When God Is Silent

by Rev. Dr. Paul W. Manuel

German Seventh Day Baptist Church

Salemville, PA

According to what the scriptures teach, God answers the petitionary prayer of the righteous believer that meets three conditions:

He must pray in the right direction

(i.e., to God the Father not anyone else).

For the singular devotion of the disciple, who appeals “to [his] Father” in heaven, God will “reward” him. Pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…. This, then,is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6:6, 9)

He must pray in the right condition

(i.e., with persistent obedience not occasional compliance).

For the submissive lifestyle of the pious, who “does His will,” God will “listen” to him. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. (John 9:31)

He must pray with the right motivation

(i.e., for divine satisfaction not personal gratification).

For the godly desire of the selfless, who wants only what accords with “His will,” God will grant his request. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

These three conditions are what God requires from His people in order for Him to heed (not merely hear) their prayers. When God does not answer, it is because the

individual praying has violated one or more of these conditions. Absent any violation, God will answer the prayer of His people. That was David’s confidence: “In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.” (Psalm 86:7), and that is God’s commitment: “He will call upon me, and I will answer him.” (Psalm 91:15)

What we interpret as silence on God’s part is generally a misunderstanding on our part, often a failure to realize that His schedule is different from our schedule. In other words, His not answering is really His not answering now rather than not at all. God has His own timetable which may not accord with our timetable:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

We must not equate silence with denial. So, “when God is silent” is actually “when God seems silent.”

While there are prayers the Lord does not answer (see above), that is not the case for the righteous believer. Isaiah writes: “As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (Isaiah 30:19), and God promises even greater alacrity: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

Nevertheless, a delay may give the impression that He is not paying attention. There are, however, at least three reasons that could account for a delay, reasons to consider in any attempt to understand what God has in mind. The believer must also remember that his situation is not unique. Others have struggled with this same uncertainty:

O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer.

(Psalm 22:2)

To you I call, O LORD my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me.

(Psalm 28:1)

O LORD…be not silent. Do not be far from me, O Lord.

(Psalm 35:22)

Hear my prayer, O LORD…be not deaf to my weeping.

(Psalm 39:12)

O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still.

(Psalm 83:1)

O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent.

(Psalm 109:1)

Despite the struggle—and prayer can be a struggle—the believer must not abandon his confidence in the Lord’s goodness. As another psalmist wrote: “God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me” (Psalm 66:19-20).

There are at least three reasons that may account for God’s apparent lack of response when we pray:

• When God seems silent, He may be testing us, not for His benefit but for ours, that we may know the strength of our commitment to Him, that it does not rely on some artificial or superficial connection to Him. David expressed his concern for God’s delay in Psalm 13:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O

LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good

to me. (Psalm 13:1-6)

What particular trouble David was facing is unknown. In any event, he saw it as a test of his devotion, an opportunity to express his commitment to God, and he composed this poem accordingly, presenting his experience as a way to assess his commitment, a commitment that holds firm.

• When God seems silent, He may be teaching us. There may even be an explanation that accompanies the divine response, as Paul learns:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Despite the impression Paul’s account gives, that his three petitions were closely spaced, they might actually have occurred over an extended period. Whatever the apostle’s problem was (e.g., an eye ailment), he probably suffered with it for some time and discussed the matter with God for some time as well. Therefore, this answer, when Paul finally receives it, may be a relief to him, for he now knows that his suffering has purpose.

• When God seems silent, He may be tempering us, preparing us for what lies ahead. Moreover, the delay may have nothing to do with us, as Daniel discovered:

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel….

I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen…. “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

(Daniel 10:1, 5, 12-14)

After seventy years, the Babylonian exile was over, and God’s people would soon be returning to their ancestral home. Daniel, however, would not be joining them. He would remain in Babylon and continue the work God had for him there. This may have been a disappointment for Daniel, but it was not unexpected. He had been anticipating, even praying toward this event daily for quite some time (6:10). Therefore, the angel’s message, when Daniel finally receives it, may be a relief to him, for he now knows his role in God’s plan. Daniel’s experience also illustrates how important it is that we “pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).

These three passages demonstrate how God’s “silence” may actually benefit us. Whether testing, teaching, or tempering, any apparent lack of a response to our prayer on God’s part does not mean that He has forgotten us or is ignoring us. Quite the contrary, despite appearances, He remains involved with our lives, using us for His purpose, which will produce for us “an eternal glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

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