God created us as beings who are utterly dependent on Him for everything. Unlike us, God thrives in the eternal roles of Provider, Protector, and Nurturer. He enjoys taking care of us so much that He designed us to remain dependent on Him forever. Though God plans to change us in many ways as He draws us closer to Him, increasing our ability to function without Him is not one of them. Human parents try to raise their children to be independent, self-sufficient adults, but God teaches His kids that all self-sufficiency is a delusion, for in reality we can do nothing apart from Him.
Developing a close bond with God is very different than developing a close bond with other humans. God thinks and acts very differently than we do, and He demands that we do all the adjusting in the relationship. We must conform to Him; He will not conform to us.
So how do we conform to God? How do we align ourselves with His program and become receptive to maturing in the ways that He wants us to? There are two steps: submission and trust. They must be done in that order. First we submit, then we trust.
Jesus will not save anyone who doesn’t submit to Him as God. You can trust in the fact that you’re saved all day, but you’ll be trusting in a fantasy unless you have sincerely submitted to God’s Authority. The submission is critical in every stage of growth. You can’t skip over it. The Church today is pumping out all kinds of feel-good doctrines in which the element of submission is being intentionally ignored. “Just ask God for millions and then believe that He will give it to you. Just rebuke that demon and then trust that he’ll have to flee.” There is a very popular school of thought that believes it is biblical to boss God about. We are taught to view the Bible as a collection of guarantees which God is bound by. All we have to do is wave the contract in His face, and He’ll come across with the goodies. But if you listen to these people, submission to God’s Authority, God’s will, and God’s agenda is never in the mix. Oh sure, they might tell you to submit to Jesus for salvation—but only so you can then spend the rest of your life bossing Him around. Of course if we persist with a mindset like this, we will get nowhere. We must submit to God before we will gain any real assurances that we can trust in. And those assurances are limited to God doing what God wants to do in our lives. There are no rituals you can do to get God to do what you want Him to do. God only ever does what He wants to do. You need to understand this if you don’t want to waste your trust on delusions. As a Christian, the most you can ever claim in life is that God is having His total way with you—but the only time you can validly claim this is after you have fully surrendered to Him.
If you don’t fully surrender to God—if you just try and surrender little pieces to Him as you go along, then you would be a fool to trust that God is always pleased with you or that He will work out everything for the best. God most certainly will not work out everything for the best if you’re holding onto rebellion, and refusing to permanently surrender to God is an act of rebellion. If this is where you’re at, then ask the Holy Spirit to help you change. Only God can help us out of our rebellious states, and He will if we ask Him to. Of course asking God to help you do what He wants you to do is a form of submission—submission always comes first.
So if we’re supposed to be talking about God’s silence right now, why are we spending so much time on submission and trust? Because you must understand how critical these things are to developing your relationship with God. A house is only as strong as the foundation it is built upon. God wants your relationship with Him to be very strong, and that is why He is going to spend a lot of time in your life focusing on these two foundational issues: submission and trust. What do these things have to do with God refusing to answer your prayers? Everything. When God upsets you with His silence—and He does this quite intentionally—it is because He is driving you to practice submission and trust. The more you practice these things, the stronger your faith will become, and the closer you will get to God. Submission and trust are like gas in a car—without them, you can have the most amazing engine in the world, but it isn’t going anywhere. To move forward with God, you must continuously practice submission and trust. You’re not going to do this on your own—it’s unnatural and it feels lousy. But the good news is that God knows how to corner you into these things, and His silence is one of the ways He does this. Let’s now go through several common scenarios and see what God is teaching us.
Q: “God, do You really love me?”
We ask God a lot of questions in life that we already know the answers to. So if we already know the answers, why do we ask? Because we are not confident in the answers. It’s hard to really believe that God loves us. It’s hard to believe He’s really interested in us. When we try to claim these things in our hearts, demons flood our minds with all kinds of countering lies.
Who are you kidding? God couldn’t love someone like you.
You’re such a lousy Christian. Why would God bother with you?
