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Posts tagged ‘God’s silence’

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.

Ever Accuse God of Being ABSENT or UNLOVING?

SOURCE:  Adapted from Paul Tripp Ministries

Have you ever accused God of being absent?

Have you ever criticized the Lord for being unloving?

I would like to think that I’ve always trusted in God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, and eternal, unshakeable love. After all, these are things I’ve been taught since my earliest days Sunday School!

But I’m deeply persuaded that many “theologically sound” Christians actually doubt the presence and love of God. Why do I think that? Because God says we do! Take Isaiah 59:1, for example:“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.”

Let me give you the quick context of this verse. Israel is suffering big time, and whether they say it audibly with their mouths or grumble silently in their hearts, they have accused God of two things: first, being powerless in their time of need, and second, being unmoved by their cries for help.

You and I are much like the Israelites. When life isn’t working out according to our plan, or when we’re suffering in some way, it’s very tempting for us to bring God into the court of our judgement and question his faithfulness, wisdom and love. That’s what Israel was doing – they were questioning the character of God.

I wish I could write to you today and say that at all times, I trust in the sovereignty of God and the nature of his love. While I have experienced his power and love on many occasions, I have to be honest with you: when the comfort and ease of life is interrupted, I wrestle with who God actually claims to be. I know I’m not alone in my struggle.

There’s a deep danger with this type of doubt: you no longer pursue someone you no longer trust. Think about it. Would you continue to invest in a company if you knew the CEO was corrupt and stealing from the investors? Would you continue to visit a fraudulent “doctor” who had faked his licenses? Would you continue to hire a babysitter convicted of repeated crimes?

You see, when you allow your heart to begin to question God’s goodness, even in subtle ways, you’ll quit pursuing him. That’s exactly what happened with Israel – they thought that God wasn’t strong enough to intervene (his hand is too short) and that he didn’t love his children enough (his ear is dull to their cries) to rescue them from the difficulty.

What Israel didn’t understand, however, was that the grace of God will visit in uncomfortable forms. Difficulty in your life is not a sign that God’s hand is too short, nor is it a sign that his ears are too dull. Rather, it’s a sign of his love. God will wrap his arms around you and bring you through difficulty to increase your faith and increase your love for him.

When God Seems Silent

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

God can be maddeningly hard to get. When God says that his ways are not our ways, he really means it (Isaiah 55:8).

We have these encounters with him where he breaks into our lives with power and answers our prayers and wins our trust and he waters the garden of our faith, making it lush and green.

And then there are these seasons when chaos careens with apparent carelessness through our lives and the world, leaving us shattered. Or an unrelenting darkness descends. Or an arid wind we don’t even understand blows across our spiritual landscape, leaving the crust of our soul cracked and parched. And we cry to God in our confused anguish and he just seems silent. He seems absent.

Singing to the Silence

That’s why tears tend to flow when I listen to Andrew Peterson’s song, “The Silence of God.” I know what Andrew means:

It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder, if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the Heaven’s only answer is the silence of God

The same thing happens when I listen to Rich Mullins’s song, “Hard to Get”:

Do you remember when you lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith 
to ask for daily bread?
Did you forget about us 
after you had flown away?
Well I memorized ev’ry word you said. Still I’m so scared I’m holding my breath, 
 While you’re up there
 just playing hard to get

All of God’s saints, if allowed to live long enough, are led into the lonely, disorienting, weary wilderness. And while there, we lament. And since laments are often better sung than said, it’s always been the poets and songwriters who help us most.

Job: “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” (Job 30:20)

King David: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2)

The Flat Earth and the Absent God

Atheists will tell us that the reason God seems silent is because he’s absent. “No one’s home at that address. Duh.”

In the silent suffering seasons we can be tempted to believe it. Until we step back and take a look and see that existence itself is not silent. It screams God (Romans 1:20). As Parmenides said, and Maria (“Sound of Music”) sang, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.”

Believing atheism is like moderns believing in a flat earth. “From where I stand, it doesn’t look like God is there.” Right. And if you only trust your perceptions, the world looks flat. The only reason you know the world is round is because of authoritative scientific revelation and many corroborating testimonies.

