Broadman & Holman Publishers
Christmas and Easter tend to bookend the Christian faith, as well they should. The fact that the Word became flesh and that Word-indwelt flesh rose from the tomb marks the believerís life with sovereign assurance. However, the manger and the tomb have something in common. They are both empty. Christ arose most assuredly from that tomb and grew up and out of that manger. A baby, humanly helpless, and an entombed king would be easily manageable authorities. The vacant manger and tomb mean that the Lord who occupied them is not only alive and well but also in full and current authority. That is not always comfortable to us power-hungry human beings who expected the Lord we confessed, to stay politely ready for our haloed manipulations. And we also expected him to be quick in his answering of our often lengthy questions. The divine lull in his answers perplexes us. We give to God the tattered dressings of our humanity and assume his silence is similar to the glazed inattention we sometimes give others when we donít really care about the personalized story weíre hearing in the grocery aisle. Sometimes, during awfully depressing times, we read his silence as more a criticism than inattention and a sign of broken fellowship or that there has never really been any fellowship at all.
The devil, with all of his wearying wiles and wickedness, delights in using any opportunity to get the believer to doubt his believership. The devil cannot separate us from the power of God, but he can make us doubt its contact. That doubt is a dangerous weed that can spoil the garden of the God we know. When the believer doubts his fellowship with God, the devil is satisfied! The evil one no longer has to tempt us with the delicacies of disobedience, for doubting the security of fellowship, we are in the devilís camp and available to his slightest command. The question is, what do we do in the silences of God?
What do we do when everyone else is getting daily telegrams, faxes, and DVDs directly from God, and our prayers bounce back from the ceiling of meditation without so much as a recorded message of closed office hours? How do we go on with the abundant life when there is an abundance of silence from the Resource Center from which we got life in the first place?
Well, my friend, Iíve been there. Iíve been there ringing the bell, pressing the golden buzzer, dialing the phone, crying through the window, and pressing my hands against my ears to drown out the thundering silence from God. Iíve outgrown the easy answers to questions I answered quickly for others and doubted the new answers will work in my difficult situation.
I have tried to protect Almighty God from the facts of my hurt and keep smiling in his presence because nobody loves you if youíre unhappy, certainly not God who asked us to enter his presence with thanksgiving. In the trenches of such reality, I have learned a working victory.
In the first place, God is sovereign! The God of the Genesis creation is sovereign, and by his sovereign choice he became a man. Thatís Christmas! Note the journey of the wise men following a star. Chart their long, long travel. Donít be fooled by Hallmark 5:3; it was no overnight trip and most probably not on camels but in a caravan of the finest horses. They came thundering through the streets of Jerusalem and demanded entrance unto Herod. They were driven by one surging need: they had lost sight of the star! All that long trip they had followed its gleaming, and now, nothing in the heavens, no signature of a signaling God, no pathway clearly marked.
Just like us, they went to the most likely human being, who in this case was the last person in the whole world to whom they should have told their story. Nevertheless, they had a meeting with Herod who had his own purposes in sending them on their way. Leaving Herod, looking up into the heavens, they saw it againóthe star. The Bible says they rejoiced greatly! If you, like the wise men of old, are between stars, hold to your stance of faith. God will not leave you! His star for you is in the heavens!
Wait for it. Godís direction will surely come! But the wait may be a long, dry time between drinking fountains. Its silence may shake the assurance of faith and leave us with songs in the night that have no tune, no words, and no accompaniment.
I believe in the person of Jesus who is the Christ. I have believed in him for many years, but I can tell you honestly, I am not held to him by the strength of my unfaltering faith. I am held to him by the strength of his unfaltering grip on me! I sing the hymn with tears of joy, ďOh love that will not let me go! I rest my weary soul in Thee.Ē It is his sovereign grip that holds me between the stars of his known guidance. And in his sovereign silence I have learned some principles.
In his silence:
He is speaking volumes!
He has the right to his mysteries.
He will remind you of what he was saying when
he was talking.
He invites you to state your requests specifically.
He gives you valid ministry in the silence!
He is sovereign.
He is faithful.
He loves you.
