‘Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces 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; and after the fire a still small voice.’ – 1 Kings 19:11-12 NKJV
This is such a beautiful passage of Scripture to me. The Lord spoke to Elijah not through fearsome power but through gentle quietness. Yet sometimes I think we over-emphasize the stillness and forget that our awesome Lord speaks in other ways as well. When we focus on only one aspect of His voice, we can inadvertently fail to hear Him speaking by other means.
As I read through 1 Kings again, I was fascinated to realize that the chapter prior to the story of God speaking to Elijah on the mountain, God “spoke” (revealed Himself) in a very different fashion. Elijah was in a showdown with the pagan priests to determine whose god was all-powerful: Baal or the Lord God. Elijah told the priests of Baal, ‘“Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” So all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.”’ (18:24)
The scene was set; the water-drenched altars and sacrifices were prepared. The idolatrous priests had their chance to validate the power of their god, and the answer they received was the only one a non-existent god could give: nothing. Then Elijah called upon the Lord to send fire to prove His sovereignty. How did the Lord answer? Through fire, of course:
‘Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”’
– 1 Kings 18:38-39
In one chapter God speaks with fire and in the next chapter He speaks with a still, small voice. Both times it is Him who is speaking – Scripture tells us it is so. God was speaking what people needed to hear, in the way they needed to hear it, when they needed to hear it. The people on Mount Carmel needed to God to speak through the force of fire – and they recognized that He answered their inquiry by sending it. As the opposition-weary Elijah waited on Mount Horeb, having fled the wrath of a wicked queen fixated on his destruction, God spoke through a gentle whisper. I’ve always wondered if God did that because He knew that Elijah needed to be reassured and comforted rather than awestruck by another display of power.
God loves to remind us that there are many facets to His nature, and He enjoys doing this by speaking to us in different ways. Think of Moses before the burning bush (Exodus 3), Gideon hiding in the winepress (Judges 6), young Samuel in the temple (1 Samuel 3), the priest Zacharias longing for a son (Luke 1), or Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Each account of God speaking is so unique yet, at the same time, so very Him. There was never any doubt that God was speaking. Scripture is rich with the voice of God. The Bible is not only the Story of God speaking to humanity; the Bible is God speaking to humanity. Every part of Scripture is given from His heart that we may know Him.
The point, my dear friends, is not whether He speaks through fire or stillness – the point is that He speaks and continues to speak.
I have had the privilege to edit and write a children’s ministry curriculum about the many ways God speaks to us. The variety of means He uses to speak to us is as limitless as He is, and I have captured only a few – and those only in broad strokes. One of the things I emphasize both in writing and teaching about this subject is simply this: God speaks. He has spoken, is speaking, and will continue to speak because He never changes. Just as He did in the Bible, God speaks to us what we need to hear, in the way we need to hear it, when we need to hear it. Our responsibility is to be listening, seeking His voice. As my daddy has told me many a time, “God is always speaking; we’re just not always listening.”
Hearing God’s voice is vital. After all, a relationship is impossible without good communication. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and we are His sheep (John 10:11, 14). And our Shepherd has said that His sheep ‘“know his voice”’ (John 10:4), and He also said, ‘“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me”’ (John 10:27). This means that I know God’s voice; it means that you know God’s voice. We never need to wonder if we can hear God’s voice, nor be afraid of not recognizing His voice.
And so I bless you to remember that God, who speaks through gentle whispers in the stillness, also speaks through fire. He is tender and loving, but He is also fierce and mighty. The focus is not so much on the means of revelation as it is on the fact that He speaks. May you know His voice more intimately day by day, trusting both His words and His ways.