What we experience as God’s absence or distance or silence is phenomenological. It’s how we perceive it. It’s how at some point it looks and feels but it isn’t how it is. Just like we can experience the world as flat when we’re walking on a huge spinning ball, we can experience God as absent or distant when “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

In reality, God wasn’t absent or silent or indifferent at all toward Job or King David. It’s just how it felt to them at the time. Nor, in reality, was God silent toward Andrew Peterson or playing hard to get with Rich Mullins. And when we feel forsaken by God we are not forsaken (Hebrews 13:5). We are simply called to trust the promise more than the perception.

Why the Silence?

But why does it need to feel that way? Why the perceived silence? Why can it seem like God is playing hard to get or like he’s just standing there looking at us when we cry to him for help?

I don’t claim to understand all the mysteries of this experience. No doubt we underestimate the effects of remaining sin on us and our need for this discipline in order to share God’s holiness (Hebrews 12:10). But I believe there are clues for another purpose as well. I’ll phrase them as questions.

  • Why is it that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” but “familiarity breeds contempt”?
  • Why is water so much more refreshing when we’re really thirsty?
  • Why am I almost never satisfied with what I have, but always longing for more?
  • Why can the thought of being denied a desire for marriage or children or freedom or some other dream create in us a desperation we previously didn’t have?
  • Why is the pursuit of earthly achievement often more enjoyable than the achievement itself?
  • Why do deprivation, adversity, scarcity, and suffering often produce the best character qualities in us while prosperity, ease, and abundance often produce the worst?

Do you see it? There is a pattern in the design of deprivation: Deprivation draws out desire. Absence heightens desire. And the more heightened the desire, the greater its satisfaction will be. It is the mourning that will know the joy of comfort (Matthew 5:4). It is the hungry and thirsty that will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Longing makes us ask, emptiness makes us seek, silence makes us knock (Luke 11:9).

Deprivation is in the design of this age. We live mainly in the age of anticipation, not gratification. We live in the dim mirror age, not the face-to-face age (1 Corinthians 13:12). The paradox is that what satisfies us most in this age is not what we receive, but what we are promised. The chase is better than the catch in this age because the Catch we’re designed to be satisfied with is in the age to come.

And so Fredrick William Faber wrote in his poem, “The Desire of God”:

Yes, pine for thy God, fainting soul! ever pine;
Oh languish mid all that life brings thee of mirth;
Famished, thirsty, and restless — let such life be thine—
For what sight is to heaven, desire is to earth.

(Thank God for poets and songwriters!)

So you desire God and ask for more of him and what do you get? Stuck in a desert feeling deserted. You feel disoriented and desperate. Don’t despair. The silence, the absence is phenomenological. It’s how it feels, it’s not how it is. You are not alone. God is with you (Psalm 23:4). And he is speaking all the time in the priceless gift of the objective Word so you don’t need to rely on the subjective impressions of your fluctuating emotions.

If desire is to earth what sight is to heaven, then God answers our prayer with more desire. It’s the desert that awakens and sustains desire. It’s the desert that dries up our infatuation with worldliness. And it’s the desert that draws us to the Well of the world to come.

7 Suggestions When God Is Silent

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Elijah had been used of God to hold back rain from the people for over three years, because of their sins. Obviously, he was not well liked as a preacher. I can imagine the stress he experienced during those years.

Something strikes me, however, that seems to further complicate Elijah’s situation.

Consider 1 Kings 18:1:

“After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”

According to a couple New Testament passages, this “After a long time” was actually three and a half years. The famine was three and a half years long. For three and a half years, the people apparently continued to sin, Elijah continued to hold on by faith, but God said nothing. God was apparently inactive…not speaking…even to His great servant Elijah during this time.

Have you ever been there? Has the silence of God in your life ever been eerily strong?

Imagine you had been faithfully serving…God is using you…you are in constant communication with Him…and then suddenly…everything is quiet. You have to wait.

The separation must have seemed unbearable. Elijah is not liked and unpopular. He’s an outcast from the people and the One he trusted most was seemingly absent.

God would soon do a miracle through Elijah…one he couldn’t even imagine…certainly not script, but during this period all Elijah could do was wait.

If you have been follower of Christ very long, you have had periods where it seems God is nowhere to be found. We often call them periods of spiritual dryness. Sometimes I refer to it as being in a spiritual funk.

What should we do during the times of silence, before the miracles of God come through for us?

If you are like me, you can figure out how to celebrate a miracle. You don’t need much help doing that. The tough part of life is figuring out what to do during the years of silence…during the years when miracles are seemingly nowhere to be found.

What do we do during the spiritually dry periods of life when we don’t hear clearly the voice of God?

Here are 7 suggestions for those times:

Don’t ignore the silence… – Some of the biggest moves God has made in my life have come after a period of spiritual dryness…when it seemed like God was doing nothing in my life. Stay very close to God and watch for Him to eventually display His power. He will in the fullness of time.

Confront known sin in your life – This wasn’t the problem of silence for Elijah, but the problem for the Israelites was that they were chasing after other gods and living lives in total disobedience to God. Sin may not be the reason you don’t sense closeness to God right now, but if you have known sin in your life it will affect your intimacy with God.

Go back to what you know – Get back to the basics of the faith that saved you. You’ll do it 100’s of times in your life, but you must remind yourselves of the basis of faith…which is the very character and promises of God. God is in control. He really is…even when it doesn’t seem that He is anywhere to be found.

Make a decision…Choose sides – You can’t adequately serve God and the world. (Consider Joshua 24:15) Something happens in life, often sin, busyness, boredom, or a tragedy…but if we are normal, we have periods where we grow away from our close relationship with God. God hasn’t moved, but if you’ve shifted in your obedience, get back securely on the right side.

Trust More…Not less – Times of silence may be filled with fear, but ironically, these times require more faith. Times come in our spiritual life when our enthusiasm isn’t as real as when we began our walk with God. That’s not an indication to quit…it may be that God is using that time for something bigger than you could have imagined…but whatever is next will most likely require a deeper level of trust.

Listen and Watch Closely – Some day God is going to make His plans known to you. Don’t miss them. He may come to your personally, through His Word, circumstances or another person. You’ll need to be in a position to know that God is moving.

Get ready to receive – God will break the silence some day…and when He does it WILL be good. If you mope around in your sorrows, you’ll be less prepared to receive the good things to come. Not because of your circumstances, but because of your faith, clothe yourself in joy as you wait for God to bless you after the period of silence.

Even when our souls are barren, God is at work.

SOURCE:  David Henderson/Discipleship Journal

The Surprising Fruit of Spiritual Drought

A beautiful lake spread out before me, frosted with ice and rimmed with pines. All around was bright snow and sunshine. But I trudged unseeing from my car to the lakeside cabin, my heart even heavier than the bookbag I dragged along.

Five days before, I had written this in my journal: “Lord, where is my joy? I’m not happy. I’m sighing a lot, wanting to sleep. ‘How the gold has lost its luster’ (Lam. 4:1). What a perfect description of the state of my heart. All is dull and flat. Lord Jesus, have mercy.”

I was on a retreat of desperation. Yawning behind me were six months of spiritual dryness. God was remote, and my heart seemed as cold and hard as the winter ice. I could see no way out of the soul slump that enshrouded me.

Though it was winter in my soul, God was not hibernating. I see now that He was busy even when I was floundering; I’ve learned that He has gifts for us even in the soul’s December.

Hard Ground

More than we can count—or would care to admit—are the times in our spiritual lives when winter sets in and our souls, like farm fields in December, fall idle. Where life and growth once blossomed, we now have only the frozen remnants of yesterday’s harvest to show.

My experience over the past year is an example. Last summer brimmed with opportunity for me to flourish spiritually. In May, my wife and I jumped at the chance to go with Ray VanderLaan to the Bible lands. You can imagine what an enriching adventure that was, stomping for two weeks through the thistle and scree of Israel behind such a renowned teacher.

In June, I brought my oldest son with me on a mission trip to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. With two teams from our church, we mixed cement and slung boulders and spoke fractured Spanish to the glory of God.

In July, our family headed west, pitching our pop-up under the shadow of some of my favorite peaks on the planet, the mighty Tetons. Joining up with close friends, we spent a joyful week rafting and hiking and wildlife-watching.

Yet just days after our return from the Tetons, I wrote: “I feel as though I were looking out on life through a window from somewhere else. Why so lifeless, O my soul? Why so thin and spare? Spirit of the living God, awaken my sleepwalking soul.”

What rich, God-filled experiences I had had. Yet even with the fresh air of the mountains still in my lungs, I was scraping bottom spiritually. I felt sullen toward God, flat in the faith, and grumpy about my call. My life in Christ had become dull and mechanical, the joy of ministry seemed an oxymoron, and my vision receded to a small circle compassing my immediate needs and circumstances.

Fallow Fields

Spiritual dry times accompany many and diverse situations. Sometimes those droughts have nothing to do with us. A dust bowl descends, and all we can do is remain faithful, waiting upon God. At other times, however, spiritual dryness can be traced back to something for which we are responsible.

Sometimes sheer soul-neglect is to blame. Perhaps we have let the busyness of life or the blur of entertainment squeeze out margins for quiet reflection, regular prayer, and Bible study. Whether out of fear or laziness, pride or sin, we squander our best on lesser things.

At other times, difficult life circumstances disrupt our routines and send our spiritual life into disorder. A move plucks us from the embrace of friends. Cancer claims a parent without warning. Unexpected bills force us into the daze of a second job. Whatever the circumstances, life is upended, sending the spiritual furniture of our souls spinning across the floor like deck chairs on the Titanic.

Sometimes it is not neglect of our spiritual habits but slavery to them that brings spiritual famine. We may dutifully carry out spiritual practices yet still have a heart as sluggish as a car in a Minnesota winter. In these moments of grace-amnesia, we turn our disciplines into displays, forgetting our efforts are utterly incapable of earning God’s favor. Neither daily prayer nor study makes us holy; these disciplines merely put us within reach of the one who can.

Some dry times are not our doing at all; we may have as little to do with our spiritual drought as a meteorologist has with the weather. For reasons beyond our knowing, dust storms whip up or arctic winds descend, and all we can do is hunker down and hold on.

Whatever the circumstances, we find ourselves with a fallow field: nothing growing in the soul but a few weeds. Where once was vibrancy, all is flat. We are dull toward the things of God.

What was behind my drought? A friend whose counsel I sought said: “I think you have let something become more beautiful to you than Jesus.” Zing! He was right. God’s Spirit confirmed that over the previous year I had become more concerned with trying to please my congregation than pleasing God. My misplaced devotion nourished the spiritual weather patterns that led to my soul famine.

Winter Yield

God is astir midwinter. He has gifts for us even in the seasons of spiritual dryness, whether born of our neglect or not. For “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). In our failures and struggles, God is most keen to meet us, to receive us, to reestablish us in His love. He is always at work, not merely when we are working as well. Such is the gracious nature of God.

But the place to look for God’s fruit in spiritual dry times is not in the limbs of plant and stalk. In these more visible parts of our lives—our attitudes, our relationships, our decisions, our priorities—little yield will be found. No, it is lower, at ground level, that we should look for a harvest in our spiritual winters. Through the cycles of growth and dormancy, freeze and thaw, God works the soil and strengthens the plant.

John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” once encouraged a parishioner who found herself in a time of spiritual dryness. He wrote:

[Such seasons] are like winds to the trees, which threaten to blow them quite down, but in reality, by blowing them every way, loosen the ground about them, circulate the sap, and cause them to strike their roots to a greater depth, and thereby secure their standing.

Surprise Harvest

In a similar way, the prophet Hosea used agricultural images to describe three unexpected treasures God gives when our fields fall barren.

Spiritual drought exposes our need for God. For some time, I have pondered why my prayer life is so spotty. During my drought, God revealed the answer: Prayer is fundamentally an act of God-reliance; I, however, am fundamentally a self-reliant person.

It is our centermost human impulse to rise up from our proper place before God’s throne and wander off in search of a throne upon which we ourselves might sit down. What lies behind the bulk of our spiritual sluggishness if not this: the laughable idea that we can do without God, that we are gods ourselves? How readily we embrace the myth of self-determination. Ludicrously, we convince ourselves that we are competent, capable, and in control.

How God delights in showing us otherwise! Ever so gently, He gives us a taste of the disordered chaos that would mark our lives apart from His ever-sustaining presence. In Hosea, God decries this propensity to forget Him:

She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil. . . . Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready. . . . I will ruin her vines and her fig trees, which she said were her pay from her lovers; I will make them a thicket, and wild animals will devour them.

—Hos. 2:8–9, 12

God uses spiritual dry times to check our repeated drift toward functional atheism and to awaken again a mindfulness of our moment-by-moment need for Him. He exposes our spiritual poverty, bringing us to the end of ourselves and throwing light upon our utter inability to sustain a meaningful life apart from Him.

