When Heaven Is Silent
By Chris Talton
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
We love stories about answered prayer. We get a thrill hearing accounts of God’s miraculous interventions in people’s lives, even as God intervened in Ryan Williams’ life. It motivates us to be more diligent about prayer, so we pray. We’re specific, confident, and bold. We’re absolutely convinced God will answer. We feel a level of faith and enthusiasm that we’ve never experienced before. We ask, seek and knock…but God is silent. The thing that we wanted does not materialize. Our zeal is crushed and we wonder what happened.
We ask ourselves and God: “Is it worth it?” “Did I do something wrong?” “Does God even hear me?” “Does He care?”
Many of you who have children have probably seen the movie “The Santa Clause” where Tim Allen, after causing Santa to fall off of his roof and die, becomes the new Santa Claus. In that movie, Tim’s ex-wife and her new husband both confess that they no longer believe in Santa Claus. And they tell when it was in their lives that they stopped believing in him and what caused it. It was when requests that they had made of Santa were denied. The woman had requested a special doll, and the step-dad had requested a weanie-whistle. When they didn’t get what they wanted, they responded by simply closing themselves off to the reality of Santa Claus.
Some people respond that way to God when they don’t receive what they ask for. Cable television mogul Ted Turner, who is now one of the loudest voices criticizing Christianity, said he had a strict Christian upbringing. He even considered becoming a missionary at one point in his life. The Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted him as saying that he was saved seven or eight times in his life. But he said he became disenchanted with Christianity when despite his prayers that she would get well, his sister still died.
God’s “no” is not just limited to those who are living sinful lives. No matter how spiritual you may be, there are going to be times that God says “No” to your prayers. It doesn’t matter how much you have sacrificed or endured for the cause of Christ. Ask Paul. He had endured a lot. [list some of the sufferings that he had endured] It doesn’t matter either how much you have accomplished for the cause of Christ. There will be times that it feels like God has turned a deaf ear to your requests. Again, Paul is an example of one who had accomplished a great deal for God. He had started many new churches, written down portions of the Bible, and trained young pastors and missionaries. But even for him, there were times that heaven was silent. If it happened to Paul, it will certainly happen to you. How are you going to respond when it happens in your life? How are you going to make it through? I want to give you 6 Christ-honoring responses that you can make a part of your life when you face one of those times when God says “No” to your heart-felt desire.
1. Treat trials as a gift from God. “given to me”
You can treat them as a…
– Nuisance to be ignored “just go away”; “problems solve themselves”;
That noise in the car, or the numbness in your left arm, or the bills that you receive and immediately throw into file 13.
You don’t pray about them because you refuse to even acknowledge their existence.
– Punishment to be endured – “I deserve everything that I’m getting. Just better grin and bear it. It will be gone before too long.”
– Problem to be solved –
– Battle to be waged – are you going to fight against God?
Or as a …
– Gift to be accepted; acceptance is the issue; “the point of prayer is to get God’s will accomplished on earth not man’s will accomplished in heaven.”
Gifts bring joy. James 1:2 – “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing this, that the trying of your faith produces patience.
Gifts come from people who love you.
Gifts, at least the best ones, come from people who know you. I’ve received a lot of gifts over the years – toys and clothes and books. I remember a jar of pickles.
2. Remember what God has already said. “surpassing great revelations”
– When God doesn’t seem to be saying anything, rest your confidence on what God has already said.
– “When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.” “The Solid Rock”
– Think about some of the surpassing great revelations that God has given to you. Go back to the book of Psalms. Listen as the writers struggle with their own questions about unanswered prayer and a God that seems far away. Listen to them complain over the fact that at the time when they most needed to see God’s face, that His face seemed to be hidden. And then listen to them find confidence in the promises of God that will never change no matter how our world may be changing all around us.
3. Continue praying to God. “three times I pleaded”
– Paul’s prayer was persistent and it was passionate.
