“…and after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face
and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
– 1 Kings 19:12 (NIV) –
Life is filled with noise…loud and obnoxious noise. Sometimes that noise comes from world events, sometimes it comes from people, and often, it comes from within ourselves. Personal fears can scream to us at a level that very easily drowns out everything else around us. We can become eerily fixated on the level of the noise, desperately distracted and searching for something of solace amid the fury of high decibel pandemonium. It’s not uncommon. We need someone to scream some instruction to our weary soul, a voice of confident reason to penetrate through the depths of the noise.
If you read 1 Kings 19, you will find a very weary and disoriented Elijah, a man of God fleeing the evil threat that Jezebel has made on his life. He’s on the run. He left without food or water, at one point, he leaves his servant behind, escapes to the wilderness, and prays to God for death.
Strangely enough, this is the current behavior of a man who had just boldly and successfully confronted 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel. He called for all of Israel to meet them there to observe the power of Almighty God. Elijah was so confident in the power of God that he even taunted the prophets of Baal and Asherah. He was bold, full of faith and trust in God, and he knew that God was with him. As the story on Mount Carmel draws to a close, the power of God is manifested to everyone, and they all cry, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” Shortly after, Elijah orders the execution of the 850 prophets. God wins. All is good, and Elijah’s faith grows even deeper in God’s provision…right? Wrong.
When Jezebel hears this news, she sends Elijah a message threatening his life. Noise. She's coming for him. Elijah knows that she’s killed before, and he dismisses the confidence of faith that he has just had magnificently confirmed on Mount Carmel, and he replaces it with crippling fear…and he runs. He’s distracted by the noise, but he will soon meet with God who knows the fearful state of his situation and chooses to speak to him through a gentle whisper.
Life, health, politics, finances, people…they all generate noise in our life, and often, we hear the noise, become fixated by it, lose our grip on faith, and begin the process of trying to outrun the things that vex us. Somewhere amid the fray of it all, we would hope that God would scream out a little instruction to us…what to do, where to go? But there’s often no screams from God, and we are left trying to sort through the circumstances alone…or so we think.
My friends, God is always there. Sometimes He speaks to us in ways that are easily perceived. In Scripture, God speaks dynamically, announcing His presence through an earthquake (Exodus 19:18). In 1 Samuel, Job, Psalm, and John, we find God’s voice compared to thunder. In Job 38:1, God speaks through a whirlwind. But in 1 Kings 19, we find God whispering in a “still small voice”…the glorious, majestic, sovereign God of all whispering in hushed tones to His child in distress.
In the middle of chaos and uncertainty, are we listening for the gentle whisper of God?
Could the possibly exist that God is speaking to us in a manner that is not as noticeable as an earthquake or thunder? In the midst of our flight from the noise of life, could the pounding of our feet, running on the ground beneath us, be sufficient enough to muffle the gentle whisper of God who is desperately seeking our attention?
Let’s remember that God has the capability to speak to us in any manner that He so desires. Whether it be through thunder, or in a whisper, one thing is certain, we must be able to discern the voice of our Lord, and we must be listening. Just like a child who can recognize their parents voice over the noise of a crowd, we must be familiar enough with the voice of God to hear when He’s speaking…and even when He’s whispering.
John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
We should always be listening for God’s voice…specifically the gentle whispers of instruction and love that I feel flow constantly from the mouth of God to the ears of His beloved children. I’ve found that God speaks to me gently on most occasions. That’s almost never my preference, but it’s most always the case. I would prefer bold, obvious, and loud instruction…something to immediately grab me from my distraction. But still, God so often chooses to whisper.
Those gentle moments of whispered instruction can be hard to discern, but, when I do notice them, I find a refreshed intimacy with God based on how He chooses to communicate with me. He’s not yelling; instead, He’s talking to me with intentional gentleness in the midst of my chaotic mind. He’s not frustrated nor afraid. He’s not overreacting. He’s simply, and purposefully, whispering a calm to His child.
Deuteronomy 31:6, says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Wherever we go, whether it be to the right of left, God is always there. He will never leave us nor will He forsake those He loves, but, know this, He won’t always scream instructions to us like an overzealous coach. We must listen, and we must know who to listen for. In the middle of the loud noise of life, be sure to listen intently for the gentle and often hushed voice of God. In those situations, His voice can only be heard by those who know His voice and are paying attention. Our life is lived among the gentle whispers of God. Know His voice.
It's important to understand just how easily we often fall. Sadly, a season of intimacy with God can become distracted and not end well. When we move God off of the center point of our life, the end result is always movement in an unrighteous direction, as sin and unrighteousness is native to our flesh. It's the direction we will always head.
