My Not-So-Pretty Chicago Story
Six years ago today, I moved from an exurb so small it can’t even be called a town to Chicago. I was enrolling at the Moody Bible Institute (MBI) to study God’s Word and prepare to be an after-school youth programs director. At least that’s what I told everyone. While it’s still true that I want to serve Jesus in whatever way He calls, looking back I have to admit that was only part of the reason I moved. I also wanted to prove a point. I wanted to show everyone back home the importance of study, the importance of training, the value of “full-time ministry…” and on and on and on I went in my hubris. People needed to know what it meant to trust God and serve Him, and I intended to show them. All that arrogance was wrapped up in God’s call. He had a plan. So did I.
My time at MBI was incredibly good. Not Easy. Good. I worked hard to pay my way, I earned my A’s, and made sure to share with my friends back home every time the Lord opened new doors for ministry. Somehow, I got it in my head that everyone was watching, like good students, as I modeled passionate Christianity for them. I would blaze the trail and they would follow my way. After graduating, I looked and only saw me standing on the path. It looked like no one was making radical moves. I spent that first year after graduation feeling lied to and lost. Go to college, find a wife, change the world. That was the mantra. But it didn’t happen that way, and I handled that in self-destructive ways. Today, 6 years after that outlandish move to Chicago, I wonder if Elijah felt similarly deflated when he stepped down from Carmel.
After Elijah went through all the work to prepare THE sacrifice to prove a point to his people, I wonder if he thought he’d finally done enough to change the world. Go up the mountain, mock Baal’s Prophets, call down fire from God… Elijah’s mantra, his plan. I wonder if what sent him despondently to the desert wasn’t Jezebel’s death threat but what it implied. Despite his public demonstration she was unmoved. She wasn’t just unimpressed. She was annoyed. Nothing had changed in her, and it didn’t seem like the people were ready to lead a charge to overturn her and her husband, Ahab. Elijah’s plan to change the world by public display “failed.” And after that, even one of the Godliest prophets of all time was self-destructive. He walked to the desert and hoped to die.
Six years after moving to Chicago, I resonate more with Elijah’s trip up Mount Horeb than his high-fire experience on Carmel. MBI was my Carmel. It was sweet. I enjoyed it, and I came down from that experience beating my chest in victory. In the end, like Elijah, I walked away from the Carmel experience feeling deeply alone and failed, flawed even. But Elijah’s second trip up a mountain restores my faith. God didn’t respond to Elijah’s depression with a lecture about how Elijah’s plans weren’t God’s. God didn’t tell Elijah everything would be great in the end. He didn’t even promise to take care of Jezebel’s death threat. God didn’t come to Elijah with more fire, wind, and earth shattering miraculous power (though He has such power). He came in a whisper… A whisper that reminds all Elijahs they aren’t alone. What’s amazing about His whisper is that it’s proof that God needs nothing from Elijah to bring others to His feet. Six years in Chicago now, and I am grateful for God’s whisper that many in Florida, here in Chicago, and everywhere else I’ve walked serve Him not because of me, but with me. Together. As I reflect on that reality, I am grateful for my brothers and sisters who remind me: God is still at work. He isn’t finished. Thank God… neither are you and I. “Go, return on your way..” 1 Kings 19:15.