– When Paul talked about praying 3 times, that doesn’t mean that he casually prayed over this need 3 times and then quit. It doesn’t mean that he added an addendum at the end of his breakfast, lunch, and dinner prayers: “Thanks for this food, God. And oh yeah, if you would be so kind, please take away this problem that I’ve got.” No, Paul pleaded with God! The word that is translated “pleaded” is the same word that is used to describe the way that Jairus asked for the healing of his daughter who was dying (Mk 5:23). It was how a leper sought cleansing from his leprosy (Mk. 1:40). And it was how a servant begged his master for mercy over a bill that he owed so that he would not be thrown into prison and separated from his family (Mt 18:29). How would you pray if your daughter was dying? How would you pray if your limbs were being destroyed with leprosy? How would you pray if you were getting ready to be separated from your family that you loved because of a debt that you owed?
– The first response that many people give when God doesn’t come through for them is that they give up on God or they give up on prayer. And that’s before they ever get to the pleading level. They may have hinted, suggested, or even asked, but they haven’t pleaded. It may very well be that God is just waiting until you are flat on your face before Him laying it all on the line, humiliating yourself in His eyes before He will give you the answer to your prayer. “God resists the proud but gives grace unto the humble.”
– The only reason that Paul quit praying this particular request was because God gave Him an answer. It just so happened that that answer was “no”. Paul accepted that answer and continued on with his life.
– P.U.S.H. – Pray Until Something Happens. Don’t give up praying until something happens either to change your situation or to change you. A little boy told his teacher one day that he had lost his marble. He asked if he could have prayer that God would enable him to find it. She was a Christian, and so she agreed. The next day, she hesitantly asked the little boy if he had found his marble. He answered, “No ma’am, but he took away my desire for it.”
4. Listen for God’s voice. “My grace is sufficient”
– In the first few days after the downing of the twin towers, specially trained crews brought in listening devices so that they could hear the sound of people trapped inside the rubble. They were so sensitive that they could pick up a sound of someone crying out for help or even the sound of a human heartbeat.
– The concern of these people was not for revenge or for re-building of the towers or even for the country to be united in patriotism. Their only concern was to hear that voice.
– So many noises were going on all around them that it was difficult to hear the one thing that they needed to hear. There was heavy equipment for moving steel girders, debris still falling, sirens, and F-16’s flying overhead. God sometimes has to remove all the other noises from our lives in order for us to be able to hear his voice.
– We allow so many things to compete for our attention in our lives. We are so busy. There’s no time and no motivation to just sit down and listen. Sometimes, the only time that we’re willing to listen to what God has to say – the only way that He can get us still long enough to get our attention – is by knocking the breath out of us. He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” It may be that we have to be on our faces in sorrow and suffering before we are willing to listen. God can speak through our tears. Listen for His voice.
– Don’t limit where the voice of God might be found. Elijah didn’t hear it where he expected. He didn’t hear it in the great wind or the fire or in the earthquake. He heard it in a gentle whisper – a still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:11,12) God used a little boy by the name of Samuel to cause Eli to hear His voice. If you’re waiting for the miraculous for God to communicate His message to you, you’re going to have a long wait. God uses everyday occurrences to show us His desires.
– In the middle of a crisis, you may hear all kinds of voices telling you what you need to do. God may be saying something to you, but in all the confusion, you can’t sort it out. You can’t understand God’s message. One of the principles of biblical interpretation – or even a principle of life really – is that you interpret difficult or unclear passages by clear passages. As you face your struggle, you may feel like you need to go a particular direction, but you are unsure. What should you do? Go to the Bible. Judge what you are feeling by what has already been revealed to you in the Bible. What God says to you in your spirit will never conflict with what God has already said in His Word.
5. Trust in God’s power. “power is made perfect”
– Trust in God’s power, not your own.
– Paul’s question in the midst of all of this and his reason for even asking God to take this problem away was because he thought that he could be a more effective servant for God, He could accomplish more for God if God would just heal him. It would make him more powerful.
– But I guess that’s part of the issue. God wanted Paul to be in a position where he was forced to realize and remember that anything of any substance that was accomplished was because of God’s power not because of Paul’s power. Paul was in a position where the temptation would have been great for him to start to take credit for some of the things that God had accomplished through his life. And Paul even recognized that the reason that he was given this “thorn in the flesh” was in order to keep him humble. He needed to remember that he was not battery operated – not self-sufficient. He had to be plugged into the power source at all times.
– Trust in God’s power when you have none.