Charles Spurgeon gave this warning, "The raw material for a devil is an angel. The raw material for the son of perdition was an apostle; and the raw material for the most horrible of apostates is one who is almost a saint.”
Oddly, the "raw material" for complete rebellion against God often grows from someone headed in the right direction. When we begin to trust too much in our own knowledge, think too highly of our own words, crave the admiration of our peers, or arrive at the sketchy conclusion that our life is the epitome of righteousness, as if we were the standard, God is no longer the center point of our life. When we think it's more important for people to hear from us instead of hearing from God, we've slipped loose from our place as a bondservant of the Lord, and we're seeking to become the master.
Let our walk with God always be grounded in the humble knowledge that God doesn't need us...at all. Lets us always understand that we are to be humble servants of Christ, living in awe of His unrelenting love for our rebellious hearts, and clinging desperately to Him under the shadow of a cross that should have been ours.
Be careful that our journey toward God in life doesn't become a quest to become the God of our life. We should be aware of our weaknesses, never seeking praise from man, embracing a heart of humility, and understanding that Satan, at this very moment, is in pursuit of our very life. The closer our intimate walk with God becomes... the closer Satan's pursuit. To the true follower of Christ, sinful temptations and trials of every kind are sure to increase in volume and duration.
Be aware, and be careful not to fall…
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."
– I Corinthians 10:12-13 (NIV)
When those temptations present themselves, we should be aware that the escape is God and not ourselves or our own righteousness. That verse does not promise that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can personally bear apart from His grace, mercy, and provision. Instead, it clarifies our complete dependance on Him in that our way of defeating temptation is through Him alone.
As we grow in Christ, the dangers to our intimate relationship with God increase. The road we travel becomes more treacherous, and temptations and trials increase, but God is forever faithful to stand with us through every season. Let us be sure that we're there with Him, kneeling humbly at His feet, in complete dependance on Him...surrendered to the reality that we need Him today more than ever before.
So, Charlottesville, Virginia seems to be completely out of control. If you’ve watched the news today, it’s plain to see hatred on full display. It’s not just a nod to depraved behavior, firmly rooted in prejudice, that some among us seem to embrace, but it’s the systemic sin nature of man, fueled by Satan, a very persuasive agitator, ramping up in utter defiance of everything that God stands for. Racism, bigotry, violence, and hatred stem from something far greater than skin color, and it’s a systemic problem that legislation, police action, and community action groups can never fix.
Many of these individuals, plenty on both sides of the divide, would verbally espouse a love for God; however, I have my doubts. My last reading of Scripture didn’t include instruction to assume a personal mindset of hatred towards others. In fact, if you look closely, Scripture says this…
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1 John 4:20-21 (ESV)
Based on that verse alone, it would be safe to assume that a great number of those protesting in hatred today do not love God, and, therein, we find the real problem. We don’t hate one another because of skin color, nationality, religious beliefs, or political differences; we hate one another because our love for God is either not present, or it’s greatly diminished.
There will always arise valid reasons for dispute, specifically in the politically charged climate of our era where politicians seem to encourage national divide based on social and economic issues. We will all never fully agree on any issue, and, you know what? That O.K. It’s when we elevate our disagreements to an irrational level, fueled by raw emotion, that things become ugly. It’s easy, at that elevated point of emotion, to view others with contrasting opinions as the enemy. We mentally strip them of their self-worth and relevance, simply because our views don’t line up.
We should never strip someone of the honor they possess as a creation of God. If Christ didn’t develop hatred for the Roman soldiers who nailed His already beaten and abused body to a cross, who are we to withhold love and honor from someone with whom we simply disagree?
Romans 12:10 leaves us some very relevant instruction in how to get along. It simply says this, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
There’s no honor in what we see displayed today on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and there’s certainly a profound lack of love. It’s Godlessness running rampant in a nation that calls itself “Christian.” I pray for our nation, but I don’t pray for equal rights for all men and women of all colors or for equal pay for women and men. I don’t pray that everyone has healthcare coverage, nor do I pray that any certain political party retains the majority in Congress. My prayer for our nation is that we earnestly return to a profound love for Almighty God. It is only there where we will find peace and unity. We cannot be unified under our allegiance to a flag, obviously. However, we can be unified under our personal and corporate allegiance to God.
There is but one hope for our nation, and that is a reverence and pursuit of God. It is in Him alone where there is healing for a country so divided. All other avenues are “schemes of man” that are doomed to fail.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
– 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
Pray for our nation to seek the face of God.
