The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” 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. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. I Kings 19:11-13
I once heard Billy Graham tell an interviewer that God had never spoken to him audibly, but that He had “spoken” to him in many other ways. I’m sure most believers can relate to what Dr. Graham was saying. Through the years I have personally heard God speaking to me most clearly during my morning devotions: sometimes a word of encouragement; at other times a word of correction and admonition; and at still others a word of affirmation. I would like to share with you three of those occasions which stand out most clearly in my mind.
When Kathy and I were expecting our first child, I was privileged to be the Sunday School superintendent at Hayesville First United Methodist Church. Each Sunday morning, all the classes would gather together for announcements, sing a song, have a short devotion, and then disperse to their individual classes. As the time was drawing close for our baby to be born, I was trying to come up with a special devotion to share the Sunday after the birth.
One day I was listening to Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” radio program as Bill and Gloria Gaither were sharing their experience about deciding whether to bring their first child into the world during the tumultuous Vietnam war era. Bill recounted how one day, during his devotions, he read Jesus’ words from John 14:19, “Because I live you also will live.” Bill and Gloria decided that this was the affirmation they needed to have their first child. This also became the inspiration for the song Bill wrote titled “Because He Lives.” I decided this was a wonderful story and the one I would share for this special devotion.
A few weeks later Kathy went into labor, and we packed up and drove to Gainesville, where our beautiful Shelly was born the next afternoon. I spent that night in a hotel and returned home the next day to get a few things. After getting settled in, I was anxious to see what the Upper Room devotion was on the day our baby was born. I got my Bible and turned the Upper Room to April 24 and read the title of the devotion in stunned silence. The title of the devotion was “Because He Lives.”
I can’t begin to describe the feeling that enveloped me. I called Kathy and shared this with her and then my parents. My dad was also the Sunday School superintendent at a large Methodist church in Pennsylvania. We both shared this story at church the next Sunday. My dad said for the next few weeks people who had missed that Sunday came up to him and asked him to share the story with them. The song “Because He Lives” became their favorite to sing during their opening session.
I was staying in Huntsville, Ala., during a bitterly cold winter. It was my routine to get up in the morning, walk to a Waffle House next to the hotel, and return to my room to have my devotion and coffee. On this particular morning, while I was waiting on my coffee, I saw a man sitting at the counter who looked like he was homeless. The thought occurred to me that I should buy him some food or give him some money, but the waitress showed up with my coffee so I paid and left.
All the way back to my hotel room I chastised myself for not helping the man. When I got to my room I settled in with my Bible and turned the Upper Room to the devotion for the day. I flushed as I read the title, “You give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16 I immediately jumped up, got dressed, and went back to the Waffle House, but the man was gone. I looked around outside, but the only thing I found behind the building was a pile of cardboard where he had probably spent the night. I vowed to never let an opportunity like that pass again.
As the housing industry continued in a depression last September, the company I was working for had gone through numerous layoffs and plant closings but the outside sales force had remained untouched. I had gotten word that another cutback was coming. I had spent the previous night in Augusta, and at 6:00 a.m., I got an email from corporate headquarters that a cutback would be effective that Friday and that those affected would be notified that day. I called my wife, and when I got off the phone we both prayed again that God would provide for those who were about to lose their jobs.
About 10:00 a.m., as I was driving home to North Carolina, I got a call that I never expected: I was one of the ones being let go. I can’t remember much of the conversation except that it was very short. When I got off the phone, my stomach was in a knot, and my head was spinning, and I said out loud, “Okay God, this is where the rubber meets the road. I am trusting in you to provide for our needs and a new job.”
I called Kathy and gave her the news - she was in shock. I then called my largest account and left word with them. In less than a minute, the owner called me back and offered me a job on the spot. When I got off the phone, I couldn’t stop thanking and praising God. The next morning I was stunned to see what the Upper Room devotion had been the day before: the title was “New Job, New Opportunity.” Jeremiah 29:11
Some might say that these are all coincidences, but they are only a few of the many such occasions when our family has experienced God’s presence in a very special way.
Can you imagine if the people who wrote these devotions decided not to bother, or if the Upper Room decided to no longer publish, or our church did not make them available to our congregation? Worse still, what if that mature saint who mentored me and convinced me of the value of spending quiet time alone with God had never done so? I thank God for all the faithful servants He uses each and every day to reach out and shower us with His love!
Thanks be to God!
Tom Landis is a lay leader and Sunday school teacher at Hayesville First United Methodist Church in Hayesville, N.C.