It’s a new year, and another opportunity to start fresh. I find myself in the same place I was last year at this time: squeezing into pants that used to fit, and getting out of breath way too easy. It’s time to watch what I eat and get back in shape.
As much as I hate being a cliche, it’s better than being in denial. As I venture into the “detox” of avoiding carbs and processed foods, I’m suffering through the inevitable hunger pangs that happen in this phase. I feel myself constantly being hungry, and I hate it. But what if hunger is a blessing?
Hunger presents us with a conscious choice. It lets me know I’m in need of food, rather than the clock dictating my meals. Eating becomes a mindful activity, rather than a mindless routine. What I put in my mouth is something I’m aware of, rather than happening automatically.
So is there a spiritual analogue here? I think so. Scripture tells us time and again that fasting, coupled with prayer, is pleasing to God; but why? It may be only speculation, but hunger produces a change in us, more than changing God. Hunger forces us to be aware of things we normally ignore. Coupling fasting with prayer brings this mindfulness to our prayer life as well. Just as food comes alive with flavor and intricacy when we truly hunger, so does our prayer and relationship with God.
What about spiritual hunger? is it good to feel the pain of spiritual hunger? This may be an issue of vocabulary. We often think of hunger for God as being eager to know Him more and seeking out discipleship and knowledge. But obtaining and consuming doesn’t define hunger. Absence and temporary suffering do.
Often times when I have believers in my office grappling with depression, they admit that they feel distant from God, and that their prayers feel like they fall flat. They don’t hear from God how they normally do. God remains silent for a season.
It is this silence that I believe God uses to produce a change in us. The deepest and richest relationships are those that endure difficulty and periods of uncertainty. The best marriages aren’t the ones that never endure financial hardship, or disagreements or some other trial; but it is the marriages that experience challenges that are the strongest (provided both parties grow from the trial).
Our relationship with God is described many ways. It’s described as a marriage at times, as a child parent relationship at others, and yet other times as a King to kingdom citizen relationship. God is not in need of growth or change, but we are. Our relationship with him, when it has become perfect in the last day, will reflect His perfection and complexity. In the meantime, we walk through struggle to grow towards that perfection.
God is silent for many reasons which I won’t pretend to understand, but he is silent for a few that I notice frequently.
God is silent to encourage us to cry out to Him.
I recall vivdly when my son was just about 3 years old, and he and I went to Chuck E Cheese on a “bro-date”. He was having the time of his life popping tokens into games that he’d half play, and then run to the next. He was so energetic, it was hard to keep pace. It wasn’t long before he had wriggled past a group of older kids, and I wasn’t able to politely push my way through to be in arms reach. I never took my eye off him, but he certainly took his eyes off me. So eager to get to the next exciting thing, he had no idea he had moved away from me. Suddenly, he realized he didn’t have a token for the next game. I watched a short distance away as I made my way to him, and saw his face go from pure joy to absolute terror, when he realized I wasn’t there.
I don’t know if you’ve been to a Chuck E Cheese lately, but it’s not a quite place. Dozens of children laughing, yelling and carrying on. Game after game with loud noises, and music was playing over head. It’s almost too much. But over all that noise, my son cried out. With heart wrenching emotion he screamed, “Daddy!”
I was already moving towards him, so it was no time at all that he was in my arms, and drying his eyes while receiving reassurance that he was never really alone.
I didn’t want him to be afraid, but I did want him to have enough faith in me to cry out for me when he felt lost. I would never leave my son, just as the Father promises He’ll never leave or forsake us.
God is silent because He is taking us somewhere and wants us to trust His earlier word.
One cold winter day, my wife and I decided to break the winter monotony by taking the chidlren to an indoor water park. My wife put their swim suits and floaties in a bag, and discretely tucked them away in the van. We loaded the kids in the van and told them we were taking them for a special treat.
They were unbelievably curious. The whole way, they would not stop asking where we were going, and making guesses at what we were doing. No matter what they asked or guessed, we remained silent in the front seat. Finally, it got to the point that they were whining and fussing, because they wanted to know where we were going. In my frustration I blurted out, “We are going somewhere fun, I already told you that! you don’t need to know anything else!”
Of course, when we arrived, everyone was excited, and there were no whining complaints. I wasn’t really upset with them for being curious, or even a little anxious about the surprise, but I expected them to trust my word that we were going somewhere good, and to interpret my silence as assurance that nothing had changed. God has good plans for us, and when He has told us he is doing a work, we can trust it even in silence.
Finally, God is silent when the answer is no.
How often do we make judgements on what is good for us? How many people have prayed to win the lottery? or asked God to change some circumstance that seems unpleasant? What if God has a better plan, that requires walking through difficulty. What if the answer is no?
I don’t think I have experienced God shouting no in my life. I have had countless times He has remained silent after a request however.
When we choose a path that is contrary to what He has clearly stated, often He remains silent.