Oswald Chambers said, “Has God trusted you with His silence— a silence that has great meaning? God’s silences are actually His answers. Just think of those days of absolute silence in the home at Bethany! Is there anything comparable to those days in your life? Can God trust you like that, or are you still asking Him for a visible answer?”
While we often think God’s silence means He has abandoned us or left us, that is not true. God’s silence does not equal God’s absence.
But what do we do in those moments?
God is inviting us into something through His silence, just like He does through His leadings, promptings and moves in our lives.
Philip Yancey in his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? gives some helpful steps on how to handle the silence of God or what seems like unanswered prayer:
1. Do I have any sins to confess? Many times our distance with God is because of unconfessed sin. When we struggle to move forward in relationships, when we struggle to hear God, to find freedom in our lives, it is because of our sin that we are carrying around; bitterness we haven’t let go of, people we still blame, situations we replay in our minds, and secrets we keep hidden.
2. What are my motives for prayer? Many times we pray to get something, to become rich or to have an easier life. We want God on our terms, and when this happens we miss God. This is why God feels distant. We aren’t looking for God, we are looking for a version of God we’ve created.
In this, are you listening to God or just talking to God? Too often our prayer life is one way, me just telling God what I want, what I need, what He can do. I’m not asking Him questions, I’m not listening to Him.
Another one I’ll have people say is, “I asked God about ______ (and in the blank is always something God has already told us the answer to in the Bible), but He didn’t answer.” Of course not; He’s already given you an answer. Why does He need to tell you again?
3. Am I pursuing results rather than closeness with God? I said earlier that the writers of Scripture spend little time answering why suffering happens and more time on what suffering, pain and silence produce in us. It produces perseverance, character, patience, hope, joy and so on.
4. Is God preparing me for something? Often God is using our spiritual dryness for something in the future. I read once that a vintner refuses to irrigate his vines because the stress caused by occasional drought produces the best, most tasty grapes. Seasons of dryness make the roots run deep, strengthening the vine for whatever the future holds.
5. Pray with others. This is the power of community, praying together and sharing evidences of God’s grace. When you sit with your RC and share how you have seen God work in your life, and you can’t think of any, but the person next to you shares several, yes, you will get mad at first. Why isn’t God moving in my life like He is yours? Why isn’t God answering my prayers? But you will also start to see that even when you can’t see God at work in your life, He is at work.
I saw this in my life about 18 months ago. Our church was growing, we were meeting on the east side in a school and things were going well. We were outgrowing our space, so we moved to a larger school, and in six months half our church had left. It hurt. People I was close to said everything had changed and left. It rocked my confidence, made me question my leadership. Should I quit Revolution? Did I make a wrong choice? Was I a bad leader? During this time, every pastor I met was leading a church that was growing. I was watching ours shrink.
I asked God why, and nothing.
Slowly I stopped asking why and I started asking God what He wanted to show me and what He wanted to invite me into. I began to see His invitation to know His love for me, which seemed like an odd answer because at the time it had very little to do with Revolution. And yet my relationship with God is deeper than ever before, my heart towards God and people is softer than ever before. Could that happen without losing my confidence? Maybe, but God saw that as the best way forward for me. Many times God’s perceived silence is to draw us deeper into Him. The dark place you are in might be God’s invitation to you to meet Him there. You will not walk out the same.
Henry Blackaby said, “You can respond to the silence of God in two ways. One response is for you to go into depression, a sense of guilt and self-condemnation. The other response is for you to have an expectation that God is about to bring you to a deeper knowledge of Himself. These responses are as different as night and day.”
James, the brother of Jesus, says in the New Testament, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” James does not give us a time line on this promise, just that it is a promise.
Too often the reason we miss God is our rush for something to happen, for something to change.
Frequently God’s silence is an invitation for us to stop, to slow down, to meet God and do some hard heart work. This can be painful and is often why we try to skip out of it. Yet, just like we will miss out on God’s best if we don’t follow His leadings, we will miss out on His best for us if we don’t follow His silence.