Beholding the Whisper: Responding to Suffering
***Over the past few weeks, we have been posting the messages from the Women’s Ministry’s Conference, "Living Hope in a Hard World”. Below, you will find our third and final session teaching, Beholding the Whisper: Responding to Suffering from Hannah Sepulveda.
“The World Health Organization declared a global pandemic.”
“First responders endure emotional toll of Surfside condo collapse:"”
“Deadly storms and tornadoes leave wake of destruction”
“Territory under Ukrainian control shelled 80 times”
“Hurricane Ian knocks out power to 2 million on destructive path across Florida”
Maybe you have seen these or read these news headlines in the recent days. Perhaps you know someone who has been directly or indirectly affected by one of them? Or perhaps you have been? Emotionally? Perhaps mentally? Perhaps even physically? Regardless of how exactly it has affected you specifically, the suffering in this world is no mystery to us in this day and age, and it is, by no means, new to this broken world. It has, as observed throughout history books, been around for a while.
Well, at least since, what us Christians call “The Fall,” right? One bad choice led to sins entering, and as a result- suffering- which meant that full separation from God had begun and the long road to His redemption was on the horizon. The human race only grew and a series of bad choices continued over a long period of time. So much so that nations and languages confused and split, families betrayed one another, slavery became popular and common. BUT GOD still had an intentional plan to restore this. He made a promise with a man named Abraham that he would “father” many generations of God’s people. Many many years later, after living in slavery, being freed and taken through the desert to a Promised land, God’s chosen people- Israel- wanted kings like the rest of the world. At first, this seemed like a good thing because, for the most part, God was worshiped primarily. Then, slowly but surely, idol worship crept in. Some of the Israelites continually chose to serve and worship idols instead of their Creator God. One of the Israelite kings named Ahab went above and beyond into this idol worship to a false god, Baal. This is where we, today, will meet someone whom God used in a time of several different types of suffering for the Israelite people.
NOW, it is important that I note that I’m talking about three types of suffering occurring in this part of scripture. Some of which were self-inflicted suffering, often a result of sin. Some physical suffering that was surrounding individuals or families. Some- and probably the most common form of suffering was simply, and yet not so simply, the daily mental and physical battle occuring in almost every mind depending on their specific set of life circumstances.
Here is the story of 1 Kings 18 in a nutshell just to give you some context, and it is where we meet our prophet, Elijah- whom God used to draw His people back to Him. Here it is: King Ahab married a woman named Jezebel. She worshiped the false god Baal and, at literally all costs, forced this worship in Israel as much as she could. She killed God’s prophets, to where the rest of them fled for their lives. There was a terrible drought in the land brought by God- WHICH affected everyone, rich or poor- whether they worshiped these idols or not. God told His prophet Elijah to go to King Ahab and tell him that He- God- would send rain! This of course led to a stand-off of sorts. On the top of Mount Carmel, all the prophets of Baal made an altar and sacrificed to Baal so he would send the rain from heaven. Elijah did the same, except to the One True God. The prophets of Baal cried out and danced around the altar and prayed to their false god. Still at midday- NO ONE ANSWERED THEM. NO ONE PAID ATTENTION. Elijah made his altar to The True God with a burnt offering on the wood, and then drenched that thing with water, and then prayed to God. The fire of God came down, EVEN with the altar being drenched with water, and that fire consumed the whole thing. And then, the true God sent rain in the drought.
It was quite the visual for the people of Israel to BEHOLD- remember that word- the power and authority of God once again. What is interesting, though, is Elijah's response to these happenings. Elijah saw first hand the power of God at work around him and through him, but you know what else he was well aware of? His surroundings and the suffering of the people of Israel- those who joined in with the idol worship AND those who did not. He saw- in 1 Kings chapter 17- the depravity and poverty around him (with a poor widow and her son) because of the drought (both spiritual drought from the idol worship or a loss of hope, and physical drought because of the famine). He witnessed death and severe illness around him. How could this all-powerful, full-of-authority, Creator God allow such suffering to occur for His chosen people? Surely there were some who were still faithful to God and didn’t worship all the lies and false gods? Surely there were some who had not lost all hope in the God who had delivered His people from war and slavery.
Now, God just did something AMAZING through Elijah, and you can imagine Jezebel’s anger when she hears this, so much so that she seeks the life of Elijah. And Elijah, in RESPONSE- remember that word- to Jezebel’s threats, flees…”he flees for his life.” Let’s look at 1 Kings 19:3-15.
“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you. ”And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And He said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, 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?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.”
In the midst of certain suffering- both personal to him and observed all around him in the Israelite people- Elijah fled. In a place of fear and sorrow, he begged for God to take his life because he didn’t FEEL WORTHY. Then an angel came to him TWICE to give him food and drink- which ended up giving him strength for his journey. Now pay attention to what happens next- in this order too-
Elijah fled, God sent angels. Elijah journeyed to Mount Horeb, God sought him- asking him a question. Elijah answered the question, God told him to go outside the cave. Elijah obeyed. God passed through, Elijah sought Him still. God sent wind. Elijah sought Him still. God sent an earthquake. Elijah sought Him still. God sent a fire. Elijah sought Him still. AND THEN, God revealed Himself in a *whisper.*
Elijah BEHELD the whisper of God and could not stay even stay in His whispering Presence, so he went back into the cave. God, again, asks Elijah the SAME question, and Elijah answers it the exact same way- only this time, God tells him to GO..and he goes and meets his successor/disciple- if you will, Elisha.
