Plowing 

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Plowing

“He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair.”         1 Kings 19:19

 

Elisha might have been a person of considerable means, for he evidently owned his own land and had twelve yoke of oxen that he used to till his field. He himself was driving the twelfth pair so that he could supervise the others, driven by his servants. His mind was pretty much occupied by the work at hand, and he had no idea an earth-shattering event was about to take place - he was going to be anointed as the successor of the greatest prophet in Israel.

 He was mostly concerned about the crops he was going to plant for the season and was contemplating about the ways to make himself more prosperous in the coming years. He was probably praying that there would be an abundant amount of rain to irrigate his fields during the growing season so his crops would thrive and produce a plenteous harvest. The man’s mind was occupied by the immediate concerns of his life and hardly had the leisure to entertain any thought of the eternal.

Had the man ever been inspired to do something greater than what he was doing and to become someone nobler than who he was or was going to be? He must have thought about those things when he wasn’t occupied by the chores he had to do or when he was lying in bed at night, staring out of his small bedroom window into the heart of darkness, wondering whether there was anything there beyond the curtain of the night sky.

We all aspired to do great things when we were young and filled with dreams and lofty ideals, but the reality of life hit us with all its titanic demands, making cowards of us all, and we started to do what was necessary merely to survive.  

Millions of people have done so; why should we be any different? Indeed most people have lived their share of life and done what was required of them, and it was insignificant whether they were fulfilled or not. One’s tummy must be filled before one can entertain other possibilities – the meaning of life and such. I never heard my parents or grandparents talking about the meaning of life, a subject which, come to think of it, they must have considered quite impractical, for they always had immediate concerns and other worries.

Yet something extremely unusual happened to Elisha and his life would become drastically different from what it had been. The Lord reached down from heaven and singled him out to do something far more meaningful than what he was doing. He was going to be anointed by Elijah to become a prophet.

Can we all expect something like that to occur to us? Do we really yearn for such an unusual occurrence? Do we have the courage to leave our oxen and plows behind and follow the heavenly calling? This is questionable since we don’t necessarily want to forsake all we have to follow Jesus. We may not be happy with our daily catch, yet we are so frightened to launch our boat into the deep to have a greater haul. Catching men is far more risky than catching fish, isn’t it?   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, October 31, 2013 6:41:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Retirement 

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Retirement

“So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat.”

             1 Kings 19:19

 

The thought of retirement occasionally surfaces in my mind whenever I contemplate my age and the next move I will have to take in the not-so-distant future.

What’s coming after our retirement? This is the question that we have avoided asking, for we know exactly what’s coming after we retire from our active work. Pretty soon our golden days will end and we know what follows after a glorious sunset - darkness.

Uncle John fought hard to not retire from the county social welfare department he had founded, my wife mentioned to me in our casual conversation. I think we were talking about our retirement and what it would take to make it work. My father-in-law’s brother was a strong man with an A-type personality who insisted on hanging onto his job until the last possible moment, but eventually he had to succumb to the pressure applied to him. He passed away a few years later.

What did it mean when the Lord told his prophet to look for a person who was going to take over his job? Simple enough. Elijah’s earthly mission was done, period.

Was the prophet thrilled to hear that? I would have been heart-broken had I been in the prophet’s position, for it almost sounded like a death sentence. It wasn’t so with the greatest prophet in Israel, however. He must have felt a great sense of relief, as if a heavy burden had rolled off his back, when he heard the news. It had been rather difficult being a prophet of the Lord, because not only was he required to deliver God’s message to the Israelites, who absolutely had no interest in listening or obeying, he also had to run for his life constantly. Surely it wasn’t a glamorous job that he would have any difficulty giving up. Life had become toilsome and he was more than happy to give it up.

That sounds pretty morbid, doesn’t it?

The prophet did indeed ask the Lord to take his life while he was escaping from the hot pursuit of Jezebel. What else was there for him to do, since he thought he had completed what was required of him and for him to depart from the world was to break away from all the toil and tribulation of this world?

Does retirement always mean that one has finished the tasks assigned to him by his master?

My father-in-law was forced to retire from church ministry in his early seventies, yet he still managed to find plenty of “ministries” to do the last twenty years of his life. I guess we can extend our lifespan on earth by asking the Lord for more services. I think I might have found the key to our longevity, which does make a lot of sense, doesn’t it?       

