This is the fourteenth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
There are many different circumstances which may give us a sense that God is silent. When we are having doubts, for instance, even though doubt is a normal part of faith. Or when we are depressed. Elijah the prophet withdrew to the wilderness after a great victory over the prophets of Baal and King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, afraid and depressed. In the end, Elijah heard God as “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).
In the midst of intense suffering, it may seem like God is silent. Jesus said from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). The reason for his dereliction was unique, but, on the other hand, almost anyone may cry out of a sense of abandonment if circumstances are severe enough.
When we are confused and looking for answers, or are guilty of a serious sin, or when we are disconnected from other people, or when we have chronic problems—all of these circumstances can make it seem like God is silent.
But, in fact, God is not silent. Psalm 19 says that creation itself is declaring of the glory of God which Paul in Romans 1 amplifies by saying God’s existence and invisible attributes are clearly understood through the creation. We call this general revelation.
Special revelation is the loud and clear voice of God through the words of the prophets and the apostles: the Scriptures. And Jesus himself, the Word, is God’s special revelation, the strong and pure voice of God. The actual words of Jesus echo through the centuries. They shape culture and transform lives.
Through the word of God in the Scriptures we gain “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), the “wisdom from above” (James 3:17), and “Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). This revelation, which took place over thousands of years, covers every significant life circumstance. God’s voice in the Scriptures is specific and concrete. It is loud and precise and good.
Now someone may ask: Yes, God did speak in the past, but what about today? God did speak to those people, but what about to me?
Here is a crucially important truth: God’s word is eternal, and so what he said in the past is what he is saying now. 1 Peter 1:23 says that we have been born again “through the living and enduring word of God.” These two adjectives, “living” and “enduring” tell us God’s words back then are God’s words right now. Hebrews 4:12 says “the word of God is alive and powerful.” Jesus said in numerous ways that his words would go on and on.
So when we ask, “what would God say to me?” we must first consider the totality of what God has said to us over our lifetimes. This is the voice of God for us. It is not less because it is for everybody; it is more because it is for everybody. Just because each part of Scripture was a word to other people in its original context, it is still a word to us. God’s truth spoken to a group is no less a truth spoken to each individual.
It is also true that God may speak to us personally with what we could call inner promptings. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gifts us with a strong conviction or passion about something we might do. But the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit will never contradict the moral and ethical truth of Scripture. Someone may actually claim that God has told them they could be in an adulterous affair (this actually happens all the time), but that voice comes from the Tempter, not God.
When it seems like God is silent, there are some practical things we can do to open things up. If we have isolated ourselves from others, we should find ways to begin to break out. We should find wise people and listen to them. We should take confidence in the character of God as revealed in Scripture. We should hold on to the promises of God.
And we should be patient. Waiting is a true spiritual discipline. Virtually every significant personality in the Bible experienced different seasons of their spiritual lives. Sooner or later God’s voice breaks through.
Coming Soon… A Book of Prayers for Kids
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.