The Silence of God #4
The Silence of God #4
The pain persists, the problem remains, the heart still aches, the pendulum swings between sadness and anger, the sleeplessness and tears cling to your nights, and God’s silence is still the answer to your prayers.
Could it be that God didn’t answer your petition or honor your fasting with silence, but rather with a “no?” A “no” is hard to accept when you are in the midst of the unacceptable. No? What do you mean by “no?” No to this good thing, to this right thing? No, then the question is never far away: Why? How can the God who loves me not rescue me from this situation? You read the scripture:
Romans 8:31-32 (NIV)
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32 (MSG)
If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?
Now you are wondering “where is the gracious gift gladly and freely given?” You feel betrayed. Your faith is being strangled by the thought that “God didn’t come through for me; maybe God doesn’t care; maybe God isn’t powerful enough, or maybe there is no God.” Sometimes God answers our prayers with a no and the reason why is not immediate in our situation. Sometimes there is no answer, no yes, no no, no wait, instead silence. We’re left hanging, waiting, and wondering.
Psalm 13: 1-2
Long enough, God—you’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough. Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain.
Psalm 28:1 (MSG)
Don’t turn a deaf ear when I call you, God. If all I get from you is deafening silence I’d be better off in the Black Hole.…
Psalm 39: 4 & 12 (MSG).
“Tell me, what’s going on, God? … “Ah, God, listen to my prayer, my cry—open your ears. Don’t be callous; just look at these tears of mine.
You’re not the only one who has been faced with soul agony when God is not quick to respond to your cry for help. Heaven’s silence is not uncommon. But knowing this isn’t very comforting. This is your problem, this is your pain, this is your cry, and it fills your vision. This is your now, no one else’s, and this now is not one that you want. Waiting for relief is hard, and wondering if there will be a relief is even harder.
We are going to conclude our series of teachings on the silence of God. We have explored 15 possible reasons why we have not received what we so desperately need or needed from God. Perhaps you found one of those reasons helpful, perhaps not. Perhaps you found a way to cope with the silence from those teachings. In this teaching, we are going to learn how to endure the silence.
The power to endure, survive, continue, persevere, and carry on, is God’s gift to us in the silence. Step by agonizing step we leave the darkness of our despair towards an unfamiliar place, a place in which we will find even more power to create a new normal.
Life is hard. Jesus told us that in this world we would find trouble (John 16:33). “We must be reminded that it’s normal to have problems, to get sick, have financial challenges, and face relational breakdown” (Greig). “Bad things happen to good people” and sometimes the bad situation doesn’t look like it will change. So maybe we need to allow the situation to change us. The change in us will be what we need to overcome what we consider unacceptable. Acceptance of the situation and surrendering our wants, placing them with tears at the foot of the cross is the path to change. In the Celebrate Recovery meetings I have attended, the Serenity prayer is recited, but only in part. The full prayer reads:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
This acceptance and surrender are not easy. We want things the way we want them so bad. We want God to make things right for us, now, not later, not in some heavenly future, we want it now. This desire, this attitude needs to be sacrificed. “It is when we finally accept the fact that life is not a five-star hotel and lay down our indignation at the way we are being treated that we begin to find hope. As long as we rage against the heavens, we remain impoverished in our pain” (Greig, p 120). On our hbcc.life website you will find a series of teachings entitled Victory Through Surrender [Victory Through Surrender - Google Drive ], you may want to refresh your memories on how to accept and surrender a dire situation.
Even in the silence, God has not changed (Malachi 3:6a). God has not forsaken (Hebrews 13:5). God cares (1 Peter 5:7) and God is present (Mathew 28:20). “When God is silent, he is not absent” (Matthew 28:20, Greig p 193). You can endure the worst if you disregard the feelings and instead exercise faith. Through faith, you know God is with you, even in the silence, even when it feels like He is not. You can walk through the valley of death if you know that God is with you. That’s faith in action. It is an attitude, a vow, a determination that “I am going to do what God commands, I will do what is right, regardless of my circumstances and regardless of my emotions, regardless if God is silent.”
