The Roar of the Sea and the Whisper of God

Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea-
The Lord on high is mighty.

(Psalm 93:4 NIV)

The roar woke me. I opened my eyes to the silvery shadows of filtered moonlight and the thunder of surf crashing on the rocks below and wondered: is this what God sounds like?

As much as I hate being awake at four in the morning, the deafening roar of the sea was a welcome change from my four AM musings of late. The weapons in my arsenal against sleeplessness were proving no match for the pain of a recent personal debacle. Normally prayer, Scripture, and taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ could deliver me from insomnia. Normally owning my part, making amends, and forgiving those who wrong me would bring peace to my soul. But recent events were not normal, and God alone knew the way He would restore me to sanity. He just wasn’t telling me yet.

Well, what better time to listen? Out my window, boats anchored in Kailua Harbor bobbed in the moonlight. Salt air wafted through the window. Kevin was dead asleep, and it was just me and God awake in the quiet of the night.

“Lord, I don’t know how to get past this. What do You want me to do?”

“Just listen.”

“I’m listening. I’m listening! But all I hear is the roar. What do You want me to do?

“I want you to listen until you hear the quiet.”

Normally I would have opened my Bible and looked for something a little more concrete. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, I had left it at home. So I lay back against crisp white sheets in a very comfy bed, reveled in the color of moonlight, and listened to the roar of the waves breaking below my window. I didn’t even know I’d fallen asleep until the sun woke me in the morning.

What does God sound like, anyway? The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 always comes to mind. In my post of May 2 (Battered Baggage and a Pacific Breeze) I quoted Elijah from 1 Kings 19:4: he was terrified, running for his life, and exhausted. The Lord ministered to him through angels who brought him food, water, and the opportunity for rest. Even as he went on his way, he knew he needed more than provision, more than even the ministrations of angels. At God’s prompting, Elijah poured out his lament (1 Kings 19:9-10). I love what happened next:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. 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 19:11-13 NIV)

Elijah recognized God’s voice in the sound of a gentle whisper: literally, “the sound of a gentle stillness.”

Can you imagine huddling at the mouth of a cave as the forces of nature preceded the presence of God? A wind that can tear mountains apart and shatter rocks would have my heart punching through the wall of my chest. Riding out an earthquake while the rocks crash down around me? Really? I’d be wetting my pants as I hightailed it down the hill. But what Elijah understood, and what I frequently misunderstand, is this: This disaster itself is not the voice of God.

Just like me, Elijah made his share of mistakes. But God never lost sight of him, never gave up on him, and never stopped loving him. Even though he suffered through persecution, disappointment, exhaustion, and terror, Elijah stood firm and listened. He knew God’s voice when he heard it. The “sound of a gentle stillness” then told him where to go, what to do, and even how God Himself would work in the situation. Waiting through the roar worked for Elijah. I could only hope it would work for me, too.

©2011 Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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One comment

  1. Julie says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I could relate in my own way. I once had a huge decision to make, a crucial fork in the road. I felt the need to get away from my life so I could hear God on the matter and kept feeling a pull to the mountains. Pikes Peak, to be precise. I’d wanted to go there for years, but now felt, for whatever reason, the need to stand atop and just “be” with God. While praying about whether or not to make the trip, a pastor at our church quoted the same scripture you did about Elijah on the mountain. He concluded his message, saying, “Sometimes you just need to get alone with God on a mountaintop”! Okay, confirmation #1! Another day praying again about whether to go (the dilemma was cost and time away from family and work), I checked the mail and found a monthly magazine I subscribe to. Flipping through the pages to see what kinds of articles were inside, I froze when I saw one with the title, “Alone with God on a Mountain”! I made my reservations for Colorado Springs before the day was out. When my mom thought it strange that I’d go there all alone, I told her it was a sort of spiritual retreat. Although she does not have a spiritual life, she shockingly understood, replying “Oh, like Moses, going up on the mountain to talk to God!” Wow. I hadn’t even thought of that, but yes I said, just like that. So much that happened on that trip was purely God, but interestingly, I “heard” God’s answer to me about this fork in the road I faced, not while on top of Pikes Peak, but the day before while simply taking a long walk, acclamating myself to the mile-high altitude in 95-degree heat. As I walked, I talked with the Lord and He with me. It was so beautiful and real. The walk had started with my feeling immediately exhausted from the heat and altitude and dreading the long walk ahead, but by the time I’d reached my destination, I never wanted it to end! That’s when you know God took over! The next day was my trek up Pikes Peak, though via train instead of on foot. 40 minutes at the top was all we were allowed before the train would head back down. Either we had to be on it, or walk all the way down. It went so fast. But here is where I “heard” the silence you spoke of in your article. It was almost an eerie silence, like time standing still. So amazing and indescribable. I felt God all around me. I read from the Psalms, but didn’t want to take my eyes off the view before me. I’d read, then look up over my Bible to the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance. Back and forth like that. Suddenly it hit me, that the very Word I was reading was the same Word Who had created all I see. Then I understood. Finding direction from God was important, but not nearly so much so as just knowing and experiencing God as intimately as I had on that mountain. I’ll never forget hearing God in the silence.

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