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, October 30, 2013 6:31:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Seven Thousand 

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Seven Thousand

“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”   1 Kings 19:18

 

To bow down to Baal is to show reverence; to kiss the false deity is an expression of affection. There were seven thousand people among the Israelites who hadn’t worshipped the false god, neither did they love him. The line between the Lord and Baal was clearly drawn and they absolutely wouldn’t cross it.

“I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips,” we read in Psalm 16.

Celebrations of idols’ birthdays on the island of Taiwan were often followed by big feasts and I was often invited to them. This never failed to cause some struggle for me, as to whether I should attend or not, since I did enjoy the eating. What harm would it do to me anyway, since I believed idols were non-entities, vanities at best?

Yet there was something within me telling me to turn the invitation down every time. I simply could not make myself be part of a banquet honoring false gods. The pleasure of eating might last for a short while, but the ill-feeling of joining in the festivity of idols would have been long lasting. It wouldn’t have been worth it, would it?

Seven thousand was quite a small number, considering how large the population was in Israel. Besides, most of them were hardly visible, and we can hardly blame Elijah for feeling utterly lonely and pitying himself. He was feeling totally alone, as if he were the last one standing.

Where were the seven thousand?

They might not have been prophets, for they would have been slaughtered by Jezebel had they openly been ones. Had Elijah gone to seek them out, he would have been greatly disappointed, for most of the godly people might have preferred to remain nameless. They were known unto God but unknown unto men.

Never cultivate “I am the only one” feeling, for by doing so two types of feelings, neither of them sound, will surface – the feeling of pride and that of self-pity. We know full well how it feels to be the only one in something, don’t we? We may think that we are the only ones who are serving the Lord zealously, not realizing there are others out there doing God’s work silently. Therefore I will continue to build up the habit of looking up, not looking around; for by looking up I will see nobody but the Lord, but if I compare myself with others I will feel terribly deficient.

The Lord Jesus wasn’t alone even when he was praying to his Father in the garden and his disciples were fast asleep, was he?       

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, October 29, 2013 6:24:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Ending 

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Ending

“…and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.”             1 Kings 19:16

 

Elijah’s illustrious career as a prophet was winding down by this time and the Lord gave him a couple of things to accomplish before he called his servant home. The great prophet had done a lot with his life and age was catching up with him. It was time for him to tie up all the loose ends of his life so that he could depart from the world, fully assured that he had done all he could have for God’s kingdom.

His career peaked when he was dueling with the prophets of Baal and the victory he won on Mount Camel was probably his greatest and his last. The torch of his life was burning the brightest just before it was extinguished and, like the setting sun, he casted a passionate backward glance at the world before he shut his weary eyes for good. The prophet was old and worn out, and it was time for him to choose a successor, someone who was young and vibrant, everything the old man was not. “Anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet,” the Lord commanded.

Was there something left in the prophet crying out from within, causing him to protest loudly: “I am not done yet, Lord; please give me a few more years”

The Lord informed King Hezekiah through Isaiah that he was going to die, yet through his earnest prayer, another fifteen years of earthly life was granted to him. Why didn’t Elijah “fight against the dying of the light” like the rest of us?

How the prophet perceived death was entirely different from our perception. Was there even one thing in the world that caused him to cast a backward look, like Lot’s wife did? Probably not. Was there a wife and children waiting for the homecoming of the man and a warm flame in the hearth beckoning the wanderer to return? Was there smoke rising from a chimney in the horizon guiding like the pillar of cloud in the desert, directing the way of the wandering Israelites of old? Probably not. The prophet had exhausted his entire life serving God and he had no other inheritance in the world but the Lord; therefore death was more a homecoming to him than a home-leaving, and he would gladly oblige when the time finally arrived.

So it wasn’t a matter of when, but how he was going to bid the world his final adieu. The prophet wasn’t going to die until he fulfilled what he was called to do, no more and no less. The time would come after he completed the last two things - anointing a king and a prophet.

Therefore instead of counting the days before our departure from the world, we should number the work yet to be done on earth. The time will come exactly when we finish our earthly task and complete our heavenly calling, not a moment earlier or later.   

