In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah ran for his life, seeking refuge in the wilderness. He climbed to the top of a mountain and cried out to God, desperate for comfort and direction and validation of his suffering. As Elijah stood there, a great wind whipped past, breaking rocks into pieces, but the Lord was not in the wind. An earthquake shook the ground, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. A fire scorched the earth, but the Lord was not in the fire. Then Elijah heard a still small voice.
I’ve heard God’s voice just once. I mean, I’ve sensed his presence before in the advice of mentors, the laughter of friends, the breeze through trees, but I’ve only heard his voice like Elijah heard it – the quiet whisper that resonates deep in the soul – once.
It was so simple, too. I was on a mission trip in Redlands, California with my youth group during the summer after my freshman year of high school. The whole week was action-packed and very high-energy – lots of worship sessions, games, and hard work. My group did a lot of landscaping, mowing lawns, pulling weeds, and remodeling yards all week long. It was the kind of work that makes you really hungry.
We were in charge of making our own lunches every morning before the workday. I was not a fan of the lunch meat sandwiches that everyone else made, having just become a vegetarian, so I was allowed to use some peanut butter and jelly. For some reason, one morning, I forgot to make my PB&J sandwich. I realized my mistake as we pulled onto the highway on the way to our next location, too late to turn back. Everyone in my group very kindly offered to let me eat some of their (meat) sandwiches, but I said I could just wait for dinner. I just decided to make the best of it, after all, fasting is a spiritual discipline (though it might work better when it’s intentional, of course), but I was annoyed that I had forgotten.
We mowed the lawn and pulled the weeds and chopped at trees and, by the time lunchtime rolled around, we were all starving. Everyone – except me – clustered around the cooler to retrieve their food and then spread out in the shade to eat. Then someone called me over and handed me not one, but two, perfect and delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “Found these in the cooler, here you go!” To this day, I have no idea who made those sandwiches or how they got into the cooler. At the time, I didn’t think much of it – I was grateful, but there was still work to do!
A surprise thunderstorm ended up cutting our landscaping short that afternoon, so we loaded up into the van and headed back. Most of my group fell asleep as we rumbled along the highway, so when the rainbow streaked across the sky, I was one of the only ones that saw it. The rainbow reminded me of the story of Noah and the ark, when God promises never to destroy the earth again in a flood. In that story, God also blesses Noah and his family, giving them them the plants and animals for food and the earth for a home. The rainbow is an amazing symbol of God’s provision and enduring promises. I just sat there, admiring it. The whisper came so sudden, so clear, and so clearly not from me that I shivered in my seat. “I will always provide for you.”
I didn’t know then how much I would come lean on this promise. When I am feeling lost and unsure, this promise brings me comfort. When I am afraid, these words remind me that I don’t have to be fearful. When I am grateful for my loving family and friends, a roof over my head, a good education, a welcoming church, or PB+J sandwiches, these six words gently tug at my heart and remind me that all of these things are indelible marks of God’s provision in my life. This promise fills me with joy and makes me brave.
When Elijah cried out in deepest desperation and God whispered back, the prophet got step-by-step instructions and knowledge of what the future would hold. Elijah’s encounter with God was preceded by wind, earthquake and fire; mine with PB+J and a rainbow, but I too heard his still, small voice and it filled me with peace. Still does.I am no prophet overwhelmed by the cares of a disobedient nation and I certainly didn’t receive a road map for my future, but with one simple sentence, the Lord reminded me that he will be there every step of the way.
In this season of discovery and uncertainty in my life, trying to figure out what God is calling me to do, I don’t have to be afraid; no matter what, he will provide. Elijah’s calling was extremely detailed, but right now mine is very simple – keep going, and trust that God will provide.