Listening For The Whisper
It would be so much easier if I could text God. An email, maybe? Come on, I’d even take a burning bush. It worked for Moses, after all. The Bible says that God talked to him face-to-face (Exodus 33:11)! How is that fair? I wish God would talk to me like that. I feel like I can’t ever hear him. Or maybe he just doesn’t talk to me at all.
Does that sound like you? Do you ever catch yourself complaining that you can’t hear God’s voice? It’s so common for us in our busy lives not to hear the Lord speaking to us. We might even think that he’s being silent. Have you ever considered, though, that you’re listening for him in all the wrong places?
We tend to think that God will speak to us in an extremely obvious way. And sometimes he does. But I’ve found that a lot of the time, God’s voice is a lot quieter and simpler than we expect it to be. Maybe that’s why we sometimes don’t hear it. We are waiting for the clap of thunder and miss the whisper.
Let’s look at part of the prophet Elijah’s story. Elijah was a prophet of the Lord during the reign of King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. Elijah spoke very boldly against the worship of Baal. He eventually issued a public challenge to the priests of Baal: Let’s see whose God is the real thing. On top of Mt. Carmel, 450 pagan priests set up an altar to Baal, and Elijah set up an altar to Yahweh, the true God. The challenge was to see which God would prove his power by lighting a prepared sacrifice with fire from heaven. The priests of Baal prayed for hours and hours, cutting themselves to add their own blood to the sacrifice, doing dances, trying everything they could think of to get their “god” to listen. Eventually, Elijah decided to up the ante a little and dump water on his altar three times so that it was soaking wet. Then he prayed to God, who lit the entire thing on fire, proving that he was the true God over Baal. Then Elijah ordered the deaths of all the pagan priests. Unfortunately for him, though, Jezebel was an avid Baal-worshipper, and she was not very happy when Elijah had all her priests killed. She had people sent to kill him, and he was forced to hide in a cave on Mt. Horeb. This is where we’re picking up the story:
“And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’
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.
Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
(1 Kings 19:9-13, NIV)
You can read the rest of Elijah’s story in 1 Kings, but that’s where we’re going to leave off. God showed Elijah (and us!) a massive truth in this passage. He caused an earthquake, a fire, and a wind, essentially a tornado. All of these things are natural disasters that we would associate with power and force. They are unstoppable. What can you do to stop an earthquake? Nothing. It will shake what it wants to shake, destroy what it wants to destroy, and crumble what it wants to crumble. An earthquake is beyond powerful and entirely out of our control.
But God didn’t use the powerful, obvious things to speak to Elijah. He did not manifest himself in any of the ways that we might expect the Almighty to appear. It wasn’t about the appearance, the obvious, the bravado. God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice.
Who would have expected that? God showed Elijah his power through his control over natural disasters. But his presence wasn’t in them. It was in the whisper that followed them. Do you think you would have heard it?
How often do you think we miss God’s still, small voice because we are waiting for him in the earthquake? This is not to say that God doesn’t ever speak to us through our earthquakes. But more often than not, a nudge in your spirit or a thought you know wasn’t your own will pop up. And that’s God’s still, small voice. You’ll miss it or write it off as nothing if you’re not waiting expectantly for it. Do you think Elijah would have heard the whisper if God hadn’t told him explicitly that he was about to pass by? He might have assumed that God had spoken through one of the natural disasters and that he just missed it. But God had told him that he was about to pass by, so Elijah wasn’t prepared to miss that. He was waiting in expectation. That’s what we need to be doing.
Look for God in the less-than-obvious places. Don’t try to put limits on how or when he can speak to you. He is God. Almighty, all-powerful, able to do anything. He may choose to speak to you in an obvious way… But don’t be surprised if you get a still, small voice rather than an earthquake.