(Parts 1 & 2 can be found here.)
“O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Ps. 22:2).
Last month, I took a trip back home to Mississippi to visit my family. Since I usually only visit a couple of times a year, my drives down become “taking stock” moments for me. I think about the previous year and how my life circumstances have changed since the last few trips.
More things have changed for me this year than any other year before it. I’ve been learning the ropes of some new job responsibilities. God is blessing the ministry in awesome ways, I serve with an amazing group of people, and I’m having an genuinely incredible time watching Him change lives, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. My father received some negative news regarding his health, and my family has been trying to adapt to what the future holds; it’s been a difficult truth for us to swallow. Sprinkle the disappointment of a broken relationship into the mix as well, and the last few months have had little ground that seemed stable.
My drive down was heavy with those thoughts. And prayers. And memories.
Every trip, when I turn off the main highway, I always think that I am entering a land of remembrance. There is a quiet reverence I hold in mind as I travel there. Mile after mile takes me deeper into old pine stands, blackwater swamps and cotton fields. These are the places of my childhood. These are the places that, in my youth, I walked alone, seeking God, pouring out my dreams to Him and admiring His creation.
I had been reading about Elijah the Monday morning I drove down this last trip. He had a stint at the Brook Cherith, and God had provided for Elijah there by sending ravens to feed him before He later dried up the water. At some point during my drive, as I thought about home, I settled on some memories of my brother and me playing at our own brook, a creek at the distant edge of the back pasture. We always carried a shotgun with us because of snakes, and the dogs would tag along on our adventures. Those times in the woods seemed so simple. I just trusted God. I didn’t doubt if He would act, or come through for me; I knew He would, so I just enjoyed life. After all, evidence of His care for creation was all around me. My brother and I, sun-tanned and briar-scratched, would stomp back into the house from the creek with our muddy cowboy boots, put away the shotguns, wash our hands, give thanks to God for providing our food and eat black-eyed peas, fried chicken and pecan pie.
When I arrived this last trip, I felt like I needed to walk down to the creek to pray. It would be a walk back, and perhaps one forward as well. A walk to the memories of the past and the hopes for the future, a walk both ways.
Mostly because of our childhood tradition, but also because the serpent still could try and get between me and my time with God, I slung my shotgun over my shoulder before leaving the house. As if on cue, when I walked outside, a tumbling mass of Lab pups rounded the fence to join me. We steadily made our way further back through those old hills until we reached the creek. Other than one large puddle of muddy water, the remainder of the creek’s bed was chalk-dry, grey dust. The pups made into the woods, on the real or imagined trail of something they considered worth chasing while I found a spot to pray.
I spent a long while talking to Him, asking Him to give me some sort of answer, direction, wisdom…anything. But no answer came
So I returned nearly every day.
For almost two weeks.
I would trudge past the tornado-ruined tractor shed, past blackberry canes dried up too soon, and onto an old cattle path beaten to powder by hoof upon hoof. I would bring my worn Bible along, take off my boots alongside my own little Cherith and just pray.
A mix of tears and sweat would drip from my nose and chin, and I would read His own words aloud to Him, read them to myself, repent of everything I could that would stand in the way of hearing Him, ask Him to speak and ask Him to rend the heavens, or in the least, whisper in a still, small voice.
But no answer came. Each day, after praying, I would return in the failing light of dusk, wondering why He remained silent. My prayers would rise, loudly, thinking in desperation that volume was the key. But a God who is closer than the breath He Himself gives can hear just fine.
At the end of my stay, He was still silent. And all my questions were still unanswered.
The silence of God can be terrifying. In the midst of fear and uncertainty, when we seem to need a word from Him most, He is often silent.
So what do we do when we are worried, fearful and seeking, but the heavens are silent? We may have repented of everything He has brought to our minds, and approach Him with pure hands and a clean heart, and yet only have the silence to echo back upon itself.
How do you begin to make sense of it? There are many reasons God may remain silent, and many of those will forever be unknown, but I believe He showed me one reason for the silence I have experienced. Now, I thank Him for that time of deep silence. It was the best thing for me. Why do I say that?
The other day, I told a friend of mine that I was preparing to speak to a group about the story of Lazarus in John 11. I said that I planned to talk about Jesus’ silence when asked to come to them, His sense of timing and how He’s never late. It’s the standard approach to the story. My friend just stared at me and told me that he didn’t know if Jesus was trying to show Mary and Martha something about His timing when He delayed in coming to Bethany when Lazarus was sick. Instead, He wanted to show them something about Himself they didn’t know. My friend said, “They knew Him as the Healer, but He wanted them to know Him as the Resurrection.”
I believe my friend is right.
His words set me to thinking, and I began to ask God to show me what He wanted me to know about Him through His silence. So I began to consider what I already know of Him and then see if He wanted me to know Him in a new way.
For years, I have had an image of serving God as a King.
The King of the Universe (Ps. 47).
I think about kneeling in His throne room, resolving myself to go and serve my liege however He commands.
That is a good and accurate image, but there is more.
He’s also my Father.
He is Abba.
In the last year or so, the idea of God as my Daddy has profoundly changed my approach to Him (Gal. 4:6). That’s a level of intimacy far deeper than serving someone only as a king. He’s still the same. He’s my Daddy and my King. I must embrace both concepts.
But there is still more.
He is the Lover of my soul.
We, as the Church, are…
He is my all-powerful King, ruling over all seen and unseen creation. He is my Father, my adoptive Dad, who looks upon me with the same love He has for Jesus Himself (John 17:23). And, out of His great love, He is jealous for those who are His. Take a moment and read Ezekiel 16. Clearly He is a tender, but jealous, God.
His is a perfect, righteous jealousy. What is love but to desire the absolute best for another regardless of the cost? And what could be better than Him? That is what He desires: for us to desire nothing more than Him.
He gets glory by showing His undeserved and unconditional love for you and me. He is the only being who can love perfectly. He shows us this type of love so we can reflect it, and without Christ, we can never hope to show true, sacrificial love. He sacrificed; He requires us to do the same.
This God who freely gives us all things operates by a highly reductionist strategy. He removes. Prunes. Extracts.
He takes to give.
He cuts to heal.
He crushes to build.
His silence is no different.
We pursue Him through the silence, crying out to Him, thinking we are the source of the movement toward Him. But in pulling back, in withdrawing, He is expressing His great love. In His stillness, in His silence, we see His heart of relentless pursuit.
He never demands our love. He only loves us first.
Even if that means remaining silent for a time.