I’ve prayed for something for a decade that hasn’t yet come to pass. There are months where the sting of waiting wanes. But there are those where it doesn’t, where the seeming interminability of the situation – and God’s silence – threatens to overwhelm me.
I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling the Lord’s silence gnaw at me at times. You can probably recall moments in your life when you felt the same way or you might be in a season of silence right now.
God has been gracious and has lifted me from the swamp of my negative emotions more times than I want to admit on a public website. However, I have begun to see that regardless of our circumstances, the Lord is never silent. He might not give us immediate direction or answer the prayer how or when we’d like, but he does care about the pain.
This series on What to do When God Seems Silent aims to help us work through the emotions that come with experiencing silence by helping us draw nearer to the Lord in all circumstances.
The first step when God seems silent: be honest.
God wants us to tell him how we feel. Whatever we are feeling – rejected, angry, hurt, grieved – he can take it. Our feelings will not be a surprise. He knows them anyway.
You might be thinking – as am I – that voicing our feelings is futile when God knows them already. But prayer is never about giving God new information – it’s about inviting him into a discussion.
A relationship with God is what sustains us through suffering. Because of this, when we choose not to turn to the Lord in trials, we magnify our pain. We can be angry with God, but must be wary of hardening ourselves into responding with silence to what is silence in appearance only. Instead, we should turn to the Lord with all of ourselves – especially negative emotions that we don’t want anyone to know about. We see this in the Bible in many places.
The Bible contains many brutally honest prayers.
We see people who are devoted to the Lord expressing their emotions to him in many Biblical passages.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
Do you know who is speaking these words?
It’s Psalm 22 (ESV), written by King David – the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). King David knew God deeply, but at some points in his life, he felt like the Lord had forsaken him. However, he did not cut off communication – instead, he told God how he felt.
Let’s consider Habakkuk, a minor prophet in the Old Testament.
“O Yahweh, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?”Habakkuk 1:2 ESV
Job from the ancient land of Ur is another example.
“Oh, that I had one to hear me! Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me! Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!”Job 31:35 ESV
Even John the Baptist, the “greatest man ever born of women” (Matthew 11:11) struggled. When he is in prison, he sends this question to Jesus:
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”Matthew 11:3 ESV
Job, David, Habakkuk, and John were honest about their questions and feelings. They allowed themselves to be desperate before God. (Job is later confronted by God, but not in response to this prayer.) Voicing their emotions – being honest with God – was the first step in finding relief.
We learn two things from these prayers. The first is that experiencing negative emotions is not a sin; the second is that what we do with those emotions matters.
Experiencing negative emotions is not a sin.
It is such a relief to me that these men experienced some of the same feelings I have had. They knew God deeply and were seeking him, but that did not mean that they did not have questions about pain.
Their prayers show us that feeling like the Lord is silent is not a sin in itself – it is not indicative that our relationship with the Lord is specious. This was King David, the man after God’s own heart! John, the greatest man born of women, questioned Jesus’s identity! If they had these feelings, of course we will as well.
What we do with those emotions matters.
We can learn from these four examples what we should do with our emotions. We don’t bottle them, hide them, or dump them on other people. Instead, as they did, we must give them to the Lord. We turn to the Lord because we believe that he will hear us.
Indeed, Job, David, Habakkuk, and John went to God not in spite of their pain, but because of it. If they did not believe that God would hear them, they would not have asked him, “Why won’t you hear?” There is no point in talking to a God who won’t hear them – so they must have believed that he would.
In this way, asking God why won’t you hear? is a way of acknowledging the answer at the same time because by being addressed to God, the question itself assumes that He is listening. Being honest with God in prayer, then, is a proclamation of faith. It’s saying, I feel this way, Lord, and I believe you can do something about it.
When God seems silent, bare your heart before him.
Even though Job’s entire life was in ruins, David was mocked and scorned, Habakkuk saw the coming destruction of Judah, and John was awaiting his execution, these four knew that their salvation remained in the hands of the Lord. Even though they felt like he was silent, they turned to God – even if only to ask him a question about his identity.
When we are walking through a time of silence, the first step that we should take is the one that they have modeled for us: be honest with the Lord. Let us bare our hearts before him, even when our hearts are filled with questions and distress about what seems like the silence of God. As David writes in Psalm 62:
“For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
Trust in him at all times, O people;Psalm 62: 1 & 8 ESV
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
Whatever you are facing, bring it to the Lord. Speak to him, be honest before him. Trust that he hears you, take refuge in his faithfulness, and know that behind every heavy silence is a mighty God who loves you.
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© Olivia Davis 2020, all rights reserved