(This TTRF series starts with the post "Through the Refining Fire (TTRF): Intro 1.")
As I reflect back on my time in the furnace, I have to say that the most growth seemed to happen during the times of God’s deafening silence. As we waited for years to get direction from God about finally buying a house, it seemed that the greater my need for an answer and for God’s leading, the quieter He got.
At first, I pleaded with Him for a sense of direction and for a house. But by the end, I was just pleading to have any sense that He was even there, that He cared and was listening and hadn’t abandoned me. What started out as a search for a home ended up as a search for knowing that I mattered to God.
It’s ironic to me that the greatest level of growth that I have ever had in my relationship with the Lord came out of a time when I doubted everything about my relationship with Him. The most growth I have ever experienced in my understanding of prayer came from feeling like I totally failed at it.
And I could only get to this point by facing the walls and fears and doubts that I had inside. And I could only do that when God hid from me. Because the more He hid, the more I pursued. It wasn’t that He had abandoned me (even if it felt that way); it’s that He knew I was ready to dig deeper and pursue Him more. And this wouldn’t have happened if I was pampered by His presence and by His blessings.
I think that there are at least five reasons why God remains silent for stretches of time:
1. It’s a time of discipline - a time when He has “withdrawn” to give us a little jolt that helps open our eyes to our sins and the effect that they have caused. This is to help us adjust our course as we walk with Him, and we should be deliberate about righting any wrongs and asking forgiveness as soon as we can.
2. It’s a time of being turned over to the hardness of our hearts - because we have resisted Him and have neglected to listen to and obey the convictions and nudges of the Holy Spirit. Or maybe we have outright rebelled or turned our back on Him. First, He tries to get our attention and help us get back on track. But if we persist, He has no other choice than to let us walk down the path of rebellion. This kind of silence is to be feared and taken very seriously. It is dangerous territory and can reap severe consequences.
3. It’s a time of pruning and growth - when He knows that we are ready and willing to pursue Him and His righteousness more deliberately, when we are reaching out for Him more earnestly than ever before. And yet, somehow, it seems like He has withdrawn. But this silence should not be feared. He is there with you, encouraging you toward godly growth and character, like a parent taking a step backward as their toddler learns to walk, beckoning them to take one more step closer. Allow this time to draw you closer to Him, in prayer and through His Word.
4. It’s a time to teach us to be content with God’s right to be God, with His right to say “no” or “wait,” with His choice to not intervene at that time, for whatever reason. It’s meant to get us off of His throne where we have been happily sitting and making plans and ordering Him around.
5. And sometimes it’s just because He’s working on the answer to our prayers and it’s not ready yet. And so He has nothing more to say than “Find your comfort and strength in Me, and hang in there. I’m working on it.”
When you find yourself in an extended time of waiting, of God’s silence, and you are getting confused and don’t know what to do, it might be a good idea to consider what this time of waiting may be about. Is it for discipline? Is it because you are in rebellion? Is it that He is working on the answer? Or challenging you to give Him the right to say “no,” forcing you to get off His throne? Or is it because God is trying to grow your character and your faith, asking you to climb higher and dig deeper in your walk with Him?
I can’t say that there are any steps to follow to get out of this time of waiting. It’s not like there’s a formula to get God to act or to reveal Himself. (Trust me, I’ve tried. And tried. And tried.) But there are things we can do to make the most of this time, to draw closer to Him instead of drifting, and to learn to wait more contentedly. It may just be that God knows you are ready to learn something you never wanted to learn before - about yourself, about God, or about His plans.
Quite honestly, our tendency is to fear this time, to feel abandoned, and to feel like it will never end. And so we desperately try to fight our way out of His silence, or to fill it with busyness and “God-pleasing” activities in the hopes that we can earn His answer or attention.
Resist the urge to lead the way out. Follow instead! Use this time to draw near to God. Immerse yourself in prayer and in the Word, letting the Spirit know that you are willing to hear from Him.
But remember that just because we say “Speak,” doesn’t mean that He will right away. He answers when He decides to, when we are ready to hear it and willing to obey. I once heard His answer to a prayer almost before I even finished praying. But with the house-hunting, I had to wait a couple years before I got any direction from Him (or before I even got a reminder that He was there and listening). Those were hard, discouraging, confusing years.
It seems to me that we usually have to wait longer than we want because longer times of silence make us try harder and dig deeper. They reveal more of what’s inside of us. And they ultimately test us. They make us choose between giving up or pursuing Him more deliberately.
Now, while we can’t make Him talk or reveal Himself, we can make sure that we are in a receptive position when He does speak. And we do this by reading the Word and praying and thinking on Him. And when we are in a time of waiting, we have a great opportunity to develop our spiritual lives, such as examining our hearts and minds for any offensive ways and evaluating how well we obey, how well we treat others, if we glorify God in the jobs He has given us, and if we have learned to praise in the pain and be thankful for the blessings we already have.
The key is: Don’t rush it or try to force your way out of His silence. Don’t fill it with distractions. Don’t despair. Be willing to learn from this time and to wait on God.
He will not forget you. Trust me on this. Trust the Bible on this! But the waiting usually lasts a lot longer than we are comfortable with. Just expect that and know that it’s normal.
