“Let your conscience be your guide,” my father used to say.
I don’t remember him ever telling me what my conscience was, but somehow I knew. It was that still, small voice that stopped me when I was tempted to go along with the wrong crowd. It was that slight, uncomfortable prodding when I was tempted to take the easy way out. It was the seed of something beautiful that would grow with me and become at times the clear, almost audible voice of God.
Sometimes that voice needs to work through a lot of tangle before it reaches a point where I can hear it. I am reminded of this when I read the story of Elijah in the cave in 1 Kings 19. There was a great and powerful wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire, but it says the Lord was not in any of those things. These cataclysmic events are contrasted with the gentle whisper of the Lord, but the thing that struck me recently about this passage was not the contrast of catastrophic power with gentle instruction, but the fact that the catastrophic power came first.
We read this story in a few lines and it seems like Elijah waited only moments before he could walk to the opening of the cave and talk with the Lord. When my life is in cataclysmic upheaval I wish that I, too, could wait for just a moment and then walk out of the devastation and into gentle instruction. I yearn for God to say to me: “You are not the only one left. Come out of there. Let me tell you what to do.”
But we don’t know how long the winds blew as they tore apart everything that once seemed secure. Or how long the earthquake rooted everything into upheaval. Or how long the fire burned to rubble even what little remained. What we know is that even after all of that, the still small voice was still there for Elijah. And that still small voice is still there for us.
Sometimes we have to go through wind and fire before we are in a place where we can hear His voice, but we have a promise from God that even when we cannot hear Him over the tumult, He is still by our side, guiding our steps. He is still stopping us, prodding us, growing us, until we come to a place where we can hear Him more clearly again.
I recently asked my father what lessons he hopes he passed on to his children.
“Integrity,” he answered. And in that one word he summed up a multitude.
Integrity is how you treat people. Integrity is how you do your work. Integrity is when you listen to that still small voice… and let your conscience be your guide.
I have more than one Father teaching me that lesson.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her dog, Marly. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org.