February 16, 2020

The Silence Of God

Words are my primary love language. I learned that about myself when I was barely old enough to talk. Other children my age played with dolls and toy trucks; what comforted me most was a notebook and pencil. I couldn’t wait to learn to string words together into sentences and paragraphs and deep conversations. When I did, I never stopped. It’s how I tell people I love them. It’s how I tell God I love Him. Not surprisingly, I enjoy receiving love the same way.

As a new believer, I discovered that Christ is logos, the Word appearing in flesh, a revelation of God to communicate His unfathomable love for us. Astonishment filled me as I studied, memorized and meditated upon Scripture, His written words to beloved sons and daughters. But when He whispers a word of instruction or courage at just the right moment, I am overwhelmed with a fierce gratitude for that more rare and personal expression of His love.

So what am I to make of a prolonged silence from the One I love most?

Granted, God’s voice is not a constant pattering in my ear. Mostly, I see what He wants me to see in His word, but after 35 years I’ve grown accustomed to His regular interjections into my thoughts and prayers.

Just before my youngest daughter’s first birthday, an exam alerted her doctor to possible cancer in her eyes. The night before testing and a visit to a specialist, I sat in a quiet house contemplating the coming day. The rest of my family was in bed, but I knew that sleep would be impossible for me. I felt anguish as I envisioned my daughter’s potential suffering. I told God that I longed for Emily to be well, but if that was not in His plan, I wanted Him to comfort and love her with my hands and my voice. I sat not knowing what else to say. I had no words. Then I heard His voice, “Go to sleep. I will pray for you.” (See Romans 8:34.)

There was nothing to do but obey. I slept and the next day, after hours of testing, I finally exhaled when the doctor told me my daughter was legally blind in one eye, but had no cancer.

Another time, God used a stranger to give me a word I needed to hear. Again, cancer was the potential enemy – this time mine. I was supposed to have a test then leave for the weekend to take part in a family wedding. “Lord, I’m asking you to give me a word that will help me through the next few days,” I said as I drove to my test.

Medical technicians are notoriously sober and close-mouthed about their findings, but I was assigned a charming southern lady with a gift of gab. With no prompting from me, she said as she left the room, “Honey, I know cancer when I see it and that is not cancer.” Perhaps she broke all rules of professionalism with those words, but who was I to complain? I instantly knew who sent them.

Once, God told me something terrible and I have never known why. I was at a meeting with several others and as we were leaving, I suddenly looked up at one of the men whose wife was a new friend of mine. “He has cancer,” I heard clearly and knew where it was. “You need to tell him.” For the next several minutes I fought an internal battle over whether to say such a crazy thing. Then I walked out, got in my car and drove home.

Sleep would not come that night. I got out of bed and paced the house praying and arguing, but the next morning I picked up the phone and called the man’s wife, my friend. Doctors did find cancer and he passed away within two years. That incident has troubled me so much, but I can’t explain God and He often doesn’t explain Himself. My friend, now one of my closest, believes that the treatment her husband received gave him more time with his young family.

I’ve heard God’s voice in critical financial decisions. He’s expressed pleasure to me when I’ve taken scary leaps with Him. At different times, He’s prompted me to give to someone whose needs were not obvious, but well known to Him.

Once He told me to sit down. I was in a heated discussion with a close family member and stood up to walk out, not just on the meeting, but on the entire relationship. God’s voice was clear and commanding, so I sat down. That relationship, troubled for nearly my whole life, is healing.

Just now, God is not speaking to me.

I first noticed the silence at the end of last year. I thought I might just be tired. My day job had been keeping me especially busy and I was wrapping up two years of classes and working on a book. I had also spent several weeks taking care of my mom after a major surgery.

Before that detour, I had a vague idea of what I thought God was directing me to do in the coming days. It was something I wanted and still do, though it looks to be a rougher ride than it did at first glance with some elements I didn’t anticipate. Once I was staring it in the face, I realized that going forward with it would cost my loved ones as much as it would cost me. I began asking for clear answers just to be sure.

I have not had one word from Him in months. Nada. That begs the question, “Why?” The whole incident has me pondering the possible reasons for the sudden lack of communication. Did I hear Him wrong in the beginning? Have I made Him angry in some way?

My first thought was to see if His Word would tell me anything. I could think of a few instances when God stayed silent with some of His people. Maybe I would find a reason.

Job was someone who not only got silence from God, but wave after wave of suffering to go along with it. A peek behind the scenes reveals that both the suffering and silence were prompted by a conversation in heaven in which God pointed out Job’s upright behavior and Satan pounced. “The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’”(Job 1: 12 NIV). Satan didn’t waste a minute. By the time he was finished, Job lost his wealth, his children and his health.

The book goes on for forty-two chapters and includes Job’s laments and indictments against him by his so-called friends digging for any dirt Job might be hiding.

God breaks His silence in chapter thirty-eight and speaks to Job directly, questioning him as to where he was when God was laying the earth’s foundation. The hard questions continue and serve to point out the absurdity of challenging God’s right to rule His creation as He sees fit.

In the end, Job has been stripped of any self-righteousness. He even prays for the friends who tormented him in his suffering, an act that also points to his refusal to wallow in bitterness, and God blesses him once again.

What did I learn from this? I don’t know how long God remained silent toward Job, but the time was productive. It was long enough to erode Job’s self-righteousness and keep him pressing in toward God, asking questions and sharpening his spiritual senses. When Job repented in the last chapter, he said, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” God brought him through immense loss and a lengthy silence to a higher place and a deeper knowledge of his Maker.

That reassures me. While I sit soaking in God’s silence, my fear is that so much time is being wasted and in not being able to hear Him, I risk missing His will. This story tells me God won’t waste this time in my life and when I get to the other side, I will know Him and His will better.