As I look back on the emotional roller coasters that I have been on during my various times of waiting, it seems as though I usually go through different stages before God acts:
Stage 1: Utter confidence that the Lord will do what I’m asking… “Lord, I’m praying for this, and I believe that You want to do it and that You will do it soon.”
Stage 2: Confident enough to keep waiting because it’s just a matter of time… “Okay, I’m waiting happily here because I just know that Your answer is right around the corner.”
Stage 3: A bit concerned but still trusting that God will reward my patient faithfulness and my trust in Him with the answer I want… “Beginning to sweat a little here, Lord, but I know that You want me to learn to wait contentedly. So I will!”
Stage 4: Concerned that I might not be getting through, that maybe He’s not aware of how faithfully I am waiting on Him, feeling the need to remind Him and to help the answer along … “Hey, God, look how contentedly I am waiting here. Where are You? I know You won’t forget me. But You know what, how about I just get things moving here and help You with the answer!”
Stage 5: Discouragement, feeling abandoned and forgotten, even after all the praying I’ve done and all the faith I’ve expressed, after trying to help the answer along a little, and after trying to do everything just right to get Him to listen and respond … yet feeling like it might just be one last test that I have to pass before He answers… “You’ve forgotten me, haven’t You? But You know what, I’m not going to give up yet. I’m going to ask again. You like perseverance, right? Please, I really need an answer.”
Stage 6: Discouraged and desperate and out of any ideas of how to get God to answer, and now moving from wanting an answer to just wanting to be reminded that God is real and listening and that He cares… “God, I’ve asked again and again. What more do I have to do? I’m looking for any sins that are blocking You from me, I’m trying to do my best to live righteously and to wait well, and I’m reading my Bible and praying for Your guidance. But where are You? I’m getting exhausted and discouraged. I just need something from You. Anything!
Stage 7: Giving up, too discouraged to care anymore, too tired to hope, not caring if I get an answer anymore or any sign from Him, just wanting to be left alone… “Okay, God, You know what? Forget it! I can’t ask anymore. I’m done.”
Stage 8: Remembering that He is my God, that He does answer prayer in His time and way, that He is the only real hope I have and that I have been through too much with Him to turn my back on Him, not caring about an answer anymore just wanting to sense His presence, to be reminded that my faith is not in vain… “Okay, I’m not done! I have nowhere else to turn to. And You know what, I don’t even want an answer anymore. I don’t care about getting anything from You. Please, just let me know that You are there and that You care. I will not believe that You don’t care or that You won’t handle this concern.”
Stage 9: Choosing to cling in faith, no matter what, and giving God permission to say “no” to my requests and trusting that He has His reasons, yet reminding Him that I will not stop waiting for Him to show Himself to me again … because that is more important to me than any other prayer request… “God, even if You won’t reveal Yourself yet, I won’t give up on You. And I know that You won’t give up on me. Help me to be content with the silence. I don’t care about the prayer request anymore; I only care about Your presence. Help me to hang in there until You show Yourself. I’m digging in my heels and I’m not going anywhere - until You show me that You are the God that I know You are, the God who loves us and doesn’t forget us and will be there when we call. And I will wait as long as it takes.
Stage 10: This is usually the point where the wait has been so long that my focus has completely shifted off of the idol I had been chasing and onto Him. He alone becomes the only thing that will satisfy. The only thing I need. I can do without the answer, but I couldn’t live without Him. And after this point, after pursuing Him with all that is within me, after waiting through lots of silence, after being pruned of any sense of self-sufficiency or self-control, He whispers.
And, oh, it is so worth it! Nothing that He could give me is as satisfying and as beautiful as that. And by that point, either my desire has changed and I no longer “need” what I thought I needed, or He finally brings the answer that I wanted. But now, it is not an idol. It’s a blessing that I want to use for His glory. It’s not about me anymore, it’s all about Him!
[Now I’m not saying that God always deliberately waits just so we can learn some kind of spiritual lesson. The risk here is that we then think that as soon as we learn the lesson, God will act. Sometimes it happens that way and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes God holds waits for a reason, to teach us something or to get us to do something … and sometimes it’s just life and whatever we wanted was never going to happen anyway.
Our job is not to worry about getting what we want in the end, but to let all of life draw us closer to Him and strengthen our faith and trust, especially in the times that we don’t get what we want.]
Part of learning that it’s all about Him and for Him is to (as I said earlier) learn to be content with His right to say “no.” Every so often, I go through times when I feel like a huge failure in every area of life. I will get hard on myself for weeks or months at a time because none of my efforts seem to accomplish anything worthwhile and because God is remaining silent about it all.
I was in one of these funks recently (for four depressing months) when I was feeling like I failed at something that I really wanted to succeed at, for God’s glory. I felt like a loser and like I didn’t matter to anyone. No matter what I did, I seemed blocked at every turn. And I felt like it was all my fault somehow. I was doing my best, but it wasn’t good enough. And if my best wasn’t good enough then I was really pathetic.
And one day I was standing at the sink doing dishes and listening to the Newsboys sing “Blessed Be Your Name” (I love, love this song! One of my favorites!) And as I was lamenting my failures to God, I zeroed in on the line of the song that basically says that God “gives or takes away . . . Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
He “takes away.” He takes away. And like a ray of light, it dawned on me. Maybe it wasn’t that I was failing at everything. Maybe He had simply chosen to take away, for whatever reason. And the problem wasn’t my efforts or ability; it’s that I wasn’t willing to accept the right of the Lord to “take away.” As Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)
Well, I realized that, all that time, I wasn’t willing to let God “take away” the success that I sought, the financial security that I was striving for, and the level of accomplishment that I fought to reach. I wasn’t willing to accept less. And so I kept trying and trying, doing things I thought were worthwhile and godly – trying to make it happen - yet being blocked at every turn. And I felt more and more crushed with every “failure” and with every day of God’s silence that went by.
But once He reminded me of His right to give or take away, I could take my eyes off of myself and my “failures” and put my trust back in Him. Because as long as I was trying my best for His glory, it wasn’t about me and my ability. It was about what He chose to do – or not do - with my efforts. He had the right to “take away” or to say “no” to my heart’s desires and my efforts. He had the right to prevent or stall success.
And once I accepted that truth, I was relieved of the responsibility and the burden to accomplish something that was outside of my reach. I didn’t have to force success if God was blocking it. I simply had to accept that He was pleased that I did my best, that my efforts and desire to glorify Him touched His heart, if no one else’s.
And my job became to praise and glorify Him today – whether He gives or takes away. To be responsible for the tasks that He put into my path today. And to let Him have the rest. I have to let Him have tomorrow, let Him have the right to use (or not use) me however He wants, let Him have the right to grant success or to “take away.” It’s not about me or my ability or my accomplishments or my desires or my plans anymore; it’s about letting Him be God. And this is crucial to learning to be content!
[And if I may point out something else here. Sometimes it can be just as hard to accept the times He wants to “give” or bless. Some of us are much more comfortable with His justice, with His “no” answers, and with getting only the tiniest bit of whatever He wants to give us. We are used to be overlooked, on the outside, making do with little and not asking for more. Some of us have a harder time letting Him bless us abundantly and pour out His grace and mercy and love on us because we feel too low and undeserving.
Well, we are definitely underserving, but we need to learn how to let God “give” as well as “take away.” Because if He gives, He does so for a reason and He wants to be glorified through it. And being able to “accept” is a huge part of getting the salvation and forgiveness that He offers, and of learning to be humble, content, and to glorify God no matter what. God wants us to enjoy His creation and His blessings, and to do this means to gracefully accept them and show our gratitude by enjoying them - the same way we want people to respond to us when we give them a gift.]
Too many times, our prayers are not from the foot of the cross. They are from our position on the throne. We demand and request and order God around. We try to convince Him that we know best, and we act like He waits at our feet to do our bidding. We have a “right” to the answers. We’ve followed the formula. We know best because we can see the justness, rightness, mercifulness, fairness, value, and importance of what we are asking for. Surely God can see it, too. Right?
And then we feel like He let us down and can’t be trusted if it didn’t happen the way we thought it should. We question what kind of a Christian we are, what kind of God He is and if He really cares about us at all. And we either get angry and rebel and grow bitter … or we retreat in pain and fortify our walls and say, “See! I knew He’d let me down. Everyone always does.” We pass judgment on His ability to be God and we evaluate His performance by our limited understanding, by the things He does for us.
But we have shrunk Him. We have turned Him into a Vending Machine.
And I have to ask, who is really on the throne?
Lack of answers and God’s silence and a “no” can cause us to doubt God. But we can’t stop there. We need to use those doubts as springboards to uncover walls, sins, fears, expectations, and misconceptions about ourselves and about God. And to root out any idols that we are chasing.
And once again, this brings us back to the importance of the Word. Because that is where we find the truth about who He is and who we are. Without Truth, we are left to float around hopelessly lost at sea. We have no hope outside of God’s Truth!
I believe that the healing that God wants for us is the kind that will bring us to the point where we can say, “Regardless of how You answer, Your will be done! You are enough for me!” This is being sweetly broken. This is true humility. And this is why we face His silence sometimes. To break us of our need to play God in our life! To teach us to be content! And to cause us to wrestle and wrestle with our fears, doubts, misconceptions, expectations, and sins - until we resemble Him more, draw ever nearer to Him, and realize that He is all we really desire and need!
(I have found a lot of comfort in J.J. Heller’s song “Your Hands,” which talks about how we never leave God’s hands, even with all the unanswered prayers and pain that we have. It has kinda been a theme song for me over the years. Thank you, J.J., for this beautiful song! Another wonderful song … “Better than a Hallelujah” by Amy Grant, about how God wants us to pour our pain out to Him because He loves us and because we matter to Him.)
When we get a clear, biblical understanding of the truth about ourselves and God, we will know Him as a good, loving Father that can be trusted, no matter how or when He answers. We will be more comfortable with knowing that our job is to pray and His job is to answer. We’ll know that even if we didn’t get what we wanted in our time and in our way, He will work it out for good. Because of who He is! And because of His love for us!
I think that most discontentment comes from feeling like God owes us something that He isn’t giving us. When in reality, we owe Him everything that we already have.
The secret to being content… Remember that whatever comes (or doesn’t come) our way is from His hands, and He can be trusted.
And our focus should be on how to glorify Him in all circumstances, instead of trying to run from them, change them, or fight our way out before it is time!
If you find yourself in a long time of waiting, take some time to examine your life, your views of God, your views of yourself, your spiritual disciplines, your level of obedience, and any lies, sins, expectations, doubts, fears, misconceptions, etc., that you harbor in your heart or mind. And here are some questions to help you do this:
Questions for when God seems far away, and you can’t figure out why:
1. Did anything in this section stand out to me? Why?
2. Have I rebelled against God or disobeyed in anything? How can I make it right?
3. Do I really want God’s presence in my life? Do I want to know His opinion about how I am living?
4. In what areas am I resisting Him and why?
5. Can I handle His correction? Am I teachable? If not, why? Where does it come from and what can I do about it?
6. Am I chasing after anything (recognition, money, security, praise, other people, status, possessions, a particular answer, etc.) when I should be chasing after a real relationship with God? What are my idols?
7. What am I focusing on intensely right now: money, house, impressing others, my depression or pleasure, spiritual experiences, etc.? How does that focus need to shift? And am I seeking earthly pleasures over heaven’s treasures?
8. Am I disgracing Him by engaging in the “spiritual” or immoral practices of those around me, things like witchcraft, sex outside of marriage, cheating, gossiping, unkindness, drunkenness, etc.? (I don’t think we can become all that God wants us to be and get all of His blessings if we are trying to live with one foot in each camp: the world’s and God’s.)
9. Am I lazy in my spiritual disciplines? Am I focused on comfortably living my nice, little life? (Remember, God calls us to be diligent and earnest and seek Him with all our hearts. And He may have to pull away from us to get us to do that, if we have become too comfortable.)
10. Am I using up all my energy to keep all the balls up in the air, to handle everything on my own? Why do I feel like I have to do this? Have I shared my burden with the Lord? If not, why not? If so, am I trusting Him to handle my concerns? If not, why not?
11. Is there any part of my heart/life/past that I have not opened up to the Lord? Anything that I am guarding or hiding from Him?
12. Am I being less-than-transparent with God (or myself) about anything in my life: thoughts, feelings, sins, my past, etc.? If so, what walls, fears, and doubts are still between me and the Lord? Why? (Confess them and ask God for help getting past them.)
13. What is my attitude/behavior towards other people right now? Anger, resentment, bitterness, jealousy, unloving spirit, unforgiveness, disrespect, gossiping, etc. (Think specifically here. Look at each person you know or come into contact with and see if there are any that you have an ungodly attitude toward. Pray that God brings it to your attention. I believe that the more we embrace ungodly behavior, attitudes and habits, the more we crowd out the Holy Spirit and the more access to our hearts and lives we give Satan. And so we need to be deliberate about rooting these out.)
14. Am I having a hard time letting God “give” or “take away” in any area of my life right now? What is behind this struggle? And what should my response be instead?
15. Am I discontent in any area? Why? How is it affecting me and my faith? What should I do about it? (Pray about it first.)
16. Am I judging Him and His ability to be God based on how He is working (or not working) in my life right now? How am I judging Him? What are my expectations of Him, of faith, of life? (Think carefully, and talk it all over with Him.) How does He want me to change? (Ask Him!)
17. Am I willing to wait for God to work in His time and in His way? If not, why not? Where is that attitude coming from? What effect might it have on me and my faith and my life? Am I willing to obey whatever He might ask me to do? Do I really want Him to talk to me or am I afraid of what He might say?
Sometimes, God’s silence and pulling away is the most merciful thing He could do … because if we are in rebellion or in disobedience or if we are living ungodly or too-comfortable lives, we might never seek to make it right on our own. And we would miss out on that vibrant life that comes with drawing near to Him. We would miss out on the security of His arms and the deep joy and healing that come with digging deeper and climbing higher with Him. And if His silence is what gets us to do that, then praise God for it.
Questions for when your relationship with Him is on track, but the wait for an answer is just too long:
Now, let’s say that you are walking with Him daily and you are just waiting for an answer to a prayer. Things seemed to be going fine, but the wait is dragging on and on. You need an answer, and you are starting to panic. You want to force something to happen, and you are tempted to give up on God. Maybe you even feel like your faith is being shaken. You have never really doubted Him before, but His silence is making you wonder if He really cares, if you matter, and if He is ever going to do anything about it. And you realize that you need to call upon every resource you have to make it through this time of waiting.
During these times, it may help to ask yourself . . .
1. Do I run ahead of God’s guidance or fail to seek His guidance? Am I praying for His Will to happen or am I praying for what I believe I need or want? Am I so focused on “the answer I want” that I am failing to ask Him to guide my path and to give me the wisdom to see His answer?
[I think that it’s more helpful for us to pray about His help, wisdom, guidance, peace, etc. on the journey than it is to “pray the answer.” That’s when we tell God in prayer how we expect Him to answer. Instead of praying, “Lord, give me wisdom to know when You are revealing the next step,” we pray, “Lord, let the next step be such-and-such.”
But this can lead to doubts, frustration, anger toward God, etc., when we don’t get the things we prayed for. We get confused because we thought the Bible said that we would get what we prayed for, if we prayed in faith. So something must be wrong with us or our faith, right?
However, God never promises us specific answers, but the Bible is full of the promises that He gives us to help us on the journey. Read the Bible for these, and remind God of these kinds of promises. These are ones that He will answer!]
