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Archive for the ‘God’s Silence’ Category

5 Things to Do When God Seems Distant

SOURCE:  Rebecca Rene Jones/Relevant Magazine

A few ways to wait well.

That June, I stood at the podium draped in black cap and gown. I was 18, my tassel dancing as I lifted lips to the mic and delivered a valedictory address full of all the right bluster: Drive slow and enjoy the brave journey. Believe in your beauty. Live out loud.

Two months later, in August, I moved into my freshman dorm. Three days in, my dad died.

After his funeral, I unplugged my mini-fridge. I hiked across campus to the registrar’s office, surrendered my meal card, un-enrolled. I stripped my mattress clean of my new sheet set and hugged my roommates an awkward goodbye. On the ride home, I began what would flower into months of questioning all of it: my dreams, my design, my direction. I balled my fist, banged hard on heaven’s screen door, and here’s the hard part: For a while, God kept quiet.

If you, too, find yourself here, on this same front porch, famished for even the faintest nudge in the right direction—sit down. Here’s what I know about waiting when God feels distant.

Know That What You’re Experiencing Is Normal

It is so unshockingly normal that C.S. Lewis actually said our fluctuating feelings about God were perhaps the only constant of our faith. “The law of Undulation,” he nicknamed it. In a nutshell, “undulation” implies that the Christian walk is a back and forth rocking between sweet “communications of His presence” and then, later: wilderness and soul-numbing silence.

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes that God “withdraws, if not in fact, (then) at least from … conscious experience … He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” This may seem unpleasant, but it works in us something that’s critical to our spiritual maturity: a decoupling of our faith from our feelings about it.

Undulation forces us to go beyond our own gut—and beyond our circumstances—and agree that God is good and attentive even when life suggests otherwise.

Embrace Boring Things

Today’s temptation is to bide time by distracting ourselves. We are categorically bad at waiting, at welcoming quiet, at actively wanting from God. We are much better at filling in downtime and numbing our aches with Pinterest, Twitter and Netflix.

But God dares us to do something different: To stay expectant. To stay hungry. To practice hope, as Paul says, by patiently and confidently fixing our attention on the promises we don’t yet possess (Romans 8:24-25).

Carve out quiet places to remember what you’re hoping for. For me, after Dad died, that meant taking lots of lonesome bike rides and a tedious part-time job counting pills at a local pharmacy. It’d be a stretch to call these spiritual disciplines, but I’ll go to the mat for this: they helped me protect a precious hush that God eventually spoke into.

Tell God What You Think

It’s OK to be blunt. The great prophet Elijah even prayed to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said (1 Kings: 19:4). His earnestness isn’t exactly an anomaly, either: so many psalms echo some version of this, peppering God with the same rolling questions: Why haven’t you moved sooner? Or in quite the way we’d hoped?

On the surface, they might seem presumptuous, but at their heartbeat, these questions are actually something different: They are appeals to God’s good character. They’re sincere questions that finger a perceived disconnect between who God says He is and why His action—or seeming lack of action—seems out of step with his nature.

Sometimes, we confuse waiting on God with plunking down until we’re handed crisp itineraries.

Don’t Demand Burning Bushes

God can use pyrotechnics, of course, but our brushes with Him aren’t always so theatrical. When we knock, ask and seek, sometimes He doesn’t match our decibel level.

God honors and often uplifts the quietly faithful, and what’s more: He often comes in the quiet. When God tells Elijah to wait before Him on the mountaintop, we witness something remarkable: God doesn’t show up where we think He’d appear. He’s not in the snapping windstorm, or the earthquake or the blaze. Elijah can’t find God’s voice in any of them. Then comes a gentle whisper, and it is so divinely flooded that Elijah covers his face with his cloak.

What if God intends to meet us precisely in the places we’d least imagine?

Your Shattered Dreams and Shaken Faith

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall/Desiring God

Sometimes my faith is shaken when my dreams are shattered.

I wonder where God is in the midst of my suffering. I cannot sense his presence. I feel alone and afraid. My faith wavers.

I question what I have long believed. I wonder what is real, especially when my experience doesn’t match my expectations.

This wavering deeply troubles me. I have tasted God’s goodness, enjoyed close fellowship with him, rested in his tender care. I have known both his power and his love. Yet in the midst of profound struggle, I have no answers. Just questions.

John the Baptist understood this struggle as he waited in prison. He, above all men, knew who Jesus was. Even in the womb, he leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Savior. At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before any of his miracles, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He baptized Jesus and saw God’s Spirit descend on him, testifying that he indeed was the Son of God.

And yet, at the height of Jesus’s ministry, John sent word to him from prison, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2–3).