 

    

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, October 28, 2013 6:13:00 AM Categories: Devotional

A Question 

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A Question

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

           1 Kings 19:13

 

Funny the omniscient God asked his servant this question, as if he didn’t have any idea what was going on. Indeed he knew all things, yet he still asked the question so that the prophet would have an opportunity to state his case.

“What are you doing here?” the Lord may question when you are in the middle of something, to give you a chance to give an apology for whatever you have been doing.

“Well, I am just lying on the couch, listening to a sports talk show on the internet,” I replied.

“You couldn’t find something better to do to occupy your time?” the Lord questioned, sounding a little disappointed.

Surely we could be doing worse.

What if we got caught in the middle of doing something displeasing to God, like viewing pornography on line or even engaging in some sort of gambling through the internet? I suppose we would feel too ashamed to say anything if that were to occur.

At least the prophet was able to make a strong case before the Lord. He had been zealous for God’s work and had absolutely no need to make any apology for it except, perhaps, he was depressed and was entertaining committing suicide, which in and of itself was an act of accusation against the Lord. “Well, I have done my part, Lord, but you haven’t done yours,” he seemed to be saying.

“The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” Elijah spewed out all these words in a rage of anger and frustration, as if to accuse the Lord for failing to do his part to bring the Israelites back to true faith and to protect his prophets from harm. Indeed many prophets of the Lord had been slain by Jezebel, but God didn’t seem to care.

In the meantime, the prophet was waiting for the Lord to make his apology, which the majestic Lord refrained from doing, for the Creator is by no means beholden to his creatures. He merely told the prophet to quit feeling sorry for himself, since he wasn’t the only one who was still out there fighting for the truth. There were seven thousand people who hadn’t yielded to the tyranny of Jezebel and Ahab.

It’s by God’s grace that he even allows us to make an apology for what we are doing, but it’s our impudence to demand from the Lord an explanation for what he is doing. “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few,” we read in the book of Ecclesiastes.      

   

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, October 25, 2013 6:44:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Whisper 

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Whisper

“And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

            1 Kings 19:12

 

Fire and earthquake from the Lord may not take place when we yearn for them, but when we listen attentively, we will always hear a gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit in our ears. Our Father continues to speak in a soft voice, yet we fail to hear it most of the time,

We can’t stand stillness; therefore we cannot hear God’s voice.

We cry out “fire” when we see one breaking out and rush outside in fright when we feel the earth tremors underneath, but we act as if nothing is happening when God whispers in our hearts. We either don’t hear it or mistake it as something else.

“I know not why I am sad.”

We seem to hear a gentle sigh from within, and have no inkling why it’s there and the purpose of it. We just brush it aside and keep on doing our work at hand, walk out of our office to get some fresh air, or go get a cup of coffee. We do a lot of little things to suppress the voice, which is an easy thing to do, for the voice is low and hardly audible, akin to a heart murmur.

The voice permeates the autumn air even though we continue to ignore its presence. It’s there when the wind blows; and it falls with the gentle autumn rain and rises with the yellow leaves picked up by the breeze.

I can still hear my mother calling me as darkness was closing in when I was still playing hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids, crouching in a dark and secluded corner in the barn, refusing to come out until I became afraid. The young mother kept on calling and the trembling voice rose and fell as she walked up and down the village, searching for me. Mother passed away over a year ago, but she left her voice behind her. Her love for her children didn’t die with her.

I am often tempted to dial her telephone number at home like I used to do once a week while she was still there, thinking that she might pick up the receiver and call my name.

 

    “Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
      If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

 

It’s just my fancy that I can still hear my mother’s voice, for she is no more, yet God’s voice will always be there, no matter how far I have strayed from his presence. How often I have drowned his voice with wave upon wave of earthly cacophony, yet his whisper of love will follow me until I stagger into my grave. “But with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy,” you will keep on searching, wooing, and speaking to me, until I bow my head and yield.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Thursday, October 24, 2013 5:36:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Fire 

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Fire

“After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.”

           1 Kings 19:12

 

The Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush, but he chose not to speak to Elijah that way. He was in the fire, but he didn’t speak to his prophet from the fire.

Forty years had passed and by this time Moses was an old man who probably had given up any idea of doing anything significant with his life. He just wanted to glide gracefully into his sunset with no regrets. He had lived his share of an earthly life and was making preparation for the next; it would take quite a dramatic event to give him a jolt and wake him up from his stupor.