2. Have I looked in the Word for the promises that God has given me?
[It really does help as you go into a long time of waiting to immerse yourself in the Word. Ask for the Holy Spirit to lead you to a verse or two that you can claim as your own in this waiting. There are many things that God has promised us through His Word. And if we ask, the Holy Spirit will show us which ones relate to our situation. This shifts our focus from what we think we need to what God offers. But beware of the desire to claim any old verse that you want. Pray for His guidance and wait on Him until He shows you the one that He wants for you.
As I went through the wait for a house, I had many people encouraging me to go out there and get something, anything. There were times for doing something, but then there was also one confusing time when I knew God was telling me to do nothing. I think this was partly for discipline, because I had made an idol out of the search for a house. And it was partly for learning to wait and trust Him fully. He wanted to show me that He could be trusted; that if I obeyed His instruction to do nothing, He would still work it out. And it was because He was working on the best possible answer, as I would come to find out.
Anyway, as I went through this, I really doubted that “doing nothing” was the right or wise track. And I was beginning to doubt myself, God, my faith, and … well . . . everything. I needed something outside of myself to hold me up, something to ground myself on. And since God felt so far away, I had to run to what was there - His Word. His eternal, living, completely-true Word. And so I spent some time digging in and looking for a life-vest, a verse or two to keep me afloat when I was ready to be pulled under by everything - my doubts, my fears, others’ advice, His silence, etc.
And these were my verses:
James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Isaiah 48:17: “This is what the Lord says . . .’I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.’”
These are what I clung to when I had nothing else to hold onto. God will give us wisdom if we ask. He will make our paths straight if we trust. He will direct us if we will listen and obey. And I decided that I had to take God at His Word, even if I didn’t “feel it.”
Find some life-vest verses for yourself. Wrap yourself up in them and cling to them when you have nothing else to cling to. These are God’s promises. They will keep you afloat. If you hold on.
And there was one other verse that God spoke to my heart when I was pleading with Him about if I should give up the house-hunting for awhile and wait on Him and do nothing. I was really afraid that I might miss out on a house if I did nothing, and I was afraid that it would look irresponsible, like I wasn’t doing my part but expecting God to do His. And so I pleaded with God to show me that “giving up” was the right thing. And, I kid you not, “Ecclesiastes 3” popped into my head as I was praying. So I looked it up and my eyes fell on verses 1 and 6: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to search and a time to give up…” Thank You, Lord, for the guidance.]
3. Am I drawing near to Him or pulling away because of the wait and the silence?
[God will answer when it is time. Until then, sometimes all we can do is cling! Cling to Him, instead of turning away in discouragement. His silence doesn’t mean He doesn’t care. It means He’s asking us to go deeper with Him, to climb higher on that mountain of faith, to be pruned of things we need to be pruned of.
And yet so many of us turn backs and say, “Fine, Lord, if You’re not going to do anything about it or do it my way, then I’ll do it myself.” Fight through that! Fight it with all you’ve got, in transparent prayer and by leaning on the Truth of the Bible.
We don’t win races by giving up after the first cramp. We don’t become artists by giving up as soon as the first tube of paint runs out. We won’t have a successful marriage if we turn tail the first time (or hundredth time) we face conflict or feel unappreciated. And we don’t become warriors in the Christian life by giving up the first time that the armor becomes too heavy to wear or when the silence becomes too loud or when the trials become too discouraging.
His silence isn’t abnormal. He often makes us wait. He makes us wait until our own notions, efforts, strength, and wisdom fail us. He makes us wait until we no longer want just what He can give us but until we desperately need Him. I have found that God often keeps me waiting past the point when I feel like my wisdom and prayers could make something happen. Then I can’t say, “Oh, look what happened when I prayed!” All I can say is, “It was all Him!”
We choose to either draw nearer or to fall away when faced with His silence. We choose to believe that He is the kind of God who will give up on us and fail us, or else we choose to believe that He isn’t. His silence tests us. Will we cling to Him no matter what? Who else will we turn to?]
4. Are there any walls, fears, doubts, sins, expectations, or misconceptions that I am holding onto or that are being uncovered during this time of waiting?
[Confess these honestly. And be prepared to wait some more while the Holy Spirit digs even deeper. The deeper that He wants to go in your life and the more significant the things that He wants to change or uncover, the more difficult and longer and louder the silence and the time of waiting will be. But the greater the rewards will be, too. Follow the Spirit. Go where He’s taking you. This is what will lead to the most abundant, satisfying life possible. (After the pain, of course.)
Now, this doesn’t mean that if all walls are down, all sins are confessed, all misconceptions are cleared up, etc., that you’ll get what you want. It just means that you will be able to accept God’s answer better, because you will be seeking Him, not just what He can give you. Your hope will be in Him, and not in some particular answer to prayer.
I wonder sometimes if God doesn’t answer our prayers in our way and in our timing just so we remember that He is not a code to be figured out. He cannot be manipulated by us. He is God, and we are not. He is not a vending machine. He is far above us and our understanding. And He knows that we need to learn that and to take comfort in it. He also knows what we really need eternally, no matter what we think will fulfill us. And during the silence, He weeds out these false desires until we learn the true desire of our hearts.