At one point, John was sure that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus further confirmed his divinity by performing miracles, yet now John was wondering what was true.

Why?

Unfulfilled Expectations

John knew from Scripture that he who gave the blind sight, made the lame walk, and preached good news to the poor could surely “open the prison of those who were bound” as prophesied in Isaiah 61:1. But Jesus didn’t do that for John.

So perhaps at this point, John doubted what he knew. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, John probably expected to have a role in his earthly kingdom. He wouldn’t have expected to start with such a high calling, preparing the way of the Lord in the wilderness, only to end his life and his ministry in a small prison cell. Besides, John preached that the Messiah would come with an unquenchable fire. With judgment. With power. He likely expected that to be in his lifetime.

None of those expectations coincided with reality. And that may have caused John to doubt. Unfulfilled expectations often elicit that response in me. Especially when I’ve been faithful.

Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He even says that no one greater than John has ever lived. He understands why John is asking the question. And Jesus’s response to him reinforces what John already knows: that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

At the same time, Jesus knows that John’s public ministry is over. Just like the saints in Hebrews 11, John wouldn’t receive all God’s promises but could only greet them from afar. He would not serve with Jesus or see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. But one day he would. One day he would see his glorious part in God’s magnificent plan. He, the last of the old covenant prophets, would see how God used him to prepare the world to receive Jesus.

And John would rejoice.

But for now, John has to accept the Messiah’s plans for his life. Plans that are different than what he envisioned. He has to dwell on what he knows to be true rather than fixate on his circumstances. He has to remember who God is and trust him from a dark prison.

And so it is with me.

When Your Plans Crumble

When my plans crumble and God takes me away from my dreams, I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom. When my cup of suffering seems too much to bear, I need to rest in his immeasurable love. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty.

I may not understand what is happening. But I cannot stop talking to him. Or turn away in fear. I must simply go to Jesus and tell him my doubts. Ask him to help me see.

John’s doubts are the same as mine. I wonder if God is who he says he is. And if everything is under his control. And if he truly loves me.

And when I doubt, God calls me, as he did John, to trust what I know to be true. To trust the bedrock principles that I know from Scripture and from experience. That God is completely sovereign. And loving. And wise. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will.

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

It all comes down to trust. Will I trust my circumstances that constantly change? Or will I trust God who is unchanging?

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Depression: God Is Not Silent When We Suffer

SOURCE:  familylife.com/Edward T. Welch

If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.

Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. You feel numb. Perhaps the worst part is that you remember when you actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.

So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you do not have one to give.

Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Come to God with your suffering

You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn’t.

If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!

Here we see that love and suffering can co-exist. And when you start reading the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, you get a sense that suffering is actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. You aren’t alone. If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

God speaks to you in the Bible

Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life.

    • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
    • Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
    • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
    • Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
    • Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
    • Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Try one step at a time

Granted, it seems impossible. How can someone live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible.

Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.

People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As you walk, you will find that it is necessary to remember to use every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

You will need to do this with your relationships, too. When you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.

Consider what accompanies your depression

As you put one foot in front of the other, don’t forget that depression doesn’t exempt you from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. Look carefully to see if your depression is associated with things like these:

Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Are you holding something against another person?

Do you want to stay in bed all day? Are there parts of your life you want to avoid?

Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What is at the root of your fear?

Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness?Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.

Do you struggle with shame? Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you. Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.

Do you experience low self-worth? Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.

Will it ever be over?

Will you always struggle with depression? That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, depressed people can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.

FREQUENTLY-ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it okay to get medication?

The severe pain of depression makes you welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:

    • How long will it take before it is effective?
    • What are some of the common side effects?
    • Will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective (if your physician is prescribing two medications)?

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, What is best and wise?

Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits. It can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures.

If you choose to take medication, please consider letting wise and trusted people from your church come alongside of you. They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and that joy is possible even during depression.

What do I do with thoughts about suicide?

Before you were depressed, you could not imagine thinking of suicide. But when depression descends, you may notice a passing thought about death, then another, and another, until death acts like a stalker.

Know this about depression: It doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says that you are all alone, that no one loves you, that God doesn’t care, that you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, Everyone will be better off without me. But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.

Because you aren’t working with all the facts, keep it simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as He gives you life, He has purposes for you.

One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor.

Depression says that you are alone and that you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you, and He calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.

When It Appears God Isn’t At Work

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by N.T. Wright/Relevant Magazine

What God’s work in our lives actually looks like.

It seems like we don’t see God moving today as clearly as we see in the Bible. Why do you think that is?

