Part 25 of series:
How Does God Guide Us?
Yesterday, I began to respond to the question: What if the Lord does not speak? This question, posed by one of my blog readers in response to my series How Does God Guide Us? assumes that there are times in our relationship with God when he does not speak to us? Is this assumption correct? Or are times of apparent silence really a matter of our failure to listen attentively to the Lord?
Let me say, before I consider this question, that I am using “speak” metaphorically. Though I do believe God sometimes speaks in an audible voice, I do not believe this is the only way God “speaks” to us. My series on divine guidance suggests many different ways in which God makes his will known to us.
To be sure, there are times in the history of God’s relationship with his people when he did not speak or act in obvious ways. Christ is always at work, upholding all things “by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). But, even so, there are times when God seems to be quite silent and distant. One of those most obvious of these times came while Israel was in Egypt. For four centuries, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, yet God did not speak to or act to redeem his people.
The Psalms testify to times when God is silent in his relationship with us as individuals. Psalm 35, for example, reads: “You have seen, O LORD; do not be silent! O Lord, do not be far from me! Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!” (35:22-23). Like us, the psalm writer is not pleased with God’s silence, but his pleading testifies to the fact that God can indeed fail to speak or act according to our agenda.
Perhaps the most moving example of God’s silence in Scripture comes when Jesus is dying on the cross. He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Yet there was no voice from heaven answering this question. The silence of the Father in this case is deafening.
Christian experience confirms what we see in Scripture (no surprise). Almost all believers go through times when God seems to be silent. We cry out to God for comfort, but feel no different. We beg for healing, but sickness remains. We ask for wisdom, but receive no special insight. We pray for guidance, but God appears to have gone on vacation.
To be sure, sometimes our sense of God’s silence is a matter of our own inability or unwillingness to hear what he has to say. God is not like one of those Magic 8 Balls I played with as a boy. I would ask the ball a question, shake it, and in a couple of seconds my answer would appear in a little window: “It is certain;” “You may rely on it;” “Cannot predict now;” “Don’t count on it;” etc. God does answer our prayers. God does speak to us through his Spirit. But not on our timetable. Sometimes God is silent for a season.
In yesterday’s post I suggested that one way not to respond to God’s silence is by speaking for him. As tempting as it might be, we should avoid putting words in God’s mouth.
So what should we do? Wait! Psalm 27:14 puts it succinctly:
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
Isaiah 8:17 speaks of this very thing:
I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.
Later, Isaiah offers hope to all who wait for God:
[B]ut those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:31)
I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to wait when God does not speak. I would confess that I am particularly impatient when it comes to God’s silence. But God has reasons for making us wait, so we would do well not to try and rush ahead of him.
What should we do if the Lord doesn’t speak?
We shouldn’t speak for God ourselves, confusing our voice with the voice of the Lord.
We should wait upon God with an eagerness to listen.