This was the case for me. I weeded and weeded and weeded, and I faced one disappointment after the next. . . until I learned that what I really needed was not the house or a home. It was not stability in anything else. What I really needed was stability in Him. I needed Him to be more than just “God.” I needed a Heavenly Father.
As I explored in Child of Mine (at https://sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com), I resisted needing a father my whole life because fathers let you down. (I lost two, and later three, to divorce.) I only know how to settle for a step-relationship, and I didn’t let myself need more.
But the furnace burned away all the things that I thought I needed, all other pursuits, until I realized that all I needed was to make God my Father. And not just a father that gives things, but a Father that holds me when I hurt, that I can run to when I’m scared and in pain, and that loves me no matter what I am or am not. And I never knew that love (I knew it in my head, but I never lived it in my heart) until He broke me.]
5. Am I willing to wait for His answer? Am I willing to obey whatever He tells me? What do I fear He might say, and why?
[Dig and pray to see if there is any resistance to waiting and obeying. We have to be willing to wait and willing to obey if God is going to answer. Sometimes we are so hung up on doing what we want to do that we are not yet ready to obey what He will ask us to do. Ask yourself if you are truly willing to obey whatever He asks, to take the next step when He reveals it.]
6. How do I expect God to answer? How might my expectations be hindering me from sensing His leading?
[If we sit in front of one closed door, praying and waiting for that door alone to open, we may miss out on the door that He actually does open. Are you waiting for your expectations to be fulfilled or are you willing to go where He leads? Admit your expectations to Him and offer them to the Lord to change as He wills.]
7. Has God already answered me, but I have forgotten or ignored it?
[Sometimes, God has given us the instructions on how to handle a certain request, but we may not want to do it, so we “ignore” it. Or maybe we just forgot what He said and went off in our own wisdom. It may be wise to consider this, if we are wondering why God is not answering us. Maybe He already did. Or maybe He has granted you the wisdom to handle it yourself.]
8. Is there any sin between God and myself right now? Am I living in obedience?
[You know, I was thinking about my tendency to get discouraged about God’s slowness in answering. And it dawned on me how little I was concerned with God’s discouragement over my slowness to obey. I don’t want to accept His “halfhearted,” slow attempts to respond to me; but I want Him to accept my halfhearted, slow attempts to respond to Him. Convicting!]
9. Am I following the biblical truths about effective prayer?
[Click on the “Understanding God’s Will” label at https://myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com for an in-depth study of some of these biblical guidelines for effective prayer. Once again, though, these are not steps we go through to get God’s answers. They are steps to get more of God and to let Him get more of us.]
10. Do I really want what I am praying for? What might I actually fear about getting this answer?
[Such as, we ask for healing of a chronic condition, but are we really ready to go back to a normal life with all of its demands? We pray that God gives us a certain position, but do we really want that job and the work it entails? We pray that God brings us a new job, but do we really want to go through the effort of finding it, applying for it, and switching places? We pray for a healthy marriage, but are we willing to clean up our act if God reveals the ways we are failing in our marriage?
Sometimes, even with something we really do want, there is a part of us that is not ready for the answer. Is this the case with your request? If so, confess these fears or concerns to God, and ask for His help to accept the answer that He gives and to obey.
I wonder sometimes if God expects us to start living like we want the answer before He gives it, and yet we are waiting for Him to give the answer before we start living like we want it. You know, like praying for health. We ask God to grant it, and then we wait for His answer to come before we start engaging in a healthy lifestyle. But maybe God expects us to start making the healthy choices before He grants the health.
Maybe He expects us to live like we trust Him with our finances before He grants extra financial blessings. Maybe He expects us to live like we want to give up certain bad behaviors or choices before He grants us the strength and stamina to overcome them. Maybe He wants us to take a step of faith in the direction we want to go before He grants our request.
I mean, consider how Jesus asks a person He is healing to do the very thing that they came to Him for . . . before they saw any evidence that He answered them. He says to the paralytic to get up and walk. He tells the man with the withered hand to stretch it out. And then, as they show their faith and live out the thing that they asked Him for, He answers their prayer.
Yet, so often, we want to see evidence of the answered prayer – we want Jesus to do His part and prove to us that He will answer us – before we do ours and live like we want the answer and believe He can do it. Just something to think about. Are you, in any way, living like you don’t want or expect His answer or like you want Him to move first before you step out in faith?
Now, this doesn’t mean that we will get whatever we ask for as long as we are taking steps toward it. It still has to be God’s Will for us if He’s going to grant it. And it doesn’t mean that we can just take steps in any direction that we want. We need to be sensitive to Him the whole way and to be willing for Him to change our direction. But do we really want what we are asking for, enough to take steps in that direction and face the changes that will happen if it is granted?]
11. Am I learning to praise in the pain and the silence?
[No matter what, it is His Will to praise Him. This is not because He is some ego-centric God that needs our praise. Yes, He deserves it, but it’s also for our benefit. Praise is the enemy of fear and panic. And praise keeps the Enemy at bay. And you don’t need to “feel like it” to offer praise, either. I never understood this. But I realize now that we praise out of our wills, too, just like we obey out of our wills. And we praise because He deserves it. Because He is God and we are not. And once you begin to know God as He really is, without all the misconceptions ruining your view of Him, praise comes a lot more naturally.
But when you are still in a time of waiting - especially when you don’t feel like doing it - praise God for anything and everything you can think of. It will put you into a better place emotionally and a better place to hear Him, because you are acknowledging His Godhood in your life. If you are really struggling with His silence or with discouragement, start a list of all the things you are thankful for. But if any negative feelings or thoughts do pop up, do not just ignore them. Talk to God about them. This will draw Him nearer to you.
(I had to do this during the four depressing months that I felt like a huge failure. I started my 1,000 Gifts From God list, where I am recording all the things I am thankful for. And it really helped to pull me from the depressing spiral I was in. By simply reviewing the ways He has blessed me in the past – even through bittersweet times – and by taking time to notice a beautiful daisy or how much I love watching the birds at the birdfeeders, I was able to focus more on the silver lining than on the storm clouds. And it warmed my heart and made me feel His presence, pulling me out of the despair and gloom that tried to swallow me whole. Give it a try, too. You won’t be sorry!)]
12. Will I persevere or will I give up on God?
[Every heart-breaking trial is an opportunity to choose who will be our god: Us or the Father. It’s a challenge to decide if we will cling to Him or turn away. I think sometimes God allows trials so that we answer this question: Who is on the throne in our lives? Through trials, God challenges us to pick a side, to make up our minds, to get off the throne.
And once again, I think God wants warriors. He wants strong Christians who know how to hang in there when the going gets tough. And this can only happen by being challenged, by practicing those skills and disciplines that are so necessary to effective spiritual battle, and by leaning fully on God. And dealing with His silence is a great time to practice this and to decide that you will dig in your heels and place your trust in Him. If you will not let anything take your focus from pursuing God, you will find Him.]
13. If my situation never changes, can I be okay with that?
[I think that somewhere along the way, we need to face this question and make a decision about it. If our situation never changes, can we still bring God glory in it? Or will we get bitter and depressed? To give God the right to answer our prayer as He wishes (which He has the right to do anyway, whether or not we like it) means allowing Him to say, “No.” And at that point, we have three options: reject it and go our own way, get depressed or bitter, or accept it and pray, “Lord, please use me the way I am to bring You glory.”
Some of us may be asked to settle into the place that we are in and to learn how to bring God glory through it. Maybe it’s a chronic illness. Maybe it’s constant financial need. Maybe it’s a deep sense of loneliness. Maybe it’s an unfulfilled dream. An unsatisfying job or marriage or whatever. But whatever it is, we have the choice to bring Him glory or not. With the scars and pain and all.
And just because He doesn’t answer the way we want doesn’t mean that He doesn’t care or isn’t close. He is definitely close, as close as we want Him to be. And He definitely cares, but He also has unknown reasons for why He answers the way He does. And, while it’s hard for many of us, it’s not always for us to know His reasons. Our job is simply to bring Him glory, wherever He places us. Someday, all things will be redeemed and all things will be clear.]
14. But if I have done all the searching of my heart that I can do and have tried everything I can think of to get God to act, what else is left when waiting on God for an answer?
[I would say that the best thing you could do is to get on with living in other areas. After presenting your request and seeking His guidance (and maybe godly counsel), get on with obedience in other areas of your life while you wait on Him for an answer. Try to hear Him in the areas He is not silent in. Focus on glorifying God in whatever task He has given you today, keeping your eyes, ears, and heart on God and open for His leading. And if you cannot do anything to help yourself at this point because it’s all resting on God, do what you can to pour your life into others.
I’ll admit something here. I have always been a lonely person. And I have prayed for deeper friendships, and I have sought to establish relationships with others at various times. But many of these efforts didn’t work, and I still found myself lonely. And I lamented this for years, feeling like something was wrong with me and like it had to be different for me to be happy.
But one day, it hit me that if I was always a lonely person, I might always be a lonely person. And I could spend my time and energy grieving it and fighting it, or I could embrace it and learn to live with it and glorify God through it. And so one day, I prayed, “Lord, if I am always going to be a lonely person, help me be the best, most God-glorifying lonely person I can be. Use my loneliness to open my eyes to the pain and needs of others, so that I can touch their lives and bring a little of Your light to them.”
Any you know what? This shift in my thinking has led to many delightful moments when I can reach out to others and brighten their day just a little bit, moments when I can let them see the love of Christ flowing through me, reaching out to them. Maybe it’s by buying a chicken for the man that forgot his money, or by helping pick up someone’s dropped blueberries in the store, or by standing up for someone that is being picked on by the neighborhood bully, or simply by stopping by to welcome a new person to the neighborhood.
Yes, I am still “lonely,” but I am learning to let God fill that need instead of trying to use others to fill it. And by letting God meet my needs, I am free to reach out to others for their benefit, instead of seeking them out to meet some need of mine. It’s been an incredible, crazy journey.
Switching tracks here now: I want to take a moment to look at Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
I used to think that this verse was basically just talking about asking; it was just saying the same thing in three different ways to drive the point home. Ask, seek, and knock all meant “pray for it.” Just pray and wait. But I am beginning to think that it’s actually a three-fold process to getting whatever God wants us to have, His Will for our lives.
