Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12 NIV).
Sometimes we discern God’s directives in earthquakes and fires as referenced in the verse above, but we also perceive Him in that “whisper,” a.k.a. “still, small voice,” listed there, too.
But how does one hear the quiet directives, so to speak, when it seems that every day there’s increasing cacophony here, bedlam there, riots and war—and rumblings of more?
At other times it’s a different kind of tumult—a persistent thrumming anger, perhaps, or the irregular beating of a breaking heart—that stifle the whispers.
But for those desiring to nurture “listening ears” there is a way to discern even the smallest voice in the commotion. My friend “Pam’s” experience illustrates this.
Pam, who left a verbally abusive marriage many years ago, tells me that when the unpredictable belligerence began, in the first year, in the shock and awe of it, she responded with her own rages, door-slammings, and threats to leave.
She was a new believer at the time, not yet practiced in the spiritual art of pro-acting instead of reacting to maltreatment.
She would have a long way to go, she said, before her family of origin issues and misinterpretations of certain Scriptures in her denomination of origin would eventually fade in the light of truth and she would be able to leave when the time came.
In the meantime, through Bible study, fellowship, and a mentor’s gentle guidance and encouragement, she gained ground and maturity as a believer.
However, one stumbling block in particular was hard for her to overcome. She felt stuck for the longest time, she said, in her knee-jerk reactions, and she felt ashamed.
One quiet afternoon she decided to seek the Lord on the matter to see how she might—how she could possibly—respond better.
Please help me, she prayed. I have no heart left for my husband.
“This time,” she told me, “I was determined to wait until I ‘heard’ or sensed something, anything, to break the cycle. I felt so defeated. And I knew it had to be a response that aligned with God’s Word and not something off the wall. This is what came to mind almost immediately: Pray for MY heart for him.”
“Wow,” she said. “I thought that maybe THIS is what is meant by ‘changing from the inside out’ and hearing that ‘still, small voice’. I decided to give it a try. I know I wasn’t coming up with much on my own steam.”
“As I employed it, which wasn’t easy at first,” she continued, “whenever my ex-husband would criticize, mock or disrespect me, because of how this spiritual strategy was working, I became calmer. I was able to not just contain my negative reactions, but ‘to rise above them,’ so to speak. Even in the middle of some taunt or accusation pretty soon I was able to sort of ‘step aside’ in my mind and engage in a similar kind of mental dialogue with the Lord as I had that first afternoon. Sometimes, I’d ‘sense’ Say nothing (for whatever reason). Other times, this is what came to mind: Your husband is right on this matter. Let Me help you change.”
Pam said she gradually gained confidence in this “inward conversation” and the positive changes it wrought in her, and soon this became one of her “go-to prayers,” as she put it, not just for her marriage but for other situations.
“I prayed that prayer many times and I could slowly feel my heart changing and softening,” she said. “I know I became a better person; I was easier to live with. I began to feel a renewed love for him and he felt it, too, I am sure. We went to counseling. He came with me to church and began reading the Bible. He treated me with more respect. Our kids and others who knew us saw change in him, me, and us as a couple.”
So by the time of what turned out to be the unexpected end of the relationship, Pam explained, she said she had been practiced enough in “listening” to the still, small voice that when his old belligerence returned, ramping up over a period of days, as she recalls, exploding to a terrible and frightening climax one night over just what, she could not completely discern, after trying to no avail to “talk him down” or stop it, she was able to hear, Leave.
And she was able to quietly and quickly heed the now familiar voice.
Much counsel afterward confirmed the directive, she says.
Pam still prays for a “heart” for her ex-husband, she says, though from afar. And she has prayed for a “heart” for herself, too, in this new and challenging phase of her life.
She says she continues in other areas of her life as well to “pro-act” in this manner instead of merely reacting to distressing people and situations–even to the increasing bad news on the world stage that seems to be exploding all around.
She said she also learned something else that she keeps in mind: some situations may improve for good, others, only for a season, at least as far as we can tell. She keeps in mind that Jesus, Himself, “disappeared” into the crowds when his enemies turned on Him until such time as he willingly laid down His life for them—and for us—His mission all along.
Here is one more benefit of quieting oneself before the Lord and listening for His voice no matter what is going on:
(They) that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint (Isaiah 40:31 KJV).
Along with the joy that is our strength, featured in the last post, so is waiting on (qavah: “gather together, look, patiently, tarry, wait for”) the Lord for His direction—whether it comes by fire, quake, or still, small voice.
This strategy, too, enables us to heed our “spiritual gut” even in the din of the darkness and fear that comes where evil abounds.
I encourage you to try it.
Things are likely not going to get any better before they get a lot worse.
And we needn’t buckle to bullies–seen or unseen.