Maybe when you stop sinning He’ll start loving you.
And of course, one of their favorites:
If God really loved you, He’d talk to you more. But He doesn’t talk to you, does He?
Now all these things are lies, of course, but notice how demons are appealing to your human logic and trying to get you to project your human perspective onto God. After all, when you refuse to talk to someone, it’s either because you don’t like them, didn’t hear them, or you’re holding a grudge. Demons want you to project your humanity onto God, because then you’ll be forced to any number of depressing conclusions about how He views you. But as we learned in our last post, God is not a human, and He doesn’t think like we do. He has an entirely different perspective of things. This means that we have to put more stock in what God says about Himself than we do in our own logical analysis of His behavior. God says that He loves us so much, we were worth dying for on a cross. Even more amazing, God died for us when we were still nasty little rebels. Before you even knew who God was, He was paying for all of your sins. Who loves like this? Certainly not any human being. God’s love for you is incredibly deep. He says that once He accepts you as His child, He will never stop loving you. He also says that He is intimately involved in every aspect of His Creation, and that means He never looks away from you for a moment. So when you ask God if He loves you, why doesn’t He confirm His love to you in human terms—meaning a clear “yes” in your mind and a wave of good feelings? Because you need to learn to stop viewing God like a human being. If He always acts in ways that make sense to your logical mind, you’re going to become convinced that He thinks like you do. Don’t think so? Look around the Church and you’ll find all kinds of Christians going into major faith crises and depressions the moment God violates their human expectations. God is not a human, yet we instinctively treat Him like one. We don’t do this to rebel, but because it’s all we know. Learning to stop projecting your human nature onto God is like learning to keep your arms pinned to your sides as you walk (try it and you’ll see how hard it is). God is different than us. His silence does not mean the things that human silence would mean. It is vital to God that we learn to trust what He tells us, no matter how nonsensical He sounds. God says that He loves you dearly. You need to practice believing this simply because God said it, instead of believing it because He confirmed it to you in a human way. God isn’t going to constantly translate Himself into human terms for you. This will only limit how well you could get to know Him, for there just isn’t enough commonality between you and Him.
Suppose you had to describe an elephant to someone who had never seen one. The only analogy you can use is sand. So you’d have to say, “An elephant is like sand because…” Because why? An elephant isn’t like sand at all, and if sand is all you have to work with, you’re going to have a very hard time getting your audience to picture an elephant.
Now when it comes to God, He has intentionally created us so that we have a lot more to work with than the elephant-sand analogy. God puts us in a world in which our spouses and our children are the most important people to us. Then He says the Church is His Bride and we are His children. God exposes us to devastating loss, terrible pain, and heartbreaking sacrifice. Then He comes down to earth and dies a horrible death on a cross in front of us, saying “This is how much I love you.” God has arranged things so that our human experiences can really help us understand Him. But we must remember that human experiences only take us part way. We can say that God loves us like we love our children, but in real life God loves us infinitely more than we love our children. Any time we try to describe God in human terms, the comparison always falls short. It’s still very helpful, because we need to start somewhere, but after trying to understand God in human terms, we must then realize our understanding is incomplete and let Him fill in the rest of the picture. By behaving in ways that are nonsensical to us, God deepens our understanding of Him.
The reality is that God’s silence is often an expression of how much He loves us and how eager He is to draw us closer to Him. This makes absolutely no sense to us as humans, yet this is the truth nonetheless. Sure God could give you the confirmation you’re looking for, and sometimes He will. But always talking to you in ways that align with your human rules is not going to help the relationship progress. In real life, the more God gives you warm and fuzzy feelings every time you pray, the more dependent you become on those things, and the more panicked you become the moment they cease. God knows that you don’t understand how faith development works. You are convinced that if He just talked to you more, you’d trust Him more. But the truth is that if He did what you wanted, you’d actually trust Him less.
To grow strong, trust must learn how to stand in the absence of any sensual confirmation. It must also learn how to stand in the presence of strong sensual feedback that directly counters truth. This is why God will allow demons to fill your mind with images of His face scowling down at you when He is actually quite pleased with you. When you experience such sensual feedback, your first instinct is to panic and think God is mad at you. But God is not mad at you. He has already told you that the only time He gets mad is when you are willfully defying Him. Is that what you’re doing at the time you see His angry face in your mind? This is something you can easily assess, and you need to assess it, then stand on the truth about what God says about Himself. He says that if you sincerely care about pleasing Him, then He is very pleased with you—not just a little pleased, not just tolerating you, very pleased (see What It Means to Be Aligned with God).
God doesn’t want you to go sailing through life on a constant stream of sensual feedback from Him. This idea sounds attractive to you, but to Him it means settling for a shallow, insipid relationship. Of course you’d feel pretty good about it, because you feel bonded to things you can relate to, so if God agreed to act like a human, you’d certainly feel bonded to Him. But let’s get real: on this planet, we decide that dogs are our children. We imagine that they harbor deep, complex feelings for us, that they understand our verbal language, and that they go sailing off to Heaven when they die. Does the fact that we feel close to our doggies mean our relationship is at all what we pretend it is? No. When we choose fantasy over reality, we end up with nothing. God wants your bond with Him to be real—not some phony thing that exists only in your mind. He wants real depth, not the illusion of depth. To develop a deep bond with a nonhuman being is going to require work. We can’t just go coasting into this on a cloud of warm fuzzies. We have to choose to do the harder thing: to practice trusting when the Holy Spirit prompts us to do so.
So then, you ask God if He loves you and His only response is silence. You can then choose to go into a pout because God won’t talk to you the way you want Him to, or you can choose to practice trusting in what God has already told you. He died on a cross for you. He saved you. Of course He loves you. Do we enjoy doing the work? No, we hate it, and we all do our share of pouting. But over time, we begin to reap the benefits of practicing trust and eventually we start to realize that God was right: His way is better.
Q: “What do You want me to do in this situation?”
So what about those times when you’re asking God about His will in a situation? Why would God intentionally not direct a soul who desperately wants to obey Him? Sometimes all we need is one simple yes or no—is that really too much to ask? Hello, trying not to sin here—why doesn’t God help us out?
Once again, He is being silent on purpose and He’s doing it to strengthen our bond with Him. Let’s say you’re in a really agonizing situation. From your human perspective, major things are at stake. Well, that’s just your perspective. From God’s perspective, everything is very much under control. He knows that He’s not going to let you go blundering off in the wrong direction when you sincerely care about obeying Him. In this situation, He wants you to practice trust. Don’t you believe He is for you in life? Don’t you believe He is intimately involved in every aspect of your life? Don’t you believe He is directing your steps? He has told you all these things already. Now it’s time to apply them.
Well, applying is miserable. We hate applying. We’d much rather God just give us a clear sign. Sometimes He will, if we go about it with the right attitude (see All About Fleeces: Asking God for a Sign). But other times, God isn’t going to give you a sign. And as we learned in that last post, even if God does give you signs for a while, the day will come when He’ll start weaning you off of them. Why? Because signs are really just about trying to get God to talk to you like another human would. Clear answers—no vagueness.
The first step in dealing with God’s silence in these sorts of dilemmas is to review some important truths. God is for us. God is in control. God won’t let us go astray when we sincerely want Him to have His way in our lives. We review all of these things but we’re still anxious. Now it’s time for some submission. “Lord, please have Your total way in this situation”—this is what we can pray when we’re panicking with fear and doubt. But if we’ve already surrendered our whole lives into God’s hands, then we need to adjust the wording here and instead say, “Lord, I know You will have Your total way in this situation.” Either way, once we pray our prayer, our trust has something firm to grip onto. We then need to start exercising those faith muscles. When the moment comes in which we are forced to make a decision, we just go with whatever feels best and trust that God is guiding us. If both options feel lousy but we have to pick one of them, we flip a coin and trust that God will guide us. The point is that we trust, for the trust is what’s going to move us closer to God.
