We serve a truly mighty God. A God who is mighty in both the large and the little. A God who is mighty in the majestic, and the seemingly mundane. I was reminded of this on a recent rim tour.
One of my favorite Grand Canyon rim tours to conduct are our daily Sunset Tours. These tours typically run four hours, and conclude with the daily setting sun. Not only are these our most popular tours, but they tend to be the most dramatically variable. Most of this variability has to do with the actual sunset itself. While I would never say there is a “bad” sunset at such an overwhelming place like the Grand Canyon, some are occasionally better than others.
Weather usually has the biggest hand to play in this determination, especially the variety of cloud formations. We often tell people “It’s the clouds that make the sunset best.” The blended palette of fiery orange and roseate hues which array the sunlit sky are painted on a canvas of clouds, as the shifting light plunges ever into the west. With us now at the cessation of our summer monsoon season, we’ve certainly had our fair share of incredible sunsets these past few months, as the evening skies are often filled with lofty billowing clouds during that time of year.
Growing up in “Colorful Colorado,” I spent a great deal of time in God’s great outdoors, surrounded by majestic mountains and stunning scenery all around. For me it’s most easy for my finite human nature to grasp God’s infinite Nature, when encompassed in His glorious created nature. By that I mean I see God most readily revealed in grand natural settings. Maybe that’s why I like my job so much. The canyon sometimes feels indescribable in its beauty and grandeur, often calling my heart and mind to reflect deeply on the One who made it all. Here time seems to stand still, as the rocks of its depths cry out a resounding chorus of His greatness.
Witnessing a sunset over the Grand Canyon is like icing on a cake, like fireworks at the end of a jubilant celebration. However, this display is one which no mere star-spangled spectacle can compete with. It’s of course in these times that I tend most often to stop and stare in awe and reverence at the display of both nature and its Maker.
But what happens when you don’t get that rising crescendo at the finale? What happens when you get so accustomed to seeing absolute splendor you fail to recognize the grand beauty in anything less? Let me be transparent with you for a moment and admit to you this was something I was facing recently, and something which God spoke to my heart about.
We had a sunset tour which concluded with a standard run-of-the-mill sunset. Beautiful nonetheless, but without the brilliant illuminated clouds I had grown used to seeing on a regular basis over the past few months. In my mind I thought, “Well bummer, no good pictures tonight.” And while my guests were spread along the rim in their quiet places, closing out the day with the One who made it, I proceeded to walk back to the vehicle as the sun was disappearing below the horizon in order to make sure everything was ready for our drive and drop-off outside the park after the tour. I then decided to check my email, my Facebook, my Instagram, and whatever other stuff I could do to “busy” myself and catch up on things while I waited for their return. Only they didn’t return. Not right away at least. Not as soon as I had expected them to. So I walked back over to the rim.
As the sun had already disappeared at that point, few people were still around. Now with the skies graying and the desert temperatures dropping I could see my two groups in the distance. Each group was tightly drawn together inside a blanket for shared warmth, like the huddled gathering of emperor penguins during a winter storm, with only their heads visible above the collective mass. It was in this moment I stood and stared out at the canyon myself, and was reminded just how beautiful and amazing this place really was. I picked up on subtle shades of purples and blues, as the distant canyon peaks and silhouetted ridge lines slowly went to sleep.
Then I felt the still small voice of God speak to my heart, and I was reminded of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. In this passage Elijah finds himself hiding in a mountain cave from the wrath of Queen Jezebel. This occurs right after seeing the hand of God bring down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice placed there on top of Mount Carmel, in a show of God’s power to the prophets of Baal and the rest of Israel. After receiving threat of death, Elijah flees to Horeb where we find him cowering deep within the rocks.
11 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. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1 Kings 19:11-12 NIV
It’s in this gentle low whisper that Elijah hears the voice and presence of God. Not in the grandiose things that came before, in which manner Elijah seemed accustomed to recognizing God’s presence, but in something peaceful, quiet, and not quite as showy.
The message I’ve always gleaned from this passage is that while God is sometimes revealed through great and powerful things such as wind, earthquakes, fire, or spectacular sunsets, He is also revealed through the still, small things that we might not find as impressive initially in our own minds.
This was the passage I found coming to mind as I stood there near the edge of the canyon and peered out over the vast landscape. In my mind I failed to truly behold the beauty of this place and its Creator for a minuscule moment, simply because it was not as “spectacular” as I was used to seeing and had hoped for. So I didn’t pay as much attention. I had gone about busying myself with the business of other things like Martha, rather than sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary. I thanked God in that moment my guests had all braved the cold, and lingered a little longer than usual that evening. Because they did, I didn’t miss out on some unforgettable time in peace and reflection with the Father, and maybe a little much-needed counseling and correction by the Holy Spirit.
As my guests made their way back to the warmth of the bus they all relayed to me how incredible the sunset was that evening, and some in tears shared how amazing that time had been for them. I grinned to myself, partly in thought of how foolish I had been to initially discount the sunset that same evening, but also with the thought that arose of how much more awesome heaven will be than even the greatest sunset at the grandest of canyons. Then I said to them, “If you think that was great, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT