When God is silent.
What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers? The Bible tells us that God always hears us, but sometimes we get absolutely no response to our prayers. God is silent. My friends and family have often heard me complain that I wish God would send a banner down from heaven to tell me what to do. I always feel certain that I want to do God’s will. I always believe I just need to know for sure what it is. But God has never worked that way for me.
However, I have had a few crazy stories of God answering my prayers instantly in the way I wanted him to.
Like the time early in our marriage when our washing machine sometimes worked for the spin cycle and just as often did not. Two mechanics could find nothing wrong and suggested we buy a new machine. We did not have extra money to spend on a washing machine, especially one we might not even need. But I was sick of having to wring clothes out by hand and have them in the dryer for what felt like forever.
So out of exasperation I prayed that God would please make the machine either never work properly again or never malfunction again until we needed to buy a new one. Ten minutes later the machine worked perfectly, as it did consistently for six more years. Wow. Sweet! If only I could always get God to answer my prayers like that.
Unfortunately, too often it feels uncertain whether God is answering or not.
When a friend is struggling in a marriage or a loved one is gravely ill, God can even seem to answer with positive signs and then follow with negative results. Or sometimes nothing changes at all. The waiting can drain me and make me feel angry at God.
Too often I identify with C. S. Lewis’s description of pounding at the door of God and feeling that God heartlessly hears and ignores the pounding.
What these experiences show is that often God wants me to listen to him in a new way.
Usually my waiting and listening produce growth–when I actually keep looking to God during my waiting. When God is silent, I need to keep looking at him, knowing he is working. I just can’t see his work yet then. Then, during my waiting, he usually produces a much better answer than what I had originally requested.
For instance, I didn’t know that my daughter’s struggles in her school would lead us to switch her to a far better school for her. We never would have considered doing that if God had answered our prayers by simply fixing the bad situations.
Years later, we prayed that God would end the continuing crises in my family. He didn’t, but I saw huge personal growth. My growth came through my stronger dependence on God and my sense of peace about his plans for my life.
Often when God is silent in my life, he is actually saying to me, “Be still, my child, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).