Another example of God’s silence comes from John chapter 11. In Bethany, Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha and friend of Jesus, becomes sick. Jesus is ministering across the Jordan River and when he receives word of Lazarus’ illness, he ignores the call. Verse five even tells us that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Still, he stays where he is until Lazarus dies.

Lazarus’ grieving sisters receive no communication and don’t see Jesus until Lazarus has been in his grave for four days. While this is not a particularly lengthy silence, it is long enough for death to occur. When Jesus arrives, he encounters Mary’s anguished weeping and Martha’s anguished accusations before calling Lazarus back to life and out of his grave.

In this case, God’s silence and a seeming tragedy occur for two reasons – that the people of Bethany would see the glory of God (verse 40) and that they would believe God sent Jesus (verse 42).

As I wait, I want to expect similar outcomes. I know God can produce them, but I have to admit my strength is flagging and my perseverance is wavering. A few days ago, I stood praying and said, “I’m tired of hearing myself, Lord. I talk to you all the time. Why won’t you talk to me?” No answer.

Ole Hallesby, a Norwegian Christian born in 1879 identified three difficulties in praying in his classic book, Prayer. The first difficulty is that we think we must help God to fulfill our prayer. Perhaps I am a bit guilty of this. I confessed in an earlier essay that I am naturally more of a doing person than a being person. That part of my personality seeps into my spiritual life. At a dinner in Lazarus’ house, I would be Martha killing herself in the kitchen and complaining to Jesus about Mary sitting at His feet.

I want to be Mary, so as I pray, I’m asking Him to identify any areas where I am trying to wrest control from His hands, where I am working when I should be waiting. Honestly, I can think of a few.

Hallesby writes further that we make use of prayer for the purpose of commanding God to do our bidding. Ouch. It’s something I know I’ve done in the past and have consciously tried not to do in this instance. However the dark, cobwebby corners of my spirit may well harbor those intentions. Again, that is another question to bring before God. Do I want this thing so much that I brashly order my Maker to perform for me?

A pastor friend of mine says God has one more answer to prayer than “Yes,” “No” and “Wait.” The other answer is, “If you insist.” Sometimes we want what is not good for us and we beleaguer Him with our demands, falsely believing we are demonstrating the faith and persistence in prayer that pleases Him. What we are doing, in fact, is insisting He bend to our will. There is a real danger He will give us over to our foolish demands and let us suffer the consequences.

Hallesby identifies a final problem. We forget to pray in the name of Jesus. We pray “in the name of our own heart, in the name of our own love and solicitude.” When I first read this, I started to discount it immediately. I always pray in the name of Jesus. This is habitual for me, but Hallesby isn’t referring to a verbal “in the name of Jesus.” He’s referring to the deep mystery of abiding.

Are we making our requests out of human concern or are we so identified with Him that our requests flow from His mind and heart reigning supreme in us? “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (See John 15:7, KJV) The secret to answered prayer is abiding in Christ, so that our will is really His will in us. We ask not in the name of our own heart, but His.

If any of these difficulties exist in my prayer life, I want them corrected. God not talking to me hurts. It scares me too. I am so desperately in love with Him that I’m feeling a bit crazy without any words from Him. That feeling is daily intensifying. I’m also afraid I’ll run off and do something outside His will because I don’t have a clue what He wants right now. What seems best is to sit and wait, but sometimes a sense of panic makes me want to make a final decision just to have it done. “Okay, I’ll do this thing,” or “No, I quit. Life would be simpler if I stay where I am.”

Then I chastise myself. A few months are not such a long time to wait. In a series of letters, Mother Teresa confessed to 50 years of emptiness in her prayer life because she could not feel the presence of God. She referred to it as her dark night of the soul. Why would God allow this woman whose life, by all accounts was spent poured out in His service, to suffer such a long silence from Him? Perhaps His muteness signified His lavish trust in her. This one won’t run away from me even when I am silent. If that is the case, I would long to be a fraction as faithful.

Recently, I sat in my car talking with a loved one while a storm raged outside. She had waited four years for directions from God over a trial that seemed to increase in difficulty month-by-month. I knew all the heart wrenching details of it and had prayed she’d get clear guidance. Suddenly, after a long drought, it came – in a torrent.

She told me that when the first answer became apparent, all the rest followed quickly. Within a period of two weeks, every difficult question had an answer. Although carrying each one out wasn’t necessarily easy, knowing what to do brought tremendous relief. We remembered together a verse we’d been impressed with as a promise for her situation. “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:3, NIV) God has an appointed time for everything, both in terms of events and in the revelation of His wisdom and instruction.

Her conclusion, in hindsight, was that the wait forced her to God’s feet. “Sometimes I think God just wants us to sit close to Him,” she said, “and a good way to accomplish that is to keep us mystified.”

Mystified. That is a good word. It’s what I am. I sense His presence. I hear His breathing, but He’s not speaking to me just yet. For now, I’m at His feet listening. I can wait one more day. Tomorrow I may have to wait another day.

Comments

  1. Rob Grayson says

    Wow. Beautifully written, and so very authentic. Thank you Lisa.

  2. This is very helpful to me, Lisa. Maybe that’s another reason you’re going through a difficult time like this: as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, your afflication can work for our comfort. Don’t grow weary in praying, and I’ll pray for you, too.

  3. Thank you.

  4. Allen Krell says

    Often, I feel I am the only one who experiences God this way, then I read Lisa’s wonderful story.

  5. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who never hears God, who can’t point to a “voice” of any kind. That I’ve spent many years of my life trying to follow what I’ve heard, to listen, to pay attention to scripture, to make sense of what others say —- but it’s never been in my experience that I’m consciously aware of to “hear” God speaking (not audibly, not in any way that I can explain or point to).

    This is a source of endless frustration for me and my faith.

    I get frustrated trying to decipher if other people merely mean God “speaks” to them in some metaphorical, figurative way, or if he is literally talking to them in some undeniable, completely tangible way.

    What would you say to this experience? Some are quick to judge me and basically make it about “measuring up” in some kind of prayer life gymnastics. For some reason that doesn’t do it for me.