I think part of our problem here is that when we read the Bible, we read it with long hindsight. We look and we say, “Oh yeah, there’s God rescuing His people from Egypt.” Well, yes, that is dramatic and that happened, but then, in the Psalms, the poets are saying, “Has God forgotten us? Has He forgotten to be gracious? Has He abandoned us? It’s been a long time now.”

The great book of Isaiah, promised a great new moment when God would come in person and would become king. And yet, it was 500 years before Jesus came. During those 500 years, many wise Jews pondered and prayed and struggled. Other people said, “Oh, it’s just a load of old mythology. It’s never going to happen.” But they kept on praying and waiting and finally, this explosive thing happened, which we call Jesus.

It seems to me that’s often the way for us, too. We wait and pray and it looks as though nothing’s going on, and then to our surprise, something suddenly happens and we think, “Oh my goodness! That is what I was praying for, but I didn’t know it was going to look like this!” That is the characteristic experience, both in the Jewish world we see in the Psalms and the prophets, and in the Christian world.

In my pastoral experience, working with many people in many different contexts, the idea of “Well, that happened then, but it doesn’t seem to be working for us,” that is a characteristic sense. Then quite suddenly, out of the blue, so it seems, God will do a new thing, and people say “Oh my goodness, that’s extraordinary. How did that happen?” The answer is: that’s what we’ve been waiting for and praying for, only we didn’t know it was going to look like that.

So what do you say to people who are in a rough period and they’re waiting for something to happen and it just isn’t coming?

In that period of waiting, it’s like when you sow a seed in the ground in the fall, in the autumn, and you want to be impatient. You want to say, “I planted the seed, I want something to grow straight away, please.” But you have to wait through the winter.

During the winter, it isn’t that nothing is happening, it’s that the seed is germinating out of sight underground. It needs to be there. In the spring, when the new shoots happen, it looks sudden to us, because we haven’t seen anything going on until then, but actually, stuff has been going on underground.

Again and again, God works underground in our lives, in our imaginations, in our personal circumstances and in the wider world, and then suddenly something new happens, a new project, a new moment in our lives, and we’re astonished at it. T.S. Elliot had that wonderful poem that’s part of his four quartets where he says, “Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought.” In other words, don’t even try to figure out what’s going on. If God has kept you in the dark at the moment, it may be because you have to go through a winter season in order that the spring, when it comes, will find those new plants well rooted and well bedded in.

That’s very difficult, because the darkness looks just dark. But that’s where we cling onto the teaching and promise of Jesus. Jesus taught those parables about seeds growing secretly and so on precisely in order that people could latch onto the promise that even when it looks dark, looks as though nothing is happening, God is at work and the seeds will indeed produce fruit at the right time.

What do you think about praying for healing? Some people pray directly for healing while others just pray for God’s will to be done. Is there a best way to pray in those situations?

One of the things the New Testament talks about in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment, of knowing what to pray for. Because sometimes, if somebody is dying and is clearly sick, sometimes it’s actually cruel to say, “I believe God is going to heal this person right now.” Because actually, this may be their time to go.

Sometimes, then, you pray for a good death, rather than to be saved this minute from death. We are all going to die, and it would be silly if we all tried to imagine that even when somebody is a good old age, etc, that God still wants to bring them back from death one more time.

However, at the same time, there are many occasions when somebody has been given up by the medical profession—the doctors just say “There is no hope, this person will be dead within two or three days”—and sometimes through prayer, that situation can be radically turned around.

We have a case in my own family: a niece of mine, my sister’s daughter, who, when she was 6 years old, was given up for dead with double kidney failure. They reckoned she would be dead within a day or two. That girl is now in her mid 30s, she has been a missionary teacher in India, she’s a lovely Christian girl, because there were people around the world praying for her. Astonishingly, the doctors to this day don’t know how her kidneys got better, but they did.

If you’re in ministry, you will constantly meet people who have stories like that to tell. Equally, I know plenty of people for whom similar prayers have been made and who haven’t been healed. That remains a mystery. We do not have a clue to that mystery. That’s why, in Romans 8, one of the crucial, most important chapters in the Bible, St. Paul says we don’t know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit groans within us with inarticulate groanings, and God listens to what the Spirit is saying.

In other words, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then somehow, God is praying within us for the pain around us. Even though we don’t know what we should pray for, if we are waiting upon God and being patient and learning to pray, then somehow, that prayer will bring about new creation even if it isn’t in the form we instantly want.

It’s important that we wrestle with that question, rather than just pushing it one way and saying, “We must always pray and God will always do what we want.” Or saying, “Well, it’s probably not going to happen, so let’s just pray ‘Thy will be done.’” We can collapse into one of those two directions, and it seems to me that the path of wisdom is to hold on in the middle even though that’s uncomfortable. It teaches us patience and humility—and the Gospel is really all about learning patience and humility in the presence of God.