It happened in the Phoenix, Arizona, airport. I was changing planes while traveling on one airline which does not automatically transfer passenger luggage to another airline, and so I gathered my checked suitcase to carry it from one terminal to another. I asked a nearby attendant how to get to the second terminal, and when told the time of my flight, he answered with one word: Run! So I ran, lugging twice as much luggage as I needed for the trip, plus an overpacked purse over my arm and a small sack carrying the crossword puzzle magazineówhich I had been unable to work on the first planeóand a hairbrush that I remembered at the last minute after I had locked my suitcase. I was not a pretty sight, but it got worse.
As I ran through terminal one, I realized my stride was slightly limited; and glancing down, I found my petticoat around my ankles! I knew I couldnít stop for proper repairs, so through the fabric of my skirt, with my elbow I gripped the petticoatís wavering elastic, scooted it up under my skirt, and still running, held it to the general area of my hip bone! This gave me a posture not before witnessed in the Phoenix airport, and passersby wanted to help, but they didnít know where to touch!
It was hot, and perspiration joined my tears. I still had on all the makeup I had applied, but it was not where I had put it. I made it to the shuttle transfer, through the checkpoint of the second plane, checked my luggage, and boarded the plane looking like a patient released in error from a hospital. I sat in the first available seat, overflowing the small space with carry-on clutter and critical concern. Hoping to find some semblance of ease, I opened the in-flight magazine so kindly pocketed in front of me. There was a picture of a travelerótall, thin, wondrously attractive, and composed. One skimpy little purse hung from her well-postured shoulder. She had one small carry-on, carried with style in one small traveling carriage.
She was stylish, neat, and young. (I may have been young when I started, but I couldnít remember.) That picture of a traveler bore no resemblance whatsoever to the way I looked, and that picture was wrong! Thatís not the way travelers really look. I have looked carefully, and only a few short-distance travelers ever look neat. Travelers look hurried and harried and hindered by carry-ons, raincoats, babies and their standard equipment, handheld tickets, identification, and magazines. In fact, they look like I looked. So the picture was attractive but wrong! And if as a traveler I feel graded by that picture, I will never fully celebrate the trip!
Sometimes the Christian is so overloaded with pictures of Christian perfection that he doubts his belief, and Satan has a field day! Satan would rather have you and me doubting our relationship with God through Christ than actively involved in the most lurid sins. The action of sin is secondary to the absence of relationship, and without that relationship sin has no other course but its exercise. Desolate in the comparison of who we really are with who we think we ought to be, even the productive believer considers throwing in the towel, applying for immediate transfer or out-and-out resignation.
That false picture is never more disturbing than in the hours and circumstances when God seems to be silent. In that awesome quiet we trouble deaf heaven and shroud our soul in shame. The truth is that God is seldom, if ever, silent. He is the divine talker although he does find delight in dramatic pauses. In the apparent silences of God, know he is speaking volumes.
For the past few years I have done a daily radio show. It is a brief sharing of thoughts, but it takes preparation and a time set apart for the taping. For that period of taping, my office is turned into a studio. The telephone is unplugged, signs on the doors call for no interruption, messages posted in the hallway ask for silence, and we have brief prayer requesting a minimum of thunder or heavy trucks rolling by. The taping may take as much as an hour, and then the world outside my office returns to normal.
Sometime during that normalcy I pick up my telephone to make a call. Almost without exception I let out a yelp of despair: my telephone doesnít work; the works have gone silent! My able and unperturbed assistant comes hurriedly into my office and reminds me that we disconnected my telephone. In order for it to work properly, we need to reconnect it.
In the silence of God, check your connection.
Certain matters may need your critical attention because they have blocked your contact with God and must be addressed before the one-to-one relationship can be restoredómatters like bitterness, resentment, the various contrivances of selfcenteredness, the deafness of concealed anger. The listing is limitless, but the general title is one simple wordósin! Yes, sin. That same disconnection that Adam suffered in that first perfect garden now sends us hiding in the bushes like Adam did. I often find it disappointing to know there is no modern novelty in the matter of sin. It is the same break in communication, the same interruption of sweet fellowship, the same awkward separation that caused Adam and Eve, in hastily de signed fig leaves, to hide shamefully amid the azaleas when great God Almighty went looking for them. The cowering couple make a sad picture, and so do we.
