What do we do when God is silent? When we’re praying for answers and there’s no response from the heavens?
Experiencing God’s silence is not uncommon. The Bible characters experienced it (eg.Psalm 22:2) and it’s still one of the most common questions I hear in my ministry. Why isn’t God speaking to me? Why isn’t he giving me answers I need?
Of course every situation is different so it’s impossible to provide one answer that fits all. But here are three possibilities to consider as to why you’re experiencing God’s silence and what to do about them:
1. God has already spoken, but you haven’t recognised it.
The first reason why God is silent is that he may have already spoken, but we didn’t recognise it. We need to remember that by nature God is a talker (Psalm 115:4-5,7), that he’s promised to speak to us (John 14:26, 16:13-14) and that he gave us his Spirit for that very purpose (Acts 2:16,17). Therefore our default position should not be to question God’s ability to speak, but rather our ability to listen. The problem may not be that God isn’t speaking – it’s that we haven’t recognised it.
It seems this scenario was also common in the ancient world: In one of the oldest books of the Bible, we read; “Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words? For God does speak—now one way, now another—though no one perceives it” (Job 33:13-14). God was trying to get his message through “now one way, now another” but people weren’t noticing.
Stories of God talking to his people abound throughout the Bible, but we usually only get the highlights. We read; “God said; ‘Go to Egypt’”, and then; “Mary and Joseph left for Egypt.” We’re not told how God spoke, how they knew it was him or how they decided to act on what they’d heard.
This is how the blurb of my new book God Conversations reads. When I first read Bible stories about God speaking I thought, it sounds so easy for them – when the reality felt so different. That’s why I set out to write my book. I wanted to show more than the highlights. I wanted to show what really happens behind the scenes when we hear God’s voice.
In this podcast, we talk about how my book on hearing God’s voice is different from others:
It’s all about the stories
For one, it’s all about the stories. The goal is to show you how God speaks rather than tell you. You’ll notice there’s no list of things for you to do; there’s no five steps for you to follow. This was a deliberate style choice.
Have you noticed most of the Bible is stories? Most of Jesus’ teaching is stories. Stories turn principles from black and white to colour. They fill in the abstract and ground truth in reality. So the book is more show than tell – although there is telling involved too. From the feedback I’ve received, people relate most to the stories. They say; “I never thought I could hear from God, but now I realise I always have.”
A first century rabbi once said; “A dream uninterpreted is a letter unopened.” Imagine if the Creator God had sent you a letter – a message that answered your question, gave you vision for the future or provided some insight into your current situation. But it’s sitting there in the letterbox, unopened and unread, while you’re still praying in frustration, wondering why God hasn’t spoken…
It seems this is not a new scenario. The ancients, found themselves with the same problem: Why do you complain that God doesn’t speak? the writer of Job asks; He does speak, now one way, now another. He speaks in a dream or a vision of the night… but you don’t notice it (from Job 33:13-15).
Oh the irony! God may have spoken, but we haven’t noticed it. We’re sitting here disappointed and ignorant, when God has already sent his answer.
So why wouldn’t we notice it?
Part of the reason is that our Western culture has deceived us into thinking that God doesn’t speak in dreams today. It may well have been his most popular mode of communication in the past, but we’ve been taught it’s no longer valid. (Read: ISIS Fighter Meets Jesus in the Dream, But Why the Skepticism?, or listen to (011) Acts 2:17. Did We Get This Scripture Wrong?),
A few years ago on an Australian reality talent show, a young man expressed his dream to be a famous singer. The emcee told of his dedication in preparing for this moment. His mother spoke of his deep passion and commitment. When the man took to the stage, the audience applauded in great anticipation.
In spite of the lead up, the performance was awful. This young man had plenty of zeal, but absolutely no talent. One judge known for his honest feedback didn’t hold back: “Your dream will never happen. No amount of hard work will make you a good singer. You will never be on the stage.”
It was a brutal moment, but it was also an act of grace. This man’s dream was completely misplaced. It wasn’t based on who he was or how God designed him to be. He was believing a fantasy and without the reality check provided by the judges, was headed towards even greater disappointment.
When We Grow Up?
What are we going to be when we grow up? It’s a question we usually ask children, but it’s a question we all need to ask ourselves. God has a purpose for each one of us, but it’s not a product of wishful thinking or misplaced illusions. God’s dream for our lives will match who we are and how we’re made. We’re going to love what God has for us!
“So God told you to leave your husband?” “Yes” she answered, “He said I was released from my marriage.”
These are the kind of scenarios that cause pastors to wish they’d never taught their church members that God speaks. But this woman wasn’t using God as an excuse to get out of her marriage. She wasn’t looking for an escape hatch to find a younger model. This woman was a victim of domestic abuse. A marriage of ten years to a controlling and aggressive husband had left her fragile and broken. Her life was falling apart.
Was it God speaking to her? When she told her pastor what she’d heard, he answered her with quotes from the Bible; “God hates divorce… What God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Domestic abuse has been the forefront of the Australian news of late. Stories have emerged of pastors counselling victims to stay with their husbands in spite of abuse, a high view of the sanctity of marriage informing their counsel. So was it God speaking to this lady, and if it was, how could it be if it contradicted the Scriptures?
What the pastor quoted was true. God does hate divorce (Malachi 2:16). His plan for marriage is for two people to join together in a lifelong relationship such that nothing separates them (Matthew 19:6). For better or worse, the marriage vows say. The ideal is for both parties to stay faithful to the covenant relationship; caring, loving and providing for each other. But tragically not every covenant is honoured. In such cases we’re told divorce may be necessary because of humanity’s hardness of heart (Matthew 19:8). The Scriptures cite instances of adultery and desertion, but not abuse. What do we do when faced with a situation the Bible doesn’t specifically address?