The Voice of God

June 2nd, 2013

Elijah was nearing the end of his journey. His work was about completed. In just a few more chapters of the Scriptures, Elijah would be taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, having passed the mantle to Elisha. In today’s text, Elijah has just come off the thrilling victory of his God defeating the 450 prophets of the false god Baal, making it crystal clear who was God and who was in charge. The downside of having been so splendidly victorious in that contest was that Jezebel, who had championed Baal, vowed that she would have Elijah’s life.

Elijah fled to Judah. There he left his servant behind and went a day’s journey farther and sat down under a tree to die, feeling utterly abandoned by God. God, in Elijah’s dream, insisted Elijah had a journey to make. God provided bread and water so Elijah would have the energy to travel. He journeyed to a cave and rested there, but the journey wasn’t finished. God told him to go and stand on the mountain, for the Lord was about to pass by. There came a great wind, but God was not in the wind. There came an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. There came a fire, but God was not in the fire. There followed a great silence, and in that silence Elijah felt himself reconnected with his God.

Someone once said, if you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved. It was surely Elijah who was afraid for his life and felt abandoned by God. It was Elijah who felt all alone. And I would add, when we are having trouble connecting with God, maybe we are looking in all the wrong places. Or maybe we just aren’t listening.

In the midst of our own disappointments and discouragements, we may well feel that we are all alone, having been abandoned by God. In those dark times in our lives, when we have all but given up and would just as soon be swallowed up and put out of our misery, we will often feel that God is not present. If we should come to our senses and seek God, we will all too often look for God in all the wrong places. If we should come to our senses and listen for God, we will all too often miss hearing the voice of God because we are not used to hearing the voice of God.

The great prophet Eli had experienced that very thing. You can read about it in the third chapter of 1 Samuel. The lad Samuel was staying with Eli in order to learn the ways of God. Eli, however, had not heard God’s voice in so long that even when God, in the stillness of the night, called out to Samuel in the next room, Eli did not at first recognize the voice of God.

We are people who would expect that the almighty God, the God of power and might, would be in the great wind or in the earthquake or in the fire. It rarely occurs to us to sit back and listen for God in the silence, in the quiet moments, when all we can hear is the beating of our own hearts.

I knew a pastor who once served a church on US 40, a major east-west highway before Interstate 70 bypassed most small American towns. The parsonage was right next door to the church. That pastor thought he would never get used to the noise of twenty-four-hour highway traffic right outside his bedroom window, but he did get used to it. Then one winter night a severe storm with heavy snowfall came and brought all traffic to a standstill. In the middle of that night, he awoke with a start, his eyes flew open, and he sat bolt upright in bed, wondering what that noise was he was hearing. He was hearing the silence. The silence had awakened him!

You have probably had experiences of that sort, perhaps in the middle of the night when the electricity has gone out. It’s quiet. The lights are out, the usually luminous digits of the bedside alarm clock are dark, no light is coming in through the windows, and it is quiet. There are no electric motors whirring, no hum of the refrigerator, nothing in the darkness but the silence. It is at times like those that we may hear sounds we do not usually hear—sounds that are always there, but that are usually drowned out by the noise of all that other stuff.

I wonder if God’s voice is like that. It is always there, but too often it is masked by the TV’s theater surround sound, the iPod blaring in our ears, the blower noise from the HVAC, and all the rest. Perhaps we should shut down those other things once in a while and just listen for God to speak to us. Perhaps we should learn the sound of God’s voice so that we can discern it amid all the din of the world. Perhaps we should set aside a quiet moment each day and commune with God.

In the midst of our troubles, our trials, our tribulations, our discouragement, when we have all but given up and would just as soon be swallowed up and put out of our misery, we will sometimes look for God in all the wrong places—in the wind, in the earthquake, in the fire, whatever. Because these are the wrong places, we will discover, as Elijah discovered, that God is not there. In a quiet moment that may follow our futile search, we will at last find God in the silence or in the void that follows. Then we will finally realize that God has been there all the time and would speak a word of comfort to us. “Peace,” says God. “Be still,” says God. “I am with you,” says God, and that is all we really need to know. In that moment, we can know that we will be all right, and that everything is as it should be.

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