Most of us have had the experience of preparing for a difficult conversation. We go over in our head what we’re going to say, what the other person’s response might be, and so on. In some cases we even labor over a prepared statement, a sort of mini-speech, to make sure we accurately and articulately present our point.
As is often the case, this approach breaks down when we apply it to God.
But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied again, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
Then the Lord told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus.”I Kings 19:9-15
Elijah was having a bad day. In fact, since it took him forty days to cross the wilderness, he was having a bad month and a half. There’s plenty to dig into about why Elijah runs away so soon on the heels of his epic victory over the prophets of Baal, but what has always stood out to me in this passage is Elijah’s little speech.
He delivers it twice. I can picture him crossing the desert, each day muttering his speech to himself. Editing it. Revising it in his head until it’s perfect. Until it says exactly what he wants to say, is punchy and to the point, but powerful.
And God just kinda…ignores him. Twice. Of course, we know that God didn’t really ignore Elijah. But he doesn’t immediately respond to his speech. In fact, rather than giving sympathy or consolation, God gives Elijah more work to do.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.”Luke 15:17-23
Once again, the son has to make a long walk to be with the father. And once again, he has a speech prepared.
This time, the father doesn’t even let the son finish his whole speech!
Both these characters, one real, one fictional, were throwing a bit of a pity party for themselves. They were both at the end of their rope and had nowhere else to turn.
At no point does God tell these people their speeches were wrong, or accuse them of a lack of faith, or leave them in the place where they were when they wrote the speech. But he wants us to know that he has something better planned. So if you come to God with a speech prepared…be ready.