Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Enduring when God is silent

I like instructions. I don’t always read them, but it’s comforting to know they’re there in case I need them. So what happens when the instructions don’t make sense? A friend was telling me over the weekend that her husband bought her a desk and assembled it for her, but the instructions were missing pages. So putting the desk together was a nightmare. What happens when you’re missing the instructions and the things you thought would be easy turn into something difficult?

That’s a silly example, but many of us run into that question a larger scale when we’re trying to live. We lose our instructions or we encounter a situation where the instructions no longer seem relevant, and we ask God for guidance. And He doesn’t answer. We ask Him to tell us what do to, and He doesn’t respond. What do you do then? How do you endure when God stops speaking to you?

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Job 13:15.

God might kill me, but I have no other hope.
    I am going to argue my case with him.

Job is one of those people I can’t wait to meet when we get to heaven. He’s one of my heroes. The story basically goes that Job was one of the wealthiest men at the time, but he was also one of the most righteous. He was a God follower, and he wasn’t afraid if everyone knew it. And God pointed him out to Satan one day, telling him about how no one could match Job. So Satan made a deal with God that he could convince Job to turn against God, and God allowed him to attack Job. Overnight, Job lost everything. His wealth. His family. His status. Everything that mattered to him was taken, and he was left with a bitter wife and friends who turned against him.

Job is a big book. It’s 42 chapters, probably the oldest book in the Bible, and the majority of it is Job questioning, until God starts answering. But God doesn’t answer right away, and Job is left to puzzle through all the horrible things that have happened to him without God explaining it.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever had to suffer through circumstances that you didn’t deserve? Okay, let’s be honest. Most of the time the really bad stuff we encounter usually has some root cause in our lifestyle or our choices or our past, and it’s our own actions bringing the trouble to our doorstep. But have you ever really run into situations where you have to suffer through difficult things and you didn’t do anything to deserve them? I have. I know others who have too. And it’s in those moments where I have been really tempted to get upset at God.

I mean, why would He let this stuff happen to me? I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Why is He punishing me for things I don’t deserve to be punished for? That’s not fair.

If you’re there, read Job. Because he was there for 41 chapters. We are all in a very different place than Job was. He didn’t have the Book of Job or any of the Bible. None of it had been written down yet. So he had nothing except his experience and his relationship with God to go on. But we have Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit.

And what Scripture will tell you about God’s silence is that it’s never actually there. God is never silent. We just stop listening.

Are you facing troubles today? Are you facing situations that you don’t deserve? Have you asked God to take them away and He isn’t answering? Do this. Go outside and sit down and close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Do you hear the wind? Do you hear birds singing? Do you hear leaves rustling on trees? Do you hear other people and life in the city?

God doesn’t have to speak in an audible voice for us to know that He’s talking. He speaks through the Bible. He speaks through Creation. He speaks through provision. He speaks through other people in our lives. He’s never silent, but we often let our troubles distract us.

Job was fortunate enough that God responded to him. God spoke to him. And when God was done speaking to him, this is how Job responded in Job 42:1-6:

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

We don’t know why God chooses to do the things He does many times, but we know that He is fair and just and good and sovereign, which means He has the right do what He wants with what He made–and that’s everything. We know how the story of Job turned out. God blessed him with twice what he had before, and while Job had endured tremendous suffering, the second half of his life was more blessed than the first ever was.

So if you’re going through difficulty right now, think about Job. It’s okay to question God. It’s okay to wonder. It’s okay to talk to Him, to be honest with Him, to tell Him how you’re feeling, but remember who you’re talking to.

Everyone struggles through dark times. Everyone faces situations that seem unfair. And, yes, it’s frustrating and upsetting. But the more you focus on how God isn’t speaking to you, the quieter He’ll get. But it’s not that He’s speaking softer; you’re turning His volume down.

Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Strong

I think of myself as a strong person. I’m independent and self-reliant, almost to a fault, and I hate asking for help. The way I look at it, if it’s something I have to ask help in completing, maybe it’s something I don’t need to worry about doing. Many times, I’d rather not do it if I can’t do it alone.

But that’s a silly, prideful way to live because nobody is really strong enough to make it through life alone. The older I get, the more I begin to understand exactly what it costs to be that strong, and the more I learn that I really don’t understand strength at all.

Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:11.

Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.

I blogged on this verse earlier this year, focusing on how it says we’re supposed to seek God. Continually. But this morning, something else stood out to me that I hadn’t really seen before.

This verse is nestled in a song David sang as his armies were in the process of moving the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of God’s presence on Earth in the Old Testament) back to Jerusalem. He sang this as they reached the city, if I have my timeline right. It’s a long song, and you can find it in 1 Chronicles 16.

This statement is in between lyrics about praising God for what He’s done and remembering the greatness of His deeds. But what struck me this morning wasn’t the bit about continually seeking God. That’s important because it’s easy for us to lose focus. What hit me as I read this verse today was the statement that we need to be searching for the Lord and for His strength.

Really?

It’s not surprising to me that we need to search for God’s strength, I guess. I’m not strong enough to make it alone; I get that. But what does God’s strength look like? Have you ever wondered? Ask yourself what that means.

God’s strength.

Strength has many definitions and connotations. There are many different kinds of strength, and I think we need to be clear about which one God is talking about.

Are we talking about the strength to create a universe out of nothing? Are we talking about the strength to part the Red Sea and leave it gaping open long enough for millions of people to cross over on dry land? Are we talking about the strength to stop the sun in the sky?

God did all of those things for the Israelites, and all of those things demonstrate that God is very strong. But is that the strength we’re supposed to search for? I don’t think so. Because that kind of strength is unattainable for us. I don’t think God would tell us to seek something if it were something we could never achieve.

So what kind of strength does God possess that we can achieve? What kind of strength can we learn from Him? Well, this is my personal opinion, but it makes sense to me.

It takes more strength to be patient and to wait for God to answer a prayer than it does to get up and try to do it myself. Action is easy; waiting is difficult.

I think it takes more strength to love people truly than it does to ignore them. Indifference is easy; love is difficult.

I think it takes more strength to get up the second time I’ve fallen down than it does to stand up before I fall the first time. The first try is easy; the second and third tries are difficult.

Real strength is facing those difficult moments in life without hesitation because it’s what God has called us to do, because it’s the right thing to do. That is the kind of strength God has, and that is the kind of strength He wants us to seek.

God is patient, especially with us. God loves, even when it hurts Him. God never gives up on us, even when we give Him every reason in the book to turn away and never look back. And it takes a strength far beyond the physical to do all of that. So maybe we can’t physically have the strength of God, but we can mimic His strength in the way we live and in the way we treat each other.

What does it mean to seek His strength? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, just like in Wal-Mart or Sears, the best way to find something you’re looking for is to ask for directions. So ask Him for it. Life isn’t one big scavenger hunt with God giggling about our failures from the sky. It’s more like a treasure hunt, and He’s waiting for us to ask Him for the map.

Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Haven, KS

Seeking is a process

If you look for God, you’ll find Him. Right? He’s promised that in other verses. But the Bible never wastes words. If the words aren’t necessary, they wouldn’t be in Scripture. Every single word is essential. So why does it matter that we search for the Lord with all our heart and soul?

If we can just find God by turning over a stone and exclaiming, “Look! I found God!” why is it important to search with everything we are?

Sincerity is important, yes. If you’re not sincerely seeking something, even if you find it, you won’t understand it.
Because seeking is a process.

Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Haven, KS

Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Deuteronomy 4:29.

But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.

People say they are seeking God, but that’s a popular thing to say. They also say they’re seeking to find themselves, they’re seeking to find God’s will and purpose, they’re seeking the truth. But everyone seems to forget the first thing that has to happen before you truly begin to seek; first, you have to lose it. Then, you have to really want it.

If you don’t really want what you’re seeking, you’ll be satisfied when you find the first answer that fits your expectations.

This verse is taken out of a passage where Moses is addressing the Israelites. This generation of people was the children of the ones who God rescued from Egypt. That original generation refused to do as God told them. He’d told them to go into the land He’d prepared for them and that He had given them victory. But the people only saw the giants in the land, guarding the way, and they refused. So God caused them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation had died. Their children would inherit the legacy intended for them.

This generation was sold out to God, but Moses warned them that if they broke the promise they were making, if they forged idols and turned away from God that they wouldn’t live in the land for very long and would be scattered to the wind. But even scattered and without a country to call home, if they turned back to God and searched for Him, He promised they could find Him. If you know your history, you’ll know that’s exactly what happened.

