much more low-key. Elijah is called to the ministry of passing on the mantle of leadership. His faithfulness here is in preparing another for his ministry.
Some of us get depressed when life doesn’t go as we wish, when God doesn’t act as we wish. If we are open both to God’s shaking and stirring, and if we are open to being shakers and stirrers, we will experience the richness of God’s presence in our lives.
Just as we should not limit our expectations of how God might be present in life, we also cannot limit how we shall be in ministry. Greg Levoy, in his book Callings, reminds us that traditionally we have believed that our calling comes from places of our gifts and talents. This is largely but not always true. Sometimes we are called toward arenas where we have scant abilities and little experience.
Sometimes we are called to things to which we have distinct aversions, or to what we have always thought of as our weaknesses. In one situation God may call us to shake things up. At another place we may be called to give a quiet witness that gently stirs the soul.
As we do not want to limit God’s mode of relating to us, neither do we want to limit our method of responding to God. God calls us in a variety of ways.
Let’s answer with equal variety. Let us be unbound and “unbounded”, not assisting on “shaken, not stirred.” Let us be shaken and stirred. Let us be shakers and stirrers. Let us serve God!
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH