The Silence of God

In prayer, we often experience deafening silence. We pray faithfully and the prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. So what is going on?

My prayer for a successful men’s ministry has always been followed by watching to see what God could be up to. As I pray and plan, I desire for God to make himself and his will plain to me. The event comes and goes with moderate numbers. I hope to encourage men to become involved with something greater than themselves, that which will help them to become better husbands and fathers. I’m not a complicated guy, so changing the hearts of men MUST be a part of what God would want, and would actually bless. But the Men of Steel has never taken off with growth and numbers. So, THIS WEEK, I am coming to the point where I must surrender and say that God may not want me moving in that direction.

Unanswered Prayer:

If prayers go unanswered, the standard line is that there must be some unconfessed sin in our lives. That is exactly what Job’s friends claimed as he was going through so much suffering.

But there is another reason for God’s silence. It could be that God is about to bring into our lives a greater revelation of himself than we could have ever known. This what we find in John 11:4-5, 21, 32, 40.

Jesus could have come to see Lazarus, Mary and Martha as soon as he heard of the illness, but he waited, for a reason. The people were going to see a greater glory of God, more than just a healing from sickness, but a resurrection from the dead. God will let you know what he is doing in your life WHEN and IF you need to know it. In John 11, Jesus’ delay and silence was not rejection, but he was going to disclose himself far more than they had ever known.

We can respond to God’s silence in one of two ways:

  1. We may go into depression, guilt and self-condemnation.
  2. We may have an expectation that God is going to do something far greater than we could have asked or imagined (Ephesians 3:20).

I remember a time of deafening silence from God. Kim and I just left the mission field and were on leave of absence from the IMB (meaning no support). We sold many personal items to raise money for air tickets back to the states. We stayed at my parents’ home in Birmingham since they had room for my family of four. I looked for a source of income which eventually came in the form of working at a Lemstone Christian bookstore. It was minimum wage, working with several college students and a couple retired people, but it was something to supplement our savings that was being depleted month by month. (By the way, the people at Lemstone were one of the best supportive communities of faith of which I had ever been a part… which is another story).

All the while I was seeking meaningful employment to stay in the ministry and provide for my family. God was silent. There was no prospect for full-time employment on my horizon. I exhausted my list of friends in the ministry, referrals and recommendations. I had a fairly good resume and did not even get to the interview stage in the job hunting process. I was feeling forsaken by God and forsaken by my denomination. God was silent. I was broken.

About the time that our savings was nearly gone and I was debating whether to get my own business license (for roofing and painting) I received information from the IMB home office in Richmond about an opening as a missionary consultant. It was a personnel position, and with my background in and love for missions, my counseling degrees and experience, and my desire to stay active and faithful in Christian ministry. God’s timing was the best. I learned a great lesson through this experience: God did not meet my need when I wanted it met. When all my sources of security and stability where gone, I needed HIM alone. That event is where God’s name became “God is my Provider” because he provided what I needed when I needed it the most.

Stay strong, wait patiently, watch for what God is doing and when he moves, be ready to respond in childlike faith and obedience.

God, if I ever give you a request and you have more to give than I am asking, cancel my request and give me what YOU want. I trust that YOU will let me know what I need to know and when I need to know it. Help me examine my life to confess and eliminate sin and prepare me for deeper understanding of yourself.

A Summary of the Week

There has been a lot of teaching in the Experiencing God workbook this week, so for today, I’m just going to review the summary statements:

God Speaks in Different Ways (Hebrews 1:1-3):

  1. If I don’t know when God is speaking, I am in trouble at the heart of my Christianity.
  2. God speaks to his people, he desires to reveal himself, his purposes and his ways.
  3. THAT he spoke to his people is more important than HOW he spoke.
  4. When God spoke in the Bible, it was unique to that individual.
  5. When God spoke in the Bible, the person was sure it was God speaking.
  6. When God spoke in the Bible, the person knew what God had said.
  7. When God spoke in the Bible, THAT was the encounter with God (it did not lead to an encounter with God).
  8. If I don’t have clear instructions from God in a matter, I will pray and wait. I will not bypass the relationship with God by moving out in my own strength.

God Speaks Through the Holy Spirit:

  1. An encounter with the Holy Spirit is an encounter with God.
  2. I understand spiritual truth because the Holy Spirit is working in my life.
  3. When I read the Bible, the Word of God, the Author himself is present to instruct me.
  4. Truth is never discovered, it is always revealed.

God Reveals Spiritual Truth:

  1. God revelation is designed to bring me back into fellowship with him.
  2. God reveals himself to increase me faith.
  3. God reveals his purposes so I will do his work.
  4. God reveals his ways so I can accomplish his purposes.

 God Speaks Through the Bible:

  1. God speaks uniquely to individuals and can do it any way he chooses.
  2. When God speaks, his people hear and understand his voice.
  3. I cannot understand spiritual truth unless God reveals it to me.
  4. God is more interested in what I become than what I can do.
  5. The process of hearing God through the Bible (use Proverbs 22:7 as an example):
    1. The Spirit prompts me…
    2. So I read God’s Word.
    3. The Spirit reveals a truth.
    4. I adjust my life to that truth of God.
    5. I then obey God.
    6. God works through me to accomplish his purposes.
  6. Confession is agreeing with the truth that the Spirit has revealed to me.
  7. Here is a guide to responding to the truth God reveals:
    1. Write down the verse.
    2. Meditate over the verse.
    3. Study the verse, immersing yourself in what is written and revealed.
    4. Identify adjustments I need to make in my personal life, family, church or work.
    5. Write a prayer response to God.
    6. Watch to see how God may use this truth about himself and my life.
  8. Understanding spiritual truth does not lead me to an encounter with God, it IS the encounter with God.

God Speaks Through Prayer:

  1. When the God of the universe tells me something, I need to write that down.
  2. Truth is a person.
  3. Prayer is two-way communication with God.
  4. Prayer is a relationship, not a religious activity. Prayer develops that relationship, we spend time with people we love.
  5. Prayer is designed to adjust me to God, not to adjust God to me.
  6. Oswald Chambers said that prayer doesn’t change things. Prayer changes me and then I change things.
  7. I need to make sure that my only desire is the will of God, and not my own will.
  8. The process of God speaking through prayer:
    1. God initiates a desire to pray.
    2. The Spirit uses God’s Word to reveal truth.
    3. In the Spirit I pray in agreement with God’s will.
    4. I adjust my life to the truth revealed.
    5. I look and listen for confirmation from from the Bible, circumstance, and the church.
    6. I adjust my life and obey.
    7. God works in me and through me to accomplish his purposes.
    8. I then experience God just as the Spirit revealed during prayer.

God Does Not Go Against His Word:

Blackaby mentions it is never God’s will to go against his reveal truth. Could it ever be God’s will to deceive in order to support a higher value of life? We know lying is wrong (Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 14:25, Psalm 58:3, 62:4, Isaiah 59:4, John 8:44), so we cannot say it is ever God’s will that I tell a lie, yet we read…

  1. Biblical examples:
    1. 1 Kings 22:21-23 mentions a lying spirit from God.
    2. 2 Samuel 15:33-36 mentions a planned deception: 33 But David told him, “If you go with me, you will only be a burden. 34 Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, will be there. Tell them about the plans being made in the king’s palace, 36 and they will send their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan to tell me what is going on.”
  2. Practical example:
    1. Suppose someone with a gun breaks into your house and asks if your wife and kids are in the house.
    2. You know that they are hidden in the back of the closet but you say “NO” in order to protect them.
    3. I know this is extreme, but does the situation warrant a choice of values whereby we sacrifice a lesser value (truth) to uphold a higher value (life)?

How God Has Spoken

The only way for us to know God clearly is for God to speak to us, by revealing himself. Keep in mind that HOW God speaks is less important than the fact THAT God speaks. In the past he has spoken is various ways (Hebrews 1:1)…

  1. Angels (Genesis 16)
  2. Visions (Genesis 15)
  3. Dreams (Genesis 28:10-19)
  4. Use of the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30)
  5. Symbolic actions (Jeremiah 18:1-10)
  6. Gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12)
  7. Miraculous signs and wonders (Exodus 8:20-25)

Important factors to remember about God speaking:

  1. When God speaks, it was usually unique to that person: Moses had a burning bush, so we are not to look for our OWN burning bush experience.
  2. When God spoke, the person was sure God was speaking: Moses had no excuse to not know who it was speaking to him from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).
  3. When God spoke, the person knew what God said: Moses knew exactly what God said and wanted him to do… or Moses would not have come up with all those excuses.
  4. When God spoke, THAT was the encounter with God: he is not just revealing new information, he is inviting you into an encounter with him.

Open and Closed Doors:

Many people want to do God’s will and say something like, “Stop me if I’m wrong and bless me if I’m right” or “I’m proceeding in this direction and will continue through open doors until the doors are closed.” Henry Blackaby says this pattern is found nowhere in Scripture.

He says that in following open doors, we are allowing experience to guide us; or a tradition, or a method or a formula. The key is then a relationship with God to know him, his purposes and his ways. I understand what he’s saying but I found an example of just the opposite.

