Our little granddaughter is a Mickey Mouse fan. So the other day I got her a big helium Mickey balloon. It's gone through three pretty distinct phases. First, Mickey was totally flat and folded up into a little square. Then the lady at the store gave him a shot of helium that's made Mickey big and flying high. In fact, without a string to tie him down, he'd fly away and end up somewhere in Bolivia. I know from past experience, though, that there's another phase coming. His flying high days can't last forever. One day, we're going to find him all soft, mushy, and slowly shriveling up on the floor.
The life and times of a helium balloon aren't all that different from the life and times of folks like you and me. We start out flat, we open our lives to Jesus Christ, He enlarges our life, gives us some victorious seasons where we're flying high, and then often overnight, we've gone flat and we've hit the ground. It doesn't have to be that way.
If you know that cycle all too well, you need to see how this cycle worked in the life of one of God's great servants in the Bible. Elijah was one of the most powerful of God's ancient prophets. And he was flying high in God that day on Mount Carmel when he single-handedly challenged 450 prophets of the idol Baal to a spiritual showdown. It was sort of a spiritual "Gunfight at the O. K. Corral." Elijah's challenge is to see whose God will consume with fire from heaven the sacrifice that's been laid on the altar.
The message for today begins with 1 Kings 18:37 as Elijah prays in front of this army of false prophets: "Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again." The entire prayer is only 60 words, but Elijah mentions God nine times in those 60 words. On Mt. Carmel, it is clearly all about the Lord God. And the fire falls, consuming the sacrifice and causing everybody to cry, "The Lord! He is God!"
Now fast forward to the next chapter. The king has threatened Elijah's life and in fear he runs to the desert. He sits under a tree, and in the Bible's words, "prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.' ... I have been very zealous for the Lord God ... I am the only one left'" (1 Kings 19:4-5, 10). On Mt. Carmel, it was all about God. In the desert, it was all about me. And that's the difference between flying high and falling flat. During the victory time, it's all about the Lord. But often in the aftermath of a victory, something happens that makes it suddenly all about me, and we crash.
Jesus said the devil is a thief who comes "to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10). And every time God does something good in your life, the devil is there with some cheap shot he wants to use to rob you of the joy of what God has done. Don't fall for it. It's like you've just won the Super Bowl, you're walking off the field, and your defeated opponent says, "I'll make you pay for this." And he gives you a bloody nose. Yes, he hurt you a little, but he can't change the outcome. You still won, and nothing he can do can change the victory. So when the joy-robber comes in after the victory and tries to get you all focused on yourself, you tell him, "I know who this is, and I am not falling for it! We won, and you can't change it!"
Life won't always be "flying high" moments like Elijah's Mt. Carmel, but you can be consistently joyful and hopeful and positive, even when some of the air goes out. Because "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10), not the joy of your circumstances. It's your Lord who inflates you with His joy, His victory, so you don't have to lie deflated in a corner ever again!
God is present everywhere and participates in all the circumstances of our lives. It is not necessary to shut down the rest of your life or retreat to a distant mountaintop to be with him. Driving down the highway, in hospital waiting rooms, at dinner, greeting clients - God's presence fills every moment of the day.
We can't fix ourselves. We can't find our own way. We certainly can't control life's twists and turns. But we can gradually learn to sense God's presence with us in all things. His love - and His peace. But I must confess to having a problem doing it.
As I've tried to figure out why I have the problem, at least this much is clear: I am more comfortable with noise than silence, with activity than stillness, with struggling than surrender, with trying to be strong than admitting my weakness.
It was the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal who said, "All human miseries come from not being able to sit in a quiet room, alone." Could he possibly be right? Do we humans need more reflection than we permit ourselves? Time to take our thoughts and feelings seriously? The courage to bring them honestly before God to see what he may want us to learn? Or to be?
Last week I was forced to sit still in weather-bound traffic for a while. For Type-A personalities, that is nerve-jangling, finger-drumming time! I had a schedule. There were things to do. So... something told me to pray instead of churn. And I did -- about a host of things. The time passed quickly. When I was able to get going on the road again, there was no haste or panic. Just gratitude for an unanticipated time for prayer. And a sense of peace about what lay ahead.
Perhaps it would be wise to book a half-day each month for silence before God. To use dead time in airports to be alone with God. To turn off the noise of a radio or Ipod for the chance to hear God while driving to work.
Perhaps you live at such a hurried pace that a half day or even a half hour of silence with God seems impractical. For today, put just five minutes of silence between appointments or work two five-minute periods of quiet into your morning.
At the end of the day, you may have discovered the meaning of this text from Scripture: "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Psalm 46:10-11)