If there’s one thing that I have trouble doing, it’s being quiet and sitting still. Not always for great benefit… sometimes I just need to be moving. Walking somewhere. Driving somewhere. Doing… something.
11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. – 1 Kings 19
This story from 1 Kings is about Elijah. The story that surrounds it is actually kind of familiar… before this, he had his little showdown with the prophets of Baal. You know, the one where he called down fire from Heaven, won the battle of words, and then killed them all? You would think a deal like that could have made him proud of himself for like ten years. I’d be having t-shirts printed with my face on them, quoting that thing he said about Baal not answering because he was on the toilet.
Seriously, though. That might have been a little too far. It was pretty arrogant. And if I had the kind of confidence that Elijah had, the kind where I knew I was about to call FIRE DOWN FROM HEAVEN, I’d be tempted to be arrogant too. Okay, I’d be more than arrogant about it. I’d probably be trying to light things on fire at parties.
All that was in 1 Kings 18. Elijah was on top of the world. So much so that God gave him a burst of power just so he could run so fast that he kept pace with Ahab’s chariot.
Then Ahab went running back to Jezebel and said, in my paraphrase: “Uuuuuuuh Jezzie! He killed all our PROPHETS!” (Best performed with a nasal whine.
And Jezebel was not happy. At all. So much so that she swore an oath that the gods should kill her if she didn’t kill Elijah. So Elijah did what I think any of us would do if the ruler of a country swore out a death warrant on us: he ran like crazy.
(Side note: it’s interesting that God also gave Elijah unique Flash-like powers at the end of chapter 18.. because he’s surely using that running skill now)
And then someone wants to kill you.
This is the part of the story that strikes a chord for me. I don’t know if it’s even possible for me to see the kind of victory in my life that Elijah saw. I think I’ve gotten pretty close on the crushing defeat, though. Those times when you feel your own mortality so close, you wonder how you ever did anything of note. When you feel like you were actually a failure all along, and your success was just dumb luck. Times when you think that the world would have been better off without you.
Those are the times we most need to hear from God. We need him now, and we need the answer to be clear. We need him to do something big, but he doesn’t want to work in the big things. He doesn’t want to come in a windstorm, an earthquake, or a fire. He wants to come in a whisper.
I’m a loud guy, so I get what happens when you’re too loud. Nobody gets close to you. They don’t have to. They can hear you just fine from here, thank you. When you whisper, though, it’s a different experience. People get close. They lean in. They actually make an effort to hear you. It’s not so much one person communicating and another person hearing, it’s one person communicating and another person putting forth an effort to receive. I think that’s why God did it that way with Elijah.
It really breaks the momentum that was rolling in Elijah’s life. He had just done some BIG things. He had done them for God. Even at this new moment, God was still doing things in front of him that were big. Sure, God spoke in a whisper, but he still MADE Elijah a windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire. He put those things out as the pomp and circumstance, but there is nothing personal about a parade. God’s majesty is immense, just like the fury of nature. That’s not what he wants to share with us, though. Where the sharing happens is in the quiet moments where we are not just receiving, we’re making an active effort to do it. That happens in the quiet.
So shut up already.
I have a problem with this principle because I feel like if I’m doing nothing, nothing his happening. That’s total ego I know, but it’s also keeping me from hearing clearly.
I think God causes frustration in our lives. I know some people have a view of God that doesn’t allow that… I know because I’ve heard phrases like, “God allows that.” Like we have hardship in our lives and God just lets it happen.
I don’t think that’s God at all. I think frustration is a tool in his box just like blessing. I think all these things work together because they’re balanced. I think sometimes, God sees where we are going, and it’s wrong. He could totally stop us. He doesn’t, though, because we need more than just hearing a loud voice saying, “STOP!” What we need is personal experience which informs our decisions. We need to be a part of the process, so he stays out of it. It doesn’t mean he’s not working, it means he can use those experiences in the process.
But we have to be quiet. After things are loud, we have to stop and hear him, just like Elijah did. We won’t hear him if we’re tied to the loud things. He’s talking, but we’re not aware of what he’s saying.
Letting go of the loud things is my challenge, and I struggle with it daily. When I find myself alone in the quiet, I want to fill it. I want to play something. I want to buy something. I want to read something. I want to do something. All those things are competing with the whisper that could be right in my ear if I just STOPPED.
I have to do less. I have to be less. I have to stop. I have to shut my mouth and focus the talking energy on listening.
Time for me to be silent.