    • Well, since Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice, maybe the answer is that you and me and the rest of us who don’t hear Him are not among His sheep, the Elect.

      • EricW — Are you among the “some who are quick to judge?” It’s never helpful to speculate on who is or isn’t saved or among the elect, whether yourself or others. Even muslims believe that Jesus will be the judge of that, not we. Nor do I think that Michael’s experience — and yours — necessarily means he doesn’t know God. Michael, if you can get a copy of Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, read Letter VIII. It deals with the issue of feeling distance from God in a way that’s very encouraging, I think.

      • After reading a few of your posts, I’m inclined to believe you are defintiely sheep-ey…..maybe with some wool growing over your ears…

    • Lisa Dye says

      Michael, that you keep following Him is evidence of your faithfulness. He will reward those who earnestly seek Him (see Hebrews 11:6). I think God ‘speaks’ to us in so many ways – in the beauty and majesty of creation, in Scripture, through circumstances, through other people and in that still, small voice to our innermost man, but He isn’t limited. Read I Corinthians 2:9,10 and be assured that the Holy Spirit is able to reveal the deep things of God to you and it will happen in His most excellent timing. I’ll pray for you. Please pray for me.

    • David Cornwell says

      Hang on to your faith. You have that. Don’t measure your experience by that of any other person. Hold on to the promises of scripture, the words of Jesus. God’s love is real. In time your experience may change. But regardless, walk by faith.

    • Michael,

      I have become increasingly frustrated in the exact same way. I had it out with God the other night about it, in fact. I was really mean to him, I think, in asking those same questions. But then I read Luke 11, how he will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (preceded by the parable of the man who was given bread by his friend because of his “importunity”), and Luke 18, the parable of the unjust judge. I’m trying to apply these Scriptures to my prayer life, to just keep keep keep asking and bothering God until He grants me His wonderful presence. I long for His intimacy, and I’m just not “feeling” it.

      I also struggle over whether or not this is a valid struggle. I think it is. I’m just sick of an intellectual faith, and when what I want is to know him….. real relationship.

  6. Lisa, remember when Jesus sent his disciples out on their own for a while? Did he do that so he could have a break from them or to let them learn from what he had been saying to them? I personally think it was an internship of sort so they could begin to apply what he had taught them. could it be that this is your internship? Incidently, I to have spoken with God on many occasions as well.
    Mark

    • Lisa Dye says

      Thank you, Mark. Yours is a good reminder. I can remember another difficult time that I would never want to repeat, but neither would I trade what I learned as a result. God is good and I trust Him.

  7. This post made me think of Andrew Peterson’s song, “The Silence of God”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvytewIxll0

  8. That was great, thank you.

  9. David Cornwell says

    Thank you for sharing. One time I went through a very dark and silent period. And it lasted and lasted and lasted. But in time, in little things at first, I was again sure that He was with me.

  10. br. thomas says

    My spiritual director once told me that “silence” is God’s first language and that I should not doubt His presence or His love when I do not “hear” Him. I still ponder what that means for me.

  11. Thank you so much for that. I shall print it out to read several times.

  12. I wonder if, at times, the reason God does not answer my questions is because my questions are unanswerable.

    “Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask–half our great theological and metaphysical problems– are like that.” (C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed.)

    How often I ask nonsense questions, questions that even if God were to give an answer, I would not be able to understand. I ask “why?” quite often. I wonder if God is staying silent until I change my question from “why?” to “Who?”

    • to Jeff: I know a friend at church who, after losing his only son (then 16yrs old) to a single car crash went thru exactly the same process in questions that you’ve described. His son is still dead, or his body is…….but the new question made all the difference in the world to my friend .

  13. One of Italy’s greatest composers of majestic symphonies was once asked what, in his experience, was the most important part of any of his symphonies. His response, “the moments of silence.”
    Something interesting to ponder…

    Lisa, you speak of being passionately in Love with God. How awesome !! Now, on the level of human love, love between to persons, 2 persons madly in love…There comes a time when the relationship of these 2 persons goes beyond words. When just being in the presence of the other, looking into the eyes of the one they love, just being together, is an intimate experience of such depth that any sound, any spoken word, would rob them of that moment, rob them of that experience, would break the most intimate of connections they are experiencing.

    We were made for such intimate communion being made in the image of the Triune God. Lisa, is it not possible that this is what God is wanting to bring you to ? In the lives of the great Christian mystics there came a time when the prayer of silence, as they called it, became the norm. When the prayer of silence became their life in every moment. When the prayer of silence became the doorway to deep contemplation and incredible intimacy with the One they Love. This they described as being beyond words, meaning there are no words to express nor describe what they experienced. A moment when the Presence of the one they Love, the One who Loves them, embraces them so completely.

    Lisa, is this where the God you so Love is wanting to bring you? Don’t fight the silence. Let go and let Him Love you!

  14. Nicely written Lisa. You are indeed fortunate to hear his voice as much as you do.

  15. Lisa, Thank you for sharing your story.

  16. In the end for me it was the abscence of God that convinced me he doesn’t exist or maybe was a figment of my own imagination. My faith unravled over these past few years and I experienced a lot of hardship. When I sought answers I was met with silence. It hurt when I went to church, small group, heard testimonis, read blog postings, read missionary news letters etc.. and head so many stories of “God spoke to me” or “God is doing this in my life, my prayer life is so rich, etc..” There were times I would be so discouraged and ask myself, “What am I doing wrong?”

    When things really started to fall apart spiritually I prayed at times to God for help, kind of a life line. I desperately wanted to hear from him and know that he was listening to my plea asking for help. It like my other prayers was met with silence. On top of all the other problems I was having it was one of the reasons why I threw away evangelicalism. Throwing away some of my Christian material in the end was refreshing.

    But in my experiences I learned that the God who is marketed and sold doesn’t work.

