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Posts tagged ‘waiting in the darkness’

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.

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Joyfully Trusting When The Worst Is Happening

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Joyful Trust – Astounding Behavior

Recent studies of the brain tell us that it operates best when we’re in a joyful state. That made me think of Jesus walking through the betrayal, arrest and crucifixion, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, . . .” (Heb 12:2).

How did Jesus move through these events with any kind of joy?

Looking again at Jesus’ arrest, I noticed how he navigated those rough waters with dignity and self-giving love instead of the attitude of “Just get through this. It will all be over soon” (Matthew 26:47-56). He was others-centered while I would have been me-centered.

I came up with several reasons he would have felt anxious and sorry for himself.

DISRUPTION Soldiers brandishing swords, clubs, and torches broke into Jesus’ intimate, powerful and passionate conversation with his closest friends.

TREACHERY In the midst of all this commotion came the familiar greeting from a very good friend, Judas: a kiss of betrayal.

OPPRESSION Those arresting him were violent and confrontational. They “laid hands” on Jesus (v. 50) and “bound him” (John 18:12). He went from being an honored and revered celebrity to being dirt under people’s feet.

EMBARRASSMENT If you have ever seen someone you love, wearing handcuffs and standing accused, it’s an indignity you never forget. Also, in addition to the soldiers, “chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders,” the highest authorities in Judaism, descended upon them (Luke 22:52). Imagine the governor and mayor coming to your front door to arrest you.

ISOLATION One of Jesus’ best friends assaulted one of those arresting him. After three years of training, Peter still did not “get” Jesus. Did Jesus have anyone who understood him at all?

ABANDONMENT All the disciples fled (v. 56). Jesus was alone.

What do Jesus’ words and actions tell us about what he thought and felt?

CONCERN Instead of being alarmed by Judas’s actions, no doubt hurt, Jesus was concerned about Judas himself, asking “My friend, what are you doing here?” (v. 20, NT Wright’s translation), as if to say, “Think about this. Are you sure about this?”

ASSURANCE As Peter was swinging a sword amidst the olive trees in dark Gethsemane, Jesus pointed Peter instead to reality: 12,000 unseen angels stood ready to help Jesus at any moment.

HEALING Jesus immediately reached out to heal the attacker whose ear Peter had cut off (Luke 22:50-51). Imagine helping someone who was arresting you. Folks who are practiced in physical healing say that it requires a right heart, a compassionate love. So this was Jesus’ inner condition.

CONFIDENCE Twice Jesus spoke of biblical prophecies being fulfilled (vv. 54, 56). Even as a human, Jesus was so immersed in the Trinitarian reality that the ideas penned by the Spirit in Scripture were Jesus’ ideas too. It’s as if he was saying, “I’m in on this. This was my idea! We’re a gang of three and operate as one!”

SUBMISSION Jesus did not try to escape, but stepped forward, asking, “Who is it you want?” When the soldiers fell backward (at Jesus’ presence?), he insisted he was the one to be arrested (John 18:4-8). He had avoided arrest earlier, but now he willingly surrendered (John 7:32, 45).

NEVER ALONE Just a few minutes before this scene, Jesus said, “you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32). He understood and lived in the reality of the with-God life, relying on God for everything.

I love this scene!

I confess I think first and mostly of myself, what affects me, and what I want. My learning curve is to rely on God in every moment. The with-God life is reality. When we operate in a state of joyful trust, the oddly-radiant, majestic behavior of Jesus becomes possible.

A Prayer for Worshiping God Before, In and After the Fire

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Dan. 3:16-18

Heavenly Father, I am convicted, stretched and encouraged, by the way Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego honored you in this story. How refreshing to behold such God-centered, non-utilitarian, heart-engaged, authentic and fearless love for you.

These three friends didn’t worship you because of the gifts you give them, but because of the God that you are. They were firmly convinced that you could rescue them from the fiery furnace; but even if you didn’t rescue them, it would have no effect on their love for you, and trust in you. They would rather be delivered into your presence through the fire, than worship some other false god just to escape the fire.

Father, forgive me when my worship of you varies in response to my perceptions of how well and quick you answer my prayers—how fully you “bless” me, protect me, and grant me relief. As cynical as I am about the “name it and claim it” and prosperity theologies, I’m quite capable of doubting your love when life gets complicated and painful—when I have to wait on you and trust you in the dark and silence. I want to worship you beforethere’s a fire, when I’m in the fire, when the fire’s extinguished, or if you should choose to take me home through the fire.

Lord Jesus, you alone can give me such freedom and love; passion and delight; faithfulness and courage. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fire, you were the fourth man King Nebuchadnezzar saw walking around in the fiery furnace—so great is your faithfulness to us. And you were the one who endured the “fiery trial” of the cross—so great is your grace for us. You will never leave us or forsake us—at any time or in any trial. Because of the gospel, “fire” is less about out destruction and more about our purification. You make all things new, including fiery trials

Because of you, Lord Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid to die; and we don’t have to be afraid to live, either. By your grace, stoke the fire of affection in our hearts for you, so that at the very moment we’re tempted to turn to some false god deliverance or relief, we won’t. So very Amen we pray, in your beautiful and strong name.

 

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