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Listening Through The Noise

by jpack, November 5, 2014

I wrote yesterday about the path I’m on transitioning our youth program over to a new staff and wondered where that left my own ministry.  I was reminded of the “still, small voice” phrase and went back into 1 Kings to reads the full context.

This is an amazing story.

Elijah has just gotten done challenging the worshipers of Baal to a “sacrifice competition”.  He challenged the followers of Baal to offer whatever sacrifice they wanted to their “god” and said he would do the same to the true God.  God accepted Elijah’s offer and the fake god of Baal obviously never answered the other worshipers.  Baal’s worshipers were fairly upset, so Elijah finds himself without a friend in the world blindly searching for God’s direction.

But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

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. 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. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:9-13 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)

First thing’s first: I can’t pretend to relate to the situation Elijah was in, but then again we rarely can “exactly” relate to Biblical events.  What did resonate with me is the feeling of looking at God with an attitude of “what else did you want me to do?!” and getting a response that might be unassuming.

In this story, a few different things occur that resonated with me on a personal level:

  1. God gave simple direction to a place of refuge.  God tells Elijah to retire to a mountain.  This was a place of refuge for Elijah as his enemies did not know where he was and it also removed Elijah from the drama of his past experiences.  Not only did Elijah receive refuge, but God’s direction was clear, simple, and easy to follow.  This resonates with me in youth ministry because there has certainly been a lot of “noise” over the last several years of service (much of it self-induced).  God has put people in my life that have given me a clear message: “this family wants to take a different path”.  That’s a clear message and easy to follow (at least it’s easy when you abandon the misguided notion that emotional investment somehow equates “ownership” of a ministry).
  2. Elijah searches for God in equally chaotic events; God speaks through unassuming means.  Elijah’s ministry was surrounded by bold statements and dramatic events.  It’s only natural that his mind would be stuck in that “mode” and be looking for God through dramatic and impressive means.  Instead, Elijah finds God in a small voice.  The way God spoke to Elijah was in a way that it forced Elijah to stop and realize that He is God and that He doesn’t have to communicate with us in any way other than His way.  I mentioned yesterday that I had come out of a year-long family trial that forced me to put everything into perspective.  Was that my ‘still small voice’?  It was anything but ‘small’, but it was definitely unexpected and forced me to stop in my tracks and, for a moment, stop wondering about God’s “plan for me” and instead just acknowledge that He is God.
  3. Elijah humbles himself and listens to God’s direction.  Elijah heard God’s voice and changed his posture to one that was ready to receive God’s direction.  Later in the chapter, we learn that God had a plan the whole time and delivered it to Elijah only after he was prepared to listen.  Wouldn’t it have been easier if God just told Elijah His plan when Elijah first asked?  Why couldn’t God have just stepped in when things were first getting bad?  God has His timing and sometimes the journey we must pass through to get to an answer is where He really forces us to grow.

I don’t know if the ‘Elijah Template’ fits what I’ve been going through, but at times it has certainly felt that way.  As another spiritual mentor put it, many aspects of my service in youth ministry have been marred with episode after episode of either self-induced or externally stimulated ‘excitement’.  This ministry has been noisy. When we get accustomed to working in a noisy environment, it is easy to dismiss the still, small voices that may be giving us good counsel and direction.

Is God calling me to a different ministry, a different community of service, or to a different stage of my own ministry where I need to wait humbly for His calling?  These are questions I can’t answer and that monopolize my thoughts at night.  All I can do for now is realize that God will answer His questions when He feels I am ready to listen.  Sometimes what makes us truly ready to listen is realizing that God doesn’t necessarily speak to us when we’re consumed with asking questions.

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