let sense be dumb, let flesh retire, speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
o still small voice of calm!
These words are the climax to a well loved hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92) , which is a heartfelt prayer for God to be present and speak to us so clearly that we recognise and are thrilled by his voice. The reference to earthquake, wind and fire are from the story of Elijah, who in a time of great personal weariness and despair was blessed by an encounter with God which would invigorate him and direct his future. It was not the terrifying fire from heaven, nor the invisible power of the wind, nor even the shaking of earth’s foundations which conveyed God’s presence in this instance, but rather a ‘gentle whisper’ as the bible tells us in the nineteenth chapter of the first book of Kings.
Sometimes, it is through great signs of power that we perceive God’s presence and are reassured, but at other times, we need a tender and intimate touch. Elijah was utterly at the end of his resources, and which of us has not felt this way? Firstly, God had provided food, and sleep, so that the body was nourished – a lesson for all of us who stay busy when we perhaps ought to stop. Next, came this astonishing visitation by God, as he takes time to question the disgruntled prophet, and tease out exactly what is going on in his mind! Elijah was utterly discouraged, convinced that he alone was on God’s side, and that the task ahead was simply too much for him.
Do we fully realise just how intimately our God is concerned with our thoughts? This is such an encouragement to share all that is in our hearts, the sorrows and joys, discouragements as well as triumphs. Our own thoughts and emotions can easily become a storm, bewildering us, leaving us unable to see the best way to act or decision to take. Here we see the way that God quiets Elijah’s personal storm, and then, once he has the prophet’s attention, speaks clearly. He speaks truth into Elijah’s confused understanding of the situation, and gives instructions which indicate very plainly that God remains very much in control and there is every reason to keep on believing in and serving him. Far from everything depending on Elijah, God tells the weary man that he is one of over 7000 faithful servants, among them the young Elisha, who would become Elijah’s successor! God was on the job, and it did not depend on the ability or strength of one frail human being.
What a wonderful God we have, what a relief to know that we matter to him so much, and that his care is so personal. May we learn to recognise his voice more and more clearly as we listen for it and bring our storms to his calming presence! There, we find that we are not alone, and are reminded that it is not our strength which matters, but that of the almighty God whom we serve. All praise to Him!