By Anthony Casperson
This past Sunday, the worship band led us in a song that they had several times before. As I sang along, a part of the song struck me in a way it hadn’t previously. A thought, an idea, a lesson for me to be reminded of.
After relishing in the reminder, I thought to myself that this idea might just be blog-worthy. I told myself to look up the original artist’s version of the song after I got home so that I could see how they embellish the particular part that spoke to me. (Every musician will play the same song differently.) However, I forgot to look it up.
A couple of days later, I sat ready to write a blog. I remembered the lesson that I’d learned, but the song had been lost among the many other things that go on up there. In the quiet, I tried to will the song into my head. I waited in the silence…and waited…and waited.
I grew frustrated. “God, I have so many other things that I need to do.” I listed them all out to him. But that didn’t help the matter any. I gave up on the idea, telling myself that I’d have to wait for something else to inspire me to write this week’s blog. And I moved on to one of the many other things I needed to do.
As the week drew closer to its end, my deadline of today loomed. I sat without external distraction once again. “What do I write about?” I realized that my body had begun to move in time with a song playing in my head. “I don’t have time to think about random songs here. No mind-wandering. I have to come up with an idea to write.”
The song reemerged. Louder this time. Lyrics played. About to dismiss the song a second time, the lyrics that had struck me on Sunday came to the fore. I ran to my phone. Typed in the lyrics. Found the song. Played it.
The lesson that I’d been reminded of on Sunday was still there. But with some distance between the reminder and that moment listening to the original version, I realized that this reminder was a more personal thing, rather than something that would be good for all of you reading this.
I slumped. “Now what will I write about?” And that’s when it hit me.
We followers of Jesus often speak of the still, small voice of God. It comes from 1 Kings 19 where the prophet Elijah was told to stand on a mountain. And while a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire raged around him, God was found in none of them. Rather in the still, small voice, he spoke to his prophet.
We speak of how often God’s voice can be missed in all of the bustle of life. We’re told to move all of the distractions out of the way so that God can speak to us. Put down the phone. Move away from the computer. Turn off the music. And wait for God to speak. But we forget to think about several other parts of the story as we make false-promises that removing all distractions will cause God to speak his words to us.
We forget how many times before this still, small voice spoke that Elijah had called out to God. How many times the prophet had lifted his voice to his true King, as he ran from the sword of a vengeful queen. How many nights he fell prostrate before his Savior, tears staining the ground inches from his face.
The prophet was pursued from Jezreel to Beersheba (about 100 miles), and then left his servant in that city and went another day’s journey into the desert. It’s here that we discover the exhausted prophet crying out for death. But how many of those days of travelling did the prophet pray for an answer? How many silent nights passed as he called out for resolution?
An angel came to feed the prophet twice, the only distraction in the prophet’s presence. Out in the middle of nowhere with no diversion around him, he wanted to give up. That food sustained the prophet as he traveled 40 days and 40 nights until he came to Mt Horeb.
Stealthing for miles on end, Elijah traversed the land. How many more of those 40 days and nights did the prophet await God’s voice? How many times did Elijah bow silently before the Creator?
Finally reaching the mountain, Elijah went into a cave. God spoke to him audibly, asking the prophet why he was there. Elijah spoke about his own faithfulness to God in the midst of the nation’s idolatry. He added how he was alone when it came to those proclaiming the truth of God. Basically asking, “Where are you God? Are you going to reveal your power before your people again? Or have you given up on moving among them?”
The prophet was not given an answer as God spoke to him. God said to go up the mountain. And it’s here that we get the great wind, earthquake, and fire without the Lord in them. And then the still, small voice asks the prophet the same question God had asked in the cave. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
The prophet gives the exact same answer to God’s repeated question. And I mean verbatim.
Yes, God speaks in the quiet places. Our distractions can keep us from hearing his voice. But the promise of finding God every time we’re silent finds no home here in the story of Elijah. Around a month and a half he was on the run. He no doubt found silence in that time. God sent a miracle of food to his prophet. And he even spoke to Elijah in the cave.
But the answer found in the still, small voice didn’t come because Elijah was free of distraction. It came because God was ready to give the answer. Distractions can keep us from the answer of God, but lack of distraction is not a magical ritual that forces God to give us an answer to the many things we need in life.
And on top of that, the answer given might not look how we envision it. Elijah’s answer from God was for him to continue being faithful by performing the acts of a prophet. Anoint these two kings. And anoint Elisha as a prophet. Oh, and there are still 7000 in Israel who are faithful to God. So, the prophet’s worry about his own life being the end of those faithful to God was unnecessary because God had been moving during that whole time Elijah prayed for an answer, and even before that.
This wasn’t what the prophet had expected. God’s voice spoke to him in a different direction. We forget that when God speaks to us, it is his message to us, not the lesson that we want to hear.
We all seek direction from God. Many different questions for a plethora of answers. And while we need to be willing to remove distractions so that we can hear God’s voice, we need even more to remember that God’s timing isn’t our timing and his answers aren’t our answers.
There will be times when we sit in silence waiting for God to move in our lives, and nothing will seem to happen. He’s there, moving powerfully, but his time to reveal to us his message isn’t ready yet.
Faithful listening is less about removing distraction than it is about being ready in whatever moment that God moves.