My life is filled with noise.
It seems like there are always voices pounding into my head trying to get my attention. Some of the voices are children or family. Some are commitments or pressures of work. Some of the voices come from media and culture. And some are just voices of the modern world we live in. These voices are not necessarily evil, in fact, many of them are a true blessing to my life. The problem however is that the constant barrage of voices creates more and more noise making it harder and harder to listen, especially to the still small voice of God.
That’s part of the issue, because God is always willing to speak, but God rarely speaks in the loud boisterous noise of the day. God has the ability to make noise by parting the waters of the Red Sea or striking down giant Goliath. God has the ability to scream over the noise of the world to grab our attention, but often when God chooses to work in that way the attention grab is not necessarily what we expected. Instead, God seems to work in the quiet of silence; the same quiet I often block out because of the noise around me.
I’m reminded of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 as he runs in fear from Jezebel. Elijah should be in full control, as just days before he witnessed God’s mighty victory on Mount Carmel over the prophets of Baal. Instead, Elijah is running for his life from an evil queen who has sworn revenge. He finds himself on Mt. Horeb, the Mountain of God, and has the audacity to actually insinuate that perhaps his problems stem from God’s abandonment. “God, I alone am left of your prophets, and now they are after me too.” Or to paraphrase, Elijah is saying, God, where are you? (An interesting question since God had just proved superiority at Mt. Carmel.)
At this point, God asks Elijah to move to the mouth of the cave because God is about to make a point. While Elijah is at the mouth of the cave, he experiences a strong wind that is tearing the mountain apart, a great earthquake, and finally a fire. However, God is none of those noise filled experiences. Instead, after these great events, he experiences the calm of sheer silence, at which point he pulls his cloak over his face; he knows he has experienced God. The point to Elijah is clear. While Elijah laments the apparent absence of God, if Elijah would take the time to drawn out all the noise, God would be found, and heard, in the silence.
Which makes the struggle of noise in my own life so troubling. I too want to hear a word from the Lord and know that God is near. Not because I’m running for my life in fear, but simply because I desire relationship with God. Yet far too often, the noise I allow to control my life is often keeping me from hearing the voice of God that I most desire to hear. God is always willing to speak, and God has the ability to scream over the noise, but typically God doesn’t work in that way. Instead, God prefers the moments of quiet intimacy, the times when thoughts and feelings can be shared in the calmness of life. If I want to hear from God, I’ve got to quiet the noise.
Which means…somehow I’ve got to make changes in my own life. Not all of the noises in my life are bad. Many of the noises, like family and job, are actually blessings. Yet I still must find times to quiet the noise, and hear the word of the Lord. Perhaps I’ll turn the radio off in the car, or the music off while exercising, hoping to hear the sound of sheer silence. Perhaps I can find a way each week to spend twenty minutes in silence while on a walk, or even in my office. Perhaps I need to set the alarm to go off a few minutes earlier, or start winding down the day a few minutes sooner so that I can spend the first or last moments of the day with God.
Any number of ideas will work. The truth is, if we want to hear from God, we must intentionally stop the noise, at least for a moment. Then, like Samuel we can pray, “speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”