When You Are Waiting For God To Show Up

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Jade Mazarin

A few things to remember when it feels like your prayers aren’t being answered.

Have you been praying for years for certain people or situations?

I have.

I know that God has called these people, and I know who they can be and the healing God has in store. I also pray for situations I yearn to improve, even after years of stagnant. But so far, those miraculous changes I’ve longed for remain seemingly at bay.

It’s easy to wonder if anything will change, when nothing seems to be happening. It’s easy to become discouraged when the physical reality looks nothing like what I think it should.

However, I continue to ask for the healing, the restoring and the saving, that I (and I know He) wants.

The other night while praying, that phrase at the end of TV shows popped in my head: “To be continued.”

“To be continued” arrives at a pivotal point in a show. We’ve gotten invested in the characters; we’ve followed them through a series of events and emotional drama. We may glance at the clock a few minutes prior and wonder how the nicely tied-up conclusion will arrive in time. It’s not looking good at this point.  How is this going to get fixed?, we wonder.

Then suddenly, the screen fades to black, with the message “To be continued.”

Typically, when this happens, my reaction is, “No! I want to know the rest of the story, now!” Then again, another part of me is relieved. The story won’t end badly. This mess will somehow be fixed. Of course, now I have to wait.

The Middle of the Story

What if that same “to be continued” is showing up around your prayers or the situations you’ve stopped praying for, because nothing seemed to change?

You might be upset because someone you love is in trouble. You might ache with sorrow for the distance between you and a family member. Or, you could be dragging around discouragement because of a problem you can’t shake. And with all this, you might wonder where God is or if He really cares. But, maybe the reason things seem so dreary is because you’re only in the middle of the story, and God isn’t just going to show up and make things right in the end—instead, you’ll realize He’s been there through it all.

This idea makes me think of Mary and Lazarus. Many of us are familiar with the story—Mary and her sister Martha have a brother named Lazarus whom Jesus raises from the dead. But have you thought about what Mary and her sister go through from the time Lazarus gets sick to the time Jesus resurrects him?

Mary and Martha know Jesus loves them and their brother Lazarus. They know He’d be there in time of need. So when Lazarus gets deathly ill, Mary tells one of His disciples to relay the message. She and her family then wait in expectancy for his arrival.

They wait. And they wait. Three long, drawn out, painfully quiet days, as Lazarus just gets sicker.

And then, no longer able to hold on, Lazarus breathes his last breath.

What were Mary and Martha thinking at this time?

If they were like most of us, I would imagine it was something like, “I thought Jesus loved us. I thought we were special to Him. Why didn’t He come?” Perhaps they felt angry, and a sense of abandonment or betrayal.

When Jesus does show up, Mary tells him, “If you had been here earlier, Lazarus would have lived.” Everyone is grieving what they see to be a tragic end to the story. Even Jesus weeps when He sees their pain and loss.

But what if Mary, Martha and their friends knew that this was not the end of the story? What if they knew there was good to still come?

Out of seemingly nowhere, in a sudden turn of events, Jesus acts. He stands up, walks over to Lazarus and calls him back from the dead.

We’re only in the middle of the story—and God isn’t just going to show up and make things right in the end, we’ll realize He’s been there through it all.

Yes, Jesus loved this family dearly all along—just as they believed He did. In fact, it was His love for them that caused Him to wait to show up. He could have arrived and healed Lazarus when they expected, but instead, He waited for a special moment; for a tremendous finale kind of moment. He chose a way that would display the greatness of His love and the magnitude of His power. He took the opportunity to say to them, “Yes, I love you. And I will show you how much.”

The Real Ending

But what about the times when things don’t turn out beautifully? Maybe you’ve prayed for a loved one to be healed, and they weren’t. We all know there are tragic endings to countless stories—ones that can’t be made better by belief in a changed situation.

Yet, there is still more to the story—at least, to the whole story. In the grand scheme of things, we are still in the middle of God’s ultimate story of redemption. We won’t always get happy endings now, but God has a greater intention for the earth—one to instill perfection into every facet of it. He’s at work in us, through us and with us, even when it doesn’t feel like He’s there.

When I pray for the same things I’ve poured my heart into for years, I remind myself that God is at work, even though I can’t yet see it. When I wrestle with doubting it, I actually say to Him: “Don’t be done with this yet. Make things right.” I ask Him to reveal His glory.

