When in danger, when in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout!
The British Navy has a strange custom, I am told. If a sudden disaster happens, “the still” is blown. If you live in certain parts of the United States you may think of a still as a place where bootleg whiskey is produced.
The “still” in the British Navy, as I understand it, is a whistle which calls the crew of a ship to a moment of silence in a time of crisis. It’s a moment of calm that allows everyone to collect their thoughts before they respond to an emergency.
My wife, Karen, and I recently witnessed the results of failure to be still in the face of a crisis. Thirty-five years ago, when we first moved into our neighborhood, we would occasionally see peacocks stroll through our front yard. Peafowl are incredibly beautiful, especially when the male peacock fans out his tail feathers. This breathtaking display is often a part of a courting ritual as the male attempts to impress and attract the female peahen.
When we first moved to our neighborhood and saw a few peafowl sauntering through our neighborhood as if they owned it, we discovered that their normal habitat was inside the fences of the Los Angeles County Arboretum—located only a mile or so from our home. Over time, the peacocks continued to multiply and expand their borders. It seems like male displays of their beautiful plumage worked—because now, thirty-five years later, their population has so increased that we often feel as if we are living in the middle of a peafowl habitat. On any given evening, we can see 40-50 peacocks hop into a neighbor’s large cedar tree, as they prepare to bed down for the night by roosting in its branches.
We have become accustomed to the sights and sounds of living with these alien invaders—the way they devour certain kinds of flowers, the way they screech and the endless deposits of poop they leave behind. Some people in our neighborhood love peafowl—others have different reactions to these beautiful creatures. One of the sights and sounds we have seen and heard over the years is the high-pitched squeal and the panic of little baby chicks when they are separated from their peahen mothers.
Crisis Can Produce Tragedy
A few nights ago Karen and I were starting an evening walk when we heard the familiar high-pitched squeal. We quickly located the baby peafowl—seemingly instinctively following the advice of the tongue-in-cheek rhyme/adage, When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. The little baby chick was lost, and in a panic ran up to several peahens who displayed no maternal affection whatsoever. Rejected by surrogate mothers, the little chick apparently went into full panic mode, and started to run down the middle of the road in a helter-skelter, pell-mell fashion. We watched, transfixed, as the little chick ran through an intersection about 100 yards from where we stood, hoping against hope that what happened next would not.
But it did. A car rolled through the intersection, and even though its speed was something on the order of 10-15 miles an hour, the little peafowl could not avoid one of its tires.
Of course, peafowl are not the only creatures that could benefit from adopting the British Navy custom of “the still”—animal and human alike would be well served to be still. When storm clouds appear—beyond that, when disaster strikes—we often experience a heart-quake—we panic. Fear can do that. We become apprehensive—we feel danger and doubt, and we run in circles, screaming and shouting.
Elijah Runs for His Life
In 1 Kings 19 we read about Elijah, who, much like that little baby chick, was running helter-skelter, pell-mell, as fast as his little legs could carry him. In the previous chapter we read of an Old Testament version of a “gunfight at the OK corral.” Elijah challenged wicked King Ahab to gather a huge crowd, as well as the prophets of Baal, to see if God would support Elijah or the false prophets Ahab favored. When Elijah faced down 450 bad guys (the prophets of Baal) God answered Elijah’s prayer, giving him a dramatic victory over the false religion and its representatives. The prophets prayed to Baal without any answer, but God answered Elijah’s prayer with fire from heaven—a demonstration of shock and awe that caused the crowd to fall prostrate.
As for what happened next, let’s just say that the Bible doesn’t say God gave Elijah orders to celebrate in the way he did. Undoubtedly flushed with victory, and probably wanting, out of his zeal (see 1 Kings 19:10), to celebrate God’s power (and probably a bit of his own), Elijah ordered the crowd, who was now completely on his side, to slaughter 450 prophets of Baal. Wicked King Ahab and his equally wicked, notorious Queen Jezebel, were not amused with Elijah’s massacre—they wanted him just as dead as the 450 prophets of Baal.
1 Kings 19:3 says that Elijah “ran for his life”—when anyone is running for their lives they are much like that helpless little chick we saw—they are experiencing full-blown panic. There’s much to be learned in 1 Kings 19 about how God helps us in times of fear—but let me point out one of the most poignant.
Elijah had gone from being on top of the world to feeling about as low as anyone can who is facing imminent torture and death. First of all, Elijah asks God to take his life—he trusts that God will do so humanely, as opposed to the treatment he can imagine receiving from Ahab and Jezebel. But God provided food and nourishment for Elijah, and told him to keep on keeping on. So, running on pure adrenaline, Elijah continued to run away from certain death. He came to “Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:8).
Elijah went into a cave to hide, and God came and asked him what he was doing. Elijah complained that even though he was zealously doing everything God would want, he was catching hell in return. So God told him to step outside the cave—time for a sound and light show. God pulled out all the stops —a powerful wind shattered rocks and “tore the mountains apart” but “the Lord was not in the wind” (1 Kings 19:11). Then God caused an earthquake and a fire, but again, the Bible states that God was not in the earthquake nor was he in the fire. Then came a “gentle whisper” from God. You may remember, as I do, the phrase as it is translated in the Authorized King James, “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). Some translate the Hebrew as “the sound of sheer silence.”
The Reassuring Presence of God
It seems that God’s voice was somewhat like the British Navy’s “still.” God, of course, can and does manifest his power in fire, earthquake and mighty hurricane-like winds. He came to Moses in a burning bush that was never consumed. But he is also there for us in a gentle whisper—a still small voice—the sound of sheer silence. God talked with Elijah, calming him down, inviting him to trust him and giving Elijah instructions about his next step in life.
I don’t need to list all of the fearful conditions in our private and public lives that confront us. You don’t need me to convince you that this world is in one huge mess. We are all living in desperate times—some people are experiencing more desperate times than others. During such times, when we feel like a baby chick who has lost its mother, how can we hear God’s gentle whisper if we are running in circles, screaming and shouting?
Conventional wisdom within the world of religion tells us that when bad stuff happens we better get busy and do good stuff so we can convince the gods to stop cursing us. This same religious idea is alive and well within Christendom. But the horrendous evils and painful circumstances that each of us face, in our own way and time, are not overcome on the basis of how many candles we can light or how many prayers we say. God is not proposing that he will stop all the bad stuff once we start doing lots of good stuff.
When God rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt they had barely finished celebrating when they found themselves, ostensibly led by God, in a box canyon. They were sitting ducks for the well-equipped armies of Egypt who were coming after them.
God had a simple message for Moses. Stand still. Don’t just do something—stand there! “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). What happened next is history—courtesy of Cecil B. DeMille we all have a picture of God’s deliverance through the waters of the Red Sea.
We live by grace. We walk in faith. We depend on God. God will make a way for each of us, in his own way and his own time. He knows best—and whatever happens to each of us will, in God’s perfect love, be for our ultimate good. What is happening to you and me right now may not, by any stretch of the imagination, be defined as good—after all, if we are Christ-followers, we will suffer. We will endure difficult and painful times.
However, as tempted as we are, when trouble presents itself, to run as fast as our little legs can carry us—stand still. Be still. Listen to the gentle whisper of God. Be at peace knowing that God loves you and me, and he will take care of us.