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It Got Very Quiet up in the Mountains

It got very quiet up in the mountains.

He was trying to pray, but it wasn’t easy. He’d climbed for hours into the mountains. He didn’t really believe that climbing a mountain would bring him closer to God. At least not consciously. But he wanted to get through. He had a complaint. God needed to hear him and he needed to know God had heard him.

He sat down on a rock. He didn’t know how high up he was. He thought maybe the air was thinner. Had he climbed high enough to notice such a thing? He didn’t know.

He looked up at the sky and started his complaint. He’d worked it out in his mind. It was a complaint, but a very polite one.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of people, places, and events to the real world is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014
Henry E. Neufeld

“Oh Lord, Creator of the Universe, Bringer of all good things, I do thank You for all Your many blessings. I believe Your Word, I trust You.”

“Who are you talking to?” said a voice. It might have been the wind. It might have been in his head. But it was real enough that he looked around. Must be my imagination, he thought.

“I believe that You reward those who do Your will, and punish those who do evil.”

“No you don’t,” said the voice. “And I still wonder who you’re talking to. I hear all those capital letters, ‘You’ and ‘Your’.”

How can one hear capital letters? he thought.

“It’s the way you say them. I can tell you’d capitalize them if you wrote them. You’d see it as a sign of respect. But I notice you didn’t respond to my most important comment.”

He was startled that he got an answer when he just thought. “But I do believe God rewards good and punishes evil!”

“It’s interesting that you speak so courteously, and yet you’re not afraid to lie to me.”

“I’m not lying!” He hesitated. “Are you claiming to be God?”

“Who’s claiming anything? Do you see anyone around here other than yourself? You left the sane people behind several miles back!”

He looked around. Indeed, he saw nobody but himself. Even the trees were sparse and stunted. He must have walked further than he had planned. “But you said I was lying!” His voice hardened with anger.

“Aha! Honest words! Honest emotion! I said you were lying because you were. You do not believe that I reward good and punish evil. In fact, that’s why you’re up in this God-forsaken (you should pardon the expression, but you were thinking it!) place. You think you have been treated unfairly.”

He forgot to argue about who the voice was. “But I have been treated unfairly!” he exclaimed. “All my life I have done what was right. I have submitted to the authority of your ministers. I have lived a good life. I have caused no trouble. Yet I have next to nothing. No reward. I’ve been a good man. I should be rewarded!”

“Well, that’s more honest. Not actually honest, but better. It might seem that with a wife, four children, a dozen grandchildren, a successful business, and the acceptance of your neighbors you would be satisfied.”

“How do you know all those things?”

“I’m just a voice in your head, after all.”

“I didn’t say that!”

“You were thinking it.”

There was a pause. He wasn’t going to win that one. He had been thinking it was just a voice in his head. “And my neighbors don’t just accept me. They respect me.”

“No, actually they don’t. I would say you’re lying, but in this case you’ve lied to yourself so often that you think you’re telling the truth. Your neighbors just think you’re safe. That you won’t do anything unexpected. That you won’t rock the boat.”

“Well, doesn’t that make me a good neighbor?”

“Sometimes the boat needs rocking. Sometimes it needs to be turned over.”

“That sounds dangerous.”

“Actually living is dangerous.”

He was thinking this conversation was dangerous, and he didn’t like dangerous things. He had a habit with conversations like this. He’d direct them to what he called “the subject at hand,” which was always something safe. “In any case,” he said out loud, “I came here to pray and I was trying to pray.”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Holding a conversation with a voice,” he said testily, then went on. “But Lord, you rule the heavens, and I need you to look at my enemy, my nemesis, Jason. He’s a troublemaker, yet he has a major following. He has a good job and lots of money, and people follow him. In fact, he’s trying to change my church …”

“My church,” said the voice.

“Yes, my church.”

“No,” said the voice. “It’s My church. Hear the capital letter in my voice. My church. Mine. All Mine! Not yours.” Somehow the voice didn’t sound petulant saying it. Just calm and factual.

“I’m trying to pray here,” he said.

“And I’m trying to answer a prayer,” said the voice. “Like I said, look around. Who’s making claims?”

“Are you God?” There was a pause. “Speaking to me?”

“What do you think?”

