n apocryphal story is told about a man applying for a telegraph operator's job. The man doing the interviews was busy so he and the others waited. As they waited they were surrounded by the normal noises and activities of a telegraph office. Suddenly the latecomer stood up and walked into the boss' office. The others were more surprised when the boss came out and announced he was had hired the man who had entered his office. Demanding an explanation the employer responded, "All the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out a message: `If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.' He is the only one who heard and understood the message. So the job is his."
It is easy to “hear” God’s voice. God isn't hiding from us. God wants us to hear. Yet it is very difficult it is to “listen” to God’s voice. Hearing and listening are not the same thing. If you don't believe me ask anyone who's had a teenager. The fact is, we hear a lot. Some of it impacts us at a level at which we are not even aware. Some of it we flat out ignore. Some of it we hear half-way, it's familiar so we sort of listen. Very seldom we move from hearing to true listening.
Listening is active. Listening involves thinking about what we hear. Listening demands we pay attention too, focus on, take to heart and apply what is being communicated. What's more listening is just as likely to take place in silence as it is in the midst of a storm as Elijah discovered. Sadly, many of us spend a lot of time hearing God but fail to listen.
Rev. Bill Crawford lives in Louisiana. He had a blog entry this past week about solitude which was timely for us. He is a self-confesed talker and extrovert but listen to what he writes about solitude
"Some people need it in very obvious ways. I used to take it or leave it. Now I have to have it. I want to be where God has called me for a long time. I think churches are often ineffective because their leadership move around. And I think one of the reasons they move around is because they don't stop and reflect enough to work out their problems (with God's help).
That's why I think I love Kayak fishing so much...Kayak fishing is by its very nature a lonely sport. It sometimes involves being the only human being for miles around (alligators don't count). It's a place where I get solitude.
It is places of solitude Bill finds a place to listen to God. He's in good company. God speaks through several ways to us. He speaks through our life situations. It shouldn't be a surprise to hear God via the hassles circumstances, problems, joys, movies, TV, radio, newspapers and a million other avenues of communication we're exposed to each day. A chance conversation overheard in line at the store or the magazine or book we’re reading may well be God’s voice to us.
God still speaks in and through dreams and visions. They let us to see God's heart for His world. They confront us with a reality far beyond the normal. They quicken our souls. There is an "ah-ha" moment about it when we recognize the deep spiritual Truth God is telling us. They are just as likely driving down a road as being in deep prayer. Such dreams and visions burn God's truth into our lives the way God's glory was burned onto Moses' face.
God speaks in an audible voice and through His written Word. They will never contradict one another. When God speaks you know it. My experience is that God's voice, like the Bible confronts, challenges and changes those who hear it. Consider how Paul meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. God's voice confronted Paul with Jesus. It challenged Paul's very identity. And it changed Paul into a follower of Christ. The same thing happens today.
The problem isn’t that God doesn't speak, it is that we don't listen. In 2002 Charisma magazine there was an article about a church that purposely listened to what non-believers had to say about Jesus and the church. Pastors struggled to listen to the criticisms from these non-churched folk. As the author explained, “Listening is hard work and we must resolve to stop talking and stop controlling.” This is even truer when it comes to listening to God. Too often we aren't quiet, we try to explain ourselves, we believe we already know it all, or worse, we insist on controlling the conversation with God so that God will do things our way.
Elijah has seen God work in great ways when we enter chapter 19. The drought is broken and he’d confronted the prophets of the Queen’s deity and destroyed them on Mt. Carmel. Jezebel doesn’t change her heart or mind. She is more intense than ever on wining this war so she threatens Elijah. Face with this Elijah turns southward. He moves out of Jezebel’s sphere of influence. He wasn't afraid. He was seeking a place where he could hear God's voice once more. Verse 3 literally translates "he went upon his soul, or his life". It isn't fear that moves him. If that was true once he was in the Southern Kingdom under Jehoshaphat, Jezebel would have not power or claim on him. Elijah is seeking something more. As one commentator stated Elijah had "gone into the desert for the purpose of seeing whether the Lord would manifest His mercy to him, as He had formerly done to His people under Moses, or whether He would withdraw His hand entirely from him.
Exhausted, he gives up. God brings him Mt. Sinai where Elijah goes into a cave. And once there a wind, earthquake and fire come upon the mountain with no sign of God. The very same signs which happened when Moses' was there doesn't contain any voice from God. Instead God comes in literally a "tone of a gentle blowing". Elijah hides his head in fear and awe.
Now Elijah is “listens” to God. God has constantly spoken to Elijah. Under the tree an angel of the Lord tells Elijah to “get up and eat”. As Elijah arrives at Mt. Sinai we read. “The Word of the Lord came to him” God plainly asks. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then right after Elijah’s answer God commands Elijah to “go out and stand on the mountain”.
Up to now Elijah hears God but doesn't' listen. How do I know? It's because not till after the "tone of a gentle blowing" touches Elijah that he actually does what God commanded him to do-- he “went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” Apparently God’s voice which told him to go stand on the mountain wasn’t obeyed. Why? Because he hadn't listened to God he'd only heard God.
Elijah's distraction had to be overcome if he was to listen to God. Perhaps it was a sense of martyrdom thinking “he alone” was left. Maybe he thought it was unfair that Jezebel escaped the judgment or that "this" wasn't the way he'd expected God to meet him. Whatever it was God breaks through and outfits Elijah for continuing his ministry.
Intervarsity published a little tract years ago called Tyranny of the Urgent. It should be mandatory reading for everyone because it confronts one of our Western distractions that what is urgent has to be dealt with before what is important. We know what is important but we enjoy being sidelined by urgent things. Methodist pastor Charles Allen asked a group of pastor at a meeting, "When you're studying for your sermon, why do you answer the phone when it rings? Why do you let them control your time and take you away from what's important?" 
Some people have become adrenaline junkies. They don’t feel what they do has meaning unless at the last moment. If we’re not busy every minute, if we’re not entertained, if there's not music, video or some media playing in the background we're uneasy. Sin is a major obstacle to listening to God. Who wants to listen to someone who knows what you're really like? Who wants to be confronted with God when we know the first thing He's going to ask is about that! Somehow believers have come to think sin doesn’t really matter. Keep on doing the same old sins over and over again and God's going to turn a blind eye to it. Oh we still expect God to answer our prayers. We still expect God to give us a good feeling during or after some big festival, fellowship camp, or Christian concert. And when our prayers go unanswered and we don't feel "up" we complain to God. Yet all the time the problem is right there in front of us, continual sin we don't want to quit.
We will be able to listen to God when we make room for it. We will be able to listen to God when we are willing to be changed, when we are willing to be turned upside down. We will be able to listen to Christ when we make time for Jesus.
Set aside 15 minutes each morning to pray. Instead of asking for anything simply pray, “Jesus what do you want me to do, say, and be today?” Then with a piece of paper nearby jot down things that may come to mind. Some of it will be clutter that you haven’t been able to get out of your mind but others things will be direction from the Lord. Here’s a hint that helps me. If it sounds hard, or it’s something I don’t like to or want to do it’s usually from God. Did you notice how this redefines what we usually think of as “prayer”? We’re not talking but listening for God’s voice.
The second part of this is the difficult part. We do what we’ve heard God say to us. Try this for the next week and see if it doesn’t make a difference in your life.
Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament. (3:179). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
W Recollections from Billy Graham School of Evangelism meeting in Orlando, Florida a long, long time ago.