The Word Is Near You

August 9th 2020

Pastor Galen Zook

1 Kings 19:9-13a, Matt. 14:23-33, Rom. 10:5-8

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”


In 1 Kings 19, Elijah was running for his life from Queen Jezebel. Elijah had just staged a dramatic demonstration on Mount Carmel. He had called all of the people of Israel together, along with all of the prophets of Baal, the false idol that the Israelite people had been worshipping. 

After the prophets of Baal spent all day unsuccessfully crying out to their god, asking Baal to demonstrate his power, Elijah prayed to God asking God to rain fire down from heaven onto an altar right there on that mountain, in front of all the people, to demonstrate the power of God over Baal. And God answered, raining down fire from heaven, consuming even the stones that the altar was made from.

Elijah had been very zealous for the Lord, he says, and that is somewhat of an understatement. Not only did he coordinate this huge demonstration to prove the power of God over Baal, but after he did so, he went out and killed all 450 of the prophets of Baal with his own hands (see 1 Kings 18:19, and 40). Elijah was indeed zealous for the Lord!

But this of course did not make Queen Jezebel very happy, since she was the one who had convinced the Israelite people to worship Baal in the first place. And that is why she was seeking to take Elijah’s life.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah got tired from running, and so he hid in a cave.  And that was where God spoke to him.

First there was a great wind — so strong that it was splitting mountains and rocks into pieces. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, and after the earthquake came a fire  — sounds sort of like what we’ve been experiencing this year in 2020! Earthquakes, fires, hurricanes. But we learn here in 1 Kings that God was not in the earthquake or the fire either.

And after that there was the sound of silence. We read that when Elijah heard the silence, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went outside the entrance of the cave to meet the Lord.

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”

In the Stillness

The prophet Elijah was full of zeal and zest. He was a man of action. And yet he knew how to recognize God’s movements and God’s voice. He rightly discerned that God was speaking to him — not through the earthquake, or the wind or the fire, but through the sound of sheer silence.

He understood that “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”

Walking on Water

The disciple Peter was also a zealous follower of God.

In Matthew 14, when Peter and the other disciples were sailing across the Sea of Galilee and a storm arose, they saw Jesus walking to them on the water. At first they thought that they were seeing a ghost, but when Jesus called out to them and they realized who he was, Peter, always up for an adventure, full of zeal and always wanting to prove his loyalty and devotion to Christ, said, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus invited him to come, and Peter stepped out of the boat, and began walking towards Jesus on the water. But he got distracted by the wind, and he became frightened and began to sink, crying out to Jesus to save him.

Jesus reached out his hand and lifted him up out of the water, and together they walked to the boat. And when they got back into the boat, the wind ceased.

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”

The Ordinary and the Everyday

As people, we’re drawn to the phenomenal and the extraordinary, the heroic actions of people who do great things. We like stories of action and adventure, and so we’re drawn to the stories in the Bible of people who were bold and courageous for God. As a child growing up in Sunday School, these were two of my favorite stories: the prophet Elijah calling down fire out of heaven on Mount Carmel, and Peter walking with Jesus on the water. 

But what we so often forget is that God most often spoke to the heroes of our faith in the stillness, and in the quiet moments — not when they were doing great things for God, but in the midst of everyday, ordinary activities. 

It’s interesting to me that after the extraordinary actions that both Peter and Elijah did to provide their loyalty to God, the zealous activities that they undertook, God invited them into rather seemingly ordinary things.

Jesus invited Peter to get back into the boat. The storm died down, and they proceeded across to the other side of the sea. 

God sent Elijah back to Israel to do rather ordinary things as well – not to confront queen Jezebel or to stage another demonstration, but to anoint the next king of Israel, and to train up the prophet Elisha to be Elijah’s own successor.

The Word is Near You

In Romans 10, Paul says that the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 

Here Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy Chapter 30, where Moses is reminding the Israelite people of God’s laws before they entered the promised land. Moses told the people,

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe (Deut. 30:11-14).

Seeking God in the Everyday

So often people who are seeking to be religious feel that they need to go to great lengths to prove their loyalty and devotion to God. They think that in doing so they will experience some sort of deeper spiritual experience.

Sometimes even we as Christians people fall into this trap. We think that the more money we give, the more sacrifices we make, the more risks we take for God, the more we prove our loyalty and commitment, the closer we’ll be to God.

But sometimes in our zeal and in our quest for a seemingly deeper experience of God, we inadvertently drown out the silence in our lives, leaving very little space for God to speak to us in the stillness, and in the quiet.

In truth, some of us may not be getting a lot of alone time these days, since we’re quarantined at home with our families in the midst of constant noise and activity. Others of us might feel that we have way too much time by ourselves. 

But I wonder, no matter our circumstances, if we can learn to see and recognize the voice and movement of God in the midst of our everyday lives?  When we’re folding the laundry, or making dinner, or washing the dishes, can we learn to experience God even in the midst of those ordinary activities?

Practicing the Presence of God

When I think of experiencing God in the everyday, I think of Nicolas Herman, who was born in France in the year 1614 and grew up during the Thirty Years War. Nicolas’s parents were very poor, so his schooling was rather limited. As a young man, Nicolas joined the army, and was taken captive by the German troops who treated him like a spy and threatened to hang him. Nicolas’s bravery earned him his release, however, and he resumed fighting, until he was eventually injured on the battlefield and left permanently lame.

Interestingly enough, Nicolas is not known for his heroics on the battlefield, but rather for what happened later. 

After his injury left him incapable of serving in the army, he joined a monastery at the age of 26, where he became known as Brother Lawrence. His primary assignments were working in the kitchen, and in his later years, repairing sandals. 

Despite his lowly position in life, he gained a reputation for experiencing profound peace and visitors came to seek spiritual guidance from him. The wisdom he passed on to them, in conversations and in letters, would later become the basis for the book, The Practice of the Presence of God. 

Brother Lawnrece saw his work as a form of prayer. He said, “in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”

Brother Lawrence also wrote, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” And, “It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God.”

May we too learn to experience God in both the extraordinary and the ordinary. May we learn to hear God both in the noise, and in the silence. 

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”

Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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