The story is told about an incident that occurred in a small, Midwestern town. An individual obtained the permits to build a tavern. As construction proceeded, the Christians in the town prayed that God would intervene and not allow the tavern to open. During an electrical storm one night, lightning struck the tavern and burned the building to the ground. The tavern owner sued the Christians for causing the fire. The Christians countersued claiming they were not responsible. Before the case went to trial, the judge pronounced, “Regardless of the verdict, one thing is certain. The tavern owner believes in prayer while the Christians do not.”
Last week, we began a two-part study of the question, “What does it mean when God is silent?” The first part of the answer is to ask yourself five questions: Have I neglected to pray? (James 4:2); Am I in sin? (Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 28:9); Am I being selfish? (James 4:3); Am I doubting? (Mark 11:24); and Is my request out of God’s will (1 John 5:14-15).
If the answer to any of those questions is, “Yes,” then I need to confess my sin and get right with God. But what if the answer is, “No”? What if … I am praying … my life is pure … my motives are true … I’m trusting God … I’m in his will … then what? Why is God silent? What does his silence mean?
The second part of the answer is to consider that God may be trying to teach me something. I note five possible lessons in Scripture that God might want me to learn.
Keep praying (Luke 11:1-13). Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them to pray (1). Jesus provides them with a model for prayer (2-4; also found in Matthew 6:9-13). Jesus then uses a parable to teach his disciples four principles about prayer: Be specific (5-6); Ask boldly (7-8); Be persistent (9-10); and Remember that God gives good gifts to his children (11-13). We need to keep praying until we receive a clear answer. Otherwise, it is too soon to give up and quit.
Learn to depend on God for strength (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). As the apostle Paul relates the story about his thorn in the flesh, he explains that God wants to demonstrate his power through our weakness. There is a direct relationship between the size of our strength and the amount of God’s grace. When I am strong, I don’t need God, but when I am weak, his power is on display. His grace is “sufficient” or “enough” for our lack thereof. Rather than change our circumstances, God wants to change our character and grow our faith. We need to learn to depend on God for grace and strength.
God knows what is best for us (Psalm 84:11). Since God gives good gifts to his children, if he says, “No,” either there is sin in my life or the request is not a good thing. We need to learn to trust God to know what is best for our lives.
God is going to reveal something new about himself (John 11). Mary and Martha call for Jesus to come and heal their brother, Lazarus (1-3). Rather than come quickly, Jesus delays until Lazarus is dead and buried (4-6). The sisters criticize Jesus for his lack of action. “If only …” is their complaint (21, 32). Jesus, however, has something greater in mind. He reveals himself as the resurrection and the life (25-26) and demonstrates his power over death (38-44). If he had come immediately and healed Lazarus, Mary and Martha would have missed out on this new dimension of Jesus’ power. We need to recognize that sometimes God says, “No,” so that he can teach us something new about himself.
Understand there is a spiritual battle going on (Job 1-2; Daniel 10:12-14). There is an unseen conflict between God and Satan raging in the universe (Job 1-2). God’s answer may be delayed due to a battle in the heavens (Daniel 10:12-14). When God is silent, we need to trust in his sovereignty. Note, however, that God may never explain his reasons. Daniel knew of the spiritual conflict while Job did not.
When God is silent … Examine your heart … Examine your request … Trust God to do what is best … Thank him for his answer … Stay faithful.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 13, 2016. It is part of a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.