Human beings are very distractible. Even low levels of background noise have been shown to reduce workers’ productivity significantly. Turning up the volume or adding other forms of stimulation such as flashing lights results in even greater declines. Confronted by such distractions, people have trouble concentrating on the things they should.
Among Elijah’s most striking characteristics was his ability to remain focused in the face of potentially overwhelming distractions. After being told that “the Lord is about to pass by” (v. 11), Elijah could have been distracted by the boulder-breaking wind, the groundrattling earthquake, or the roaring fire. Nevertheless, he retained the focus to discern that, despite their awesomeness, God was in none of these.
Rather than such attention-grabbing spectacles, God came to Elijah softly and discreetly in a “gentle whisper” (v. 12) that might have been easily missed. Concentrating upon the Lord, however, Elijah perceived that in this least obtrusive of forms he was encountering God. Hearing it, “he pulled his cloak over his face and went out” to meet God (v. 13).
Even if we rarely experience literal winds, earthquakes, and fires, our world is filled with an endless array of sirens. Sensationalized news, glitzy advertising, astonishing inventions, alluring products, and other spectacles loudly call for our attention, promising to offer us what we have been waiting for. It’s easy to become distracted.
For those who wish to encounter God, the focus exhibited by Elijah is essential. Even more, though, such focus will allow us to find the deeper meaning carried by the soft, gentle whispers of God’s presence that such blaring distractions try to drown out.
What spectacles are most likely to distract you? Commit to devoting at least a limited amount of time away from them today. Instead, seek to create silence in which you might listen for God’s gentle whispers. As you do so, you might wish to pray using the words Eli gave to Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9).