Francis Schaeffer wrote, “The beginning of men’s rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart.” I concur. More importantly, Scripture concurs, and it does so robustly.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God is Christ Jesus for you.”
– I Thessalonians 5:18
“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
– Ephesians 5:20
“And whatever you do, in word of deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
– Colossians 3:17
These are just a few of many verses that speak directly to a heart of thankfulness, a heart that should be continually overflowing with our gratitude for the innumerable gifts of a gracious God. Yet, from the very beginning, it would seem that thankfulness was securely packed away in favor of rebellion, complaining, greed, envy, and a potent mix of other destructive and rebellious desires that can only be authored from the core of a malignant sin nature. These things steal our joy, they cause dissatisfaction and unrest. These things are what I call the “sideshow.” They run simultaneously with the “main attraction” of God’s plan, but their message is contrary in nature and relentlessly destructive.
We can all become distracted from time to time and live a life caught up in the sideshow. It can even be fun for a moment, or so we think. Consequently, life inside the sideshow may be entertaining, but it is destructive to all involved, and it can even change our heart. No, it will change our heart from thankfulness to something entirely different. Be prepared, the side effects of an unthankful heart are far reaching.
Thankfulness can be defined as “feeling or expressing gratitude, appreciative, or conscious of a benefit received.” The very last definition poses a great question to the child of God:
Are we conscious of the benefits that we receive through the lordship of Christ?
A thankful heart is, at its core, a heart that is paying attention to what really matters, and that is the main attraction of God’s perfect will and purpose for us. A thankful heart is a perceptive heart. A thankful heart perceives based upon the lordship of the life it’s implanted within. A thankful heart sees through the eyes of Christ, and it is empowered to appreciate, to love, to serve, and to show compassion in the face of all things, good and bad. A thankful heart rises above the fray of worldly unrest and drama, because a thankful heart sees clearly the much bigger picture of the sovereignty of a loving God. It keeps a clear focus on the main attraction.
We cannot have a thankful heart when we become fixated on the world. The world is full of sideshows. They can be found on every street, in every corner, at every workplace, in every family, and they even consistently thrive within every church. Sideshows are everywhere, and they seek to become the main attraction. At the very least, they seek to pull us away from the main attraction, if only for a moment…and, sometimes, a moment is all they need to achieve a lifetime of success distracting us from the glory of God.
Life’s problems have a way of distraction about them, and we seem to love a good distraction. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up embracing all of the frustrations of the world, and the drama of the people in it, and we will find ourselves living life with a thankless heart, because we have abandoned the sovereignty of the big picture (main attraction) to firmly take hold of the moodiness and rebellious nature of the sideshow. We’ve taken our eyes off of Christ, and we’re being entertained by something of far less relevance.
Hebrews 12:2 leaves for us some pertinent instruction:
“…look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary of fainthearted.” – Hebrews 12:2-3 (ESV)
Let’s take another look at that same verse in The Message bible…
“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it. Because He never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – He could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” – Hebrews 12:2-3 (The Message)
Christ did not die on the cross with a thankless heart. A thankless heart is devoid of passion, compassion, and love. The heart of Christ was overflowing with all three of these characteristics as He literally suffocated to meet a horrific physical death, under the weight of our sin. He endured this course because He never lost sight of the big picture…the perfection of God’s will and the redemption of sin.
The example set by Christ throughout His earthly life pointed directly at His love and thankfulness for God, the Father. The example set by God points directly at His love and thankfulness for Christ, the Son. They never took their eyes off of each other, barring the one moment that God had to look away from Christ, because Jesus had literally become the sin of the world (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Sincerely immersing ourselves in the lordship of Christ will inevitably lead to a heart full of thankfulness. Thankfulness is a byproduct of letting Jesus lead.
If we suddenly find ourselves dissatisfied, bitter, angry, and rebellious towards life, it’s probably because we’re being entertained by a sideshow. (Again, they're everywhere, and we love a good distraction.) These are signs of a thankless heart being entertained by the world. We should immediately relinquish our seat at the second-tier amateur act and head back to the main attraction where we belong. The doors are still open. Just know that while we were away, groveling in the mundane at the sideshow, we missed great things premiering on the main stage of God's will. God's will doesn't stop in our distraction, and every moment we spend away costs us opportunities to see Him in all of His glory.
Let us never take our eyes off of Christ. Let us never become entrenched in the sideshows of life and lose sight of the main attraction, and let us live with thankful hearts for the incredible gift of Christ.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!