Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A 'Quiet' Day at STM (3)

Knowing God

‘Who is your God?’
Read 1 Kings 19:8-18

• Wind
• Earth
• Fire
• ?water
• “a gentle whisper”

Recharged Elijah must
• Anoint Hazael, king over Syria
• Anoint Jehu, king over Israel
• Anoint Elisha
Some six years after this he warned Ahab and Jezebel of the violent deaths they would die (1 Kings 21:19–24; 22:38). He also, four years afterwards, warned Ahaziah , who had succeeded his father Ahab, of his approaching death (2 Kings 1:1–16). During these intervals he probably withdrew to some quiet retirement, no one knew where. His interview with Ahaziah’s messengers on the way to Ekron, and the account of the destruction of his captains with their fifties, suggest the idea that he retired to Mt. Carmel.

(1) Listening to God

A legend has it that there was a temple built on an island and it held a thousand bells. Bells, big and small, fashioned by the finest craftsman in the world. When the wind blew or a storm raged, all the bells would peal out in a symphony that would send the heart of the hearer into raptures.
But over the centuries, the island sank into the sea and, with it, the temple bells. It is said that the bells continued to peel out, ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who would listened. Inspired by this legend, a young man travelled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore, facing the vanished island, and listened with all his might. But all he could hear was the sound of the sea. He made every effort to block it out. But to no avail; the sound of the sea seemed to flood the world.
He kept at his tasks for weeks. Each time he got disheartened he would listen to the village elders who spoke with passion of the mysterious legend. Then his heart will be aflame…only to be discouraged again when weeks of further effort yielded no results.

Finally he decided to give up the attempt. Perhaps he was not destined to hear the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. It was his final day, and he went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea and the sky and the wind and the coconut trees. He lay on the sand, and for the first time listened to the sound of the sea. Soon he was so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence the sound produced.

In the depth of that silence, he heard it! The twinkle of a tiny bell followed by another, and another, and another…and soon every one of the thousand temple bells was peeling out in harmony, and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.

This story teaches us two important lessons about listening and awareness. First, all of us have a desire to hear God’s voice. We want to hear what he is saying to us. We want him to speak peace and comfort into our trials and tribulations. We have been taught early in our Christian life to set aside time for prayer and Bible reading. We call it the “quiet time.” We are told that if we have our quiet time regularly, we will hear the voice of God. If not audibly, at least we know that he speaks to us in answered prayers or certain passages in the Bible we are reading that will convey his speech.

There are two possibilities concerning our quiet time. One is that we become too busy that we do not have time to pray and read the Bible. Hence we feel guilty, and we think we have lost the opportunity to hear God’s voice. The other possibility is that we continued faithfully in our prayers and Bible reading but we find it dry and boring after a while. We also find that we do not hear God speaking to us. We must be aware that God speaks to us in many ways. He speaks to us by his Word. God also speaks to us in our prayers, through other people, circumstances, dreams, and into our daily lives.

For those of us who are too busy for prayer and Bible reading, be aware that God still speaks to us in our busy lives. For those who are disciplined in prayers and Bible reading, be careful that we do not try too hard. Like the young man on the beach who tried so hard to hear the bells by consciously shutting out the ocean sounds, we may too be trying too hard to hear God’s voice. In the spiritual life, it is not effort that counts. Spiritual growth is not something we build but who we become. Sometimes, we try too hard in our spiritual life. For example, we want to have faith. Now, faith is not something we can create. There is nothing we can do to make us have more faith. Faith is a gift, something that only God can give. The only thing we can do is ask God for it.

Second, all of us live hectic, busy, and noisy lives. A recent scientific study done showed that cities have a high level of ambiance noise. This level of ambient noise can be disruptive to our well being if we are exposed to it for too long. The noise will also cause deafness. Yet it is in our hectic, busy, and noisy lives that God speaks to us. Unfortunately, many of us are already deaf to him because we have not learnt to embrace the noise until we can hear the silence within. The noisy world is like a weather storm; a typhoon. There is always a centre called the “eye” of the storm. This “eye” is a calm, quiet, and peaceful area within the raging storm. We must learn to be aware of the noise around us. We can embrace the noise of the world and move beyond it into the silence within. It is in this silence that we hear the voice of God.

How do we not try too hard, and enter into the silence of our busy and noisy lives? We begin by being aware that God is in our busy and noisy lives. God is not only just present in church on Sunday. We do not leave God behind when we leave the church building after the service. God is not only present in our daily lives, but he is speaking to us all the time. Speaking to God is prayer and Paul has taught us to pray “unceasingly”. This means that it is possible to be speaking and listening to God 24/7. Since God is already with us, there is no need to try too hard to reach him. If possible, set aside some time for him alone, this is your quiet time. If not, listen for him in the happenings of your daily lives. Try to be aware of God’s presence and voice in the routine, mundane of your daily lives. Catch a glimpse of God in a sunrise, a beautiful flower, a friendly smile, a loving touch, an opportunity to offer help, and to receive help. When we become aware of God’s presence in our lives, each encounter becomes dazzling like a sudden burst of joy. Time seems to stand still. There is a deep warm silence. And in the silence you will hear the voice of God who calls you his beloved. It is possible to hear the harmony of a thousand bells.