Paul is doing the work that God had called him to do, preach to the Word of God to the nations, to people who needed to hear about salvation through Jesus Christ. Then we come to this passage in Acts 16:6-8.

6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

It sound a lot like they were traveling through open doors until those doors began to close. Are we to believe that God did not want the gospel to go to Asia? There will be billions of lost people in that direction. Hindsight would tell us that it was not God’s timing for Paul to go then. I’m sure Paul was confused until he received the night vision, the Macedonian Call is the very next passage (Acts 16:9-10).

9 That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

My point is that Paul used this method of open and closed doors, before he had this direct revelation from God!

Open Doors and Delays:

Here’s a question: “Does God allow us to choose between two ‘right choices’ and the outcome does not really matter?” For Paul the choices were Asia or Europe? Both areas are full of lost people in need of the gospel. He chose a direction and the door gets closed. So, here I find a different case, in Isaiah 30:20-21.

20 Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. 21 Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.

Did you catch that? God will confirm to you the “right path” only AFTER you make the decision, whether we go to the right or the left seems immaterial. Blackaby mentions delays… that we should wait on God until we hear a clear word from him. We often pray that way; to know the right path BEFORE we have to make the decision. We say, “God show me the way.” In the Isaiah passage, it sounds as if there are some decisions that will honor God no matter which direction we go. Delaying is not encouraged here, since we don’t hear God’s word of confirmation until we have stepped out in faith.

The Meaning of Isaiah 30:20-21

Perhaps Isaiah is speaking of a future time when God will be so close, like seeing him face to face, and we are so in tune with his Spirit, that we constantly make the right choices. In context the adversity and suffering is the captivity; God reminding them that although they were defeated by the Assyrians, God has not abandoned them. He is near and will guide them. When you know his voice and follow in obedience, he will confirm your good decisions.

The word teachers or a teacher could mean the prophets to come, but since the word is singular, perhaps it means one divine teacher who is to come. God himself would teach his people. His presence will be visible and active, everyone will know the direction to go.

The words, “Walk in it” contrasts with “turn aside” in Isaiah 30:11. The people had been living in such a way that they were oblivious to their spiritual teachers (Isaiah 30:20); now they would be taught by the Spirit of the living God. After their period of judgment because of disobedience, God is to open Israel’s eyes to the soundness of the message of His prophets (Isaiah 29:24). When they hear “a word behind you,” the teachers will be near and the pupils sensitive to the Lord and his prophets, in strong contrast to the callousness they had been demonstrating (Isaiah 29:10-11).

The Revelation of God

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

Here we are to investigate how the cross was a word and a work. And we ought to listen attentively.

The Glory of God: According to John, Jesus referred to his death as a glorification, and event through which he and the Father would be supremely glorified or manifested. The Bible tells us that heaven and earth are filled with his glory. The flowers in the field had glory exceeding Solomon’s, God showed his glory in delivering the people from Egypt (Ps 19:1, Isaiah 6:3, Matthew 6:29).

We had a glimpse of his glory at the transfiguration, and was manifested in the miracles or signs. John tells us that we have seen his glory. The cross appeared to be shame, but it proved to be glory. The synoptic gospels tell us that suffering is the pathway to glory. His coming death was his hour of glorification:

  1. Some Greeks came to see Jesus, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and then talked about his death (John 12:23).
  2. Judas leaves the upper room, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (John 13:31).
  3. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus says, “Father the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).

In the cross there is a clear and public demonstration of God’s justice (Romans 3:25-26) and his love (Romans 5:8).

The Justice of God: There is seeming injustice in God’s providence: Abraham’s plea with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, the entire book of Job, and Psalm 73 where evil people prosper.

Romans 3:21-26 – the reformers interpreted “a righteousness” to mean a righteous status which is of God; it is bestowed by him. We read about the sacrifice of atonement was to demonstrate God’s justice.

  1. The first look is to the past (all sins in the past had beforehand been unpunished, Romans 3:25), and it looks to the present and future (so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus, Romans 3:26).
  2. Why had he not judged sinners according to their works? Although self-restraint might postpone justice, he could not allow a backlog of sins to mount up indefinitely.
  3. The cross shows both his justice in judging sin and his mercy in justifying the sinner.

The Love of God: How can the horrors of the world be reconciled with the love of God? Why does he allow them?

  1. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). Apart from Jesus, we know nothing about love.
  2. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). The words, “live” and “propitiation” betray our severe need. Because of sin, we deserve to experience death and to die under the righteous anger of God. But Jesus bore the wrath instead of us.