Had the Lord spoken to Moses in a soft whisper, Moses would have missed it, for he was an eighty-year-old man by that time and his physical hearing might not have been that sharp. But the real issue was Moses’ spiritual hearing was getting a little dull as well, since the Lord hadn’t spoken to him for quite a long time, and he had long given up the hope of hearing God’s voice. He felt like man forsaken and utterly disregarded.

It would take a curious sight to draw the old shepherd’s attention and a burning bush was exactly what was needed at the time. “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” The fire had done the trick.

Elijah, however, had just witnessed a spectacular fire coming down from haven, and what he needed was a calmer way of communication. What he needed desperately at the time wasn’t another sign from heaven; he desired divine comfort and encouragement, and a soft whisper would suffice.

Why do we sometimes yearn for earthquake and fire from the Lord, as if the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit in our ears isn’t quite sufficient? Instead of entering into our hearts and listening to the holy voice within, we continue to look outward to seek for miracles and signs. Besides, all we need to know is clearly portrayed in the scriptures and yet we still find ourselves searching for new revelations through exotic means.

What do we go out to the wilderness to see? A burning bush? Indeed we may find wildfire that consumes all things in its way, but the Lord probably won’t speak to us from the fire, for he did it thousands of years ago and the message is conveyed clearly in the Biblical narrative. Are we tempted to call fire down from heaven to devour our offerings to God? If so, let’s just turn to the Bible and we will hear God’s voice oozing out from the sacred pages.

“The speaker said that he went without food or water for seventy days when he was being persecuted for his faith in jail,” a student told me about the message he had heard recently. “He did it thirty days longer than Jesus,” he added.

“Did I give you a Bible to read the other day?” I replied. “You will find in it all the miraculous signs you will ever need in your entire life.”

 

 

Posted by Robert Sea Wednesday, October 23, 2013 6:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

earthquake 

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Earthquake

“After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.”           1 Kings 19:11

 

God was in the earthquake as well, but Elijah wasn’t in the mood to listen to him in the violent trembling of the earth. The prophet was exhausted spiritually at this time; what he needed was God’s comfort and a message from an earthquake would have been too intense for him.

A few things occurred that indicated to me that we should move away from LA after a year of ministry there. One of them was an earthquake that took place a day before we left. Being from the island of Taiwan, I was pretty used to earthquakes, since they happened so frequently there, but that particular tremor still left a lasting impression on me. I wasn’t very fond of the city, and I took it as a sign that we should move back to the south.

Did the Lord really speak to me through the earthquake? Not necessarily. It is more likely that I was reading into the natural occurrence something that wasn’t there. I might have been hearing my own voice when I claimed the Lord was speaking to me.

The Lord could have spoken to Elijah through an earthquake, but he decided not to do that. Indeed the Almighty can communicate with his creatures whatever way he desires. Didn’t he once enlist a mule to be his messenger? If so, am I reading a bit too much into the method by which the Lord chose to speak to Elijah?

Surely the Lord isn’t random or capricious in the way he chooses to reveal his way and will to us; therefore there must have been perfectly good reason why he decided to speak to the prophet in a small voice, and it’s perfectly legitimate for me to meditate on the reason behind it. It’s a joy and a great blessing to be able to look into the heart of God through mediation, albeit we may get it wrong most of the time. Well, not completely wrong in all cases, just not perfectly right.

Back to the earthquake, then.

The violent earthquake could have terrified the prophet and caused him to miss God’s message. The strange phenomena might have demonstrated God’s awesome power, but surely it wasn’t the best way of communication between human and divine. It can communicate God’s general message to all, but it may fail to convey his specific idea to some individuals. Whatever method the Lord happens to employ to reveal his will to his people, it’s always the most appropriate and efficient. When the entire Scriptures were yet to be composed, the Lord had to be quite creative in revealing his way to his servants, but it’s superfluous for us to ask for an exotic way of revelation since we do have the written words of God, through which we can know clearly see God’s will for us, both the general and the particular. 

     

  

Posted by Robert Sea Tuesday, October 22, 2013 6:10:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Strong Wind 

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Strong Wind

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.”     1 Kings 19:10

 

The Lord was in the powerful wind, but that wasn’t the way he chose to speak to his prophet. It was too violent.

