When God is Silent
This past week I returned to the office after a brief sabbatical, my first real break of this type in almost 30 years of pastoral ministry. It was designed to be a time to refuel, renew, and recalibrate the patterns of my heart. In that respect, it was a needful and very helpful time.
However, I also spent this time seeking the Lord for some clear direction on personal and ministry issues that have been heavy. I needed direction and guidance for the next chapter. Even though I spent extraordinary time in prayer and Bible study, journaled extensively, read numerous books, and sought the input of wise friends – the sabbatical ended with no clear answers from the Lord. I know this is not unusual for many believers and there are times we feel that after we have done all we know to do – the Lord seems to be silent in response to our prayers for guidance.
Aligning the Channels
Recently, Rosemary and I bought an “iTrip”, which is a little device you plug into the cigarette lighter of your car, allowing you to play songs from an iPod through the radio. To make it work you push a button and the iTrip finds a radio station that is not being used in your present location, with no interference. Then, you have to tune the dial on the radio to that exact station in order to clearly hear the music.
Sometimes our prayers are like that connection. We must be sure our frequency is aligned to the Lord’s in order to hear the music of His guidance. Unconfessed sin, selfish motivations, and broken relationships can keep us off frequency.
When the Silence is the Answer
Yet, there are other times (maybe more than most of us would want to admit) when we feel we are on frequency, but the music of His guidance seems like nothing more than silence.
C.S. Lewis, in his story The Magician’s Nephew, tells of a boy named Digory whose mother is dying. Digory encounters Aslan and pleads, “May I – please, will you give me some magic fruit of this country to make Mother well?” As desperate and heart-wrenching as the cry for help is, Lewis writes,
He had been desperately hoping that the Lion would say “yes”; but had been horribly afraid it may say “no.” But he was taken aback when it did neither.[i]
Many times in our struggle, we look to the Lord for a “yes” or a “no” but only discover silence. Later in the book, Digory again asks Aslan for help:
“But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.”[ii]
Digory’s exchange illustrates our reality as well. We often interpret His silence as unconcern, but if we will look to His face and understand His nearness, we will experience His deep care and intimacy. In that moment, everything can change, if we have the wisdom to embrace the power and beauty of His tender, necessary silence.
In his fascinating book God on Mute, author Pete Greig reveals the journey of God’s silence he and his wife have endured through the trauma of her brain tumor and subsequent years of debilitating seizures. He writes, “God is enjoying the way we are wrestling with Him in prayer through this process. To put it another way, He may consider our wondering and questions more important than the relatively simple act of supplying us with an answer.”[iii]
Greig admits the agony of this journey but clarifies, “By holding back blessings from our lives, God beguiles us to tarry in His presence… In God’s kingdom, happiness is not marked out primarily by popularity, fat bank accounts, or clean bills of health but rather by proximity to the Father.” He then states, “Sometimes, He may deprive us ofsomething in order to draw us to Someone.”[iv]
The Answer of No Answers
As I look at this moment in my life and the apparently “unfruitful” pursuit of guidance, I have come to realize the deeper answer that comes from the compassionate, all-wise, and always good heart of the Father. I began these weeks looking for answers from His presence. He wanted me to have a deep awareness of His presence. I wanted direction from Him. He wanted to give me a greater desire for Him. I wanted firm conclusions. He offered a fruitful contentment.
Today, as you read this devotion, you must also have issues you have brought to Him. They may concern physical health, financial provision, a struggling marriage, a wandering child, or an uncertain future. The silence seems agonizing, yet His face reassures you of the beauty of His presence and His all-knowing compassion for your deepest need — to be more like and nearer to Jesus.
P.T. Forsythe wrote, “We shall come one day to a heaven where we shall gratefully know that God’s great refusals were sometimes the true answer to our truest prayers.”[v] He added, “The outer need kindles the inner and we find that the complete answer to prayer is the Answerer.” [vi]
With all this in mind, I hope you will join me in embracing the longing of the Apostle Paul: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:7-11).
Copyright © 2011 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1983), pp. 159-160
[ii] Ibid., p. 168
[iii] Pete Greig, God on Mute – Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2007), p. 143
[iv] Ibid., p. 142
[v] P.T. Forsythe, The Soul of Prayer (Vancouver, Canada: Regent College, 2002), p. 12
[vi] Ibid., p. 18