1 Kings 19:11-13 New King James Version: God’s Revelation to Elijah
11 Then He said, “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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 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.
God does a lot of His work, both inside us personally and outside of us in the larger world, using the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit is that little inside voice that is your personal, spiritual life coach – God encourages you, corrects you and pushes you to be the better person that He knows you are. Like all good coaches, sometimes He can be hard on us, but also like all good coaches, He knows how and where to push us, to prune off things that are not good, and how to help us improve. Be aware that the devil will also try and whisper stuff to you, too – it takes some Bible study and prayer to become aware of the difference between God’s voice and that serpent’s hiss. Being obedient is something that God WANTS YOU TO DO. Yes, God can make you be obedient. That is not how He works. You have to exercise your self-discipline (with His help) to learn how to stay out of trouble, and also learn to depend on Him when trouble comes to you. Part of that is learning to recognize His voice when He speaks guidance to you through His Holy Spirit. Learn to listen and learn to obey.
I have also discovered that there are fascinating spiritual insights to be found in onions.
For the last week, I have driven 30 minutes to a field here in South Georgia where they planted sweet onions. They have given me access to this field to harvest and give away as many of them as I can before they need the field and plow under whatever’s left, so I have gone every day that they will let me and loaded my pickup truck with 600+ pounds of fresh sweet onions. Then I drive back to my small town and give them to people. Anybody who can use them, because I believe it’s just plain sinful to waste good food.
Some of these fresh onions have some mushy layers on the outside, and I have learned that most of the people I am giving onions to don’t want those. It is extra trouble, smelly and messy, and just not nice, easy, or convenient to deal with those, because, you see, they will “infect” other onions you have and cause them to rot, too. Those are the onions that I keep for myself, because I don’t mind stripping off the nasty mess and getting down to the core of what is still a very good onion. So, the messy ones are mine.
That’s the sort of person I was when I came to God. I had some nasty mushy stuff on my outer layers (where it was pretty easy to see), and I was one of those that was going to need special handling. I am so grateful that God is willing to take us as we are, nastiness and all. And then, using the Holy Spirit, He starts cleaning away, stripping off those ugly, worthless layers we have until He gets down to the good part. And some of us need to be careful when we are around rotting onions, because they can infect us, too. That stuff your mama told you about being careful what friends you choose wasn’t wrong. Think about your own life. Are you an inspiration or an infection? I am sad to admit that there have been times when I was not an inspiration. I am letting God make me better. You can, too. Just ask Him.
In a small way, rescuing mushy onions is sort of what I do in my job, too – I am a teacher. The messy ones there are mine, too – the ones that need special handling. I appreciate the perfect onions, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t need me as much to be a good onion. I’ll take the messy ones. To me, they are worth the trouble. I am so glad that they are worth the trouble to God, too!
The first time I went to harvest, the man in charge who knows much more about onions that I probably ever will – down to molecular structure – told me that the onions that had the big, showy bloom stalk were not the best ones to get. He explained that that bloom stalk creates a hard center in those onions. There is still good onion wrapped around that hard core, but it makes them second quality. Since there are so many first quality onions still in the field, we have all been skipping over those.
I immediately thought of some of the people I know who are the hardest to reach with the good news of the Gospel. When a person’s life is clear and visible that there is mess there, like my mushy onions, those people can quickly understand and grasp the concept that God offers a much, much better way. But when they have a pretty outside, and a showy bloom stalk for people to see and admire (and many do admire beautiful, showy people), reaching them with the good news that God died for them and offers a better way to live their lives just does not interest them a whole lot. There are reasons for that attitude they have of “I don’t need God,” and sorrowfully, often God has to take away all their pretty before they can see they are just like the rest of us.
Some of us are like that when we come to God – and a lot of those onions never do come to God. When I found one of those bloomers in the truck (by mistake) that I had added to the better ones, I decided to process it, too, and see just what the expert was telling me about.
The onion was beautiful on the outside – really pretty. But when I cut it open, the core of it was a hard, fibrous stalk that was too hard to use. Isn’t that just like some of us? We have a layer of pretty that surrounds our hard, unyielding core. We have a big, showy bloom stalk, and many people admire us. Some of us who are that way know about our ugly core, and some will never admit that core is there.
For God, and me processing that onion, it isn’t as easy as just stripping off a bad layer or two to save THAT sort of onion. No, this kind must be cut WIDE OPEN, and the ugly heart cut out, dug out, ripped away. It’s major surgery. Some people are like that, too. God can do it, but it is much, much harder on the onion. That is partly why Jesus told us that it is hard for a rich man to enter Heaven – he’s too satisfied with what he has here on Earth to be interested much in the things of God. Still, there is good there. Those rescued, surgically mangled onions are great to cook with, and they season and add flavor just as well as a first quality onion. They are worth saving, too – even though they are the toughest ones to save.
And finally, there are a few onions in the field – not many but there are a few – that are rotten in the middle core. There is just no saving those. Even Jesus, on the cross while making the ultimate sacrifice for all people, saved only the one thief, not both of them. God honors the choice that people make. We as believers do our best to persuade, convince, convict, encourage, pray…..and for some, it isn’t enough. Not even God Himself could save them all. I guess what I don’t understand is why anyone would choose not to go to Heaven. Does that make any sense to you?
There’s a lot of onions, good ones, that have just a small rotten spot. Or maybe two. Those onions are easily fixed by just removing those bad places. If you don’t remove them, the rot will spread until it ruins the entire onion. In like vein, Scripture tells us of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which made it a story important enough to include into three of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. It says Jesus loved him. When Jesus answered his question and told him to sell his belongings and become a disciple, the young man turned away, it tells us, because he was rich – and Jesus LET HIM GO. He honors our choices, even when we don’t make the right ones. Jesus didn’t tell everyone to sell their things. THINGS aren’t the problem for all of us. God through the Holy Spirit will put his finger on the things that I need to let go – and that word from Him is personal because He knows what junk is holding ME back. Not my brother or sister, not my neighbor – ME. It’s a message for ME. God pinpoints for each of us where our problem is – if we are listening, and willing to obey. Are you holding on to a rotten spot that needs to be removed? Are you willing to listen and obey the direction of the Holy Spirit in your life? Do you believe that God wants the best for you, as He has promised? Why would you want to hold onto something He’s telling you to let go of? Are you willing to risk having your rotten spot ruin the whole onion?
Scripture has the men climbing the mountains to experience God up close and personal. But Scripture also shows us that God appears to women in great and powerful ways while they are otherwise occupied in the ordinary business of living that took up and continues to take up their daily time. Men go to God. God comes to women.
God has lessons to teach, even while I am standing at the sink processing onions. That’s what it means to listen to the Holy Spirit. I am learning to listen when God speaks, whether He speaks in the wind, the storm, the earthquake, the fire – or in that still, small voice.