– Right now, there are thousands of families all around the world who are desperately hurting because they lost a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, a dad or a mom in the terrorist action of Sept. 11. Some of those families are Christian families. They are wondering whether or not they will have the strength to carry on without their loved ones. I think particularly of mothers who have been left behind to care for young children – some of which have yet to be born. I have an inkling of an idea of what that is like. That’s what my mother had to deal with when my dad died at the age of 33. She had 3 young children to raise all by herself. There were days that I’m sure she asked herself, “How am I ever going to be able to do this, God?” And that’s when God steps in and says, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
– There are physical conditions that people face that cause them to ask, “How am I ever going to make it through this? How am I ever going to be of use to God, to my family or to anyone else in the condition that I am in now?” And God answers, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
– When you have nagging problems that just won’t go away – a pain that will not subside, a child that will not obey, a co-worker that will not respect you, a loss that you just can’t seem to recover from – and you wonder, “God, is your power strong enough to enable me to handle this?”, he responds with, “My strength is greatest when you are weakest. I can get you through anything.”
– When God chooses not to use His power to alleviate the pain, trust in God’s power to see you through the pain.
6. Serve God right where you are. “I delight in weaknesses”
– You want God to change your situation, but did you ever think that God has put you in that situation to use you right in the middle of it? Don’t ask God to change things until you’ve looked for and found how you can minister in or be changed by the circumstance that you face. God doesn’t do anything without a reason.
– Joni Earekson Tada had her life forever changed one day. She was diving with some friends and misjudged the depth of the water. She hit her head when she went in and broke her neck. She was just a teenager. And now, she was destined to live her life as a quadrapalegic. She could have given up. She got mad at God and the world for a while. But then God did a great work in her life. She took up art. She began to draw and paint. How could she do that, you ask? She does it by placing the pencil or paintbrush in her mouth and using it to produce great artwork. She has broadened her ministry now. She has produced music and has written books. Did she pray for God to heal her? I’m sure that she did. God said, “No”. Instead, He is using her “disability” to bring glory to Himself and encouragement to other people.
Some of you may be familiar with the name Kay Arthur. She has written several Christian books, and she has her own radio program. She tells about one day, she was getting out of the car, her arms loaded down with books, and not wanting to go into her house. She was a young widow with two children, and it had been a bad day. She was hurting.
As she stared at the grass, her mind went back to a time in her childhood when she had been running through the grass toward her dad, terrified and screaming. He had scooped her up in his arms and given her comfort. She wished that she could be a little girl again. She wished that she had someone to hold her right then.
As she turned to go into her house, she suddenly saw herself in her mind’s eye, a little girl in pigtails, flying down a vast marble corridor. Oil paintings bigger than life hung on the walls. She could hear her little shoes on the marble floor and see the tears that ran down her cheeks.
It was a long corridor. At he end, two huge gold doors glistened in the sunlight which filtered through beveled cathedral windows. On either side of the imposing door stood two magnificently dressed guards holding huge spears and blocking the entrance into the room beyond.
Undaunted, the little girl ran straight toward the doors, still crying, “Abba!” She never broke her stride for as she neared the doors, the guards flung them opened and heralded her arrival: “The daughter of the King! The daughter of the King!”
Court was in session. The cherubim and seraphim cried, “Holy, holy, holy!” and the elders sat on their thrones, dressed in white, wearing crowns of gold, and talking with the King of kings. But none of this slowed his daughter!
Oblivious to everything going on about her, she ran past the seven burning lamps of fire and up the steps leading to the throne, and she catapulted herself into the King’s arms. She was home and wrapped in the arms of his everlasting love. He reached up and, with one finger, gently wiped away her tears. Then He smoothed the sticky hair on her face back into her braids and said, “Now, now, tell your Father all about it.”
Kay Arthur walked into the house, left her books on the table, walked through her house, and knelt by her bedside. Then she proceeded to tell her Father all about it. Nelson’s complete book of … p. 131
God will not grant our every request. He will not take away every pain. But He will always be there to gently wrap us in His arms of love, wipe our tears and give us the strength and motivation to live another day.
How are you going to respond to God when He says “NO”? Are you going to push Him away, or are you going to pull Him tighter than you ever have before and let Him wrap His loving arms around you?