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I suspect that many who earnestly desire to hear God’s voice in answer to their prayers long for that still small voice that Elijah heard. Now and then it happens, but I’m inclined to believe much less often than claimed. If there is anything at all that is normal about God’s ways, it is that God’s voice is most often heard through the lips of another human being. But how is one to discern?
I thought about that this morning when reading from the Second book of Kings about the prophets Zedekiah and Micaiah. Each was known as a prophet. Zedekiah did a credible job of dancing around with horns on his head assuring King Ahab that victory in the upcoming battle would be his, all in the name of God. Micaiah was suspect from the start, a real party pooper of a prophet, and started out with some lame sarcasm before unleashing the word of God in very plain unadorned language. Which one was the truth teller? Ahab wasn’t sure so he hedged his bets by going into battle disguised as an ordinary charioteer.
The Zedekiahs and Micaiahs are out in force these days. The Internet, radio, television, editorial columns, sermons and religious gossips have a lot to say, all in strident voices and all in the sure and certain name of God Almighty. Is God present in some of it, any of it?
My own guess is that the more one stridently claims the authority of God in the words they utter, the less likely God has anything to do with them.
When I look back at the times I later came to recognize as moments of God’s presence in the words of another, they were all moments of quiet conversation with the other not even aware of how powerfully God spoke through them into my life. Some were pastors, some colleagues, some friends, and a few total strangers. In each case I was not immediately aware that God was speaking, but was aware of an enfolding and comforting love that drew me in toward goals that I could not see along paths that I did not know.
In today’s clamor of competing voices all around I can find a real kinship with the psalmist who wrote:
Psa. 55:4 My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
8 I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest.”
But, perhaps like Elijah listening at the mouth of the cave to that still small voice, I would only hear the words, What are you doing here? Go back and do the work I have given you to do. Maybe discerning God’s presence in the words of another begins with ignoring the one dancing around with horns on his head spouting sure and certain proclamations that seem very unlike the words of God made flesh.