I always knew Spring had sprung when I could kick up dust with my boots while tromping in the back pasture. The dust didn’t make Spring happen but it was just the clincher for me that truly the bitter cold of eastern Montana winter was over. I always knew Dad was coming home when Blue would bark at the front gate. Blue didn’t make Dad come home, he merely heralded his arrival.
In much the same sense, manifestations of spirituality cannot be confused with the source of that manifestation. Neither does a tangible absence of manifestation negate G-d’s work in the lives of those around us.
All too often, in the conversations of believers I hear how G-d’s presence was “felt” and how He “moved”. I hear how a quiet service is void of G-d’s Spirit and raucous exuberant expression an event which proves G-d’s involvement. I have been told a service in which many tears were shed is the absolute and undeniable proof of His blessings and guidance.
Is it possible all too often we have diminished G-d’s voice to the level of our experiential comfort zone? Those of us who prefer a more cerebral experience with G-d seem intent on finding fault with those whose very existence is one emotional point after another. Conversely, it seems those of us who are driven by our need to “feel Him near” find fault constantly with those who don’t share our expressive forms of worship. And the battle continues. In our very midst.
Surely the reality must be somewhere in the middle. We know, through Scripture that G-d did most definitely speak to Israel through fire from heaven. Yet, He also spoke to Elijah (Eliyahu) in the still, small voice. The small, quiet voice after the fire, the earthquake and the terrible wind. Which manifestation of G-d was more valuable and more viable?
Was Israel more readily influenced by the fire which scorched Sinai and the glory which shone from Moses’ face or by the example of the “most humble man who ever lived”? Which drew them closer to G-d. Does that make the fire and the thunder and the voice of G-d any less important? Certainly not!!! G-d was there. That is undeniable. He used the willing, the unimpressive, the petulant and the reluctant to do His work. To speak His words to the people He called His own. And that is a mystery I will certainly never comprehend fully.
There is value in both , on that I am certain we agree, but truly, which has the most personal impact? Centuries or rather millenia later are we more moved by water from the rock or the leadership of a man who quietly, humbly and obediently served G-d. Was Moses flashy? Was he determined to create his own dynasty and through whatever means necessary create a following in his name? I don’t find that anywhere in Scripture. He spoke with G-d when no one was looking. He begged G-d for the salvation of the people even when G-d Himself expressed disgust with Israel.
I find it extremely important for a believer to constantly question manifestations. There are many places manifestations can come from. Selfish intent, immaturity, manipulation and suggestion are a few non-spiritual avenues. But don’t underestimate the ability the Enemy of our souls has at his disposal. He too can create “signs and wonders”. He too can show us “power” which seems beyond our ability to comprehend. He too can create that “spiritual ambiance” which can become more addictive than any drug.
Physical manifestations are no more a harbinger of G-d being present than dust being the definition of Spring. Spring comes with G-d says it is time. Whether or not there are tangible expressions of that truth. Signs and wonders should follow us. A verse in Matthew, when I remember it, causes me to hesitate when anyone waxes long and eloquent about the “sightings” of the Spirit and the Next Great Revival. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign…” Matthew 12:39a. That seems to compare rather harshly to the words of the psalmist as he poured out his heart and gave us glimpses into the heart of G-d Himself.
“Be still and know that I am G-d.”
I find in the stillness challenge, warning and comfort. The challenge is to cease from my “work” and foolish attempts to make G-d look like me. I find a warning in stillness because it is so difficult to trust G-d’s hand at work while I arrogantly think there is so much I could be doing for Him. I find comfort in stillness because I am reminded how very great and powerful He is and how very small and inept I am. In the grandeur of quiet I find the limitless expanse of a Faithful Creator. He is a Creator both unshakable and immovable. I am confident no matter what howls around me or whether I have chills, tremble or weep uncontrollably He is constant. Consistent. He is a Creator who weaves deliberately the threads of my tangled life when I see only quiet, stillness and what, to my weak and wavering emotions, looks very much like absence.
It seems to me we should take more time to understand the G-d who would care to cover Moses in the “cleft of the rock” so as to not destroy him, though Moses begged for a glimpse of G-d’s face. It seems we should spend far more time understanding the G-d who sang through a simple shepherd boy in the hills of Judah when no one was looking. I believe we should spend less time pursuing the earthquake, the fire and the loaves and fishes. Those things were meant to follow us. We were never intended to follow them.