Thank God it’s Monday!! Please find my notes to this past weekend’s teaching at GCC: “Silent Nights- What do you do when God seems silent, your prayers go unanswered, or you feel like God is a million miles away?”
Can you imagine 146,000 silent nights? Again, that’s the period between the last words of God in the OT and the next time God speaks, initiating the NT- 400 years of no communication from God, no word from heaven, no prophet, no handwriting on the wall… 146,000 silent days and nights! The OT closes with the words of Malachi 4:5-6 and the NT opens 400 years later with an angelic visit to an old priest, God completing his sentence, and Jesus stepping into our world- we talked about that last weekend! But for those 400 years, nothing, 146,000 silent nights! Have you ever experienced the “silent treatment?” It can be painful because it is!
Probably at one time or another you have been either on the giving or receiving end of a “silent treatment”, otherwise known as the cold shoulder. What you probably didn’t realize is that the silent treatment is a form of ostracism. When someone is ostracized it affects the part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. The anterior cingulate cortex is the part of the brain that detects pain. When you give someone the silent treatment you are causing that person physical pain. Simply by ignoring someone else’s existence you can inflict pain on them. This is why giving a child a “time out” is so effective- sometimes Jo Ann gives me a “time out!” The child feels ostracized and is feeling pain even though no physical pain was inflicted on them; therefore they want to behave so they don’t have to feel that way again. The silent treatment can be a very destructive behavior when it involves personal relationships. The silent treatment can breed bitterness on both ends and it borders on emotional abuse…
So, was God giving Israel the silent treatment? Did he want them to feel pain, to be ostracized? Was God saying, “You’ve been ignoring me, so now I’m going to show you how that feels- see how you like it!!” No way, that’s not the nature of God; that’s how our sinful nature operates! Still, I’m sure people felt that God was absent from their lives or worse, had abandoned them and we’re dealing with those kinds of emotions- feeling the pain of thinking they were ostracized! EVER FEEL THAT WAY? “God, where are you? Don’t you care?”
What’s happening when you feel like God is silent- your prayers are going unanswered, your desire for direction is being met with a seeming lack of urgency, or you have a need that the Lord doesn’t meet quickly; such as an illness that He doesn’t heal, or some other circumstance. In times like these, we often feel as if God is distant; uninterested in our difficult circumstances.
David felt it… Ps. 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. Have you ever felt that way? Nothing but silent nights!! The truth is, God IS sometimes silent. And when you are hurting, His silence can be particularly difficult. However, rest assured, He has a purpose for it. God uses silence to develop our intimacy with Him and mature us spiritually. Perhaps for those 400 silent nights God was hoping Israel would turn their hearts to him, draw closer, sense their need for God…
Job experienced 37 chapters of “silent nights!” I’m not sure of the timeframe, but it was a tough time for Job. But, Job’s ordeal gives us some great insight… In his pain and suffering, he cried out to God. He asked for answers. Job 19:7-9 “I cry out, ‘Help!’ but no one answers me. I protest, but there is no justice. God has blocked my way so I cannot move. He has plunged my path into darkness. He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head.” Job 23:3-9 “If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his court. I would lay out my case and present my arguments. Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me. Would he use his great power to argue with me? No, he would give me a fair hearing. Honest people can reason with him, so I would be forever acquitted by my judge. I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him. I do not see him in the north, for he is hidden. I look to the south, but he is concealed.” And he kept asking. But for the first 37 chapters of the book of Job, his cries for God’s help and relief were met only by God’s deafening silence.
Then, finally, like with Israel, 146,000 silent nights later, God says to Job, Job 38:1-2 Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.” We are not always going to hear God’s voice, but when God is silent, there are some questions we can explore…
HAVE YOU EXAMINED YOUR HEART?
Is there any unconfessed sin in my life? Make sure nothing is blocking you from being able to hear God’s voice. Those “silent nights” are an opportunity for you to examine your own heart first… Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.” This requires looking deeper than the obvious. Ask yourself: Do I have wrong motives? Is there anything (or anyone) that is drowning out the voice of God; that is taking God’s place in my life? As God brings things to mind, quickly ask for His forgiveness. And remember, there’s no shame in repentance. This act of faith pleases God and restores our fellowship with Him.
