Cartoons illustrate God speaking with a booming voice from heaven, but that is not how it works. In the Old Testament, the words “God said” or “God spoke” often appear, but as the story of Elijah reveals, it was not with noise but a low whisper.
In that story, Elijah had fled from his enemies and hid in a cave. The Lord asked him why he was there, and after his short explanation, God told him to “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.”
The Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9–13)
Christians today also hear the Spirit of God speak, but seldom if ever audibly. Because He lives within His people, and we recognize His voice, He does not need to shout or even whisper. Jesus affirmed this with, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me . . . My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’ (John 10:14, 27)
Our relationship with Him is intimate. As our Shepherd, we “hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:3–5)
Sometimes when I go to prayer, I have so much on my heart that I do all the talking. The Lord is patient and listens, but I know that He wants me to listen as well . . .
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. (Psalm 85:8)
He does speak peace, peace that erases the anxiety of those prayer burdens. If I rattle on and on, I’ll miss that important blessing of being able to communicate with Him and listen. However, He may also speak a warning like the one in the above verse. I need those warnings too, for I so easily turn back to old bad habits. He is with me and desires to help me avoid that folly, but I need to be a better listener.
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25)
This verse also points out that listening is only half of it. The other half is not doing my share of the talking, but taking action on whatever He warns me about or says to me as instruction, a command, or even as encouragement. He meets my need to hear Him through His Word, but also in that low whisper to my heart — as long as when I am praying, I keep both ears open.