SO, What was the common theme seen here in this encounter between God and Elijah? “The LORD CAME, Elijah SOUGHT.” Elijah RESPONDED- there’s that word again- to the Lord each time. EVERY time, whether he heard Him or not- he RESPONDED AND he SOUGHT God! You see, God is always always Present, but often we say things like this… “But I don’t hear Him” or “I don’t know how God speaks to me” or “I don’t know what He’s saying” or even “ARE YOU THERE GOD?” “In my suffering, do you see me? Do you see what it is I am going through?”
At the beginning of August, I took the kids and went to stay with my parents for a few weeks, as per our usual summer trip. We had a whole bunch of fun plans to go up to Door County and camp and all sorts of things. A week or so before I left for this trip, I had gotten mastitis in my breast- as I was still nursing Ellie at the time- and needed to get on antibiotics. I finished up these antibiotics on one of the days we were up in Door County at that cute little- well big- “Goats on the Roof” place, as my children call it. Everything was fine and we had a really good time out and about. The kids enjoyed swimming in the Green Bay afterwards and we walked through a few cute little shops off the bay. And then we started the drive back to my parents house in Green Bay. On the way back, I got very tired and bit light headed with some itchiness, but honestly at the time didn’t think anything of it because I have such terrible allergies on a regular basis. We got back to my parents house and made a bonfire with the kids, and thats when it started to get worse. One of the itchy spots, which I chalked up to being a mosquito bite, got bigger and bigger and my breathing got quite a bit heavier. Soon I had not just one “extra large mosquito bite”, but several popping up in random places, though I wasn’t outside anymore or near the mosquitos. I decided to take a shower and try to “shake it off,” and by the end of that, there were even more itchy spots, or blotches rather. I remember putting my pajamas on and discreetly going up to my mom (because she was right next to my kids) and saying quietly, “I think I’m having an allergic reaction.” She followed me into another room so I could show her and we called the nurse line to see what to do, and, of course, they advised that I go to the hospital right away. We go there and get all the right simple meds for an allergic reaction, but nothing strong really because I was still nursing Ellie. I remember we got back from the hospital and within the hour the itchiness had turned to to-the-bone pain. I tried to take a shower again, but it was no longer soothing. I tried to sleep, but could not stop shaking. The next day it got worse and worse throughout the day to the point of really not being able to get dressed or move much without it hurting and itching to the bone. At this point, the kids know something is going on and really could not be near me. I’m so thankful to have been at my parents house during this because Ben was getting ready to go to Mexico at the time! By the end of that second day, it was so unbearable that we went back to the ER. When we had gotten there, they were able to help, of course, and the doctor had determined that I needed stronger medicine for this type of reaction because it was caused by the mastitis antibiotics I had taken in full the week prior. The new meds that I was given did help to take an edge off, but the antibiotics needed to work their way out fully and the doctor explained I would just have to wait that part out. The next three days were spent between the bath and bed, the bath and bed, the bath and bed, again and again. I could not pick up my kids, I could not really hold a long conversation. I didn’t want to scare my kids either- although part of that I couldn’t control- because my face was so puffy and broken out. It was in these moments that I heard the Lord’s whisper. It was the ONLY thing I could cling to in those days because, while it may have seemed short lived looking back, it felt so long going through it. I found myself asking God “why?” or saying something like “this isn’t how this vacation was suppose to go!” I had to fully rely on God’s gift of my parents with my kids and pray that they would be okay and not worry.
This situation was a very small and, thankfully, a short lived week of pain where things were- like they were for Elijah- out of my control. There was no way for me to rely on myself at all in those moments of just laying there, not knowing when it would end or how. In those moments, God kept WHISPERING His reminder of His Presence with me. He kept putting the book of Habakkuk on my mind through a super close friend, so I listened to it on repeat. And I don’t know if you’ve read that book of the Bible or not, but it is NOT super happy! It’s about the destruction soon to come to Israel because of the bad choices they were making…. WHY would God bring THIS book to my mind when I physically and mentally felt numb?? God was reminding me of two things- first, I can ALWAYS come to Him with the questions about suffering that I have and He will ALWAYS answer me with His Word- always- and oftentimes with that still small whisper too. And second, regardless of what it is I am mentally or physically going through, I. Must. Seek. Him. I MUST. I could do nothing in those long few days, nothing but think about my pain. BUT GOD, reminded me of His Word and reminded me He was there Present through reading His Word over and over again and in prayer over and over again. And the last two verses, which I longed to hear in Habakkuk 3:18-19..
”Yes I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.”
- the WHISPER of the Lord through the reading, or rather, listening, of His Word.
