As a middle-age man, I adore elegant Hawaiian shirts (yes, there is such a thing) because they conceal a lifetime of poor dietary decisions. That’s the thing about appearances, they can deceive. In fact, they can discourage even the most idealistic heart.
In Christianity, it can appear all is well with our prayer life. But I rarely hear fellow supplicants talk about the silence that often comes after prayer. Granted, it would be a mistake to interpret the silence of heaven as indifference. But all my life in the church, I’ve heard that God hears our prayers and knows how we feel because Christ experienced human struggles. Comforting? Yes! But one longs to hear from God now and then. If I’m drowning and screaming in panic for help, it gives me little comfort to know God hears my screams of agony. Yes, yes, I understand God’s love for me does not necessarily mean a guarantee of safety in this world. I get it! We live in a sometimes harsh, bitter, cruel world that is not as God intended. I also get that God answers prayers in ways we don’t perceive. But that doesn’t make the silence less disquieting in my soul.
In the movie Of Gods and Men, a small community of modern Christian monks living in a monastery struggle with a decision: whether or not to leave the monastery because of political turmoil in the surrounding country of Algeria where the monks have lived in peace with their Islamic neighbors. Local people have been killed by militants and the monks find themselves in a grim situation, their lives clearly at risk. The monks, and their neighbors, see themselves as an essential living part of the community. Their neighbors do not want the monks to leave. We connect with the personality of each monk as he wrestles with the decision, praying and discussing options with the others. The tension is palpable. In one poignant scene, a monk tells another monk he prays and prays and all he hears is silence. Shocking! How could a devout monk hear only silence after prayer? And yet I love that monk’s honesty.
Here’s where I’m supposed to tell you something comforting. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t talk much about unanswered prayer. Even so, the Bible contains at least some references to unanswered prayer and examples of God not listening to prayer, enough to assure us we are not unique when we hear silence from heaven. Still, there’s that nagging feeling, that uncomfortable question that silence sprouts in the heart—if heaven is silent, is there a God?
For me, that question can’t take root and blossom because of other manifestations of God. For instance, I often feel God’s presence in life. Words and phrases in the Bible pierce my soul so intensely the very ink and paper seem to be alive. I have felt God’s hand at various twists and turns in my life. Perhaps you’ve felt similar encounters with God. I know, I know, what about the long dry spells of silence?
Okay then, here are a couple of verses that snap me back into the right attitude whenever I grow anxious about silence from heaven.
Lamentations 3: 7-8 (NLT): “He has walled me in, and I cannot escape. He has bound me in heavy chains: And though I cry and shout, he has shut out my prayers.”
Now skip to Lamentations 3:31 (NLT) for the coup de grace: “For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.”
Those nine words in verse 31 are some of the most powerful in the entire Bible, and a balm when heaven’s silence overwhelms with doubt. Own them!