The way you come to understand that God is with you is through the practice of the 7 habits of a disciple. You’ve heard this countless times before. Regardless, reading the scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, worship, obedience, and contemplation are the avenues God reveals Himself to you. In the good times, we tend to push the practice of the disciplines onto the back burner, meaning to get to them but other things grab our attention and our time in the day slips away. The best times to practice are in the good times. When we “can’t feel God’s hands on our lives, when we feel scared, angry, helpless, or we just want to give up altogether” we are so caught up in our hurt that we forget that what we need is assurance that God is with us and that this assurance is found in engaging the habits (Grieg p 184). In bad times the practice of the disciplines is a necessity.
In the silence don’t isolate yourself. Fellowship is one of the 7 disciplines of a disciple. When you are trying to bear the unbearable the tendency is to deal with it alone. If you do you are rejecting a source of help. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to help out when others are overloaded. Our pain often causes us to reject that help. Allow trusted spiritual friends to help you during the silence. Believers are ambassadors of God and in times of silence can become the Holy Spirit with skin on to you.
To respond to God’s silence with a refusal to practice the 7 habits is to open yourself up to bitterness and resentment that will destroy your faith. Are you going to give God an ultimatum? God, do what I want or I am not going to believe in you any longer! Where else are you going to go if you refuse to go to God with your problem? There is nowhere else to go. For even in the silence, you can find a resignation to do the best you can in a horrible situation, you can find a peace that surpasses understanding as you accept the pain and allow God to transform evil into good. That good may not be what you desire, the path certainly is unwanted, but it's better than suffering with no hope.
In my “dark night of the soul” I have had to reexamine my motives for serving God. “There’s nothing very selfless or sacrificial in obeying God as long as it remains in our best interests to do so—enjoying His love, receiving miraculous provision, hearing His voice clearly, experiencing His reality in worship, gaining stimulating insights from reading the Bible, knowing God’s comfort when we are hurting, and so on” (Grieg p, 187). But take all this away and thrust me into a dark silent painful place in which I feel there is no escape will I still be loyal? Will I be satisfied not with the gifts, but the giver alone? Will I walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)? If I answer yes, then I know I am moving from a me-centered faith to a Christ-centered faith. I find myself growing spiritually while remaining deeply disturbed spiritually. Such is the disconnect between knowing God loves me, God is for me, and that right now God is silent in meeting my great need. I don’t want a fragile faith that relies on what I consider to be God’s good gifts, his blessings that make my life better, I want a real faith that keeps me keeping on when I am weak, scared, confused, and even doubting (Grieg p189).
You may want to consider that God’s silence could be intentional. “Is there a divine alchemy at work in all faithful suffering” (Greig, p 213)? Is God using it for something? I suspect that if this is so, the ache of an unanswered prayer will still be in your heart, but in the silence, there will be a power to bear the pain. In that power, you can take one more step, face one more day, and deal with your responsibilities. If you allow it, silence can be a catalyst for growing deeper, growing up, and growing fruit so that you can live your life to the full.
Faith, obedient action, in the silence of God, living with unanswered prayer is so hard. Trust, loyalty, and integrity are difficult to maintain when the whispered temptation is that you’ve been betrayed, that what you’ve believed is a lie. Eat the forbidden fruit, the lie urges. Suffering will either make you or break you. You choose.
James 1:2-4 (MSG)
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
No one wants to be in the fiery furnace, but suffering, if you allow it, can become a refining fire, destroying what is not pure in your life. This is true, even if, like me, you have cried out to God amid the flames, that there has got to be another way, “with you all things are possible (Matthew 19:26),” “let this cup pass from me (Matthew 26>39,” restore what the locust have eaten (Joel 2:25).” In my complaints, my laments, I have tried to convince God that I didn’t need to mature any more, I’d rather stay an infant in the faith, this is too much for a person to handle. Do you realize that life is more than we can handle? If it wasn’t more than we can handle we would never realize how much we needed God’s presence in our lives, empowering us to endure, power to keep on, power to overcome, and power to win the victory.
I suspect that like Job, you will not get an answer to your “why” question. God will not sit down with you and explain the ins and outs of what has happened, of what is going on, or what the outcomes will be. “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Still your heart in the silence of God. Don’t demand an answer. Instead, make the next move, and play the cards you have been dealt, play them well. Decide on a course of action based upon your experience of God. Continue to live by what you have known to be true. Then the peace of God which surpasses understanding will fill the silence. Most amazingly the silence will eventually end in an AMEN.