The Still, Small Voice

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Elijah the prophet experienced one of the Bible’s most memorable spiritual highs. 

In a public contest pitting Yahweh vs. Baal, he singlehanded stared down hundreds of false prophets and won, on God’s behalf, a resounding victory.

Imagine what a rush it would be to stand up in a contentious Town Hall meeting in the 21st century and say, “Just in case you’re wondering where God stands on these issues – OK, Lord, you can take it from here,” whereupon fire would fall from heaven, illuminating exactly how everyone you know should vote, act, and think. 

There are at least two reasons why this wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful as we might suppose.

The first is that the spectacle of fire from heaven would dramatically short-circuit a strategy for spiritual growth that seems near and dear to God’s heart – that we would actually learn to address our problems with listening ears, open hearts, forgiving spirits, and the willingness to love even those whose opinions drive us absolutely bonkers. 

The second is that Elijah, within the space of a few hours, plunges from the highest of highs into a deep emotional abyss. 

When Queen Jezebel learns that Elijah has bested her favorite horde of false prophets, she swears that she’ll have his head.  Hearing this news, his confidence implodes.  He runs for his life – all the way toward the Sinai wilderness. 

We pick up the story in I Kings 19:4.  “He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: ‘Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!’ Exhausted, he fell asleep under the lone broom bush.”

What’s going on here?

For most of us, this is familiar territory.  We know what it’s like to crash and burn under the broom bush. 

After a supreme effort to make something happen – even after experiencing an amazing spiritual, relational, or vocational victory – the adrenaline washes out of our bodies and we become vulnerable to doubt, fear, and depression.  Elijah staggers into the wilderness badly in need of renewed spiritual perspective.

But first he needs a major dose of self-care. 

“Suddenly an angel shook him awake and said, ‘Get up and eat!’ He looked around and, to his surprise, right by his head were a loaf of bread baked on some coals and a jug of water. He ate the meal and went back to sleep.  The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, ‘Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.’” (I Kings 19:5-7)

For Elijah, the immediate needs of the hour are simple and practical: a meal and a nap. 

But what he ultimately needs is the healing of his spiritual perspective.  He needs to get away from everything – from the noise, the crowds, and the craziness of what his life has become.  Forty days later, as he huddles in a cave in the Sinai wilderness, God begins that process.

“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, broken 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.” 

There’s some whining going on here. 

Elijah assumes he is an army of one.  He feels alone and exhausted – trapped in an impenetrable fog bank of despair.

In response, God provides one of the most remarkable divine encounters found anywhere in Scripture: 

“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 there came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 

It is in that gentle whisper – in the “still, small voice of the Lord,” as the King James Version so memorably puts it – that God gives Elijah the gift of re-commissioning. 

He gets a new perspective:  You are not alone.  He gets new marching orders:  I am not finished with you yet, Elijah

Do you feel as if you’ve come to the end of things – that you’ve come to the end of yourself? 

Our richest and most transforming moments will probably not happen in the midst of cheering crowds or public victories. 

Instead, like Elijah, we’ll have to become quiet enough to hear the gentle whisper of God’s voice. 

That’s when we discover that no matter what has been happening in our worlds – good, bad, or in between – the only thing we’ve ever really needed is Him.