I like Scott Adams’ book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. The reason is that it took me such a long time in ministry to learn God’s secret code for we believers. Power is perfected in weakness (II Corinthians 12:9) was like a megaphonal announcement from God to me personally…that I fit the mold. I was nothing but weak. Fear always dominated my world. You, too, maybe?
I remember sitting in my church office as the evangelist in Quincy, Illinois in the mid-70s. When I was studying chapter twelve of Second Corinthians, and hit verse nine, I said aloud, “That’s not true!” Power could not be perfected in weakness. Everyone knows that power is perfected with more power. My blurting caught me off -guard for I sat realizing to Whom I had just made such a bold comment. I sat a bit in silence…pondering His revelation.
That God-moment not only changed my entire world, it has most likely spilled over into thousands of others over the decades. Men, women, and children remain plagued with the Adam and Eve perplexity that our true selves are shamefully, uselessly lacking. Thus, we spend much of our life covering up our flaws; hiding our insecurities.
We. Are. Still. Obsessed. With. The. Fall.
So…what should we do when we believe that we aren’t enough? I learned something impactive from watching Jesus. I saw this one who had the Big Assignment to spare humanity…I saw him…often do nothing. This redeemer (?) would note a crowd coming at him and he would…bolt? Jesus would escape the demands of what we deem as an honor…helping throngs of people in need? Yes…at times he turned his back and walked away.
If we can grasp why Jesus did this, might we begin to understand a truly impactive element to ministry success? Jesus understood from the get-go that he wasn’t enough. Hear it again. Jesus knew that he wasn’t enough to carry on the big work of Father. Thus, he kept slipping away from the crowds to be rejuvenated by the All-Powerful One. Jesus led the way by being not enough so that we could follow efficiently in his dependent-upon-Father steps.
For my first few years in ministry, I believed the opposite. My conclusion was that I was deficient; evidently neglected by God. I was tempted to check in my badge. Others succeeded. I surmised I just didn’t have it in me. But when I saw that power was perfected in weakness, I immediately knew that I was an entire light plant…all by myself! If weakness was what worked, then, “God, I’m your man!”
Every time one backs off due to inadequacy, that person just rejected God’s working philosophy. Not one of the disciples was without glaring lack. The Bible is filled with common-person mishap and failure. What should you do when you don’t think that you are enough? Celebrate! You just hit the jackpot! God empowers the weak…and no other kind will ever do! Yay us!
Selah, in Hebrew, is a pause. It usually has to do with musical notation. It is a break in the music. It is a moment of silence. Everything comes to a halt. The idea of a pause is something we can really use today especially when it comes to difficult online conversations.
When things get crazy online and the comments come flying in, our typical behavior is reactionary. We get reactive and then we get defensive. The walls go up and everyone is dug in. But what if we pulled a George Castanza and did exactly the opposite of what comes most natural to us – the pause?
This allows our physiology to realign. Our breathing slows, blood pressure lowers, and anxiety levels drop. All it takes is doing nothing. Well, it isn’t really doing nothing. It is actually quite a bit more purposeful than that. But the irony is the harder we try the less progress we make in these discussions until someone pulls the plug and that someone is often the more disciplined person in the discussion.
What do you do in the moment of silence aside from letting your physiology take a breather? Put into practice 2 Corinthians 10:5 where Paul tells us to take every thought captive to Christ. That is very hard to do when the comments are flying. In the heat of the battle we have little to no filter. We have no thought being taken captive and held up for evaluation because we are in it to win it and win it big! And in doing so we lack the discipline that comes as part of our responsibility as people who were gifted with a voice. That discipline can help us slow down. It can help us bring things to a stop, a pause. Then we evaluate what is going on and move forward on a better foot.
The Selah can help change the sound of the music to a song that is far more pleasant and mutually edifying than the incessant beating of the drums of pride and arrogance that lack the discipline or forethought to know when it is time to pause.
While society seems inundated with a call to success, many of us seem to be in the wishful hunt. The very thought, though, remains exciting. Who would wish to be otherwise? To be a difference-maker; achieve victory. These can be driving forces. I possessed such a hunger. Why did it seem, however, that I had evidently drawn the short straw? Yet eventually, as if coming over a beautiful horizon, possibility began to open. What I saw was a great surprise…for all of us.
