Background Passages: John 9:31; Jeremiah 29:11; Hebrews 11:1, and 2 Timothy 3:14-17
President Franklin Roosevelt hosted many state receptions, locking his polio-weakened legs into braces, and greeting the hundreds of men and women who came to his events to see and be seen. He complained to an aide one day that no one paid real attention to what he said as they passed through the receiving line.
During one particular reception, Roosevelt smiled at each person who came through the line, shaking his or her hand. Amid his words of greeting, he murmured to each one, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded to his greetings with inane comments: “Marvelous party, Mr. President.” “Keep up the good work, Mr. President.” “God, bless you, Mr. President.” They truly were not listening.
Toward the end of the evening while greeting the ambassador from Boliva, the president muttered his mock confession of his grandmother’s demise. Without missing a beat, the ambassador, who understood the importance of listening, leaned in and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming, Mr. President.”
We’ve all felt like no one was listening to us from time to time, but when we talked to God, we want him to respond appropriately. We want answers to our prayers. “God, please change…” “God, please fix…” “God, only you can heal…” “God, please protect…”
We utter those prayers with the expectation that the God who loves us will answer. Instead, we hear the unnerving and uncomfortable sound of silence. No immediate change of life circumstance. No quick resolution to the problems we face. No miraculous healing.
Therein lies an uneasy truth for those of us who place our trust in God. His mercy and his power cannot be summoned like a genie in a bottle, rising in a puff of smoke to make our wishes come true. It seems faith, by definition, must remain firm even when the answers don’t come and circumstances don’t change. The writer of Hebrews said, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
What do we do when our prayers of anguish and despair are met with silence?
Just because God remains silent doesn’t mean he isn’t listening. God’s silence is purposeful. It is not malicious. Perhaps the silence is meant to remind us he has already provided an answer that we chose to ignore in the past. Perhaps we need time to process what is happening and what comes next. Perhaps the silence galvanizes our God-given strength amid the difficult times of life.
Regardless of how lost and alone we may feel, God listens to his children. The promise of John 9 is that God stands ready to “listen to those who worship him and do his will.” Such is the nature of faith and trust.
When your prayers and pleas to God find only silence, hang in there. I believe everything God does or does not do unfolds by plan and purpose. Your request didn’t catch him off guard. It didn’t confound him. He doesn’t need to think about it and get back to us later. God knows the desires of our hearts. When we can’t hear him, we must hold tightly to our faith knowing his plan for our lives is better than anything we can devise on our own. So, hang in there. Hold on. Stay true and trust.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11
When you get right down to it, the silence we hear from God is often self-imposed. We want the manna from heaven. We want to hear that the cup will pass before us. In truth, we don’t need a voice from a burning bush when he has provided an answer for every concern we face, inspired into the hearts of men and written in his word. It is his voice we hear from mouth of Jeremiah. His voice that echoes off the shores of Galilee. His voice that whispers from Gethsemane.
One finds in the Bible answers to every aspect of life. We crave the supernatural when it comes to our prayers. When the cancer continues to grow or the child continues to rebel or the troubles continue to mount, we feel as though God isn’t listening and doesn’t care. We agonize in the silence, thinking God has nothing to say to us.
God speaks to us through words he spoke to men and women just like us through his prophets and recorded in the Old Testament. He speaks to us through the life and ministry of Jesus and those who learned at his feet. He speaks to us in the inspired, written word that is the Bible.
God’s silence is not because he isn’t speaking. It is because we aren’t spending time in his word–reading, studying, learning and listening–and allowing the Holy Spirit to move our hearts as we read, “There it is, Kirk. That’s the answer you’ve been seeking.”
Paul shared as much with Timothy as he reminded him of what the young pastor had learned since childhood.
“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
When all we hear is silence, maybe that’s the best time to read.