Sometimes the “silent nights” are caused by our own disobedience. It doesn’t mean God is absent or has abandoned us. It just means we need to seek him! Jer. 29:13 “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me!” In the silence God may be saying, “Search your own heart and seek me…”
HAVE YOU ACCEPTED GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY?
Recognize that God can be silent. There is no obligation for God to answer you, inform you or let you know anything. “God is said to be absolutely free,” says A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy, “because no one and no thing can hinder him or compel him or stop him. He is able to do as he pleases always, everywhere, forever.” Like us, Job faced the choice of acknowledging, or rejecting, the sovereignty of God. In response to his suffering and loss, Job’s wife suggests he curse God and die. Instead of following her advice, Job chooses to let God be God. But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong. (Job 2:10).
Accepting God’s sovereignty also means actively trusting God, realizing he is in control and can be trusted. “God might kill me,” says Job, “but I have no other hope!” (Job 13:15). Remember this: Nothing in Job’s life, or ours, happens apart from God’s knowledge and plan. As we learn at the beginning of the Book of Job, God was fully aware of all the things that were about to happen to Job. In fact, he gave Satan permission to do these things in Job’s life. At no point does God release His control!
In the “silent nights” accept that God is sovereign, and that he is in complete control- you can trust him!
ARE YOU LISTENING TO WHAT GOD IS SAYING?
Although God may seem silent regarding a specific request or petition, remember that he is always in a constant state of communication with us. In fact, it is possible that you already have an answer from God. Perhaps you’re not listening, or taking into consideration what God has already spoken to you in a particular situation- sometimes we ignore the Lord’s voice because we don’t like what he’s saying! The “silent nights” are the result of God having already reiterated many times over what is right and now waiting for us to do the right thing!
Also, the Bible is full of specific answers about what is right and wrong, as well as information about God’s character and His intentions for us as his children and His followers. So, in the “silent nights,” get into God’s Word, his written communication to us, to find out what he has to say about the problems you’re facing or the questions you’re asking. As you read the Bible, ask God to speak to you through the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of you. Often verses can have new significance in light of current problems you are facing.
ARE YOU AWARE THAT SILENCE CAN BE INTIMATE?
Silence can also be a sign of God’s trust. John tells a story about Jesus’ friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. When Jesus found out that Lazarus was ill, he didn’t rush to Lazarus’ house to heal him. Instead, Jesus stayed where he was for two more days (John 11:6). And before Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus died.
To Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, Jesus’ silence could have been interpreted as neglect; that Jesus didn’t care or didn’t want to help them. This mirrors the emotions we feel when God doesn’t immediately answer our cries for help. But in Jesus’ silence we, along with Mary and Martha, are drawn into a new closeness to God and understanding of His power. Four days after he died, Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus, showing, that despite how bad or challenging things may be, God still comes through!
“When you cannot hear God,” says Oswald Chambers in My Utmost For His Highest, “you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible- with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.”
HAVE YOU KEPT TALKING TO GOD?
Just because God seems silent doesn’t mean you should doubt Him or stop praying. Zacharias didn’t, and I’m sure many others in Israel, throughout those 400 silent nights, didn’t either! God’s silence isn’t an excuse for us to turn our backs on him. Instead, it’s an invitation to press forward and seek Him even more diligently.
Again, David kept crying out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.” (Psalm 22:2). Job also continually cries out to God, asking Him to answer. And for the first 37 chapters of the Book of Job, God is silent! But in chapter 38, God answers, and questions Job…
- “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”
- “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries?”
- “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear?”
- “Do you know where the gates of death are located?”
- “Can you direct the sequence of the seasons?”
In all, God asks Job 37 similar questions!! And what is God’s point? Even though there are silent nights, God is control far more than you realize! God heard Job’s cries for help. In trust, he waited for the perfect time to speak… and Job was reminded.
God will not always be silent. In the right time he will speak and we will be reminded that he does hear, he does care, and he does take care of us as we learn to trust in him!
(c) 2011, Terry Broadwater. Notes are for personal use. For all other uses, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.