And He said, Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not 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 sound of gentle stillness and] a still, small voice.—1 Kings 19:11-12
Someone once told me of a one-act play with three characters—a father, a mother, and a son who had just returned from Viet Nam who are sitting at a table to talk. The play lasts thirty minutes, and they all get their chance to talk. There’s only one problem: No one listens to the others.
The father is about to lose his job. The mother had once held just about every office in their church, and now younger women are pushing her aside. The son struggles with his faith. He had gone to war, seen chaos and death, and now is bewildered about life.
At the end of the play, the son stands and heads toward the door. “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said,” is his parting remark, as he walks out of the room. The parents look at each other, and the mother asks, “What did he mean?”
What the parents didn’t get and the audience obviously does is that the son struggles to believe in a loving, caring God. Every time he tries to explain, one of the parents interrupts with something they want to say. The soldier needed to hear from God. Hoping his mother or father would be the channel through which God would speak, he went to them. However, they were not available for God to use because they were not quiet enough to hear Him. All three of them were so distraught and noisy that they all left the same way they came. What might have happened had they really listened to one another, and then quietly prayed and waited on God? I am sure the outcome would have been very different and much more rewarding.
In the opening scripture, I quoted part of the story of Elijah to make this point clear. That deeply committed prophet had defied the wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel for years. The big moment came on Mount Carmel when Elijah destroyed 450 prophets of Baal. Later, when Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him, he ran away, apparently in terror.
He must have been worn out by the powerful events. Then suddenly the man was alone, with no crowds, no one trying to kill him, and no one to talk to. Just before the two verses mentioned above, Elijah had gone into a cave to hide out. When God asked him what he was doing there, he spoke of his zeal for God. Then he told God that the children of Israel had gone astray, killing prophets, And I, I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away (v. 10).
God brought strong winds, falling rocks, an earthquake, and fire. I think that was the way Elijah expected God to appear in the miraculous and powerful. But the writer tells us God wasn’t in those things.
This is really the spiritual principle of God at work. We can find the devil in the noise and the shouts. We can find the devil with big attractions to lead us astray. But God likes to speak in the still, small voice the voice that not everyone will hear the voice that only the committed will listen for.
As long as Elijah sought the dramatic, he wouldn’t hear God. But when he pulled back and listened for the inner voice, the soft, nondemanding voice of the Holy Spirit, Elijah could communicate with God.
What kind of voice from God are you listening for? Will you recognize the still, small voice when you hear it? Do you take time to be quiet and just listen? If not, there is no better time to begin than right now.
Wise God, like Elijah and many others, I often look for the loud, the exciting, and the showy. I know that You sometimes use healings and miracles, but I ask You to help me listen most of all in the soft stillness for the quiet ways in which You speak. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.