    • Lisa Dye says

      Eagle, forgive me if I indicate by my post that hearing from God is the be all end all of my relationship with Him. By no means, it is Jesus on the Cross, His most passionate and eloquent communication to beloved children. Christ on the Cross, raised from the dead, and at the right hand of God interceding for us is God’s expression of love to you as much as to me. I’m praying you’ll experience a fellowship with Him above and beyond what you can ask or think.

  17. About this silence. I have come from a background where people were searching inside for the voice of God to help them make decisions, have religious feelings, etc. And I don’t want to put it down, entirely. When I am faced with something, I ask Jesus to help me figure out what to do or say, and often something comes into my head to help make sense of the situation. Sometimes strongly, sometimes softly. Sometimes the answer seems so clear and right, you just nod your head and say, yes, that’s it.

    Sometimes, you don’t have that and feel confused. Then I think it’s up to your cognitive abilities to do some research, hear other opinions, learn, hear, discuss, in essence use your God-given brain to come to a conclusion. Using one’s brain and other faculties is not unspiritual. Trusting God, where nothing can be done just now is also God pleasing.

    When nothing is felt and heard, it becomes clear that it is by God’s word and promise only that we live. When everything falls away as with Job, as Lisa mentions, you rest only with the external word of God. THIS is where God wants us to place our trust. The voice in our head could be anything. Our feelings change with the weather and with what we ate, etc.

    Recently, I read and discussed this passage from the Smalcald articles of the Lutheran confessions.

    “We will now return to the Gospel, which does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world (Luke 24). This is the particular office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren.”

    These are the ways God comes to us externally. And this is not to be despised. Here is where the promises are. Where two or three are gathered… I would not wish to have to rely on my inner voice, as even as it has guided me well many times. But in this external Gospel shared among the people, is where the firm foundation is.

    • David Cornwell says

      You said “When I am faced with something, I ask Jesus to help me figure out what to do or say….”.

      I really like that. I’ve had situations where I pray the same way. I don’t hear a voice, but the solution becomes evident in time, or a door opens, and sometimes something totally unexpected comes along. I’ve come to rely on this kind of prayer.

      Thanks for your post.

  18. God’s silence is deafening to me after years now of praying, seeking, pleading to know Him. After a while, silence is no longer acceptable. I love my children. If I pick up the phone and dial certain numbers, I know that I will hear their voice on the line. If either of them calls me, I don’t sit and look at the phone while it rings, answering with “silence,” if you will. No, I love my children and when they “call unto me,” I answer them. I’m worn perilously thin with God’s silence. I don’t want riddles, parables, signs & wonders, or ancient stories to decipher and try to make some application as to what God is “speaking” to me. I fight resentment when I read various passages of Scripture such as, “In my distress I cried unto the Lord AND HE ANSWERED ME..” (Ps. 120:1). It is frustrating also to hear, “God speaks to us through… _____________ (fill in the blank” e.g. sickness, brokenness, disasters, etc. etc.). For heaven’s sake! These can’t be the only ways God can communicate with His people. Again, I love my children and, I want them to know it – to hear it – and never, never would I work some tragedy in their lives in order to say “I love you…” Some have said, “Maybe you’re not one of His children…” well, if a child shows up at my door, hungry, thirsty, cold, in need, I don’t care if he or she is “mine” or not, I won’t stand at the door and look at them while ignoring their knocking.
    I’ve spent countless times on my knees/face in the floor, begging for a sense of God’s presence —- nothing. So, I go on, jumping through the hoops and playing the part, hoping that some day, God will break the silence.

    • Lisa Dye says

      I’m praying for you. Mystifying and frustrating, isn’t it? Yet, God is good. Once I was in my car driving to a new place. I knew I was close and kept driving around and around thinking I was lost. Turned out I was already there.

      • What happened L.?

        I lost my son in a car accident and I go to find God in His word and in the Lord’s Supper where he said he would be.

        Footprint poems and such do nothing for me. I am left to imaging to myself that God is with me and carrying me. Searching by myself and in myself and even on my knees by myself, don’t feed me.

        Jesus said to bear our cross and follow still. We must cling to his word, and not just something picked at random and out of context. We must know what he is actually saying and where he has promised to be.

    • I’m with you L., and I would add that there is nothing quite a belittling as being regaled with a fellow Christian’s story of how God spoke to them in such and such situation. I think that some day we’ll all be surprised at the ways God was communicating with us and equally surprised at the ways we think he was, but actually wasn’t.

      • Savannah says

        I agree with Ed.

        While I appreciate the sharing of this, and the vulnerability it must have taken to share it, I find it troubling rather than edifying. I realize that wasn’t the intention, but when Christians who do not experience revelations about someone else’s cancer or hear God’s voice as some Christians claim to, and it is represented as a normal, typical occurrence worthy of much angest when it is not occurring, it can be pretty devastating. When we who do not have these experiences are honest about this lack of “hearing God”, we are often told by other Christians that we must not be one of the “elect”, or maybe our salvation just “didn’t take”. When faith is stretched thin by the wear and tear of life, it is just not that helpful to suggest that in addition to trusting in the work of Christ on the cross, we should also be “hearing” the voice of God, and if we’re not, it is cause for great consternation.

        • I don’t think Lisa should be taken to task for sharing how God operates in her relationship with Him.

          I, too, wish I heard the Voice like that, but I don’t. And that fact can be depressing. But I don’t sense any hint of “This is how it should be for anyone who calls him/herself a Christian, and if you don’t hear from God, then something must be wrong with you” in what she writes. She should be true to herself, and that’s all I think she’s doing in this post – i.e., being true to herself and expressing her honest feelings about her struggle with this.

          Of course there is the possibility, as I mentioned above but not in any kind of THIS IS THE TRUTH way, that Jesus’ sheep hear His voice and those who aren’t His sheep don’t. As awful as that thought/possibility is to contemplate, the possibility doesn’t become impossible just because it’s a horrible one. And I’m not saying that those of us who don’t hear His voice are not among His sheep. But it is a possibility.