(2) Awareness of God (Habits of Familiarity)

It is said that when the Great Library of Alexandria was burned down, only one book survived. It was a very ordinary book, not like those who were burnt which had leather binding and gold lettering. This was plain simple paperback, dog eared, and yellowed by age. When found among the ashes, it was thought to have no value. It was sold for 10 cents to a poor man who barely knows how to read. This plain and common book however was probably the most valuable book in the world. In the last section of the book were a few sentences that pointed to a source of the secret of immortality or eternal life.

This source is a tiny pebble, that if ingested will give the person eternal life! The writing declared that this precious pebble was lying somewhere along the beaches of Desaru, facing the South China Sea in the southern tip of the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. This pebble was lying among thousands of pebbles that were exactly like it, except in one aspect- whereas all other pebbles were cold to the touch in the morning; this one will feel warm, almost as if it were alive.

The man rejoices at his good luck. He sold everything he had, borrowed a large sum of money that will last him for at least a year, booked a room at Desaru Pulai Resort Hotel, and began his search for this priceless pebble. He worked out a search grid and did his search systematically. This is how he did it. Every morning, he will go to the assigned search area. He would lift a pebble. If it was cold to the touch, he would not throw it back on the shore because if he did that, he might be examining the same stone over and over again. Instead, he will throw the stone into the South China Sea. So each day for hours he would continue in this routine: pick up a pebble; if it feels cold, throw it into the sea; lift another… and so on, endlessly. He spent a week, a month, a year and finally years on this quest for eternal life. His savings ran out and he borrowed more money. He got a special discount from Desaru Pulai Resort Hotel for being a long staying customer. On and on his search went: lift a pebble, hold it, feel it, if cold, throw it into the sea, lift another. Hour after hour, week after week, day after day….still no pebble of immortality.

One evening, he picked up a pebble and it was warm to his touch – but through sheer force of habit, he threw it into the South China Sea!

How many of us, through sheer force of habit, accidentally throw away our precious pebbles of eternal life? I am referring to the Holy Scripture where by continual exposure to it daily, weekly, monthly… we became so familiar with it that all the precious words of wisdom and knowledge contained within it that can give us eternal life became as common as the pebbles on the beaches of Desaru. Hearing the Word of God read from the Old and New Testament during Sunday worship has become so familiar, so routine, that we are no longer hearing but waiting for it to be over so that we can get on with our service. Hearing the Word of God preached from the pulpit whether as a sermon or a homily is another familiar routine. We listen for the jokes, the mistakes the preacher makes, and think of dinner or whatever our next meal will be like. We understand what the preacher is saying yet the pebble feels cold to the touch. Some of us even listen to other sermons and talks on our MP3 players. Yet it has become so familiar that often, we miss a warm pebble because we are so used to throwing away cold pebbles. This also applies to our daily devotion or quiet time; time we have decided to set aside to spend with God. Yet after a time, this has become a familiar routine habit. We begin to find that it is harder and harder to notice warm pebbles because there are so many cold pebbles. Could it be that we have been throwing away the warm pebbles? Let me suggest a way to avoid throwing away warm pebbles accidentally. The way is to ask ourselves three questions

(1) When is the most important time?

(2) Who is the most important person?

(3) What is the most important thing to do?

(Pause now and write down the answers to these three questions)

The answers to these three questions are in the Bible. Yet how often have we missed them because of our familiarity with it. The most important time is now. Though the Bible has a strong emphasis on the continuity with the past and a strong eschatological component (the future), its emphasis has always been living in the present. What is important is our encounter with the living Christ in this present moment of our life. Now is important.

The answer to the second question is Jesus Christ. He is the most important person because he is the author and perfector of our faith. Because we use the word Jesus Christ so often, it has become such a ‘common’ word that we do not attach much emotional or relevance to it. Ending our prayers “in Jesus’ name” has now become a formula. In becoming so familiar with name Jesus, we often forget that He is the most important person in our life.

The most important thing to do is to love. The Bible is a love story - between God and His people. Jesus came to show God’s love for us. Paul teaches us how to love one another in community. Yet, we have become so familiar with reading about love that we do not get out of our seat and love. Do we love our spouses, our children, our families, our church, our community, our co-workers, and our country? How have we shown it today? Love is in the doing, not in the talking.

(3) You become what you do

Once upon a time, during the time of the Crusades there was a young strong white knight who was very pious and very devoted to God. He made it his personal quest to kill all black knights. The black knights were unholy and impure. Throughout his long life this white knight killed many black knights. One day when he was old, he met a young white knight on the road. To his surprised he was immediately attacked by this white knight. He fought valiantly but was unable to overcome this young man. Throughout the fight, the question lingers at the back of his mind, ‘Why is this white knight attacking me?’ Just before he was killed, he caught a reflection of himself in the shining shield of his opponent. The knight reflected in the shield was black.

Reflection Questions
a. What do you think Elijah had learned about God in the passage?
b. What have you learned about God?


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