If it werenít for God, in the determination of grace, brushing aside branches and bushes and blushing blossoms to find Adam, there would be no hope for them or for us. God seeks the sinner. He offers fellowship through the finished work of Jesus. The gospel of Christ searches for fallen man as God did so long ago. All the calls of modern evangelism are nothing more or less than the seekings of Godóseeking the one who has never accepted Christ to confess his sin, claim forgiveness, and grab his name tag for dining at the table of the King. And for the runaway Christian there is hope. I have been served it.
I know its taste and offer that hope to any who assume God is silent when the silence is a matter of broken connection. In the silence of God, first check the connection. Face God with confession! He yearns for fellowship even more than you do, and he has already paid the price for it. Not all the silences of God are the result of sin, but it is dangerous to overlook its possibility. If you are uncertain as to any disobedience in your life and yet there is the awesomeness of spaces in holy communication, ask God for clarification. In doing this, I advise you to sit down, for the answer may possibly be lengthy, as it has been with me. I also advise patience, not because God is hesitant in speaking but because listening is a fine art that needs time for realization.
What may be the sins that interfere with our communication with God? The Bible lists several and underlines ten of them. I mention a few that I have stumbled over: hidden anger, concealed envy, masked bitterness, a stubborn and unforgiving spirit so well packed in my daily carry-on that I can scarcely identify its specifics. Confession is simply agreeing with God, admitting right in the face of God that sin is sin and asking his forgiveness.
The matter of forgiving others is getting rid of the sticker burrs that haunt the tender undersoles of the runaway. Strangely enough, I have found it true that the one I refuse to forgive has a haunting authority over me and encourages the rapid growth of weeds in the garden of my daily life. We are to forgive others not because they deserve it but because it just happens to be in the top listing of Godís commands. I have a choice to be in fellowship with bitterness or fellowship with God. Like any of the sins, it needs to be recognized, reckoned with, and relinquished.
I will never forget the moment in time when a truthdetermined preacher spoke the words of 1 John 1:9. It was the evening service at a church in which I was a visitor. I heard the words and spoke a loud, ďOh.Ē I was so occupied by the truth that I was not even embarrassed by my interruption of the service. That verse was the key unlocking a prison I thought was past invasion. I offer it with joy to any for whom that key might be the resolution for a godly silence.
Confess your sin. Believe that God has done what he said he would do when you did what he said for you to do! And get on with life! Donít make camp in the prison from which you have been released. You may, like our patriarch Jacob, still have a touch of arthritis in your right ankle, but it wonít keep you from dancing to the music of the heavenlies.
One more thing before we go on to the other reasons for a silent God. I have found that the person most difficult to forgive is me. Myself. If God has forgiven you and you have not forgiven you, you are out of fellowship with God, and no hearing aid can overcome his silence. If you are still fighting off the mosquitoes of already-confessed sin, have a little talk with yourself. Is Godís Word true? (It is.) Does he forgive as he said he would? (He does.) Would it not be better for you to agree with him? (It most certainly would!) Was he right to forgive you? (Probably not in your sight, but God is much more merciful than you and I are.) Does he deserve obedience? (You can bet your life on it!) So forgive you, just because he did! Now celebrate!
There is a back door out of sin. The latchkey is a cross. It has never failed.
And now we can look at other principles that give hope to the wayfarer who troubles deaf heaven with his bootless cries and wonders if God is still speaking at all. (Indeed, he is.)
Thank you for speaking to me again. My ears are so used to silence I may miss a few words right at fi rst, but now Iím happy to know you wanted to talk to me even more than I wanted to hear you. And thank you for paying the cost of having the connection restored; I could never have afforded it.
And Lord, while I am standing here in the grocery store aisle, please help this lady who is pouring out her life story to me. I donít know what I can do to help her with her complicated problem, but I know you already know the details she is breathlessly describing to me. Help me listen ahead of the pace of her words, and I would appreciate it if you would prompt my faltering memory as to how I know her and what I have done to receive this personal telling of her lifeís sad details. I think the problem is her brotherís wifeís cousinís sonís boss. Please bless the people all along the line of the connection, and if you could take the time to keep frozen the frozen dinner in my shopping cart, I would greatly appreciate it.