The prophet had witnessed God’s mighty work when fire came down from heaven and devoured the sacrifice he offered on the altar, and it would have been too emotionally-taxing had another event like that occurred again. He didn’t need another dramatic event like that; what he desired at the time was a quiet respite for his soul.

Surely our faith can be strengthened by witnessing miraculous signs, but the goal of our faith being strengthened is that we may walk steadily and consistently with the Lord afterward. We climb to the peak of the mountain to gain enough fresh air and spiritual energy to walk in the dark valley.

We may easily miss God’s voice in the violence of God’s mighty wind that tears the mountain apart and shatters the giant rocks, for we will be overwhelmed  by God’s mighty power, and miss seeing God’s gentle love that lies behind his enormous strength.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,” wrote the prophet Isaiah

The miraculous signs we have witnessed may be waxing cold if we don’t mediate and digest on them continuously, for reminding ourselves of God mercy and grace in the past may strengthen and stabilize our walk with the Lord in the present. I guess that’s what it means when we are exhorted not to forget our “first love” for God. We will not endure to the end and hold onto our “last love” for God unless we keep on refreshing our “first love” for him in our thoughts and meditations.

“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

The “violence” of romantic love of one’s youth should provide sufficient fuel to keep love burning for one’s entire lifetime. This doesn’t mean that we don’t keep on refueling the glow of love by reaffirming our love to our loved ones through various means, flowers and such, but we will be disappointed if we still yearn for the ferocity of romantic love that used to shatter the core of our life to occur repeatedly. Our aging heart may not be able to withstand it even were it to happen.

Therefore, “the Lord was not in the wind.” He was in the wind, but the prophet would have been swept away had God chosen to speak to him that way.

Surely the Lord shouldn’t have to turn our lives upside down to reveal his presence to us, or to tell us how he loves and cares for us. He has already done that, and what we need from him is his gentle whisper in our ears, affirming his deep love and care for us all.  

Posted by Robert Sea Monday, October 21, 2013 6:49:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Foreknowing 

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Foreknowing

“What are you doing here Elijah?”

            1 Kings 19:9

 

Was it just a casual remark from the Lord when he asked the question, or did it mean something else? Evidently the Lord knew completely why the prophet was there, for it was the Lord who called his servant there. The prophet travelled forty days and forty nights to the Mount Horeb, where the Lord revealed himself to Moses years ago, not knowing exactly why he was going there. The long journey was mapped out for him by an angel and when he finally arrived at the destination, the Lord asked him the puzzling question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He was not doing something out of his own volition at all. Had he had any choice at all, he would have stayed where he was and enjoyed a few days of peace and rest; yet at the urge of the angel, he travelled nonstop to an unknown destination for an unknown purpose, and then this question.

The omniscient God knew exactly what his servant had been doing and was doing at the time. In fact, nothing that ever occurred in the prophet’s entire life was kept hidden from his all-seeing eyes. The prophet’s life was a masterpiece composed by the Author who knew precisely which scene was being acted at the time. It was the last act of a spectacular play in which Elijah was the major character and was doing his best to perform.

Surely we are not players who are acting out something full of “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as William Shakespeare implied; we have become spectacles, “performing for people and angels to see,” remarked the apostle Paul.

Why the question, then?

One more time the Lord gave his servant another opportunity to vent his anger and frustration by offering to him a listening ear. There was no need for the Lord to hear, but there was a great necessity for his servant to speak; therefore he offered Elijah a chance to speak by asking the question, and the prophet reiterated exactly the same thing, full of anguish and self-pity.

Isn’t it akin to the prayers that we have often made to the Lord when we were depressed or became desperate over some difficulties? The Lord knew every word before we utter it, yet he still had the patience to listen and the energy to endure. It’s for our sake that we pray, not for God’s sake when we pour out our heart before the Lord, albeit we sometimes feel that we are doing God a favor by praying to him.

In some sense, the Lord may be acting like a divine psycho-therapist, who knows it’s therapeutic for his patents to vent their anger and bitterness before him, so he encourages them to speak.

Surely there is a lot more to our dialogue with the Lord that just this oversimplified explanation. I am just so overwhelmed by the divine patience to listen to numerous tedious prayers we offer before him day after day and year after year.  

    

 

Posted by Robert Sea Friday, October 18, 2013 8:26:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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