The secret to success is clearly a spiritual process. It is easy to assume that any whom we would regard as successful were somehow naturally gifted for such; that they just couldn’t help it. But, I discovered that this isn’t the case. The reverse is. Effective individuals seem to hit upon a range that is, well it’s, like magic. And, my conclusion is that real God-blessed life is magic in that it cannot be explained; only believed.
Faith, then, is the singular key. Unfaith seems to keep looking at others in frustrated comparison. God is clear that living by such is a dead-end alley. Faith, though, continually anticipates the action of God; to discern what He’s thinking and where He’s taking us. Such won’t be revealed in sight-form. It will be assumed within the borders of what isn’t yet; but can and will become.
Christianity has developed an appetite for Bible discussion minus expectation that Its call is for us personally. We’ve politely taken a back seat to the God-adventure. Why, we even develop doctrinal arguments to support the idea that direct activity of God has ceased. And for those who believe this error, it has. Such suffocates the believer’s heart.
Didn’t one of our favorite prophets insist that where there is no vision that the people would perish? And, how’s the hunkering down to rehearse the same ol’ same ol’ going for your congregation? The secret to success is found within the same realm of reality that it’s always been; the magnitude of a people determined to launch into the unknown of potential rather than cowering within the framework of past belief security. God. Takes. His. People. Places.
The wonders of the parting of the Red Sea nor the marvels of prison walls tumbling down were not given only for looking back; but are offered to remind us Who knows how to surpass life’s greatest obstacles. To believe is a present-day robust glory. Don’t restrict the term, believe, to the second word in the plan of salvation. Behave, rather, with a faith which dares to break the barriers of eye-fear. Walk by faith. Even run by it.
Finally, success isn’t limited to any whom we might be tempted to believe as residing within the upper-class of faith-hood. Success is for every individual who will dare step out and up while too much of the Christian world would prefer what it regards as safety by not even trying.
Some times rehearsed speeches are all we have. Elijah was there too, once. In 1 Kings 19:10 he says the very same thing he says again to God in 19:14, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
While Elijah is fazed, God is not. When the last echo of this speech is shouted, literally from the mountain top, it was God’s turn to put on a show of His own. God sends a wind, an earthquake, and even a fire. The text doesn’t tell us how he knew it but Elijah somehow knew in those three violent, earth shattering events, God wasn’t present in any of them. There was something about the chaos and upheavel that didn’t speak to God’s presence for Elijah because with each one the text tells us, “but the Lord was not in the _______.” I wonder if that bothered Elijah or comforted him. Often when we are anxious we want other people to ratchet things up as well. Who knows….but then it happens.
After the fire subsided and the sounds of crackling from the now scorched vegetation faded, came the Selah…the stillness. It was God’s ever so subtle and ever so appropriate revelation of His presence to Elijah – the “gentle whisper.” The NRSV calls it “a sound of sheer silence.” Let’s look at this phrase more closely. The word for sound has to do with noise. It can be a loud noise like thunder (Job 38:25), the sound of animals (Psalm 104:12), the voice of God (Psalm 18:14 where is a thunderous sound), or as we will see in a moment, even no sound at all. This word is used twice at the end of 1 Kings 18 when Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal. They call out to Baal but there was no “response” in other words Baal didn’t make a sound. Contrast this with the next chapter, the chapter in focus here, where Elijah cries out and God does respond. He responds with a sound but not a thunderous sound. God’s responsive sound is the sound of “sheer silence” (NRSV). The word for “sheer” is a word for “thin” or “small” and the word translated “silence” is only used here in the Old Testament and it means “calmness”.
There’s the Selah – the moment of calm stillness that isn’t completely silent – in the moment after his complaint Elijah is met with the opposite of what he had seen in his battle with Baal – he got a response where they didn’t. It wasn’t a chaotic response like the prophets of Baal with all their shouts. God’s response was the sound of small calmness. I believe God gave Elijah what Elijah needed most. God didn’t need to ratchet up the anxiety level. God didn’t need to undifferentiate himself from Elijah and take on his anxiety. God knew what anxious Elijah needed most and it wasn’t more chaos. What Elijah needed most to calm his anxious heart was stillness and calmness that was represented in God’s audible responsiveness to Elijah.
Unlike the wind, earthquake, and fire…it was in the calmness that Elijah knew that God was present.
May we, in our world of ever present anxiety…in our world of unending social commentary and argument…rest in the calmness of God’s Selah presence. And may we be that for the next anxious soul who comes into our presence.