Now let’s talk about trust for a moment. Trusting God simply means throwing whatever resources you’ve got into trying to believe that His Character is as good as He says it is. Trusting isn’t about not doubting. In fact, trust can’t exist unless there is some doubt in the mix. Suppose a man is in a boat that’s sprung a leak. He’s going down fast, but he’s bailing water with a bucket for all that he’s worth. That bailing action is trust—and it’s the kind of trust that greatly pleases God. It doesn’t matter if you end up drowning in doubt and fear. Many times you will, because God will push you past your available resources. But He will still be very pleased with you because you obeyed Him.
Suppose God said He wanted some new pencils. You only have $1, but another Christian has $50. When God says He wants pencils, you both rush out to buy Him some. The other Christian comes back with way more pencils because he started out with way more money. When God sees your little pile of pencils, is He less pleased with you than He is with the other guy? Not at all. God is beaming with pleasure because He knows you spent every penny you had on buying Him pencils. He sees the whole thing as a wonderful act of love. Now Satan is going to come along and say, “That’s it? That’s all you brought Him? You couldn’t scrape up any more than that?” He’ll say the same thing every time you try and trust God only to end up getting swamped in fear and doubt. But God is going to see your effort to trust Him and say, “What a loving and obedient child I have!” God is very easy to please.
One of the times it really stings to have God stonewall us is when we have gone out of our way to really listen to Him. Maybe we turn off the phone and sit down in a quiet closet for some totally focused one-on-one time. God refuses to talk to us, but He lets demons drive us crazy with their constant yammering. We end up feeling like our efforts to really seek God have just been stomped on. We then either feel depressed or we get all huffy and say, “If this is what You do when I really seek You, then forget it.”
The problem with this sort of thing is that we are trying to lead God. We think we’re being quite generous to spend extra effort on Him, therefore He should feel so privileged that He should rush to respond. Well, no, this is just prideful. God wants us to follow His lead, not the other way around. After all, He’s the One that runs the universe.
Living in submission to God means being willing to drop everything and focus the moment He tells us to. Once again, this is an attitude which takes time to develop. We don’t like the idea of God interrupting our schedules. Well, He doesn’t like the idea of us trying to schedule Him. Many Christians can testify to having a totally flat prayer time only to get in the shower and then hear God say something to them. God will often wait until we are busy and distracted with other things before He’ll speak to us—especially during periods when He’s trying to emphasize the importance of us submitting to His timing.
Now trying to schedule God like this is a different thing than being in some terribly distressed state of mind and getting alone with Him so that you can focus. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that God has great empathy for our struggles on this planet. When you are upset, He cares about it, and He’s there with you. But even in moments when you are desperate for a word, He might still choose silence. In these cases it isn’t about timing so much as it is about standing on truths that you already know in your soul. Often in such moments of distress, we’ve digested condemnation from demons that has filled us with intense feelings of panic and doubt. When God doesn’t speak to us in such moments, it’s because He wants us to rehearse truths that He knows He has already equipped us with.
Now we’ve been talking a lot about trusting and submitting and rehearsing truths. We don’t do any of these things by ourselves. In real life, it is God who turns your mind to truths in tough moments. It is God who encourages you to submit and exercise your faith. So in reality, God is talking to us in these dreaded moments of silence. We just don’t realize it because we’re so focused on just one form of His Voice. In such moments, we feel like God said nothing, and eventually we refocused our minds and learned how to carry on. But in real life, God was speaking to our souls the whole time, which is why our minds eventually turned to truths and we felt motivated to try and trust. Often we think trusting God in a moment is our own idea, when in reality it was His. God is always leading us. We don’t see it, so we take credit for all kinds of ridiculous things in the Church. By now you’ve probably heard Christians saying things like:
“Yeah, I was really struggling but then I just decided to have faith.”
“I knew doubting wouldn’t get me anywhere so I decided to trust instead.”
