1 Kings is full of drama, misery and meaning. The whole background of Elijah’s story is dramatic. Remember he has been the voice of God. He has stood against Queen Jezebel and all of her false prophets of Baal – and won. Flushed with success he had all of her prophets slaughtered.
Then we see the other side of Elijah. Gone is the showmanship, authority and confidence. He’s received a message from Jezebel saying that within 24 hours she will take her revenge. She will kill him. His response is to run as far and as fast as he can. He’s now a very frightened man.
Elijah has come to the wilderness where he finds a cave and, exhausted, spends the night there. He’s depressed. He’s sought to defend the honour of God and now everyone is out to get him. When the Lord asks him what he’s doing there he replies: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts…I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.”
Then the story goes on to describe what must have been rather spectacular displays of power. There was a mighty wind – but God was not in the wind. There was an earthquake – but God was in the earthquake. There was fire – but God was not in the fire. Obviously He could have been in all of these things. He could have used any of them to display His power, to convince Elijah that he was under His almighty protection. But this doesn’t happen.
Then comes the really important part of this story – “the still small voice” – expressing something that is gentle and kind, loving and embracing. It is a phrase which has entered deeply into the worship of the Church and the spirituality of many Christians, as it seems to us to convey something of the nature of God. Psalm 85:8 says: “I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for He speaks peace to His faithful people.”
After a busy day teaching and healing people even Jesus went up into the hills by Himself to pray and listen to God, to find that elusive peace in a busy world. That’s what Elijah discovers, and that’s what we need to learn too – that God’s voice comes to us – often in unexpected ways and usually in the silence – when we feel uncertain of who we are and where we stand before Him.
Sometimes being a servant of God will wear you out! Elijah reminds us that the things we are called to do on God’s behalf are not always easy. After all the turmoil of recent events in our church’s life, in the world’s life and in our own lives, with all the fireworks of wind, earthquake and fire, we can find God’s peace, the stillness of His own being, in the sheer silence within.
My children still play with dolls and cuddly toys. Some have lost their stuffing, others like Woody from the Toy Story films have their arms or legs hanging off etc. They need sewing up. As they’re mended you can see a loose analogy with your own life. It’s almost as if God is saying, “Before you knew of my love and saving grace, you were much like this doll – torn and broken. Your life was coming apart. But because I love you, I have put your life back together. In love, I have made you whole.”
“Take from our souls the strain and stress…breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm…speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still, small voice of calm!” In the midst of storms and turmoil, the presence of God is what brings peace and salvation. The disciples understood this when caught in storm on Lake Galilee, Jesus came walking towards them on the heavy waves: “Don’t be afraid”, He said, “Take courage. I am here!” (Mt.14:27).
A man once lost a valuable watch. He searched his house diligently for it, but did not find it. He retraced his steps and knew he last had it in his study. So he went in, shut the door and kept very still. Soon, in the silence he heard the watch ticking.
I believe God comes to us in many ways, and Elijah’s story reminds us that one of the most powerful ways that He comes to us is with a still, small voice. Often in our faith we need to ask the question whether we are being still enough, and quiet enough to hear in our hearts and minds the voice of God. It comes to us at moments of intense joy and also in sadness, when we feel most alone. The still small voice can lift us out of despair, as it did Elijah; it can remind us that our lives have meaning and purpose.
After Elijah was refreshed and strengthened by the still small voice, then God said, “Look, I’ve got work for you to do.” Elijah used the strength that the voice gave him and he went to work, back to his mission and purpose. That is the only answer that Elijah gets; but it is enough. Refreshed, he moved on to build and to serve and to strengthen God’s kingdom.
We must do the same. We must serve. We must build. We must contribute by being sent back to our everyday lives to do God’s work. But, first, we’ve got to pay attention, keep listening for gentle ticking, to that still small voice. I’ll leave you with a verse by the poet Byron:-
“Yet still there whispers the small voice within, Heard through Gain’s silence and over Glory’s din: Whatever creed be taught or land be trod, Man’s conscience is the oracle of God.”
Now may God who gives us His peace, be with you all. Amen.