from our partnerLightWorkers Guest
written byJarrett Stevens
For years, the outgoing voice mail message on my phone went something like this: “Hello? . . . HELLO? . . . I’m sorry, I can barely hear you. Wait . . . there, I think I heard you. Can you speak up? . . . AHHHH, just kidding. I’m not really here. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you.”
As funny as it was, that’s precisely what prayer is like at times for many of us: Like we’ve dialed up God—hoping to hear from Him, needing to hear from Him—only to sense He isn’t even there, like there’s no one on the other end. After a while, it’s easy to imagine that our prayers are nothing more than unanswered voice mails left for an otherwise preoccupied God.
Few things in this life are as defeating and deafening as the seeming silence of God. This is partly because we live in a world of constant noise, distraction and instant interaction. We live in a world of FaceTime and Facebook Live. We can be connected to people we’ve never met, from halfway around the world, whenever we want. The thought of God not showing up, or making us wait, or not giving us what we want, when we want it—well, that’s unthinkable.
Few things in this life are as defeating and deafening as the seeming silence of God.
The great irony in our struggling with God’s silence is that so often, silence is the very thing that we most often offer God. There have been far more times than I can count when I have been silent with God—or about God; times when God has spoken and I have chosen not to listen or respond. My hunch is that you have offered up your fair share of silence as well. Maybe you used to pray, and then you just…stopped. You went silent. And you don’t really know how or when or why. Maybe you pray about certain things in your life but are silent with God about others, hoping that He won’t ask or remember.
We seem to have no problem with silence on our end, but when God doesn’t speak to us how we want or when we want—when God is seemingly silent—it can be the breaking point of our faith.
What you may not know is that you are not the first to experience the silence of God. You are not the first person to face the vacuum left in the absence of God’s voice. You are not the first, and you are not alone. Others have faced what you have faced or are facing right now. You may not have the answers you want from God, but at least you have company. Not only have others walked where you walk but someone also walks with you—even if you cannot currently hear His voice.
The comforting, albeit confusing, truth is that God is with you. Even in the silence. Even in His silence. He may not be heard, but that doesn’t mean He cannot be found. As hard as it may be to believe, silence is not the same as absence. God may be quiet with you, but that doesn’t mean that He’s quit on you.
Have you ever felt as if God were playing a cosmic game of hide-and-seek with you? You call out for Him. Nothing. Look in all the old familiar places. Nothing. If God is playing a game, it’s not a very fun one. Desperation can turn to defeat in the presence of God’s silence. But what if there’s more? What if God isn’t hiding from you but rather waiting for you? What if God isn’t avoiding you but inviting you to join Him in the silence? Even though you may not hear, that doesn’t mean that God’s not near. In fact, often it is in the silence that we find God is waiting for us—even while we wait for Him. Could it be that silence is not something you need to run from but something you need to enter into? Could God have just as much for you in the silence as He does in the answer or provision you seek from Him in prayer?
Praying through silence can be challenging, but the more you practice it, the better you get at it. The less you fight it, the less you resist it, the easier it comes to you. You may not be able to start with a day or an hour, but you can start with five minutes. You can intentionally carve out time in the morning, before everyone else is up, or at the end of the day, after everything is done and the house is quiet. You can take your first five minutes at work, before you open your inbox. Or go for a walk during lunch. You can learn to make silence your friend so that when God is silent, you’ll be speaking the same language. You can resist the urge to thrash about and allow yourself to rest, submerged and surrounded by God’s loving presence. Allow every one of your fears, cares, concerns and complaints to be exhaled and to float away.
When you think about it, praying through silence is perhaps one of the simplest and easiest ways for you to pray. After all, you don’t have to worry about how to pray or what to say. In fact, the whole point of silence is for you to do and say nothing. Your job is just to show up. To make space. To make time. Silent prayer is not something you stumble into. It takes initiative and intentionality.
For me, praying through silence happens best in the morning, before the kids are up or shortly after we’ve dropped them off at school. It happens in our old gray chair (the first piece of “real” furniture Jeanne and I ever bought). It’s usually for five minutes. Sometimes it’s for ten. It consists of me setting a timer on my watch or phone—and then setting it aside, closing my eyes, breathing deeply and sitting still. It usually takes the first couple of minutes for me to name each of my distractions and preoccupations and release them like little air bubbles. It helps me to be as specific as possible with each of these and to release them with an exhale. Then I just…sit. It’s a conscious choice to rest in God’s presence. As I find myself getting distracted and pulled back to the surface by this thought or that, I name it and release it. Sometimes I’m reminded of a verse or a truth of God. Other times, there is just silence.
I would love to tell you that this is a practice that happens every day. It is not. But it’s a practice important enough to me that I have a weekly call with a friend who encourages me to seek it out. I have yet to regret making time for silence, but I can tell when I do not. I imagine those around me can as well. The more I practice it, the more comfortable I become with it, the more I desire it and the closer I feel to God—even when He chooses to be silent.
There is far more than you can possibly imagine on the other side of silence. Even though it may seem like God’s silence is all you know in this season, it is not all there is. I do not know why God chooses to be silent in certain seasons, but I do know that it does not last forever. Like all seasons, it gives way to another season. You may not always hear or have the answers that you seek from God, but if you are willing to stay with God through this season, you will have far more than you began with. You will no longer settle for a fair-weather faith. You will have a greater desire for the deeper things of God. You will have a peace that passes understanding; a newfound fluency in the language of silence and a camaraderie with the community of saints who have gone before you. You will know how to pray in a whole new way—on the other side of silence.
Excerpted with permission from Praying Through by Jarrett Stevens, published by NavPress. Copyright 2020, Jarrett Stevens.
Jarrett Stevens is a pastor, writer and speaker. He and his wife, Jeanne, are the founding partners of Soul City Church, a thriving church on Chicago’s west side. They do life with two children, Elijah and Gigi, and two endlessly energetic dogs, Moses and Louie. Jarrett is the author of several books, including Praying Through, Four Small Words and The Deity Formerly Known as God. Connect with him online at jarrettstevens.com.