In our new morning sermon series on prayer we are looking to be honest and (I hope) practical. So next Sunday morning we are looking at praying ‘when God is silent’. My evangelical hackles instinctively go up when I come across a statement like that. Of course he is not silent. God is always communicating with us.
But then I have to give myself a reality-check. The reality is that sometimes God is silent. Sometimes it seems like prayers are bouncing back off the ceiling. Sometimes it seems like the all-powerful, all-knowing God is playing a cruel game of cosmic hide-and-seek and I am losing badly.
In times gone past I may have been tempted to offer glib and trite explanations for this such as: “If God is distant, who moved?” but all that does is add guilt to despair. It may be that I need to refocus myself on God, but praying helps us to do that anyway so it seems a bit of a circular argument that is spinning so fast it’s difficult to get onto the roundabout.
So what can we say?
It is tempting to say that you should come along next Sunday morning and find out, or check out the sermon online next week. But that’s as much a cop-out as the glib and trite explanations.
So instead I point you to a prayer that was prayed in extreme circumstances.
“Abba, Father, he said, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
Did God answer that prayer? There was no voice from heaven or lightning bolt answer.
Jesus’ honesty is remarkable, given who he was. Given who he was and is, his ability to pray ‘not what I will’ is astonishing. Yet on the cross he cried out, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” He felt alone, abandoned, isolated.
The reality of this situation was that God was still God. The world did not stop turning even at this darkest of dark hours. Somehow God the Father gave Jesus the Son the strength to endure the unendurable, to come through the unimaginable and experience resurrection. Even when he felt alone and his prayers were not receiving the answer for which he longed and cried out in anguish there was a glimmer of hope that was unextinguishable.
There are no easy, quick answers. Often there are no easy, quick answers to our prayers either because we are asking for the wrong thing, looking in the wrong places, asking the impossible or even because the time is not right.
But it is never our lack of faith that means God is silent. He only asks us to have enough faith to pray, and even before we can utter the words his Spirit has translated our emotions and intentions into prayer in the throne room of heaven.
It is my experience that sometimes before I receive an answer I need an encounter with God to prepare me for that answer. In 1 Kings 19 we find the uber-man of God, Elijah. He was full of doubt, anger and perhaps even clinically depressed, and he found God’s presence in the sound of sheer silence, not in loud and ostentatious activity. What Elijah got in answer to a rant at God was silence. But it was silence that was drenched in the presence of God. God was in the silence. God was the silence.
I dare to believe that God was in the silence of Gethsemane.
I believe that God is in the silence for me if I am prepared to set aside my pain, anger, questions and doubt and seek him.
Sometimes what we need from God is not an answer, it is his presence.
Be blessed, be a blessing.