I hope some of you were able to see the aurora borealis over the weekend. Although I missed out on this one, I can still recall being awed as a child by the light shows God put on in the Wyoming night sky. God has given me an opportunity to travel, and I recall experiencing sensory overload with a man-made light show. It was in Times Square in the middle of Manhattan Island. It was early evening and lights were flashing from street level up to the skyline in all directions. It almost made me dizzy. There I was standing on a small island (33 square miles) that over 1.6 million people call home. To top it off, in the middle of all of it stood a panhandler who called himself the naked cowboy. As a native of the Cowboy-state of Wyoming, I’m confident that nowhere in the 97,814 square miles of my home state would I be able to find another one quite like him—nor would the state’s residents want one.
In recent weeks I have been addressing cultural issues that are negatively impacting the spiritual health of the American church: emotion vs fact-driven decisions, general moral and ethical declines, and information overload. Today I will highlight one of the issues that our affluence has created: sensory overload. One way I have described our current reality is the stark contrast between most people in the world who eat to live and our lifestyle where we live to eat. In many nations, people spend the majority of their waking hours working, scraping, and searching for a way to survive that day. We spend a lot of time dreaming and planning our next vacation or choosing how many of the 100s of exciting things we COULD do this weekend that we will be able to actually CRAM into our agenda—Sabbath rest and public worship often don’t make the final list. Each experience seems to create in us a desire to find an even more exciting opportunity. Stimulating our sensory system gets harder and harder—almost as if we were addicted. We become intoxicated as we seek newer and better opportunities that lay somewhere out there in our much anticipated tomorrows.
Sometimes we seek spiritual stimulation in a similar way. Our desire is to go from one mountain top experience to another. We seem to ignore the reality that between the mountain tops are valleys. I would also quickly point out that every mountain top experience isn’t the same. I could argue that the moment when Elijah’s life was most deeply transformed wasn’t on Mt. Carmel; remember, within hours of that adrenaline rush, he was running like a scared rabbit from Jezebel. I would suggest that Elijah’s greatest life change took place on Mt. Horeb (Sinai). And there it wasn’t God’s demonstrated power that stimulated Elijah; it was God’s quiet voice. God said to Elijah:
“Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:11-13)
That experience initiated a significant change in the way Elijah did ministry. Instead of seeking more stimulating Mt. Carmel experiences, he began to fulfill God’s call for his life.
Then the Lord said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.” (I Kings 19:15-16)
Elijah walked off the Mountain of God, anointed Elisha, and began to disciple him. They were together 24/7/365 until God’s chariot of fire swept Elijah into heaven (II Kings 2). Just like Jesus spent 24/7/365 with His disciples until His ascension. From those realities, I would surmise that spiritual transformation is a slow, often boring, life-on-life process. To drive my point home, let me remind you that God commissioned Elijah to anoint three leaders: Elisha, Hazael, and Jehu. As I already mentioned, the Bible records that Elijah immediately anointed Elisha, but who anointed the other two? Elisha anointed Hazael (II Kings 8:7-14), and an unnamed disciple of Elisha anointed Jehu (II Kings 9:1-10). So obedient disciple-making also assumes that it will be a multi-generational process.
In last week’s article, I described growing up in Wyoming in the ’50s. As such, it wasn’t hard for me to avoid either information or sensory overload. But another part of my reality back then was that I grew up in a state where there were less than four people for every square mile compared to Manhattan Island, NY, where today there are 48,327 people per square mile. So, I didn’t have to be taught the spiritual disciplines of solitude, silence, simplicity, or slowing. That was just a part of life. Similarly, social distancing hasn’t been a burden for Wyomingites, because they have been practicing it for hundreds of years.
Back then, Bible verses like Isaiah 30:15, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength. But you would not;” Or Psalm 62:5 “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone” didn’t carry a lot of meaning for me. But the spiritual disciplines I just mentioned and these verses are things that I really, really need to hear and to heed today! Are you willing to step away from the sensory overload lifestyle (both physically and spiritually) and join me as I place myself quietly before God? I will be bold enough to suggest that unless we quickly change our lifestyle, the next generations (our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren) will struggle even more.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.
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