Sometimes- whether short lived or long, or those daily anxieties of our lives- God allows suffering in our lives simply to remind us of our desperate need for Him in every area of our lives. Then, we have an opportunity to learn in those moments, and whether that suffering, anxiety, depression is lifted or not, God has made it POSSIBLE, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, to SEEK and RESPOND to Him even practically in our everyday lives. But how do we do that? How do we practically in our world RESPOND to the Lord when we may not know how? How do we RESPOND to the Lord when we don’t want to? How do we respond to the LORD when we feel numb in our suffering?
There are quite a few ways to do this RESPONDING act of seeking the Lord. First, be in the Word. Somehow, long or short, every time you are reminded to be. During some seasons, this is in the car ride on the way to work or school or for 5-10 min before you go to bed at night. Some season, this looks like hours of time searching the Scriptures. Responding and seeking…seeking to hear that WHISPER. Because He is INTENTIONALLY seeking you first.
Psalm 19:7-14 says
“The law of the Lord is perfect. Reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
Second, surround yourself with godly people who can remind you of what Jesus has done for you and what He does around you- because, rest assured, He is active! And when those hard situations or daily anxieties come, having a WISE friend who gently and lovingly points you to Jesus first- is the best, most precious kind of friend you could have. A friend who can just “be” with you during your suffering.
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” -Proverbs 13:20
The people in your circle will either point you to Jesus, or point you to everything else.
Third, and ONE of the most important things we can respond with, prayer. Pray without ceasing. Pray in every moment you are reminded of by the Holy Spirit Himself. LOOK actively for the Lord in prayer. Be as INTENTIONAL in your prayer time with God as you are with your television time or your work time or your family time or your friend time. We are, after all, INTENTIONAL about the things in which we desire most or consider of utmost importance in our lives. When Elijah withdrew himself from people and fled to the mountain top, he continued to look and search and watch and seek to find the voice of the Lord. How? By LISTENING for it! God send a strong wind, an earthquake and a fire to get Elijah’s attention- Rest assured, he was now, listening when the still small voice of His CREATOR whispered to him. (Keep in mind this was a time when they didn’t have the Bible the way we do today) He didn’t get a response from the Lord right away, and YET HE RESPONDED by humbling himself in the seeking and in the waiting and listening. This, ladies, is where we will find ourselves most often. Searching and seeking and waiting and longing for the Lord. But are we LISTENING? And we are CALLED to do this- no matter the season or suffering we are in! And SOMETIMES that suffering is long. SOMETIMES that suffering is in the daily anxieties of everyday life- will the anxiety ever cease? Will the depression ever leave? Will my hormones ever balance, Lord, and I feel normal again? Will the pressures coming in at all angles always be there? Will I EVER be good enough? Or will my problem ever be fixed? Dear sister, I cannot promise the flight of suffering from your life. I cannot say it because I do not know. BUT this I do know-
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.’” (Lamentations 3:22-24)
Are you, my dear friend, in the midst of your suffering, responding to that Whisper? Are you, dear friend, pressing pause on the things around you to listen to the Whisper of the God who gave life to your dry bones? Are you, dear friend, recognizing and seeing the LORD’s steadfast love for you in the midst of your anxieties? Do you, dear friend, know that He is faithful to REMIND YOU of His Gospel love and truth? Dear friend, in what or in whom do you place your hope (AKA time)? Dear friend, is the LORD your portion, your share, your part? Are you, dear friend, Listening for His Whisper? Are you Beholding Him?
We’re going to spend some time in prayer right now together, RESPONDING to God…because He is here…always. The actual Holy Spirit of God dwells in those of us who believe in Him and will “NEVER leave us nor forsake us.” He is “ever present in our time of trouble” and in all other moments of our lives.
If prayer is something new to you or if it is something you’ve not done in a while- know that THIS time now is between only you and God, so if you need a little bit of space, maybe scoot your chair back a bit or find an empty one if you need to. This moment is not about anyone else PLUS your relationship with God- although we all know community in the Lord is important- but this moment now is individual to each one of us alone, with the Creator of your soul.
**Read Isaiah 43:1-7**
Let’s respond to Him now in this moment in prayer from Psalms
**Psalm 115:1**Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
**Psalm 18:1-2 & 49** I love you, oh LORD. YOU are my strength. You are my rock, my fortress and my deliverer! God, You are my rock, in Whom I take refuge. You are my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold! I will praise You, LORD, among the nations; I will sing praises to Your Name.
**PSALM 55:18-23** As for me, I call to You God, and I know that you save me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and I know you hear my voice. You are my rescuer when battled is waged against me. You God, are enthroned from of old, You do not change…I cast my cares on you Lord and I ask that You sustain me and do not let me be shaken. I trust in You, LORD.
**PSALM 121** I lift my eyes to the mountains- where does my help come from? My help comes from You LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Help my foot not to slip and watch over me, LORD. You are my shade- keep me safe from this world. You, oh LORD are my keeper! I know you watch over my life and keep me. Thank you for Your gift of salvation! You watch over my coming and my going both now and forevermore.
**PSALM 139** You have searched me, LORD, and You know me. Yu know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You LORD know it completely. You hem me in and behind and before, and you lay your heand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting- Your way!
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19