When Does God Show Up? :: by Gene Lawley

In the movie, Forrest Gump, the character, Gump, is narrating his life story, and in one scene he and his former Army officer, Lt. Dan Taylor, are trying to net shrimp but without success. A local church prayer group was praying for them to have success. But one day Lt. Dan, who had lost his legs in the Viet Nam conflict, was railing at Gump’s God for His apparent lack of attention to their need.

In his peculiar voice, Gump drawls, “About that time God showed up!” A tremendous thunderstorm came upon them and the whole region, destroying fishing boats and upsetting the shrimp fishing industry bigtime. All except the Bubba Shrimp Company, as Forrest had named his endeavor. His shrimp boat was untouched, and as a result, they were suddenly in a booming shrimp business with no competition!

(This movie is not one to be recommended, for it is heavy with bad language and seamy scenes, but it does present a clear picture of the extreme degradation of mankind and its hopelessness. Yet, how God can and does work His providence in the midst of or in spite of such incredible emptiness of purpose and lack of morality.)

That’s how we usually expect God to show up in our lives—in a time of great desperation. In his paraphrase of the Philippians epistle, J. B. Phillips, in one place, uses a sub-heading that speaks volumes on this topic:  “Man’s Extremity Is God’s Opportunity!” And it often takes that to get our attention, probably because we are so fixed on doing everything ourselves with no thought of God. That is certainly common when we have never come to know the Lord and His redemption, but it is not uncommon even for believers.

God is out there somewhere, I guess. Maybe He knows all about this already. My goodness! I sure hope so…or, my goodness, I sure hope not! Are these the kinds of thoughts that run through our minds on a daily basis? We think and act like God must be asleep somewhere up there, and it takes a heavy dose of religious praying to get His attention! Even it may be so among many believers in today’s average church, I’m afraid.

Did we forget, somewhere along the way, that Jesus said, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And in another place, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” But that unyielding presence goes a lot deeper and extends a lot farther than those much   welcomed promises. The psalmist tells us, in Psalm 46:1, this: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

It actually starts, however, where we start—at our conception! Yes! In Psalm 139:13-16 we can see how that came about:

“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret,
and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.”

Did you notice the statement, “And in Your book they were all written”? This person’s future is recorded (my paraphrase). So, at conception we are identified and recorded in His book, the Book of Life where our names are placed. It really does start at the beginning. We can see, then, how Jeremiah 29:11 fits into the picture for our future in God’s eyes:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

The context where this promise is found specifically points to the nation of Israel and its return from the seventy years of captivity in Babylon. However, God is no respecter of persons, and such promises are universal to all believers, as the Psalm 139 passage also indicates.

The psalmist goes on to say, in Psalm 139:17-18:

“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; when I awake, I am still with You.”

In Psalm 139 we can see the three major attributes of God—omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. Some folks would rather go to the passages in Isaiah or elsewhere to see God’s all-powerful ability, like seeing where He makes the mountains, etc. but I have long contended that a man likeR.G. LeTourneau, the creator of giant earth-moving equipment, could make a mountain, but he could never “make” a human being.

That concept seems to be the way we look for God to show up in our lives. Do we think that we can take care of the little things, but God has to be called on for those “big” things that show up? It is true that God gave us a mind and the ability to think, but He also says this:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

God’s telephone number, as someone has called it, is Psalm 50:15, which dates it a good while ago when phone numbers were given prefixes, like “Melrose 555,” or some such identification. That Psalm verse says this:

“And call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will answer you, and you shall glorify Me.”

The psalmist had already given the response to that promise in Psalm 34:6, saying:

“This poor man cried out and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.”

Up there on Mount Carmel that day, Elijah saw God’s mighty presence when He came down and brought fingers of fire that consumed the sacrifice and the gallons of water Elijah had poured on it (1 Kings 18). Later, chapter 19 tells of Elijah’s escape from Jezebel’s killing rage because he had destroyed all of her priests, and he went a day’s journey into the wilderness.

There, an angel brought him food and water and he was sustained and enabled to travel forty days and nights farther into the wilderness to a cave near Horeb, the “mountain of God.” He had been part of a “mountain-top experience” with God at Mount Carmel, but now he was downcast with deep emotional depression, feeling all alone.

As he slept in the cave that night the Lord came to him to reveal Himself to Elijah (and provide a lesson for later believers such as you and me). Here is the way the interchange took place:

“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 wasnot in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 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. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”              (1 Kings 19:11-13).

That thunderous appearance of God in our lives may not happen, but the still, small voice that speaks to us in our inner beings—a verse of His Word that we have memorized, perhaps—is just as powerful and life-changing and perhaps even more personal than any arms-length evidence of His mighty presence.

When I find myself running along the same path that Elijah was experiencing, I think of what Peter said in reply to the Lord’s question, “Do you also want to go away?” to the disciples in John 6:67-69, after many had turned away and no longer followed Jesus:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Those early months of my Christian life, about ten of them, were a tough time for me. I had no foundation in the Bible, no family background of Christian influence and my assurance of salvation was constantly being tossed around like a basketball of up and down emotions. Fortunately, I was being helped by those who were like the ravens who fed Elijah. Their patience and steadfastness of getting me to memorizing Scripture and getting into Bible study was of God.

About five months into this new and strange life, I attended a Bible conference where it seemed like everyone was “on top of things with no problems.” I came into my room, threw myself on the bunk and thought, almost out loud, it seemed, “What does the Lord care about me!”

Immediately, just like a physical jolt or a slam-dunk against my head, came the thought that was as loud in my mind as if it was audible, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you!” It was a verse I had memorized sometime during those weeks of struggle, 1 Peter 5:7.

Needless-to-say, but I have never forgotten that experience, and often review it in my thoughts, realizing that the Word, hidden in my heart is key to overcoming depressing emotions, for it really is the voice of God—it is His Word.

In summing up this article, I think there are at least two things we should never forget: 1) God never forgets us, whether we realize it by His still, small voice, or hear Him in a thunderous appearance—He is always here, and 2) Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”