          Lord, have mercy.

          • Savannah says

            If we have put our faith in Jesus Christ and His work at Calvary, and we are not one of His sheep, then that makes God a liar. There is no “possible” about it. Either He is a God of His Word or He is not.

            And it was not my intention to “take Lisa to task”, just as I don’t believe it was her intention to cause an issue. I’m just not sure she fully thought through how this, her personal situation, could be received, and how other commenters would pretty quickly get around to, “Well, maybe people who don’t hear God’s voice are not saved”.

        • Thanks Savannah. That also needed to said that way.

          Also, I have to also say, that I’ve met a dearest Christian, who is forever saying: the Lord told them this, etc. and she make the weirdest, not to say “dumbest” decision. It must make the non-Christian wonder about sanity.

          This is no witness, to say the Lord told them to do this and that… This is the witness– to confess the faith properly: Jesus words are true and this is what he did. I am forgiven, again today, because of his great mercy, and this is enough.

        • This is where I am at as well. The most common theme around here is that hearing God(which most often means some kind of inner impression) is a mark of spiritual maturity and that if you’re not experiencing this then you’re not growing in your relationship to Him. Some would go so far as to doubt your salvation as well.

          My personal take is that if you really do hear God on occasion then its a gift from Him and nothing we did made that happen. Accept it as a gift and keep living out the normal rhythms of your life in Him. The problem comes in when we start seeking out this experience and elevate it as a sign of the “truly” dedicated.

      • Lisa Dye says

        Ed, no intention of regaling or belittling on my part. I’m only sharing a personal experience and completely agree with you that God can and does communicate in so many different ways because we are all different personalities and He is infinitely creative.

        • Lisa,
          Sorry if you got collected up in my sweeping generalities. Your words are hardly belittling and my focus was more on those that speak “ex Cathedra” when recalling their experiences. It is one thing to hear from God, quite another to share it with others as a form of manipulation, control, or pride. Peace.

    • Try reading The Dark Night of the Soul. Great saints have experienced similar things.

    • I, too, have never heard a voice speak to me, though I have certainly received answers via other humans. My view is: ballyhoo if you’re hearing them, also fine if you’re not. There’s a little story about a flood and a guy praying for deliverance. 3 people offer rescue, but he says he’s waiting for God. He drowns; in heaven he asks God about it, and God says, “I sent you 3 people.” Pray, study, then do what seems right. It probably is, since the Holy Spirit is with you.
      Lisa- be careful with Mother Teresa. I read some stuff indicating her Christian orthodoxy was very suspect. In addition, she rejected offers to build hospitals for her patients, because she glorified their suffering to the point where she refused to alleviate it. Maybe in her case (NOT yours) that was the true cause of God’s silence to her.

    • I appreciate this, L.

      You’re not seeking signs, wonders, or anything to brag about. You want to know Him. You don’t have Him as you wish to have Him.

      I’m there too.

      • Thanks, Sean.
        I didn’t intend to give anyone the impression that I was being critical of Lisa’s experience. To the contrary, I long for the same intimacy. I do pour my heart out to God daily and seek to know Him in such a way that I can truly relate to Him as Father. Perhaps, the fact that my own father killed himself when I was 6 mos. old, and, I never knew what it was to have an earthly father to relate to, has prevented my from being able to relate to a Heavenly Father, as well.
        I do want my life to bring glory to the Lord, and I want to know Him — not just know ABOUT Him, but to know Him.

        Blessings,
        L.

        • “prevented ME”…

          • Very interesting that you bring up your father. I’m having a similar struggle in knowing the Lord (see my post far above in response to Michael). And my father also killed himself, when I was 8 years old. My parents divorced when I was a pre-schooler, so I have no memories of living with my dad… only visits. And then he was gone.

            I don’t wish to psychologize the faith too much, but I’ve been giving thought to relating to God as Father as well lately, and thinking about my own experience. I do wonder if there’s some sort of ‘block.’ If there is, I’m not exactly conscious of it, but in learning a bit about psychology and how things can be suppressed through my work with adolescents in crisis, I can’t count it out either.

            The longing to know God in this deeper way is new to me. I’m surrounded by those who have “it,” and they bear the fruit to prove it (in love and character, not boastful stories or experiences like some others). To hear how long you’ve been in pursuit is encouraging, and I do believe that he is a rewards those who seek him. Let’s keep going for it.

  19. Ekstasis says

    To add to some of the other books / people referred here, I believe St. John of the Cross may have coined the term “Dark Night of the Soul”. You can read it for free online:

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/john_cross/dark_night.html

    About St. John of the Cross:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John_of_the_Cross

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Totally irrelevant to the issue at hand, but a Jewish friend of mine was telling me about a early Christian mystic who was of Jewish descent that he really admired named “San Juan de la Cruz.” It took me a beat to realize he was referring to St. John of the Cross!

  20. Ekstasis says

    It sounds like what you are missing is not so much the words perhaps, but the intimacy that you felt like you once had. Check this out from Song of Solomon 3, widely consider as not just a human love story, but a metaphor for our love relationship with Christ:

    1 All night long on my bed
    I looked for the one my heart loves;
    I looked for him but did not find him.

    2 I will get up now and go about the city,
    through its streets and squares;
    I will search for the one my heart loves.
    So I looked for him but did not find him.

    And in Chapter 5, it gets even worse:

    6 I opened for my lover,
    but my lover had left; he was gone.
    My heart sank at his departure. [a]
    I looked for him but did not find him.
    I called him but he did not answer.

    7 The watchmen found me
    as they made their rounds in the city.
    They beat me, they bruised me;
    they took away my cloak,
    those watchmen of the walls!

    8 O daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you—
    if you find my lover,
    what will you tell him?
    Tell him I am faint with love.