“My soul’s veins run with depleted blood,” I wrote last fall, painfully aware of the depth of my need. “I breathe my own wasted air. My soul is dying faster than it is being replenished. I need Your rest.” And later, on my retreat: “These days of spiritual depletion and weariness have given me a glimpse of life without You: ‘Things fall apart; the center does not hold’ [W. H. Auden].”

Crop failure—”The stalk has no head” (Hos. 8:7)—is the end of our own effort . . . and the gift of God to those who have forgotten that He has made us for Himself.

Spiritual drought awakens our longing for God. More than once I have trudged down the side of a mountain with one gripping thought engaging the whole of my attention—and it wasn’t the view. After hours of hiking at high altitude in dry air under a hot sun, my body begins to dehydrate. Weak and parched, I feel as if someone stuck a hairdryer in my mouth and turned it on high. My skin wrinkles into dry folds and emanates heat like a radiator. All I can think of is water.

Like body, like soul. Coming up against the end of ourselves awakens not only an appreciation of need but longing as well. When I enter a spiritual dry time and begin to register thirst, God is my water. He is all I can think about. I miss Him. I need Him. I search for Him. I plead for Him. I want Him back. With a passion and singlemindedness that is uncharacteristic of other days, I long for God in famine. Lesser loves recede, and God dominates my field of vision, becoming the sole object of my attention.

Again Hosea speaks, capturing the single aim of a parched soul:

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.

—Hos. 6:1–3

Journal entries in the midst of my dry time reflect this acute longing. One example is “Hearth Untended,” a poem comparing my early morning efforts to rekindle a fire from the previous night’s coals to my desire to bring my soul back to life.

Blue-grey dawn, invasive chill, yet in the ring there quavers still a spark.

Kindling laid with fingers lame and hasty prayer to set aflame the dark.

Forgive, O Lord, my heart untended. Bring fire into this night just ended. Fan to flame my heart fresh-rended. Spirit, make your mark.

“Break up your unplowed ground,” pleads Hosea, “for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you” (Hos. 10:12). For dry ground, nothing matters but the rain.

Spiritual drought restores our fruitfulness for God. During a recent sermon series, I unearthed an interesting bit of information. A typical wheat field will yield four or five times what is sown. After several years of planting in the same field, the yield gradually drops. But after a field is allowed to lie fallow for a year, then plowed several times and replanted, the yield jumps to twice the normal level, producing 8 to 10 bushels of wheat for every bushel sown.

The parallel to our spiritual lives is striking. When once again the dry soil of our soul has felt the patter of rain, our lives take on a vibrant urgency and fruitfulness uncharacteristic of prefallow days. We remember what is amazing about grace, what is Holy about the Spirit, and what is good about the news we have for the world.

Listen to God’s word of grace through Hosea:

I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. Men will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the grain. He will blossom like a vine.

—Hos. 14:5–7

My spiritual famine ultimately drove me to a 72-hour retreat. I prayed, read, walked, thought, pleading that God would visit me anew. And He did. On the third day, miraculously, I found myself whistling again. God had broken in.

Robert Murray McCheyne was a broken pastor who tended to everyone else’s spiritual needs to the neglect of his own. He died at 28. Before his death, he wrote, “Your own soul is your first and greatest care.” Mindful of the admonition, I came home with a fresh resolve to tend to my fields. God reminded me that certain practices keep me spiritually fit and ready to serve, and that I must see to them faithfully. Among them: daily quiet times, monthly spiritual retreats, time with friends of the soul, and time in creation.

His Fruit

The five months since my retreat have been intense ones. Key staff people have left the church I pastor, and ministry demands mount up like snow in Siberia. But I have held true to my resolve, clinging to God and tending my soul. He, in turn, has proven Himself faithful to me. I have experienced more peace and trust—and, by His grace, I have been more effective in ministry—in the past five months than at any other time in the past four years.

Does this mean I will never experience another dry season? Hardly. But now I know where to look for fruit, even when the leaves turn brown. “I am the one who looks after you and cares for you,” God says through Hosea. “I am like a tree that is always green, giving my fruit to you all through the year” (Hos. 14:8, NLT, emphasis mine).

I may fall fallow, but, thankfully, God never will.

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