“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.—2 Kings 6:16,17
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”—Exodus 3:5
As I write this, I am hidden away in a chair in my bedroom, with earphones in my ears playing classical piano music. The reason for this is that children are loud. I was sitting at the dining room table, but my 8-year old son was flying a play-doh airplane around the room, smashing into things, jumping off of furniture and making loud explosion noises. Then my 15-year old daughter decided to make banana bread in the kitchen, which involves opening and shutting a lot of cabinets and banging pots and pans while singing along with the music in her own earphones.
At the same time, my phone buzzed probably 15 times in the course of 20 minutes. It’s not just that children are loud; life is loud. Carey is out of town, and she was sending me travel updates while I was arranging childcare and petsitting for later in the week when I go on Men’s Retreat. Someone wants to reschedule a meeting that was set for tomorrow; someone else has an urgent prayer request. A person with a foreign accent and a Wyoming phone number has important information about my car’s extended warranty. Ugh. When I sat down to write, my prayer was “God, what do you want to say?” After a few repetitions of that prayer in the midst of all the chaos, it started to feel a little ridiculous. Who can hear from God when life is so noisy?
So now I am in the bedroom, with the door shut, with my earphones in, praying the same thing again. “God, what do you want to say?” And this time it feels like I’m getting somewhere. My heart rate and frustration levels are going down, and it doesn’t seem entirely out of the question that God might speak in an environment like this. Or rather, that I might hear Him. He was probably speaking all along. It’s not that God’s mood has changed, or that He is a huge fan of classical piano; the problem was on my end. I needed to make some changes before I could discern the voice of God in the midst of all the noise.
In the above story from 2 Kings, Elisha the prophet had a servant who was afraid because they were surrounded and outnumbered by the enemy. Elisha wanted Him to see the angelic host that was protecting them, so He prayed for God to open the man’s eyes. He didn’t pray for God to send protection, because the protection was already there. The angels were already standing on guard. Elisha could see them. The problem wasn’t on God’s end, it was that the man was overwhelmed by fear and anxiety and could not see spiritual reality. He just needed his eyes opened.
I am often like that. I worry whether God will provide for our family, but the truth is that He has provided for our family, and is providing for our family, and will provide for our family. God doesn’t need to do anything different. I just need eyes to see what He is already doing. Or I wonder why God isn’t speaking, when in reality He is, and I’m the one who needs to make some changes so I can hear what He is saying.
When Moses saw the burning bush, he approached it out of curiosity, which was a good thing, but at a certain point God told Him not to come any closer. He was close enough to hear what God had to say, and far enough away to show the proper respect. But then there was one more step: Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground. Moses, you can’t have this conversation just as you are. You need to make a change on your end in recognition of Who you’re speaking to. God is holy, and you can’t assume that you’re fine just as you are to enter into communion with the Holy God. Taking off his shoes was a way for Moses to acknowledge the seriousness of this moment, the glory of God, and the humility of his position. It was a way of recognizing that this was not a casual encounter, but an experience of worship.
Sometimes I expect to experience God without bothering to change very much in my life. God, I’m going to go straight from my morning workout to preparing a sermon, and when I sit down at my computer I expect you to show up on cue. God, I know I’ve been too busy up to this point in the day to pay much attention to you, but now that I’m crying out in prayer to you, I’ll be frustrated if I don’t have an immediate sense of your presence. Sometimes I think we are saying, “God, where you?” and God is saying “Take off your shoes. Remember who you’re talking go. Go into the other room. Slow down. Remove yourself from the distractions. It’s not that I’m not speaking, it’s that you haven’t taken the steps to hear me. It’s not that I’m not here, it’s that you don’t have eyes to see.”
This week, how can you set aside a time and space to hear from God? What are the distractions you need to remove so that nothing keeps you from seeing the ways He is at work all around you?