    But in the end our intimacy is given a quantum leap forward. Our waiting is more than recompensed, more than we can ask or imagine, if we endure and keep the faith.

  21. Bruce Cockburn had some thoughts on God staying silent in his song “Gospel of Bondage” in 1987.

    Tabloids, bellowing raw delight
    Hail the return of the Teutonic Knights
    Inbred for purity and spoiling for a fight,
    Another little puppet of the New Right

    See-through dollars and mystery plagues
    Varied detritus of Aquarian Age
    Shutters on storefronts and shutters in the mind –
    We kill ourselves to keep ourselves safe from crime.
    That’s the gospel of bondage…

    We’re so afraid of disorder we make it into a god
    We can only placate with state security laws
    Whose church consists of secret courts and wiretaps and shocks
    Whose priests hold smoking guns, and whose sign is the double cross
    But God must be on the side of the side that’s right
    And not the right that justifies itself in terms of might –
    Least of all a bunch of neo-nazis running hooded through the night
    Which may be why He’s so consipicuously out of sight
    Of the gospel of bondage…

    You read the Bible in your special ways
    You’re fond of quoting certain things it says –
    Mouth full of righteousness and wrath from above
    But when do we hear about forgiveness and love?

    Sometimes you can hear the Spirit whispering to you,
    But if God stays silent, what else can you do
    Except listen to the silence? if you ever did you’d surely see
    That God won’t be reduced to an ideology
    Such as the gospel of bondage…

  22. Lisa, I appreciate what you’re struggling with in the story, and I’ve read many of your responses above, but I have a hard time relating when people use the “God spoke to me” language. The fact that a whole lot of evangelical folks mention such things (and my inability to relate) is one reason I’m not at my former AG church home any longer and am in the “post-evangelical wilderness” while attending an SBC.

    This is not meant to be a knock on your experiences; it’s just that I think the following iMonk essay by Bill MacKinnon is more akin to my own experiences.

    https://internetmonk.com/articles/V/voicehead.html

    • Maybe I should clarify a bit… it’s not that I’m discounting that the Holy Spirit spoke to you or speaks in such a way; it’s just that us in the evangelical world are so flooded with people talking about their intimacy with God, especially how God said this or the Lord told me to do that. I think many people are mistaken (I’ll not say that all are). But this is the world I’m familiar with, and it’s very hard not to be skeptical. And truly, coming from that world of overuse of the phrase “God said”, it’s very easy to be cynical, as well.

      So, please don’t take any negative reactions from folks personally; I think many of us are conditioned to react as such. I hope you understand.

      • What Josh T said.

        Its not that I doubt that some people have this kind of experience with God. Its just that in the evangelical world it works its way into another game of spiritual upsmanship where we(in my opinion) manufacture the experience in order to seem more spiritual. And in that environment I do doubt that people are hearing from God as much as they say they are.

    • That’s one of the biggest problems I have with some aspects of so-called “Evangelical” (and maybe other as well) Christianity, even though I are one.

      We tell people that they can have a personal relationship with, and know, the God of the Bible, but caveat that with telling them not to expect the God of the Bible they now have a personal relationship with to act with or towards them personally like He personally acted with the people in the Bible.

      We tell them that they have received the Holy Spirit that the Bible promises that those who believe in Jesus will receive, but downplay the idea that what God said He would do in conjunction with pouring out His Spirit on all flesh is something that should or could happen or they could expect to happen in their lives now that they have received the Spirit of the LIVING God.

      Does.Not.Compute.

      Reminds me of the scene in THE FRISCO KID between Avram (Gene Wilder) and Chief Gray Cloud (Val Bisoglio) re: why God doesn’t make it rain:

      Chief Gray Cloud: [in reference to Avram’s god] What does he do?
      Avram: He… He can do anything!
      Chief Gray Cloud: Then why can’t he make rain?
      Avram: Because he doesn’t make rain. He gives us strength when we’re suffering. He gives us compassion when all that we feel is hatred. He gives us courage when we’re searching around blindly like little mice in the darkness… but He does not make rain!
      [Thunder and lightning begin, followed by a downpour]
      Avram: Of course… sometimes, just like that, he’ll change His mind.

      • (cont’d) If ProtEvangels held to the idea of a continuing intermediary human priesthood or functioning prophetic office, then I think it could be accepted/acceptable to say and teach that God can be expected to personally relate and act in these ways with only a select few humans and not as a matter of course with all His children in whom His living Spirit abides and prays and operates. But ProtEvangels for the most part do not hold to these ideas, AFAIK.

        This is not a matter of continuationism vs. cessationism, because I’m not talking about HS charismata, but about the kind of relationship God has with us.

  23. I think many people who claim “God told me….” didn’t receive a message from God but actually “heard” a message from themselves that they are deciding is from God. I also believe many who believe they never hear from God have actually heard from Him in ways they have not yet recognized as coming from Him. We can so easily deceive ourselves into believing God is speaking to us when it is our own selves and we can also “miss” the presence of God speaking to us in various ways and through life events because we are searching for what “we” believe is the way God will make Himself known to us.

    I have experienced moments of recognizing God’s presence and knowing he was sharing something of Himself and of His desires for me….brief moments….but profound. These were moments I wouldn’t be inclind to easily and openly share. These however, came after long long periods of seeking his face and presence in prayer; learning how to quiet my mind so I could be open to hear “His Presence” above all the clamor and busy-ness of life that claims it’s space in our mind and spirits and doesn’t easily let us be free of it. The culture we are part of doesn’t teach us to “be still and know that I am God” but teaches us to be full of noise on all sides in various ways. All these things block the ability to be sensitive to God’s presence. I never realized how much “stuff” filled my mind and heart until I tried to be quiet and seek God’s face. I talk of God’s Presence instead of his voice because for myself the word voice is viewed as more tangible and concrete, as those who so easily say “God told me”. Whereas experiencing God’s Presence can be “known” in many different ways. I learned I had to be willing to let go of my own preconceived notions of what “hearing from God” would be like. That was not easy. I wanted what I wanted. I had to learn that God wants us to seek Him, the God of comfort, and not the comforting experiences of God.