“I think I’m crazy.”

“You could go talk to a counselor. Get the voice suppressed or removed.”

“What? Go to a counselor and say, ‘A voice told me to come to you so I wouldn’t hear it any more?’ Wouldn’t that be crazier than average?”

“You’re the guy who’s climbed a mountain for hours and brought himself close to a heart attack—you ought to exercise more—in order to get closer to God. And you don’t even really believe in God.”

“What? I’m a believer. I’ve believed all my life!”

“In God?”

“Of course, in God.”

“And what have I done, according to you, up to now.”

There was silence for several minutes.

“Can’t really think of anything, can you?”

“Well, you’re the creator of the universe, right?”

“I am. Do you really believe it? Or is it just a default that you know you’re supposed to believe.”

“I never really thought about it. The pastor preached it, I believed it.”

“The pastor preached it, you ignored it.”

“What was I supposed to do about it?”

“What about when the creation care folks came to the church. What did you do?”

“Are you on the side of the creation care people?”

“I’m not really on anybody’s side. I ask people to be on mine. Answer the question! What did you do?”

“I proposed the compromise vote by which the church agreed to pass a resolution saying that we should take care of God’s world.”

“But your resolution didn’t involve doing anything, right?”

“Well, no. That was the point. Anything we did would cause a fight in the church. So I made peace. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, right?”

“‘I came not to bring peace, but a sword’.”

“You wanted a church fight?”

“I’m asking the questions. Most of them, at least. So what about when your church voted on the new building project? What did you do then?”

“I suggested that we wait until we had the funds.”

“And did the funds ever come in?”


“So you killed that one too.”

“Did you want the church to add on a building?”

“No, not particularly. I can answer that one. But you didn’t pay any attention. Now Jason. He led the fight for the extension.”

“Yes, and people loved him for it. They wanted that building and he was their leader.”

“People respected him, loved him.”

“Yes! That’s the problem, Lord. I believe in you. I do good things. Yet Jason gets the rewards.”

“What do you believe about me? What good things have you done?”

There was another pause. He was trying to think of what to say. Obviously, keeping the peace in the church didn’t work.

“What you have,” said the voice, “is the natural result of the way you lived your life.”

“Isn’t it your blessing or curse?”

“Only in the sense that I created everything, and quite often, you reap what you sow.”

“But what about Job? Did he reap what he sowed?”

“No. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you reap what others sow. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going on in the background. But you’re not Job. You’re not suffering.”

“Yes I am! Just look at what you’re doing for that Jason character, and he’s  even been in prison before. He gets the respect, the money, the easy life, and I don’t. He’s a sinner, a troublemaker, and you keep blessing him!”

“So your problem is not what I do for you, it’s that you think I’m doing better things for someone else?”

“Yes! No! I mean I’ve been a better person than Jason, and he gets the better blessings.”

“So, let’s say that Jason falls on hard times, would that make you happy?”

There was another pause.

“You don’t want to say it, but I can hear it in your mind. You’d deny it, but you’d gloat if Jason fell on hard times.”

“But he’s a troublemaker.”

“Jason is a man of action. He’s often wrong, but never quiet, never apathetic.”

Another pause. “And me?” He almost said “Lord” after that.

“You? You’re boring. You avoid trouble even when trouble is needed. Then you complain about the people who are making a difference.”

“So you think Jason is right more often than I am.”

“Quite the contrary. You’re often right but never active.”

“So right and wrong doesn’t matter?”

“Oh, it matters. But what matters first is caring and acting. If you’re right but inactive it’s not much good. Oh, and people don’t always get what they deserve. Remember that. It’s just that in your case, you’ve pretty much gotten what you deserve, just proving that humans will complain about fairness too.”

“So I really did hear from God up on this mountain?”

“You don’t need to believe that,” said the voice. “Maybe you just got too high up and the air is thin. Why don’t you hike down a ways. But slowly. Your heart isn’t really up to all this.”

It got very quiet up in the mountains.

