The Silence of God #2
The Silence of God #2
“Probably every child of God has had the distressing feeling at one time or another of being abandoned by the Lord. No longer does he receive answers to prayer, no longer does[she] sense the Lord's presence in the daily round: the heavens seem as brass, and the wonderful promise, "when they call I will answer," rings hollow. At such times not merely does he receive a no as an answer, [she] receives no answer whatever.” [Arthur C. Custance Hidden (Vol.7) - Pt.I, Introduction (custance.org)
We’ve embarked on an exploration into an answer of silence to our requests for God’s help. Various answers are being presented as to why God has not intervened favorably to your requests. These possible answers are invitations to contemplation. Again, be warned, that none of these explanations may fit your situation, and even if one does, you still will be left with an answer that isn’t what you want. We will then push on with some suggestions as to what to do when the desire of our hearts is met with silence.
We have been sold a bill of goods in the Church that makes us think that as Christians we are always victorious when dealing with the things of this world. God is going to prosper us, so we think American Dream prosperity. We think God is going to protect us, and we imagine an army of angels guarding us. We think God is going to provide for us, so we wait expectantly, ignoring the possibility that we have been empowered to be our own provision. Things, life, circumstances, and situations, are often contrary to what we consider God’s blessings upon our lives. When bad things happen, we may conclude that God is not loving, not caring, or worse, impotent to help, and worse still, does not exist.
When our expectations of God’s intervention do not match up with reality, it can be faith-shattering.
Why unanswered pray #6. Perhaps God has something better for you (Pete Greig, God on Mute, p.149). Ancient history now, 1989, my time at Calvary Church of the Nazarene in Memphis Tennessee had come to an end and I was looking for another position. In our system when you are looking for a new ministry assignment you contact the district superintendent and asked to be considered. 51 letters of introduction went unanswered. I was wondering if God was directing me into something other than full-time congregational ministry. Unemployment with a new baby was looming. So, we did what every person in that situation do, we prayed and went on vacation. It was during that vacation that I was contacted by a district superintendent I never sent a resume. God had something better for me than the places I thought I wanted to go. Sometimes God answers in silence as He is working out the details to do immeasurably more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Why unanswered prayer #7. Perhaps our motives in prayer are selfish (Greig, p.149). If you recall our teachings on intercessory prayer, you know that when someone prays for you, especially someone who had no skin in the game, their prayer is unselfish. Unselfish prayers are powerful. I know I have prayed my share of selfish prayers. It’s difficult not to ask for things that will benefit you. Ever wonder why you’ve never won the lotto?
James 4:3 (NIV)
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
We live in a country that has many luxuries. We don’t realize this because it’s what we’ve known all our lives. Our consumer culture always encourages us to acquire the newest, the best, the most prestigious, and get the VIP treatment. Those are not needs. Pray that God meets your needs and ask others to intercede for you so that those needs be met.
Why unanswered prayer #8. Perhaps God is allowing us to struggle a while to draw us into a deeper relationship with Himself (Greig, p.149). God’s silence is always an invitation to contemplation. Do we need to surrender and accept? Do we exercise faith and trust in the face of a preponderance of the evidence that suggests otherwise? “Over and over in the lives of the faithful we see that deprivation, adversity, scarcity, and suffering often produce superior character qualities in the individual than [does] prosperity, ease, and abundance [which] often does the opposite” (When God Seems Silent | Desiring God). Struggling with the silence of God can be character-building. If we use the silence to move us closer to God then we will experience a victory, a prosperity, a protection, a provision that we did not expect.
Why unanswered prayer #9 Perhaps a positive answer to our prayer would violate some’s free will (Greig, p.149). We say that God is in control, and we say we have free will. The ideas clash. The truth must lie somewhere between a puppeteer God and a laissez-faire, hands-off, God. God will not violate a person’s sovereignty; God will not make a person do something that they do not want to do. Now God certainly can create circumstances that push a person in the right direction, consider Jonah. He eventually decided it was better to do what God wanted him to do than stay fish food. Prayers won’t change a person. They may help to create an environment conducive to change, but God will not force a person against their will.
Why unanswered prayer #10. Perhaps God is answering our prayer subtly and slowly through the power of influence rather than control (Greig, p.149). We like microwaves, instant coffee makers, and instant on electronics. We like quick communication with our cell phones, texts, and emails. We like instant answers to our prayers. Maybe it is taking time for God to set all the right necessities in place to answer your prayer. He may be speaking to those who can help but they are hard of hearing, slow in understanding, or ignoring the urging of the Spirit. Your answer is coming, it's just taking time. Stay faithful, keep expecting, and remain hopeful, and persistent in asking God to meet the need.
Perhaps one of those “perhaps” feels right to you. If so, grab ahold of it. Find comfort in it. Find strength in it to keep on keeping on. Find hope to keep coping. If not, let’s try to figure out a way to deal with the silence, the unanswered prayer.
God’s favorites at times experience bewildering silence in times of great difficulty and need. Consider Job, a devout follower of God.
“I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.”
Many a mature saint has felt like Job. Michael Card sang Andrew Peterson’s song– The Silence Of God, the lyrics read:
It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the Heaven’s only answer is the silence of God
In the silence, it feels like God has gone on vacation. When you feel that way remember it’s a feeling. God promises that He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). In the silence trust the promises, not the feeling. Trusting what you were sure of in the light, don’t forsake in the silence.
Psalm 10:1 & 13:1
“Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble? How long will You hide Your face from me?
Within the silence, as you continue to trust, you can lament. A lament is a complaint to God, a soul cry against the injustice you have suffered. It can take the form of an accusation. It can take the form of anger. I have certainly raged against the silence. It doesn’t help to overcome the pain rather it's defusing, depressurizing, and it's real, it's honest. A lament is part of mourning, an expression of grief. Every loss needs to be grieved. Some folks, more mature than I, can take the worst in stride, they have been through so much, their testimony is “God came through for me this time, He will come through again.” I have not mastered this attitude towards silence. It takes me longer to get back in stride. I can tell you that at the end of mourning, though the sadness remains, there is comfort, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7), and you learn to live your life to the full (John 10:10) while carrying the loss.
In the silence, it is wise to search for acceptance of the situation. This is very difficult, you don’t want what has happened, what is happening, or what may happen. There is soul anguish, there is uncertainty, and there is fear. Let’s travel in our minds to the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was arrested.
Mark 14:32–36 (NIV)
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.
Have you been deeply distressed, troubled, your soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point you thought it was better to die? Jesus cries out to the One He called Father. Abba is a term of endearment, daddy help me.
Luke 22:44 (NIV)
And being in anguish, [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground
Jesus heard silence. In the silence, he resigned himself to accept.
“Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Acceptance is difficult. I have told God that the situation is totally unacceptable, and I won’t accept it, I will not surrender to it, only to learn that it was not the circumstances I needed to accept, it was not the situation I needed to surrender to, but rather it was my acceptance and surrender to God, that He is God, I am not, trusting that one day I will have found myself having gotten through the valley of the shadow of death.
In the silence know that your prayers have been heard, God has not forsaken you, and the Holy Spirit is empowering you to move, most likely kicking and screaming, through your pain.
So when the questions dissolve
Into the silence of God
The aching may remain
But the breaking does not
The aching may remain
But the breaking does not
At the holy lonesome echo
Of the silence of God
Stay faithful, keep trusting, keep obeying, you will bend, the entire direction of your life may change, but you won’t break.