WHAT TO DO WHEN GOD IS SILENT
I felt pretty amped up as I drove to that critical meeting in June of 2014. I had planned on making a major move, dropping a huge announcement and presenting my game-changing challenge. About an hour out from my destination, it hit me, “Maybe I should pray about this?” Feeling a bit guilty that I had just now thought about praying, I turned off the radio and asked, “So God, what do you want me to do?”
And then I experienced one of those fairly rare occurrences where it seemed like I heard God speak. I don’t think it was audible, but the words, “Not now, wait, relax…” jumped out at me.
A quietness settled over me, and instead of disrupting the meeting with my big pronouncement,
I calmly sat back, asked a few questions and did my best to relax.
That was one of the occasional incidences when it appeared that God was speaking directly to me. They do not happen all the time and we could discuss and critique how, why and when such things transpire. But instead, I’d like to discuss what to do when God doesn’t speak.
The ride home that day was filled with prayer, but I didn’t hear God speak. “Now what?” was my cry for days, for weeks, and even for months. But I didn’t pick up any special message from God. God felt silent.
So what do we do when God appears silent? What do we do when we pray but nothing seems to happen? What are we supposed to do when it feels like God is on a break?
That question leads us to Christmas, because the story of the birth of Jesus emerges after God has been silent for four centuries. There is a gap between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, and that gap is commonly referred to as, “The 400 Silent Years.”
God had been speaking through prophets, and leaders and even miracles. But then he stopped. The “Gone Fishin’,” “On Vacation,” “return to Sender” signs all looked like they were up.
Facing a silence of four months was daunting for me, but 400 years? What do we do when God is silent?
1. PAY ATTENTION TO THE THINGS GOD HAS ALREADY SAID.
The last message we see from God before his extended silence was this:
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
--Malachi 4:5-6 (NLT)
Then the first thing we hear from God when he broke his silence was the angelic message to a Jewish priest named Zechariah. The angel announces that this temple servant and his wife will have a son:
“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
--Luke 1:8-17 (MLT)
The first thing God said after 400 years of silence was the same thing he said before going silent.
When I don’t hear from God, I can always go back to the last time I heard from Him, and all the things He has already said quite clearly.
In the Fall of 2014 while I was waiting to hear next steps from God, I heard a radio interview of Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. His team had started the year on a down note, and Packer fans were beginning to panic. Here is how Rodgers responded: "Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packer-land: R-E-L-A-X. Relax. We're going to be OK.
I’m not a Packer fan, not at all. So I don’t believe God would speak through a Green Bay QB. But I took that quip as a reminder in the silence to go back to what God has already said.
2. BE CAREFUL TO STAY CLOSE TO GOD
When God did break his silence, he spoke to people who were walking closely with him.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.--Luke 1:5-7 (NLT)
“Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!--Luke 1;28-30 (NLT)
Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man…--Matthew 1:19 (NLT)
In the Christmas story, God spoke clearly, but it appears he only spoke directly to those who were living godly lives.
3. REALIZE THAT EVEN WHEN GOD IS SILENT HE IS WORKING
Let me try to set the historical scene. In history there have been four major world empires. First were the Babylonians, then the Medo-Persians—the Persians and the Medes. These two empires were predominantly eastern empires. Then came Alexander the Great and the Greeks, which was the first western empire. Then came the Roman Empire.
At the close of the Old Testament, the Babylonian empire had ended, the Persians were in control, and the Jews had been allowed to move back into Jerusalem. Then Alexander the Great conquered the world, he took over Jerusalem, he ushered in a universal language—Greek—and brought in the Western dominance. When he died, his kingdom was divided into four chunks and two of them—the Egyptian and Syrian groups vied back and forth for control over Jerusalem. Then in about 70 B.C. the Romans came in, conquered the world and controlled Jerusalem.
When power shifted from the east to the west, the pagan eastern empires began deteriorating and disintegrating. Their religions had fallen upon evil days and hard times. The people became sick of the polytheism and emptiness of their pagan faiths—their religion, their so-called “gods” simply weren’t working. The Jews had gone through times of pressure and had failed in their efforts to re-establish themselves. There was a growing air of expectancy that the only hope they had left was the coming at last of the promised Messiah. In the East, the oriental empires had come to the place where the wisdom and knowledge of the past had disintegrated and they too were looking for something. When the moment came when the star arose over Bethlehem, the wise men of the East who were looking for an answer to their problems saw it immediately and came out to seek the One it pointed to.
The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”--Galatians 4:4 (ESV)
God may have been silent during that 400-year gap, but he was also certainly busy. In 400 years the world saw a universal language, a dominant culture, an Eastern curiosity and a tremendously expectant spirituality. Would the good news about Jesus have been able to spread so wildly, so quickly and “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 NKJV) if Jesus had been born centuries earlier? It sure looks like God was arranging circumstances every day, even if he wasn’t being especially chatty.
As I look back on what was happening around me, I’m amazed at how circumstances changed after that June 2014 meeting. My “major move” probably would have resulted in a not-so-loud thud had I moved quickly.
4. KEEP LISTENING, GOD WON’T BE SILENT FOREVER
There were 400 years of silence, but then God did speak:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.—Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)
The silence, the waiting, the lack of response, the seemingly unanswered prayers—they were all worth it. God knew what he was doing all along.
In January of 2015, after nearly eight months of asking, “What now, God? What do you want me to do?” It happened again.
I was out on a walk on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when I heard the words of that famed reformer, “'Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.'” It hit me like the words of God.
Then I read a verse from Proverbs that popped off the page: “Be wise enough to know when…”—Proverbs 23:4 (NLT)
It was time to make my move, right?
I talked to my wife about it. She said it was time. I talked to my kids about it. They all said they were excited about it. I talked to my best godly friends, they encouraged me to move. Then I got my inner circle of eight trusted advisers who I know follow God and have my best interest in mind. They all agreed it was time.
I implemented the game-changing decision and have not had one second of regret since.
Does God really speak? I am totally convinced that he does, I believe he works in that way. But even more, I am convinced that even when God doesn’t speak, he is still at work.