God has a special investment in the end of the story. He will often provide glimpses of His final redemption in our daily lives, that we can look for and hope in. It may not be how we expected, but it will display His creativity. God’s plan does not always match up with our expectations, but it leaves us with more. And He will always reassure of the incomparable finale, when everything is set straight.

Hanging on to Faith When the Miracle Doesn’t Come

SOURCE:  Karen Woodall/InTouch Ministry

Sundown

The sun sank low on the horizon beyond the hill out behind our house. As the blazing orange orb melted into the distance, red, pink, and purple clouds seemed to ascend into a deepening blue sky. As I paused to behold the glorious display, a story that I’d recently read in the book of Joshua came to mind.

A lesser-known miracle recorded in chapter 10 (vv. 1-14) occurs during Israel’s battle with the Amorites. The writer of Joshua tells us that five kings of the surrounding area planned to attack the Gibeonites because they had signed a treaty with Israel. Coming to the defense of their new ally, Joshua and the Israelite army executed a surprise attack on the camp of their common enemies.

In verse 8, God assured Joshua of the outcome, saying, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.” Not surprisingly, Israel beat the Amorites and drove them from the city. But, as the Israelite army pursued the Amorites to seal their victory, the sun began to set. Seeing this, Joshua prayed a bold prayer, “O Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon, in the Valley of Aijalon” (v. 12). And the amazing thing is, the sun actually stood still in the sky!

I love that story because it’s a dramatic picture of our miracle-working God responding to bold prayers of faith that are centered on His promises.

But as I stood there in the overgrown grass surrounding our house observing that evening’s sunset, it occurred to me that sometimes—maybe a lot of times—believers trust, pray, and believe as best as they know how, and the sun doesn’t stop in the sky. Even while clinging to the last scrap of faith, daylight disappears and is soon replaced by the long shadows of night.

It’s difficult to find answers that satisfy during times when our desires go unfulfilled, our prayers appear to be unanswered, and hope and confidence seem hard to find. I won’t attempt to gloss over real pain and frustration with fluffy platitudes and easy fix-all solutions that do little to repair dreams dashed into pieces on the ground.

What I will say is this: You can still trust God.

That doesn’t mean that if you hang on long enough, you’ll always get what you are hoping for, because the reality of our fallen world is that sometimes miracles don’t come according to our timetable. Or they don’t look like we thought they would when they finally arrive. But no matter what happens, our trust should never be placed in external circumstances. We must anchor our hope in God who, by His very nature, is trustworthy.

Beyond any doubt, the Lord has already proven His love and care for you in a tangible and concrete way. Romans 5:8 says it like this: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” You don’t have to lean on warm feelings, or on skewed assessments of what, in our view, seems to be the best outcome. The cross is an objective and enduring exhibition of the love of God. On that, you can place your full trust without question.

I do not know why some miracles come in such grand fashion, nor do I understand why so many times the sun silently sinks away.

What I do know is that even when the light retreats and night falls, with its all-encompassing blackness, you can still believe in the unending love and compassion of our God. When the sun sets, and disappointment settles over you like an evening mist, you can still choose to hang on to your trust in Him. And when, in the face of sorrow and heartbreak, you do remain faithful, perhaps it’s then the Lord will set ablaze His greatest miracle deep within your heart to ultimately shine brighter than the sun.

“Your sun will no longer set nor will your moon wane;

for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light,

and the days of your mourning will be over.”

Isaiah 60:20

 

God’s School of Waiting

SOURCE:  Jeff Robinson/The Gospel Coalition

I don’t like to wait.

No, let’s be completely frank: I despise waiting.

There is a certain highway in the city where I lived until recently that is notorious for traffic snarled for hours on both sides of rush hour. I avoided it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I have to preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.

I realize that I am not alone. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour or so. Why is it so hard for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.

Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord is one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that helps us understand what the LORD told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Is. 55:8). We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and then we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.

The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as being in “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent many years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14).

As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear: “But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” What a glorious promise! And yet our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait.

Still, waiting on the Lord does many good things for us. Waiting . . .

  • Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy, and he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful, and the outcome of our waiting proves him wholly true.
  • Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither, and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.
  • Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? (Heb. 11:1). We wait and God works.
  • Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical.In waiting, we actually experience God’s lordship in an intimate way.
  • Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24-25: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” As we wait God instills in us patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues.
  • Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already, and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The kingdom will be consummated, and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.
  • Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectation, and the city of man in which we live fades in importance as we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Corinthians 4:18: “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

I pray that God will sanctify my impatience. After all, isn’t that the word that really describes our distaste for waiting? Perhaps it really is a sign of God’s love for me that I seem to find the rush hour traffic jam virtually every day.

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