I don’t like to wait.
Neither do you.
To be fair, it’s not all our fault, is it? Part of our hatred of waiting involves the culture we have been born and raised inside of. Everyone, everywhere, and in everything is constantly looking for a more efficient way to do whatever it is that they’re trying to do. We need faster wait times at the airport. We need to move more cars off the roads and more people into public transportation to reduce traffic and therefore our time spent waiting in vehicles. We need people to answer our email or text message quickly, on our time table, so that we can move onto the next task. And of course, we’ll soon have the drones. All to make sure we can maximize our time and not waste any of it in waiting.
This is problematic for the Christian because in a culture that’s bent on eliminating the need to wait, we are the people who believe (supposedly) in things that we cannot see. That are not readily apparent. That are coming, and yet have not yet come. To be a Christian means to be someone who waits, whether we like it or not.
This is not a new thing. The people of God have always had to grow in this characteristic. There were the 400 years of slavery in Egypt when the people waited. There was the 70 years spent in captivity when the exiles waited. There was the other 400 years between the Old and New Testament when the faithful waited. And here, now, we still wait, for Jesus to split the sky and come back and make everything bad come untrue.
So, too, is waiting essential for those who truly want to hear the voice of God.
Maybe you know the story – it’s one of the classic texts we point to that shows us the nature of God’s voice. The setting is one of danger, for the prophet Elijah had made an enemy of the wicked Queen Jezebel. Under threat of his life, God’s man fled out to the wilderness, and there he heard the voice of the Lord:
Then the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life.”
Then He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the LORD’s presence.”
At that moment, the LORD passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and shattering cliffs before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19:9-13).
There is much to see here about the Lord who speaks. We can see, for example, that the Lord speaks to those who have dedicated themselves to listening. We can also see that the Lord often doesn’t speak in the grand and miraculous, but in the small and silent. But here, too, is a question of timing.
What I mean is that there is really no indication of how much time actually passed between when the Lord began to pass by.
I’ve always read this text and implicitly thought about it in a series of moments – as if this mighty wind that shattered the cliffs was about 10 seconds long. Then the earthquake came and went. And then the fire raged through, and when it was all said and done, Elijah had endured about 10 minutes of catastrophes. But that’s not what the text says. Instead, it says that “at that moment, the LORD passed by,” and that’s it. That’s the last indication of time we have.
We don’t know if this wind lasted for 2 minutes or 2 weeks. Similarly, we don’t know how long the earthquake was, or how long after the storm it occurred. And then we don’t know how long this fire took to really get going, and how long Elijah had to endure the heat of the flames. The text doesn’t tell us, but upon reading it again and again this week, I had to wonder if perhaps this wasn’t a quick experience for the prophet. Instead, perhaps it was days and days of enduring the big and mighty and disastrous, only to find a gentle whisper at the other end.
Can that be so? Can it be that hearing the voice of God is not a ready-made formula that happens quickly, but instead about a commitment to endure and persevere through what threatens us because we are so hungry for His Word to come that we are willing to wait?
And if that is so, then perhaps we have not heard the Word of the Lord not only because our lives are too loud for this gentle whisper, but because we have not waited for it to come as if it’s the very bread of our souls that sustains us.
If you want to hear the Lord speak, then don’t be hasty. Understand that you might have to wade your way through a storm, and earthquake, and the fire. And know that those things might take a while. A long while.
But know, too, that there is the Word on the other side that brings life, like the bread of heaven.
Don’t be hasty, Christian – linger over God’s Word. Take the time in faith to wait for Him to speak again through what He has spoken.