Seeking God is popular among Christians. But what does it mean to actually seek God? And what does it mean to seek with all your heart and soul? In the Amplified Version, it actually says to seek with all your heart and mind and soul and life. Think about that; that’s huge. If you’re seeking with all of those things, that means seeking is your entire life.

Have you ever looked for something like that?

Most of the time when we seek something, it’s like we’re looking for our keys. During Judgement House, I couldn’t keep track of my cup. We had those lovely Styrofoam cups that we scratched our names on, but no matter how careful I was, I kept misplacing it. And I looked for it, but in the end I just gave up and got another one. That’s how many people search for God, I think.

We seek sincerely for a day (maybe longer) and then we come up with another explanation. Or we decide that He’s not listening or that He’s not there and we accept a lie because we are too lazy to wait any longer. But here’s the thing, folks, those of us who seek God need to realize the possibility that we may not have lost Him to begin with.

Moses was warning the Israelites that if they turned away from God, if they worshiped idols and were cast out of the Promised Land, they could find God if they searched for Him. But in that situation, the Israelites would have lost Him. They had dropped Him, given up on Him, turned away from Him. So of course they would need to search for Him again if they wanted Him.

But Christians? We haven’t lost God. He’s right here. He’s been here. And if you say you’re a Christian, you haven’t lost Him at all.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying don’t look for Him. What I’m saying is that so many times Christians waste the limited time we have looking for something we’ve already found. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wasted ten minutes looking for my keys, when they’re in my coat pocket.

Yes. Search for God. But if you’re really searching, remember that you have to lose Him first. And if you haven’t lost Him, if you haven’t turned away from Him, why are you wasting time seeking? He’s standing right beside you just asking if you’ll talk to Him. So talk. And don’t put words in His mouth. Let Him speak through Scripture, through prayer, through godly council of mature believers, and don’t argue with what He tells you.

But if you have lost Him, seek. Just don’t do it like someone looking for their keys or for a stupid Styrofoam cup. Seek with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole soul and your whole life. That is how you seek God. It’s not a half-hearted attempt at being good. It’s not you presenting options and hoping God is happy with what you’ve come up with. It’s your entire being laid out in desperate need, crying out to God for the truth. He won’t turn anyone away, even if you’ve turned away from Him.

But even if you find Him, you may not get the answers you want right away. Seeking is a process. And like any other process, it begins with the first step. But that first step is the most important.

Fountain at night

Continually

My coffee pot doesn’t regenerate automatically. Does yours? Probably not. Whenever I want (or need) a cup of coffee, I have to make it myself. I have to pour in water and measure out coffee grounds. I have to push the start button. It something I do every morning, part of my routine, because if I want to remember how to spell, I need coffee in my system before I start working on this devotional!  Maybe you have a swanky coffee pot with a timer that will make coffee at a certain time so it’s ready when you wake up. But I don’t. And until I get one, I have to make it myself.

That’s a lousy illustration, but the point is there. Some things in our lives can’t be set on cruise control.

Fountain at night

Fountain at night - Bradley Fair Shopping Centre, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:11.

Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him.

Life is constantly changing. I blogged about this earlier in the week, but it is an inescapable truth. Our lives change. Our circumstances change. We as a people change. The one Person who doesn’t change is God. And in the midst of all the changes we must experience, the only way to stay steady and solid is to hold on to Him.

This verse says that we should continually seek Him. That just means that our relationship with God isn’t something that can be set on auto-pilot.

There’s an old movie, Airplane, that had a funny joke about the auto-pilot system. When they switched it on, this inflatable person appeared in the pilot seat (his name was Otto, of course). But he flew the plane and left the others free to roam about the cabin, doing all the ridiculous things that made the movie so funny.

But when I start thinking about how that applies to my own life, it’s not so funny anymore. Because I have an auto-pilot system. And the more tired and more stressed out I get, the more I use it. It’s easier when I don’t have to think. It’s easier when I don’t have to delve too deeply into my concerns or examine my motives. I just drift through life on cruise control. And while I don’t rock the boat, I don’t catch any fish either.

