What to Remember When God is Silent
What can you do when all you hear is nothing?
I’ve got a secret—I’m not hearing God’s voice very often. And by “very often” I mean almost never. Since I’ve spent much of my life encouraging others in a relationship with God, this can be very disconcerting, and it’s made worse by the Christians I know who appear to have a direct line to God all the time. God is finding them parking spaces, telling them about apartments, practically giving them a “to do” list every week.
So how come I don’t hear Him like that? True, there have been times when I have a deep sense of God’s presence in my life. There have been times where I have also had a distinct sense of His voice in my soul. But the times I “feel” and “hear” Him are hardly frequent enough to consider us in a relationship. If I’m only relying on those rare experiences, I find myself pretty confused and disheartened (especially when I’m around those “other people” who apparently have coffee with Jesus every morning!)
Maybe you also have wondered where God is in your life. Perhaps you have found yourself wondering why God doesn’t give you more specific direction, more often. After all, if He’s off finding your grandma a parking spot, maybe He’s too busy to deal with whatever woe is twisting your heart..
There are plenty of stories in the Bible of God being silent. Job experienced His silence. So did Abraham as he planned to sacrifice Isaac. The Bible doesn’t record God talking to Joseph in prison, nor John the Baptist before his beheading. There are more examples of God’s silence than we may be comfortable exploring. In my own life, I’ve discovered God’s silence always tempts me to doubt. But sometimes God’s silence can lead us to a richer, more varied experience with Him in surprising ways.
Perhaps most of all, God’s silence can create a hunger for Him.
Think about your own appetite for a moment. When you’re full, it’s easy to be choosy in your selection of what you want to eat. Sometimes we come to God and we are already full. We are full of our own ideas and our own plans. We pray to Him not for His presence, but for things we “need” answers for and the specific answers we want. We pray “accomplish MY will, God” not “accomplish your will.” Ask yourself this: do you want God, or do you want God to do something?
Just as physical hunger makes us less picky about what we’re eating, spiritual hunger can make us less picky for what God’s saying. Physical hunger makes me humble and grateful for whatever nourishment is available. If I allow it, spiritual hunger can also make me live less on the emotional high of spiritual experiences and instead be grateful for every opportunity to hear God’s voice—even when I don’t “feel” it.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” When God is silent in your life, maybe He’s growing a hunger in you for the “real” Him. And thankfully, God did not just leave us with experiences alone. He made it very clear how we can encounter Him regardless of how we feel. Here are three ways you can “hear” God today.
In creation. Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands, day after day they pour forth speech … ” Creation is continually speaking on behalf of God. Every inch of an artist’s painting is infused with the essence of the artist. Every inch of the natural world is infused with the essence of God. That beautiful sunset, the tentative promise of the tree’s budding branches, the rhythms of evening and morning—those are words from the heart of God to you. What do you notice in the natural world today? What might that be saying to you?
In preaching. The disciples heard Jesus’ words and then responded to them. Commentator and bible scholar Dr. F. Dale Bruner explains that Jesus’ words are the preaching and the disciples conversation with him after is the praying. In modern context, this means when we hear God’s word in preaching, we take it as authority and encouragement for our specific needs. We humble ourselves to believe God does speak and will speak through the preaching we hear.
In his word. A few months ago, I suffered through a season of God’s silence. I became tired and discouraged in the waiting. But I realized perseverance is like courage on steroids. It is choosing to believe even when every cell of your body resists. In that season, I turned to the Bible and wrote down every command Jesus gave when He was on earth. The first thing I stopped on was “man lives on every word that comes from God.” (Matthew 4:4)—and he’s certainly left us words to live on:
- Do not put God to the test (Matthew4:7)
- Worship God and serve him only (4:10)
- Repent (4:17)
- Resolve your anger (5:22)
- Be reconciled to anyone who has anything against you (5:23)
- Settle matters quickly (5:25)
- Anything that makes you stumble–anything–get rid of it (5:29)
- Give to the one who asks, do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (5:42)
- Give anonymously (6:3)
- Pray secretly (6:6)
Turns out, Jesus did give me a to do list for the day. The list of specific directions from Jesus is enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life! Bob Goff tweeted recently, “quit waiting for God to give you a plan when you know His intent. Love God, love people, do stuff.” What I perceive as silence from God probably has more to do with my emotions than reality, because the reality is, God is speaking all the time.
C.S. Lewis said “though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” If you are experiencing God’s silence, start expecting Him in the unexpected. Find God in creation, in the words you hear preached, in scripture. Believe these things do speak, and they are speaking to you today. You may not hear Him directing you to a parking spot, but into the truth of his presence at every turn.