God poured out his love (Romans 5:5) and he demonstrated his love (Romans 5:8).

  1. God gave his Son for us. He did not send another being or creature, but himself.
  2. God gave his Son to die for us. The incarnation was the beginning of his self-giving, having emptied himself, humbled himself and became obedient to death, on a cross.
  3. God gave his Son to die for us. For underserving sinners who have missed the mark.

Three marks of false love:

  1. Mark of limitation (something is withheld)
  2. Mark of control (someone is manipulated)
  3. Mark of detachment (we remain self-sufficient, unimpaired, and unhurt)

Three marks of authentic love:

  1. Characterized by limitless self-giving.
  2. Characterized by risk-taking with no guarantee of success.
  3. Characterized by vulnerability that is easily hurt.

Both the Father and the Son suffer the cost of their surrender, though differently:

  1. The Son suffers dying; the Father suffers the death of the Son.
  2. The grief of the Father is just as important as the death of the Son.
  3. The fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the sonlessness of the Father.

Is there more emphasis on God’s love over the cross? Is there repentance and salvation without the cross? Some stories illustrate God’s forgiving mercy and contain nothing about the need for an atoning sacrifice.

  1. Did Paul corrupt church dogma and make the cross necessary for salvation?
  2. Islam claims that the boy is saved without a Savior. The incarnation, the cross and the resurrection are all unnecessary. If God is truly great, he can forgive without all of these things.
    1. Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: one was justified (Luke 18:9-14)
    2. Parable of the unmerciful servant: the king freely forgave and cancelled the debt (Matthew 18:23-35)
    3. Parable of the Prodigal Son: welcomes him back and reinstates him (Luke 15:11-24)

Middle Eastern understanding: the prodigal was returning in disgrace. Punishment was inevitable. The father bears the suffering rather than inflicting it. The father ran (his age ran nowhere under any circumstances), cultural humiliation, taking on the shame. This is the humiliation of the incarnation and the shame of the cross on our behalf.

Wisdom and Foolishness of the Cross: (1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5) – Jews demand miraculous signs and the Greeks demand wisdom. We preach Christ crucified which is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. Paul came without a message of human wisdom, or his own strength. Instead he brought the foolish, revealed message of the cross. He had to overcome his own weakness, fear and trembling and relay on the power of the Holy Spirit.

How to Seek Guidance

People always want to know how they can tell what God wants them to do, the churchy question is phrased like this: “What is God’s will for my life?” You may be interested in reading more on the topic, I have a page covering several issues surrounding God’s will.

I discovered that there are only eight places in the Bible where the word guidance is used (in the NASB):

  1. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance (2 Kings 16:15)
  2. Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance (1 Chronicles 10:13)
  3. Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance (Proverbs 1:5)
  4. For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers (Proverbs 11:14)
  5. Plans are established by seeking advice; so if you wage war, obtain guidance (Proverbs 20:18)
  6. Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers (Proverbs 24:6)
  7. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.” (Habakkuk 2:19)
  8. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28)

We may seek guidance, but God provides something better, he provides himself.

The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. (Isaiah 58:11)

Many of us struggle to understand and discern God’s guidance for our lives. We ask questions like:

  1. Should I marry or not?
  2. Should I marry this person or that person?
  3. Should I have another child? Should I join this church or that one?
  4. Which profession should I follow?
  5. What job should I take?
  6. Is my present line of work the one to stay in?

Herein lies the major distortion of knowing and doing God’s will. Does God lead and direct in these areas? Yes. Does he come out and overtly tell us what to do? Rarely.

So how does God guide us? Consider these principles:

  1. God’s guidance concerns itself more with our steps than our overall journey.
  2. God’s guidance is more preoccupied with the present than with the future.
  3. God’s guidance has less to do with geography and more to do with morality.
  4. God’s guidance is more interested in our character than our comfort.
  5. God’s guidance is not insider information.
  6. God’s guidance is that we pursue the Guide more than guidance.

In seeking God, his plan will be revealed to us. His way will lead back through his Word. If the step is more critical than the journey, and the present is of greater consequence than the future, and the Guide more essential than the guidance, what is needed? We need to know the right step to take and to know what we must do in the present. That’s why we need to know the Guide.

God does not guide us magically; he guides us relationally. Therefore, the Bible must be studied so we may become acquainted with the ways and thoughts of God. God’s aim is that we become his companions who walk with him. He already knows us, so now he wants us to understand and know him. The more we understand him, the more real our relationship will be with him and the more likely we are to keep in step with him in the direction he is taking us.