Our relationship with God is just like any other relationship. If you don’t spend time investing in it, you’ll be strangers. It you aren’t willing to sacrifice your time to get to know Him, He will feel like a distant, impersonal God who only demands obedience and who is no longer relevant to your life.

But that begs another question. If He’s so steady and stable and unmoving, why do we have to search for Him continually? Why is it something that we have to do every day?

Well, we change. We move. We leave. We wander off on our own, even if it’s just a day’s journey. And if it’s longer than a day’s journey, it just takes that much longer to get back.

So is it even necessary to go back?

No, of course not. You don’t have to. If you want to wander off on your own, that’s your prerogative. Even if you’re a follower of Christ, you can go off by yourself. God is a gentleman, as my pastor likes to say. He won’t force Himself on anyone. But there’s a reason God is called the Rock of Ages. When everything else in the world is spinning out of control, He doesn’t move. He’s the anchor that keeps the ship secure in a storm. He’s the solid foundation that keeps the house standing when everything else falls apart. I don’t know about you, but I’m not that strong.

Seeking God continually is something every believer needs to do. It’s a habit we all need to develop, whether it’s daily Bible reading or a special time set aside every day for prayer. Whatever works for you, and if you don’t like structure (like me), do something else. Make something up. But whatever you do, seek God. Continually. Because if you aren’t anchored to Him, you’ll drift away. And before you know it, you’ll be so far away you won’t be able to see Him anymore.

Why don’t I ask God questions more?

What is it about humans that we think we can do everything on our own? Maybe it’s just me. I struggle with this a lot because I have this idea that I can do everything by myself. I’m super independent and very stubborn. I don’t like to ask for directions. I don’t like to ask for help, whether it’s physically or financially. If I can’t do it myself, then I don’t need to do it.

But we were never intended to go through life like that. If we were supposed to be that independent, God would have only made one human. God could have been satisfied with Adam if He’d thought Adam could do everything by himself, but He didn’t. God made Eve too because Adam needed help.

So many times I avoid asking for help because I don’t want to be thought weak. That’s my biggest personal fear–people thinking I’m weak. And it’s gotten me in more trouble than any other of my own little personal issues. Because it’s nothing but pride.

I’ve talked about how I struggle with pride before, but it’s a real problem for me. And I never stop being amazed at how many forms pride can take in my life. And it gets to the point that I refuse to ask for help when I absolutely need it. And I’ve even gotten to the point where I refuse to ask God for help because I’m so ashamed that I can’t do something on my own.

Do you see how silly that is? Of course, I can’t do everything on my own. God didn’t make anyone to be so independent that they shouldn’t ask people (or Him) for help. That’s pride talking, and that’s Satan whispering lies in our ears through our own pride.

The verse this morning made me think of my proclivity to this specific problem.

Jeremiah 33:2-3

“This is what the Lord says—the Lord who made the earth, who formed and established it, whose name is the Lord: 3 Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.

We don’t know everything. Honestly, we don’t know anything. We think we know a lot but I’m convinced that more than half of what we think we know is either misguided or imaginary.

I think I understand my life and my position and my place and my future, but my understanding at this point in my existence is flawed. And me trying to make it on my own through life without ever asking for help is foolish. Because when it gets right down to it, I’m blind on my own. If I don’t ask God for help and guidance, I’ll run into things.

This verse is encouraging us to ask God questions. He wants us to ask Him questions. He wants us to seek Him. He wants to tell us things that we can’t figure out on our own. He wants to reveal truth to us on a level that we can’t find without seeking Him. Remember, this is God. He made everything. He made the universe. He hung the stars in space. He keeps the Earth spinning. He keeps us breathing every day. He holds it all together. And this is Him inviting us openly to ask Him any question we want.

Isn’t that spectacular?

So why don’t we? Why don’t I ask Him questions? Why don’t I seek Him with every breath and with all my heart? Why do I insist on doing things myself?

Probably because I’m stubborn. And stubbornnes can be a good trait when its focused on something worth being stubborn about. But a stubborn fool isn’t good for much.

So my goal for today is to stop being so stubborn about things I think I understand and to run to God with my questions, even when I don’t feel like I deserve to ask them. God wants to reveal things to us. He wants to tell us what He knows, share His wisdom and His heart. But He won’t force anything on us. We just have to ask.