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  1. The word of the LORD came to him: ‘Why are you here, Elijah?’ 10‘Because of my great zeal for the LORD the God of Hosts,’ he replied. ‘The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.’ 11To this the answer came: ‘Go and stand on the mount before the LORD.’ (1 Kings 19:9b-11a, REB)

    There is a time for God’s people to seek more power from the Lord and to build up their prayer lives. There is also a time for us to reflect on what we have done, to listen to the Lord, to build our faith, and to reach out to those that the Lord wants us to reach.
    I was reflecting recently after a powerful prayer meeting on how we can approach getting more people involved in prayer. The meeting was great, but my burden was for the empty seats, for those who were not there. Why are they not there? Are we doing something wrong?
    On reflection, it seems to me that we are seeking half of an Elijah experience.
    Elijah on Mt. Carmel
    I think we would all like to be with Elijah on Mt. Carmel, at least after he succeeded. When the fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, altar, water and all, it was a moment of power. We cannot possibly compare any feeling of excitement or of the spirit of the Lord that we might have in a meeting to the power of the spirit demonstrated that day. And there was Elijah, the lone prophet of God, demonstrating the power of God to a large audience. (1 Kings 18).
    I have long taught chapter 18 of 1 Kings as a story of how, even when we are in the midst of accomplishing great things, we can be overtaken by discouragement. Elijah came down off the mountain, running in front of Ahab’s chariot. He stood in triumph over the prophets of Baal. He had seen the power of God in the fire on that altar. Yet, when Jezebel sought his life, he ran. 1 Kings 19:3 records: “In fear, he fled for his life . . .”
    I think this passage can certainly teach us about fear even when we are triumphant, about how one mountaintop experience doesn’t necessarily mean we will never again see the valley. But I think there is something more here. I think God had something special to teach Elijah, the lone prophet, the man of powerful faith. It was a lesson best taught after running across the desert.
    Elijah on Mt. Horeb
    And so Elijah fled from Mt. Carmel where he was triumphant to Mt. Horeb where he traded his audience for a cave in which to spend the night.
    And God came to him, to ask him why he was there. “They’re after me, Lord! I’m so zealous for you! I pray in power, and I prove that you are the true God through miraculous acts. But all the others are dead! I’m all that’s left, and now they want to kill me too.” If you have a powerful prayer life, ask yourself how many times you have been there. Perhaps it is not you alone, but only my prayer group, only my church, only my denomination, or only my movement. And the next thought is, “They’re coming to get us!”
    So there was Elijah waiting for God’s answer to his complaint. I suspect he hoped for something like, “They’ll never kill you. You are under my protection.”
    But God has something else in mind. “Go and stand on the mount before the LORD.” (1 Kings 19:11 REB). I am going to look twice at this incident, first from the point of view of Elijah.
    Elijah is presented with a strong wind, an earthquake, and then a fire. Each time, we are told, the LORD was not in these powerful events. Then Elijah hears “a faint murmuring sound.” And God again speaks. Elijah repeats his complaint. He’s alone, and they want to kill him.
    There’s a phenomenon in Biblical discourse when God is speaking, and we find it often in the gospels in Jesus’ discourse as well. It is the unanswered question. Here Elijah presents his complaint. Humanly we expect some kind of response to Elijah’s perceived need. But nothing like that is about to happen.
    God responds to Elijah with a threefold mission:

    A mission to the worldElijah is sent with a message to Hazael of Syria. God shows his interest in the world through anointing this specific king of a foreign country.
    A mission to God’s rebellious peopleGod also has a new king to anoint over Israel, someone to root out the Baal worship which Elijah has been fighting. You see Elijah, you aren’t God’s only agent after all!
    A mission to the faithfulElijah thought he was alone, but God had 7,000 faithful in Israel who were not Baal worshippers. Elijah was not alone.

