Noise, chaos, and confusing, all three are things we would never willing choose to fill our lives with. Right? We want peace, calm, and clarity, or at least, it would seem logical that this is what we would choose. Yet, it turns out we often willingly fill our lives with the former things than the latter. It may come in the form of social media, network news, work conflict, or family drama, but it seems we are often drowning in a sea of noise, chaos, and confusion. And while we vocalize that we want to be free of it all, we do very little to actually unplug from it all.
The “world,” as religious circles would call it, is not the only source of noise, chaos, and confusion. We live with the spiritual delusion that the things that exist outside the four walls of the church are what bring negative elements into our lives, but they exist within our religious practices as much as outside of them, if not more. It pains me to admit that in my twelve plus years in ministry I’ve often added to the noise, chaos, and confusion at work in my heart and the hearts of people around as much as they have added to mine.
As Jesus told the woman at the well, the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth. I think similarly the time is here when God is looking for hearts that are seeking to see and to hear Him, through the sound and the fury that has become our general existence. He’s trying to find His way to us through the clutter of our news feeds, the loudest of talking heads, and our own jumbled minds. God is doing His part. He is speaking, but can we hear Him over the noise of ourselves, the chaos of the world around us, and the confusion religion can bring to the table. Often we confuse all three of those things (ourselves, the world, religion) with God. When we finally turn all of that down, we might find the voice of God is a lot different than we think.
One of my favorite stories in scripture comes from 1 Kings 19:9-14. Elijah finds himself on the run. He is deeply troubled, as we live most of our lives, because he has stopped hearing from God, and has started focusing on everything else going on around him. There is no doubt that Elijah was a great man of God, worthy of our honor and respect, but where we find Elijah in this passage is clearly not one of his finer moments. Elijah is running for his life, literally. Jezebel has called for his head, and at one point Elijah prays beneath a tree for God to end his life before the dreadful woman can follow through on her threat. I think it’s an understatement to say that Elijah had stopped hearing from God. An angel appears to Elijah and gives him strength to make it to a cave. Elijah crawls inside, desperately needing to hear the voice of God, yet he did not expect what happened next.
As Elijah was summed to the mouth of the cave and the bible says:
“The Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire…” 1 Kings 19:11-12a (ESV)
As Elijah listens, some truly magnificent, if not terrifying things occur at the mouth of the cave. The first three events are inescapable violent acts of nature, all of which God has used elsewhere in scripture to represent himself (Wind on Pentecost, earthquakes amidst the Exodus, and fire both on Pentecost and during the Exodus journey to name a few.) Yet here, in this passage the wind is simply noise, the earthquake is chaos, and the fire is confusion. I do not believe God likes to be boxed into a formula, He can chose to speak as wind, quakes, or fire any time He pleases, but in this particular instance, all that appeared to the natural senses to be God, was not God. However, when God does speak to Elijah, it is not in the dramatic way Elijah had anticipated, or how we would think He chooses to speak.
“…and after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold there came a voice to him…” 1 Kings 19:12-13 (ESV)
There it is, the voice of God, hiding behind the noise, chaos, and confusion, speaking in a “low whisper.” The Hebrew word that we translate as “low whisper,” is “qol demamah daqqah” which literally means “thin silence.” How easily do you think it would be to miss hearing a “thin silence,” even on our most mundane of days? How much more do you think this “thin silence” could be lost beneath the sound and fury of roaring wind, an earthquake, or a towering inferno? Even when the actual events end, brutal natural disasters leave us in shock. Yet, somehow Elijah was able to push through the intensity of what was going on around him enough to hear this whisper. Can we say the same for ourselves?
God will not be limited to how He can speak, so never take anything off of the table, but I think the point of what God showed Elijah was that if we are not careful we are too consumed with the wind, quakes, and fire of everything that is happening around us, to tune all of it out, and tune into the gentle Whisper of the Spirit of God. What it must have been like to be Abraham living in the natural silence on the back side of the desert, or even to live fifty years ago where we didn’t have twenty-four hour news channels, cell phones, and social media to cloud our heads. Yet God does not change, He is still speaking in ways that will be missed if we are consumed with the racket going on outside of the cave.
I said earlier that even I have added to the noise, chaos, and confusion in the world, as I’m sure most of us have, but let me take a moment to clarify what I meant for myself. We are all quick to point out the things in the “secular world” that distract us from hearing the whisper of God, but even within the church, if we are not careful we can be adding to the static. I have always thought, growing up in the Pentecostal tradition, that if our worship is loud, or perhaps intense is the right word, then people will connect with God in a deeper way. That is not always the case. Some churches push programs that keep your family busy every night of the week constantly being plugged into receiving, serving, and worshiping. Other ministries are so centered on teaching “10 steps to a better whatever,” that all we do is “do.” While all three of these things can be good at times and certainly have a place in the church, if we are not careful our loud worship becomes noise, our programs become chaos, and our “formulas” become confusion. I am as guilty as the next.
What if there was a better way? What Elijah needed was to tune out what Jezebel was saying about him, and simply hear from God. We could probably benefit from doing the same in the world and within the church. Shouldn’t the voice of God be more important than even our own voices? I know for me personally, when I hear the “thin silence,” it does much more for me than listening to anything else, period.
Even Jesus, while on Earth, had to disconnect from all of the noise, chaos, and confusion going on around Him. The sound and fury drummed up by the religious leaders, the roman occupation, and the culture was overwhelming. Yet Jesus also needed time away from His own ministry, simply to hear from God. Even after performing great miracles and spreading the news of God to large groups of people, we are told that:
“He (Jesus) would withdraw to a desolate (desert) place and pray.” (Luke 5:16, ESV)
If Jesus had to disconnect to hear God clearly, how much more do we need to cut through the distractions?
Jesus tells us:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, ESV)
This comes just after Jesus declares that the “thief” or the Devil, comes to destroy, but God comes to bring life. Elijah found himself in a cave, hiding out, fearing death. God was trying to speak to him and assure him that the fears he had were all coming from listening to the enemy. See Elijah, because he was only listening to the noise, chaos, and confusion, had an unrealistic, or as I will call, an “un-Kingdom of God” view of what was going on around him. He wasn’t alone or in the danger he thought he was in because God and a whole lot of other prophets were still with him, but it took hearing God over the voice of Jezebel to know that. It took listening deeper than the “shock and awe” that went on at the mouth of the cave, to hear the actual voice of God.
God may choose to speak through winds, quakes, and flames, but if those are the only voices you are looking to hear God through, chances are you are missing actually hearing Him. If we believe we are following God, that we are His “sheep,” we have to hear His voice, a voice that is calling to our souls from a God who longs to “know” (John 10:27) us. Can we hear His call through the noise, chaos, and confusion going on in our lives? Maybe it’s time to tune out the sounds and fury of it all, and tune into the “thin silence.”
Grace and Peace to you.