Friday, 16 February 2018

What Are You Doing Here?

“… and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, What are you doing here, Elijah? … And behold, there came a voice to him and said, What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19: 9,13; Amplified)

My wife and I have both been reading though the Old Testament again lately, and as often seems to happen, a nugget comes to mind that makes us stop and reflect and fellowship around that nugget. Recently she shared with me the “what are you doing here?” nugget above from 1 Kings. For several days now, I have not stopped for long in meditating upon it. Is God trying to say something to me? Hmm, I wonder.

What are you doing here?

The context is an interesting story. There had been a three-year drought in the land, and food and water was scarce. Elijah goes to a destitute widow in Zarephath, to a poor woman who had nothing, who happened to be picking up two sticks for dinner for herself and her son. God miraculously provides for Elijah’s needs through her, and for the needs of the widow and her son as well (1 Kings 17).

A little while later Elijah finds himself alone in a showdown with a bunch of pagan prophets. Long story short, two bulls are sacrificed; one for all the prophets, and one for Elijah. Neither altar is given the customary fire. The prophets dance around their altar calling on the name of their deity, but nothing happens. Next it’s Elijah’s turn. He begins by increasing the odds against him by three times calling for four jars of water to be dumped on top of the bull and firewood. God shows up and burns up Elijah’s sacrifice, to the amazement of all. All the pagan prophets are killed, the rains return, and the drought was over (1 Kings 18). King Ahab tells his wife Jezebel what Elijah did to all her prophets, she gets ticked and threatens Elijah, and Elijah runs away scared for his life (1 Kings 19).

What are you doing here?

Every time I’ve read this account of Elijah in the past, I’ve always thought of the “here” that God speaks to him about in a geographical sense. “Why are you here?” (insert name of city or town where you currently are). Where is “here?” Of course, it’s a place. That’s what “here” is; it refers to a place. As you read 1 Kings 19, there are several places mentioned. Go to any one of them, and you could say, “I am ‘here’.” However, true as that may be, I’m starting to see another possible way to read the “here” that has nothing to do with a geographical location.

Could it be that maybe the “here” is also a state of mind or circumstance? How did I get myself “here” (teenage pregnancy)? How did I get myself “here” (addicted to alcohol or drugs)? How did I get myself “here” (obese)? How did I get myself “here” (divorced)? How did I get myself “here” (constantly stressed out)? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Is that what God asked Elijah those two times in verses 9 and 13 of 1 Kings 19? “What are you doing here, Elijah” (running scared)?

What are you doing here?

I’ve never claimed to have this faith-walk thing all figured out; not by a long shot. Yes, I believe God has shown me some interesting things along this pilgrimage of mine, but time and again I’ve also made a royal mess of my spiritual walk. I too have seen God’s hand miraculously in my life on more than one occasion, and sometimes I too have still run scared. Why?

Oh, I know I’m not alone. The Bible is full of examples of people who have seen the miraculous hand of God, only to turn and run scared or do something incredibly stupid and unbelieving. As I’ve reflected on that a time or ten, both on some of the antics of biblical characters and my own stupidity, it seems fair to say that sometimes we Christians act more atheistic than the atheists themselves. At the very least, sometimes we seem more agnostic than Christian.

So when we see Elijah, one of the mighty men of God, fresh from back to back miracles, running scared, it makes me scratch my head in wonderment. Part of me wants to yell out, “What’s the matter with you, Elijah? God just worked in some pretty incredible ways in your life, and you’re running scared from some heathen queen, the very one whose prophets were just proved false?” Still, I’m not one to judge, because I’m no better. “What are you doing here, Will?” Hmm.

What are you doing here?

Is there an answer to the “here” problem? If so, I have yet to figure it out. All I think I know, is that the particular “here” that God asked Elijah about, and asks you and me about, is not really the place he desires us to be. I cannot believe that God desires us to run scared, or to experience teenage pregnancy, or to be addicted to drugs or alcohol. And I certainly cannot believe that God’s plan for us is to be constantly stressed out over all the junk this world has to offer and seems to demand of us. The good news is, God loves us too much to leave us alone in our “here,” and so He comes to us, as He did with Elijah, and wants to care for us and give us rest. The good news is, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3: 22-23; ESV)

Thomas ‘A Kempis once said, “Habit overcomes habit,” and I like that. Maybe the answer lies, at least in part, in the creation of some new habits. That’s not to say that everything about our particular “here” will suddenly change and get better. They could, and yet consequences for our previous actions can also still remain. The teenage pregnancy will still lead to an infant being born at an inconvenient time in life. An addiction can still yield irreparable damage to the body.

Maybe that is why God asked Elijah those two times, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God is in the restoration business, and maybe before He can bring that restoration, He wants us to each come to grips with the question, “What are you doing here?” It is not about condemnation, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Rather it’s about a God who loves us enough to confront us with our “here” in an effort to heal and restore.

What are you doing here?

Photo Credit: Nina Matthews Photography; Flickr Creative Commons