    I want to look for a moment at the third point. Why was Elijah unaware of the faithful in Israel? Why did he feel all alone? I believe it may have been because he was so busy with his mission–a good mission, but one that could occupy one’s full attention–that he couldn’t see what else was going on. Elijah didn’t go out on the mountain to stand before the Lord and listen.
    Prayer Warriors on the Mountain
    I believe this is a great danger for those who are very powerful in prayer. It is easy to be so distracted by our Mt. Carmel experiences that we lose sight of the bulk of our mission and of God’s people. We need to go to Mt. Horeb with Elijah and receive our mission from God. Preferably, we need to do this before we have to be driven to it. We need to go, stand on the mountain, and listen.
    While we’re on the mountain, we need to recognize the rest of God’s church out there. Perhaps they are not on a major campaign of prayer, but many are faithful. We are not as alone as we may want to think.
    It’s on the mountain that we can learn how to listen to God, and learn one of the most important things to teach others.
    Teaching People to Pray
    Often, when someone wants to know how to pray we concentrate on teaching them what to say. And it is important for people to be able to speak to God. But there is something more important–standing on the mountain and listening to what God has to say. If there is anyone thing that will help people’s prayer lives to grow, I believe it is learning to listen.
    Recently I requested prayer from a friend in my church who knows how to listen. I explained the situation to him briefly. My aunt had been diagnosed with Leukemia and was not expected to live long. (As I write this, death is, so to speak, overdue for her!) She was and is ready to go. I shared two or three sentences. My friend put his hands on my head and just stood there. He was listening. When he began to pray, his prayer was so in tune with what was on my heart that he might as well have been reading my mind.
    Don’t feel that you have to kneel and start talking. Start by listening!
    We can learn to listen in two steps. First, we need to learn to listen to one another, and second, we need to learn to listen to God.
    I’m sure many will question the order of those two statements. Let’s look at 1 John 4:20: “But if someone says, ‘I love God,’ while at the same time hating his fellow-Christian, he is a liar. If he does not love a fellow-Christian whom he has seen, he is incapable of loving God whom he has not seen.” (REB) I would like to extend this text to describe listening. If you cannot listen to your brother or sister, the person in a prayer group with you, who is physically present and audible and visible, how can you listen to God whose presence is much more subtle? I submit that if we have not learned to listen to one another, we will not learn to listen to God.
    Praying alone is important but praying together is also essential. It is especially essential when someone is trying to learn to pray. Very often a person who is beginning to pray doesn’t know God. By knowing God I don’t mean praying the sinner’s prayer or reading and affirming the doctrines, but feeling deep within oneself who God is and knowing that you can relate to God, tell Him things about yourself, and listen for an answer. In modern society, I think this also reflects a lack in our knowing one another. We’re missing both sides of 1 John 4:20.
    In a small prayer group, you can overcome both of these things. You learn to express yourself, and your needs, hopes, and conflicts to one another. You also learn to listen as other people in the group express themselves. Slowly you learn to also express these needs in prayer to God. In the small prayer group, you can even pause as you’re sharing and pray about that one little thing. Just like any conversation, it doesn’t have to be long. “Oh by the way, did I tell you . . . ” only it’s a prayer that follows, instead of a story for your neighbor.
    If we are to build up the seven thousand in Israel, or the seven million or a billion–whatever number the Lord sees fit to send, we need them to reach out to the Lord in prayer. They don’t all have to climb Mt. Carmel and face 450 prophets of Baal alone. But they all need to have a prayer relationship with God. The most constructive thing we can do to start that is to get people listening. The easiest way to begin listening is to listen to one another.
    Listening involves getting onto the other person’s program, learning to hear their language, their symbols, their needs. Just like Elijah on Mt. Horeb (thought I’d forgotten Elijah, didn’t you?) who needed to switch over to God’s program and hear what God had for him to do. None of us are God, so we can’t use the abrupt method used in the conversation with Elijah. One of the best ways of teaching how to listen is just to do it.
    This is why, if you are a pastor or a leader in prayer, you need to get people into groups to talk to one another, study together and pray together. Learn to make listening a part of our daily worship and building up our relationship to God.
    Listening also doesn’t involve trying to make the other person like you. Listening is being attentive to that person’s interests. If you take the time to hear what they are saying, you may find that you are more similar than you thought.
    Prayer in this sense can be a non-theological undertaking. We have plenty of movements to correct peoples’ theology, to improve their styles of worship, to introduce new music (or to get rid of it!), to make them understand doctrines. How about a program of just plain listening? Listening to one another (whom we can see physically) and listening to God. Building relationships that will last.
    Who knows what we’ll hear to surprise us as we stand on the mount and wait for the soft murmuring noise . . . that resolves itself into the voice of God?
    You might also enjoy my related short story, It Got Very Quiet Up in the Mountains.

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