From a film critic point of view, a horrible movie. The script was awful. The plot non-existent. And the acting was atrocious. Michael Jackson was amazingly talented, but acting was not one of his talents. Still, I don’t know anyone who didn’t LOVE it when it premiered at Disneyland back in 1986, myself included. As bad as the movie was, it had a lot going for it – the music, the dancing, and most of all the special effects. The first time I saw that spinning asteroid in front of my face I was in awe. I tried reaching out to touch it. I knew there was nothing actually there, but the illusion was so REAL! I could see out of the corner of my eye the rest of the audience all doing the same thing. The new 3D technology was leaps and bounds ahead of the old red and blue eyeglasses version, but you still needed the glasses to see it properly. Without them, you could still see the film, but it was kind of blurry and fuzzy. The glasses helped you to see it in a completely different way.
During this crisis, I’ve heard a lot of people ask where God is in all of this mess.
The truth is, he’s here with us all the time. It’s just sometimes we forget to put on our God glasses and it makes it hard to see him. Like a fuzzy 3D image. God is constantly at work in the world, but if we don’t train our eyes to see him, we can miss the multiple opportunities God provides to interact with him and grow closer to him, and in times like these where the world seems so topsy-turvy a solid relationship with God sounds like a good thing to most of us. When international missionaries first started to share the Gospel with others, they would often say they were bringing God to the people, but we don’t use that kind of language any longer. Today we say we are helping to REVEAL God to the people. God is already at work. God is already present. It’s just that we are not always looking at the world through a God lens. The same is true for our ears.
We don’t spend enough time listening for God.
If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone and you want to follow along, we’ll be reading from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, chapter 6, verses 8-10. Isaiah 6:8-10. We’re not always tuned in to God’s frequency. Like back when I was young and we had to manually find a radio station. If you didn’t turn the dial to just the right spot, you were likely to get static instead of music. Listening for God is often the same way. If we don’t train ourselves to tune into the God frequency we might be listening to a lot of static. The thing is God is trying to communicate with us and interact with us, but we might be looking or listening for the wrong things. There is a reason the prophet Elijah was favored by God. He knew how to listen. There’s one time in particular that God was trying to speak to Elijah and Elijah had to prepare himself to hear God’s Word. From 1 Kings 19:11-13:
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I love that story. It just shows you how in tune Elijah was to God. I think most of us would have thought God was in the powerful wind or in the earthquake or in the fire. These are monumental events where we would expect God to be. But Elijah knew. And waited. And when it was over, he went to the mouth of the cave and listened not to the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but to the gentle whisper and heard God say to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” In so many ways we have become desensitized to God’s voice and God’s movement in the world that it’s hard for us to notice God’s movement in our lives. It’s why God gave this message to Isaiah.
“This people’s heart has become calloused…
Has your heart become calloused? Do you take time to really hear God? Or like most of us, do you see the storm or the earthquake or the fire and react to that without listening to the soft, gentle whisper trying to get your attention. How easy it is to miss the fine details and focus on the wrong things. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s why I love riddles. I like to try and hone my mental skills to help keep my wits about me. When I went to a class offered by the Disney Institute, they told us one that stumped me. They said, “Rearrange the letters in the phrase ‘new door’ to spell one word.” Take a second and try to figure that one out.
SPOILER FOLLOWING – ONLY KEEP READING IF YOU’RE READY TO MOVE ON
Did you get it? “Rearrange the letters in the phrase ‘new door’ to spell one word.” If you were both listening and discerning, you probably realized that the letters in the words “new door” can be arranged to spell the words “one word.” For me, I was listening but didn’t pause to consider the obvious. Now of course, I can’t help but notice what I should have done right away. But that’s the kind of pause we need to take in our faith life to really listen to God. We have to pause, take a calming breath, and really focus on the blessings God is placing in front of you. In the midst of a crisis, pausing is often the last thing we want to do, but it can be the best thing we do also. Really take a moment, pray, and then ask yourself, “Where do I see God today?” Every day. Do that at least once a day. Maybe while you’re doing the dishes or taking a shower or eating your lunch or walking the dog. Take a moment while you’re doing those things, pause, take a calming breath, and just ask yourself, “Where do I see / hear / smell God today?”
I still have to remind myself to do that on a regular basis.
There are times when I can get so caught up in what’s going on around me, that I forget to stop and take notice where God is moving in the world. But I have found that when I do stop, give myself over to God, and trust in him, he opens doors for me I never knew were there. It takes time and practice to hone your God-searching skills. You have to be intentional about it, like any other skill in life. But if you do this regularly, if you stop once in a while and consider where God is moving in your life, pretty soon you’ll be able to see how God is there for you. You’ll know that even in this, in the midst of this coronavirus, that God is right there beside you. If we only listen. God told the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 29:11-13, “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Come, pray, listen, seek God and you will find him when you seek him with all of your heart.
I want to leave you today with a little story.
It’s from an episode of the TV show The West Wing and in it President Bartlett is having a tough time. He isn’t sure what God wants him to do so he brings in his family priest for confession. The priest listens to the President and asked him if he prayed and the President said, “Yes, but I didn’t hear a thing and frankly I’m a little mad.” But to the priest it seems obvious and he tells the President this story. “You remind me of the man who lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town and that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, ‘I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.’ The waters rose up. A guy in a rowboat came along and he shouted, ‘Hey, you! You in there! The town is flooding! Let me take you to safety!’ But the man shouted, ‘I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.’ A helicopter was hovering overhead and a guy with a megaphone shouted, ‘Hey, you! You down there. The town is flooding! Let me drop this ladder and I’ll take you to safety.’ But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him, and that God would take him to safety. The man drowned. Standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. He said, ‘Lord, I’m a religious man. I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?’ God said, ‘I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a row boat. What are you doing here?’” Who is God sending to you? How might God be trying to get through to you that you need to listen to? Put on your God glasses and tune into the God frequency and find out.