    Though I write this, believe these things, am convinced of these things, I have known in my life more periods, years, of dryness and seeming absense of God. Yet, I know the God of Love and Mercy exists, and no human experience however difficult, and I’ve had many, will lead me to believe otherwise. I think this is where our Faith is truly tested. Not when we get what we’d like, but when we get what we don’t want and see others (supposedly) getting what they want and claim it was God.

    The idea that someone isn’t saved because they aren’t aware of “hearing from God” is absolutely absurd and is contrary to the God I know. Just because someone says they have heard God say something to them doesn’t mean at all that it was truly God….
    If someone is seeking God, it is because God was first seeking them. Right there, is a connection that is real. Because it is not tangible, audible, emotional etc., does not make it unreal. Who has the right to play God and say someone isn’t a true Christian, someone hasn’t really made a confession of faith, someone isn’t really saved, based on their perceiving God isn’t with them or making Himself known to them because they haven’t “heard” from God the way they think they should. This kind of talk truly upsets me…Why do some believe they can put God in a box and say He only operates this way and not another way.

    • Lisa Dye says

      Because we are unique, we experience God in different ways and one person may experience Him in different ways during different seasons of life. I don’t think God ranks His expressions to us on a scale of 1 to 10 and neither should we.

      Sometimes those brief moments of revelation are meant for us in a very personal way. Sometimes knowledge is given so that we will intercede quietly in behalf of someone else, but there are also times when revelation is meant to be shared. Watchman Nee points this out in “The Ministry of the Word.” If God gives a flash of revelation and the receiver will not fully develop it in thought and then articulate it in writing or speaking, a ministry opportunity is lost.

      • I totally agree with you Lisa. God does speak through others. God does reveal things to someone for the benefit of one or many. God does move us to approach someone in love, to turn a certain way, to intuitively know something about someone or a situation to speak a word of truth, encouragement, enlightenment, compassion etc. And we need to learn to be sensitive to God’s Spirit to be open to receive these moments of His presence talking to us.

        What I was mostly referring to in my above post is the often too casual, and carefree way I’ve seen and heard many Christians use the term: ‘God told me,’ ‘God spoke to me’ when it could be they felt an inner stirring to do something that may very well have come from God but was not actually “hearing from God”. I find that some Christians end up feeling lost and feel “outside the Christian group” because they haven’t “heard from God” according to how these words can commonly be interpreted. When in actual fact God has been speaking to them but in ways they have not yet understood to be God speaking to them. I say this and said it above precisely in relation to your point that God deals with each person as He sees is best because He knows what is best. The exact reason I am so against Christians putting God into a box saying He only acts this way and not that way, leaving many to question their very salvation and God’s Presence in their lives. So again, I agree with your statement , “Because we are unique, we experience God in different ways and one person may experience Him in different ways during different seasons of life.” I’m not sure if you thought I was saying something opposite this. I’m not sure where you understood me to be saying God ranks His expressions to us on a scale of 1 to 10…That didn’t enter my mind because I have never believed that.

        I also referred to how easy it is for all of us to deceive ourselves into thinking something was of God when in fact it was not. That’s where I am careful to easily and quickly share what I believe God made known to me until God’s Spirit confirms it within myself or through circumstances or through others. This is something many Holy men and woman throughout the History of Christianity have come to know in their own life and spoke about and taught. It is through my own personal experience as well as my experience in walking alongside others that I have come to be convinced of this.
        No one needs to agree with me. I am simply suspect of some who so readily and in such carefree manner proclaim what they are saying is of God.

  24. ‘ In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son’ Hebrews 1:1-2

    This is the problem with ‘The Lord told me’ stuff. Its all subjective, and causes people to doubt the objective promises that Christ has given us in His word if our experience does not match the experience of others who are ‘hearing from God’. The focus becomes ‘OUR’ relationship with Jesus rather than Jesus and what we know for sure He has said. I ran on that hamster wheel for years.

    I am not saying this stuff doesn’t happen. I have had experiences that I cannot explain, and many of my Lutheran pastor friends have had some amazing things happen, but it’s not the ‘coin of the realm’ that we are given to work with. We are given God’s word and the sacraments/ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to preach, teach and build our lives upon. Anything else, if in fact it is genuinely from the Lord, is extra, and if given much publicity tends to lead people away from God’s promises in Christ and into speculation about their personal standing with God based on their experiences or lack thereof.

    Furthermore, if I am being honest, how much do I, or any of us, REALLY want to hear from God outside of the Bible? If His written Word is like a hammer shattering our stony hearts, how traumatic would it be to constantly hear Him directly? Read the Scriptures; whenever God speaks outside the written word (even in the New Testament) it is usually accompanied by the admonition to fear not. Probably because it is really scary.

    Give me the scriptures, the Lord’s Supper, and a preacher who can really preach the Gospel, and it is enough for me. His promises are good and true even if I never hear a ‘voice.’

  25. I have discovered that when I go through a prolonged period of silence I learn how to listen so when I come out of that patch (and they have lasted for years) I am more alert and aware when God is speaking – and there are many ways in which He speaks. After all, why would the God who created the universe in such complexity limit Himself to the written word?
    The other thing I have noticed is that I am very reluctant to tell anyone of what I ‘hear’ – I am convinced that much of what we hear from God is meant for personal prayer and not for public declaration. Anyone who feels the need to regularly share what God has shared with them should be wary of their motives of doing so.
    Knowing God does mean that He desires an intimacy with me but it is costly and that intimacy does not thrive in my regular world of the superficial. Silence drives me to my knees, teaches me obedience and I am laid bare. Sometimes it is only then that I am prepared to hear what God has to say and accept it. As to how I am certain that it is God ‘speaking’ – if I don’t like what I ‘hear’ or I am baffled by it but it resonates as true – that’s a pretty good test for me.
    I am going through a patch of silence now and I really need to make some critical life-changing decisions but – no answers – yet! In the meantime I sense that what God is ‘saying’ to me is that I need to learn to trust Him – and this silence is the training ground for that particular gift. Looking back, I have probably learnt more through the silent patches in my life than I have in the more obviously intimate and interactive times with God.