“I was feeling depressed, but then I remembered a verse that I’d read last week.”
“When I’m down, I just start reading the Bible and that fixes it.”
Notice all the references to “I”. We love to take credit for the things God does in our lives, but in reality you never remember encouraging verses on your own—the Holy Spirit plants them in your mind for you. You can’t be encouraged by reading the Bible unless the Holy Spirit speaks to you through it. You never just decide on your own to trust. Instead, your soul hears the Holy Spirit urging it to trust and it agrees to try. God always leads you. God is always speaking to you. He’s really not as silent as He seems.
God is always talking to you. He’s always guiding you through life and arranging the circumstances around you to turn your mind in His direction. By refusing to always speak to you in the ways that seem most human to you—such as the clear words in your mind—He motivates you to start looking around for other evidence of His involvement in your life. This is very good, for the more you realize how much God is interacting with you, the more bonded you will feel to Him. After all, our relationships with God are far more intimate than our relationships with other people. You might have a good time talking with a friend over coffee. But consider how limited the communication between you is. The words she says, some eye contact and some body language. But when it’s your turn to talk, you don’t know if she’s really listening or if she’s thinking about other things. When there’s a lull in the conversation, you don’t know what’s going on in her mind and she doesn’t know what’s going on in yours. When we interact with other people, we are constantly reminded of how isolated we really are from each other. Our communion is so limited. Even in the best of relationships, you know that the person has no idea how you really experience life. You can try to describe it, but words never quite say enough. Human relationships are very limited, and this is quite on purpose.
But when it comes to God, everything is different. With God, you are fully known. He is the only One who completely understands you. He is the only One who experiences your life with you. He’s the only One who is there for every single moment of your existence—remembering things that you’ve long forgotten and fully comprehending every indescribable emotion that rises up within you. Nothing comes close to the kind of intimacy we can have with the One who created us. The more you learn to recognize evidence of God’s involvement in every area of your life, the more you will begin to experience that amazing intimacy which fills our souls with peace, rest, and satisfaction. We were designed with a need to bond with our Creator. God wants to see that need in you fully satisfied. He knows how to get you there, and forcing you to adapt to His communication style is a key part of it.
THE FAVORED ONES
So then, if God considers His silence to be such a valuable tool in strengthening our bond with Him, what can we conclude about Christians who sincerely want to please God in life, yet they hardly ever hear a peep out of Him? These souls are on the road to great things. Their trust muscles are getting a constant workout, unlike the Christians who are coasting from one fabricated high to the next. If you are a Christian who God barely talks to, don’t buy into the lie that you are less important in His book. The souls who God pushes hard down here are going to reap awesome rewards in Heaven. Do you want to have some cheap thrills today or a rich communion that lasts for all of eternity? Trust God’s plan for your life. Souls who sincerely want to please Him are His favorite souls on the planet. Your desire for God will not go unsatisfied.
Now if reading this post has bummed you out, let’s end on a positive note. Don’t expect your life to be one long depressing silence, because that is not what we’re saying. If you are willing to submit to God’s maturation program, you will end up more aware of His involvement in your life than you ever thought possible. We all start out oblivious to God’s involvement in our lives, and when we first start trying to make a conscious effort to think of Him more often, it seems impossible to do. For a long time God feels frustratingly forgettable, while our focus is gobbled up by all the trivial details of life. But if you let God have His way with you, you’ll be amazed at how He ends up changing your focus in life. One day you realize that you think and talk about God constantly without even trying to. Focusing on Him becomes automatic. You start describing all of life in terms of God. “He led me to this cool website. He helped me out with this recipe. He inspired me at work.”
God has a massive ego and that He is obsessed with His own magnificence. You can trust Him to transform you into someone who finds dwelling on God as thrilling as He does. But in all things, we must submit to God’s way of doing things and let Him decide which methods He wants to use to draw us closer to Him. We won’t like a lot of His methods, we won’t understand a lot of His decisions, but we can choose to trust Him. He knows what He’s doing. He made us.