What do we do when God is silent? When we’re praying for answers and there’s no response from the heavens?
Experiencing God’s silence is not uncommon. The Bible characters experienced it (eg.Psalm 22:2) and it’s still one of the most common questions I hear in my ministry. Why isn’t God speaking to me? Why isn’t he giving me answers I need?
Of course every situation is different so it’s impossible to provide one answer that fits all. But here are three possibilities to consider as to why you’re experiencing God’s silence and what to do about them:
1. God has already spoken, but you haven’t recognised it.
The first reason why God is silent is that he may have already spoken, but we didn’t recognise it. We need to remember that by nature God is a talker (Psalm 115:4-5,7), that he’s promised to speak to us (John 14:26, 16:13-14) and that he gave us his Spirit for that very purpose (Acts 2:16,17). Therefore our default position should not be to question God’s ability to speak, but rather our ability to listen. The problem may not be that God isn’t speaking – it’s that we haven’t recognised it.
It seems this scenario was also common in the ancient world: In one of the oldest books of the Bible, we read; “Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words? For God does speak—now one way, now another—though no one perceives it” (Job 33:13-14). God was trying to get his message through “now one way, now another” but people weren’t noticing.
Why didn’t they notice? And why don’t we notice? Perhaps it is the form God used to speak. In Job’s case, God was speaking through a dream. God may be speaking in a way you’re not used to. The solution is to be open to the Holy Spirit in whatever form his messages take. Here’s Three Ways God Speaks to us.
2. God has spoken, but you haven’t responded to it.
The second option is that God has spoken, but we haven’t responded to it. In my own experience, this is the most likely option! God may have spoken but for whatever reason we haven’t acted on what he said. We haven’t liked it, so we’ve tried to change the subject! We pray; “Lord speak, and when you do, make sure you say this…” (Read: The Key to Hearing God’s Voice Clearly).
In this case, what we don’t understand is that God knows what we need to hear more than we do. We may be asking about guidance for our workplace, but he may be wanting to speak to us about our attitude of unforgiveness. In this case, we need to hand over our agenda to him and trust that he knows what is best for us. Then we need to listen to whatever he is saying.
Moreover, listening is not just hearing. It means fully taking in what God has said. Jesus said his words are ‘spirit’ and ‘life’ (John 6:63). They are like food to our bodies and bring life to our souls. They are often more like steak than fairly floss. Like rich food, it takes time and effort to digest them. Often it requires action. “Eat this scroll I am giving you,” God said to the prophet Ezekiel “and fill your stomach with it” (Ezekiel 3:3). When we’ve heard from God, we need to meditate on what he said, letting his words fill our hearts and change our behaviour – only then will we be ready to receive more.
3. God hasn’t spoken because you’re not ready to hear his answer.
The final option is that God hasn’t spoken. Perhaps we’re not ready to hear what he has to say. We may be like the disciples when Jesus said; “I have much more to tell you, but you are not ready for it.” (John 16:12) In other words, you cannot understand my purposes in this right now. You’re like the third grader trying to understand Pythagoras Theorem. First you must finish learning your twelve times table. God’s wisdom means not only knowing what to say, but when to say it.
When God isn’t speaking, we need to trust in his character and nature. Like David, we need to recall what he has done for us in the past and make a choice to remember his faithfulness (Psalm 22:3-5). His lovingkindness is never failing even when we can’t feel it. God’s silence never means his absence.
So what do we do if God hasn’t spoken?
In times of God’s silence, we may be left with the practical question of what to do. It’s important to remember that God doesn’t need to speak about every decision we face. Relationship with God is a partnership not a dictatorship. That means sometimes God will speak and give us specific instruction, but other times, it’s up to us to make a good choice. It’s up to us to do our research, consult the wisdom of friends and leaders and to ask ourselves, what do I want to do?
There’s freedom to make our own choices all the while listening for God’s voice. If God isn’t speaking, he’s given us the resources to make our own decision. We can move forward in confidence knowing he is walking with us.