  26. I think most Christians do not hear an “audible” voice from God and there is no reason that they should. They can read the Bible to know what God wants from us which is our trust and love. They can pray to rest in the silence and become aware of the presence of God, though it can take years or decades for some of us to learn to do this. (Read Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating and other books on Contemplative Prayer.) We can take part in corporate worship and at times, be aware of the abiding presence of God.

    And yes, there are many times I wonder why God doesn’t answer prayer more “directly” and I get impatient with myself and with God. There has only been one time in my 56 years that I heard something “audible” and that was only three words and it came “out of the blue” so to speak. I wasn’t seeking God in prayer at that time or having any particular problems that would need God’s “advice.” I cannot even be sure that it was God. It could have been caused by something else. It wasn’t a fearful experience and I read in the Bible that when God spoke to people, they often were afraid at first. But, many years ago, when I attended services where people would be “slain in the Spirit” that never happened to me. I wondered if something was wrong with me, but some people said I was strong and therefore would not have to drop to the floor. I don’t know. I just know that we should never feel like “lesser” Christians because we don’t have mystical types of experiences. For me, God’s presence is most experienced in silence. But we are all different.

    • Lisa Dye says

      Joanie, I completely agree with you. God interacts with us at His will, not ours. He has created us uniquely and it stands to reason that we will experience Him differently. He is inscrutable, unfathomable and completely surprising. How I love Him!

  27. I am certainly no expert in this area and have experienced plenty of silence in my own Christian walk, but the bottom line (for me, at least) is this: We walk by faith, not by sight. And maybe not by sound, either. I don’t “hear” God’s voice with my ears, but sometimes I do get a sense of something or Someone inside (the Holy Spirit?) that is not my own thoughts. A kind of interior dialogue goes on. Am I having a conversation with myself? I think not. Sometimes He does the talking (metaphorically speaking) and I do the listening. We do have to learn to “recognize His voice” so that we are able to discern when our enemy is trying to deceive us. This is where studying the written Word comes in. If what I’m hearing doesn’t line up with solid core Biblical truth, it isn’t from the Lord. I’m not saying this very well, but I know when it is happening. And sometimes the voice is not “deep inside,” it’s more behind me, prompting “this is the way, walk in it” when I would wander to the left or to the right. Do I always obey? No. Do I always get it right? No. But I would say that is probably because of the stubbornness in my own heart.

    But about those silent times, the analogy of a classroom has helped me understand a little better what may be going on. There are times of instruction when the teacher is imparting new information or reiterating something said previously, and the student’s job is to hear, listen well, and soak it up. But when a test is being given, the teacher does not speak. The time for instructing is over and the time for seeing whether you truly learned what you were taught has come. Only after the testing time is over does the teacher begin to speak again.

    Simplistic, I know, but it has helped me time and time again. Along with continuing to remember that we walk by faith, not by sight.

  28. Lisa, I won’t question your confidence that God has spoken to you in the past in very specific and personal ways, to a level of intimacy that many of us have not yet experienced… perhaps providing a degree of assurance where you could almost say, “for I walk by faith AND by sight”.
    My question is, does that previous intimacy make the current state of silence more painful, because now you know what you are missing?
    When I fly, I only can afford coach class tickets. Once I was bumped to first class on a long flight and, though I loved the experience it has ruined me, because now I know what I’m missing! Instead of being grateful for my current journey, all I can think about is how much more comfortable my travel could be “if only”.
    Sorry, this is a poor analogy, and I don’t mean to imply there are different classes of Christians. Rather, I just wonder if your earlier close communication with God is still a cause for joy and assurance, or if you think it is only adding doubt and stress to your current wilderness journey.

  29. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I’m reminded of something I heard Fr. John Corapi say about how God sometimes gives us graces or “charisms” at different times in our lives that sometimes go away or get put “on hold” later. He was talking about how in seminary God had given him a supernatural charism of discernment that lasted only for a few years. He said that though he really misses that charism, he chalks it up to one of the mysteries of God.

  30. Christopher Lake says

    The only way that I am ever truly sure that I am “hearing” from God has to do with His revealed moral will in the Bible. What I mean is that I can hear God in the pain and “unsettledness” that exists in my conscience when I disobey His clear, Biblical, moral will. I can hear God in the joy that I experience when I obey that clear moral will. In the rare cases that I have acted on a purely subjective sense of God “telling” me something, I still feel ambivalent about most of them, because I’m still not sure if the “voice” was actually from God.

    I am used to “silence” from God, in the terms of which the author here writes. Perhaps it is because, like other people have commented about themselves, I all too easily “experience” God as being distant. I know that that is not the objective reality, but it is often my experience. I fight against it, and I should do so more. My relationship with my earthly father is not very close (a fact which pains me to this day), and my mother committed suicide when I was nine. In a certain way, I am glad that I have any understanding at all of God as a loving Father… but I would like so much more.

  31. I love your topic. I was just reflecting on the same thing today. For anyone who hasn’t already done it, get Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God workbook. Today’s study was on the silence of God. Using the same point from the story of Lazarus, Blackaby makes the point that often God is silent because He is preparing to reveal a deeper level of understanding of who He is and what power He truly has. Wow! I am now anticipating what I will see when the silence ends!

  32. Lisa, I am one of those people who experience, generally, lots of what I call consolation. What you call hearing would, I think, be similar. Interesting that you mention Mother Theresa and her long silence. Have you read the book of her compiled letters and journals and did it help?