We serve an incredibly big God, and we often search for God in the biggest places. This includes the largest, most impactful ministries. It also comprises the most prominent churches with the most activities and a well-polished production. Since Constantine, churches have been built specifically designed to elicit an elevated emotional response. Although these events, activities, and venues can sometimes facilitate a closer communion with God, they can also be that which causes us to miss him altogether.

Although church events, activities, and venues can sometimes facilitate a closer communion with God, they can also be that which causes us to miss him altogether.

We have grown accustomed to the noise. Like moths to a flame, we are almost drawn to them. We have become convinced that a “powerful” production (in whatever use of the term) is a synonymous display of a powerful and almighty God. However, this is not necessarily the case.

God’s people love to see him perform signs and wonders. They celebrate his miracles and magnificent deeds. They are right to do so. However, God is not just present in the loud and overwhelming. He is also present in the soft and quiet. It may be the unfortunate case, however, that we have so many distractions in our lives that the only time we do, in fact, notice God is in those booming moments.

Elijah had just had a mountaintop experience, literally. He had challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and God demonstrated his power over Baal by consuming Elijah’s sacrifice. Then, Elijah massacred the prophets in the Kishon Valley (1 Kings 18:18-40). Next, Elijah successfully prays for an end to a three-and-a-half-year drought. But, despite his colossal successes, Elijah flees Jezebel in fear for his life, and he hides in a cave at Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:1-9). Elijah has become depressed and distraught, feeling sorry for himself. This is where our passage picks up.

God asks Elijah what he is doing in a cave, to which Elijah provides a response twice. Again, he uses the same excuse twice. However, sandwiched between Elijah’s lament is an encounter with God. What exactly is going on here? What was Elijah hoping to experience? One word. Elijah approached God with a certain expectation. Elijah hoped that his plea would incite God to show up powerfully and that God would take up his cause. But God will not always act like you expect him to, and he will not always show up in a mighty display of majesty and glory. Furthermore, God will take no part in your pity party.

Many churches today strive to heighten their worship experiences. So much effort is spent ensuring congregants can experience God’s presence. They even tell worshippers to come expecting. However, so often, those expectations are misplaced. Notice that it wasn’t that God was not present—he was present, and it was his presence that caused these natural events (1 Kings 19:11). Yet God was not in those events. Only after the events had subsided was God’s voice heard.

It is easy to often focus on finding God in the big and illustrious events–the insightful sermons, heartwarming testimonies, powerful dramas, and emotion-gripping musical performances. Furthermore, each of these and many other elements of worship may result from God’s presence. But, just because they are the outcome of God’s presence, it does not mean God is speaking to us through them. Sometimes, we must turn it all off and learn to be quiet. We must grow comfortable with the mundane and with being still. We must learn to listen for God’s whisper.