(I need to note, though, that in my Bible’s footnotes, it says that “good gifts” refers to spiritual gifts, not so much physical gifts. And in Luke’s account of this passage, Luke 11:9-13, it doesn’t even say “good gifts”; it says “the Holy Spirit.” So I think the best way to understand this passage is that it’s not so much teaching about getting physical things, gifts, or answers, but it’s about getting what we need for our spiritual walks, starting with getting the Holy Spirit when we pray to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. But I think it can also be considered good advice for finding God’s Will in and for our lives.)
While sometimes it is necessary to just pray and wait, God doesn’t always ask us to wait passively. And I’m beginning to believe that the “ask, seek, and knock” passage is not saying “ask, ask, and ask,” but that it’s giving us three different ways of finding God’s Will. And I think this is a wise, biblical approach to waiting on God about a request.
First, we have to ask with our mouths, to put our requests into prayer.
Then, we have to seek with our eyes. This isn’t necessarily doing any action, but it’s waiting and watching for how He may be answering that prayer, keeping our eyes open in expectancy. (Of course, we need to pray for the wisdom to be discerning, knowing that the answer may not be what we expected and that He may end up pruning our requests and desires until they look like His.)
And finally, we put feet on our desire to do His Will by knocking; knock on several doors to see which one opens. Basically, explore the options, test the doorknobs, and pray for a discerning heart to know which one God might be opening. (And it may not be the door that we thought it would be or the one that we knocked on the most.) But the right one will open, in God’s time and in God’s way.
If we neglect asking, we are doing our own thing, following our own path. If we neglect seeking, we are not looking for or waiting for God’s leading. And if we neglect knocking, we never get around to doing anything.
Now, to say it a little differently, if we were to just ask - without seeking and knocking - then we would be wanting to take the easy way out. We would be believing that if God wants it to happen, it’ll happen no matter what we do or don’t do.
“All I have to do is ask and then do nothing until God brings it.” But we would be neglecting our part to make His answer and His Will a reality.
“Well, I prayed that God would use me to help others, but nothing ever hit me in the face.” Really? Because if we would just seek and knock, we would find tons of these opportunities. Don’t use “waiting on God in prayer” as an excuse to be lazy and self-absorbed.
Moving on, if we were to just seek - without asking or knocking - then we would be desiring to do something for Him, but without praying about it or actually doing it. It’s the thought that counts, right? And we would comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we are keeping our eyes open, yet we would be neglecting to ask God what He wants for us (because we don’t really want to know) and we would never get around to actually doing anything. Just sitting on the sidelines, looking like we are so busy looking for ways to serve Him. (But not really wanting to find any, not wanting to really get off the bench and get in the game.)
And lastly, if we were to knock, without asking or seeking, then we would be rushing out to do things for Him or to do “His Will”, without asking what His Will is and without taking the time to watch for His answer. God oftentimes works a lot slower than we do, and we need to be willing to wait on Him. Even when we feel like we are sitting at the starting line, spinning our wheels.
However, I also see it not only as a three-fold plan for prayer, but also as a guideline for dealing with three different kinds of prayer requests that have three different levels of responsibility on our parts.
First, there are the kinds of requests that we can’t do anything about ourselves. The kind where we are totally dependent on God to provide. These are the times that we ask and receive. It’s our responsibility to ask and to wait, and it’s God’s right to give or not give.
And second, there are the times when the answer to our request (or when God’s Will for us) is out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered. If we seek it in prayer and by looking around, we will find it. These may be prayers like, “What do you want me to do about . . .” or “Help me get healthy,” or “How can I have a better marriage, Lord?” The answers are out there, but we have a responsibility to pray for the wisdom to find them and to look for them.
And then there is the next level, the times when it seems as though all you have in front of you are closed doors. Doors that will remain closed unless you get forceful and knock on the doors of heaven in prayer and on the doors of opportunity on earth. These might be the seemingly “impossible” times, the times when it is only possible by the grace and power of God. Mission opportunities, the chance to reach closed people, times you need to be bold and work hard to see God’s Will get done despite opposition. These bold requests and our knocking are what makes the impossible possible and opens the door, if God so allows it. By His grace and for His glory!
Three different kinds of situations and prayers, three different levels of efforts and responsibility on our parts.
If you find yourself during a time of waiting, don’t feel like it’s wasted, fruitless time. Ask, seek and knock. But wait until all three of the Keys for knowing God’s Will line up: guidance from the inside (the leading of the Holy Spirit, your conscience, and your heart’s impressions), indications from the outside (godly counsel, open doors, circumstances falling into place, etc.), and confirmation from God’s Word.
But while you wait for this, get on with the rest of your life. Turn your focus outward to the needs of others. No matter how long the wait is, commit yourself to doing the job that God put in your path Today, to the best of your ability and for God’s glory. Be faithful in all areas of your life, trusting Him with the requests that you have put before Him. He is listening. He will move when it is time. His job is to answer; your job is to ask, seek, knock, and be faithfully obedient Today.
And whatever job He has already given you, be faithful to follow it through to the end, knowing that He will reveal the next step when you are done with this one. Resist the urge to detour or drop the job He gave you just because you are anxious to do something else or to see something – anything – happen. Trust that He is working behind the scenes to give you the best possible answer and to get you into the best possible position to receive it. Just keep your focus on Him and it will happen when the time is right.]