Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Joseph Bentz's new book, Silent God: Finding Him When You Can’t Hear His Voice, (Beacon Hill Press, 2007).
You pray, but your prayers seem to bounce back to you unheard. You seek, but God’s voice is silent. So you wonder where God is – or even if He’s there at all.
The times when God is silent are tough to go through, but they have a purpose. If you hold onto your faith through the silence, you can find God even when you can’t hear His voice. Here’s how:
Know that God is still there.
Remember God’s promises to always be present with you. Rest assured that He is there, even when you’re not aware of His presence. Trust Him to be faithful to His promises. Understand that God’s silence doesn’t mean He has abandoned you or is punishing you. Be confident that God’s fundamental position toward you is to love and reach out to you.
Consider the reasons why you might not be able to hear Him right now.
Have you recently experienced a disappointment or tragedy that has made God seem far away? Have you been running away from Him in rebellion? Have doubts crept into your life and crowded God out? Is your life so filled with the noise of busyness that you can’t hear God’s voice above all the competing sounds? Recognize whether any of these reasons might apply to you. But also understand that sometimes you won’t be able to figure out why you can’t currently hear God.
Check your motivation for wanting to hear from God.
Ask yourself honestly whether you really want to hear from God simply to connect with Him because you love Him, or whether you want to use Him to further your own agenda or increase your sense of self-importance. Understand that the purpose of communicating with God is to develop intimacy with Him, not to use Him to grant your requests.
Listen for a subtle voice instead of a loud, dramatic one.
God most often chooses to speak in subtle ways. So tune into the ways He may already be speaking to you by making an effort to notice Him at work in your ordinary moments. Realize that, while God does sometimes decide to speak in dramatic ways, you shouldn’t limit your expectations to miracles. Seek God Himself rather than just the miracles He can perform. Move closer to God in your relationship with Him so you’ll be able to hear Him when He speaks subtly to you. Let the times when God is silent increase your faith and dependence upon Him.
Turn off the noise that drowns God’s voice out.Become aware of the many types of noise that have accumulated in your life and drawn your attention away from God. Think of noise as anything that assaults your senses so much that it distracts you from hearing God: constant badgering from technology like email and cell phones, a schedule that’s too busy, and even too much clutter in your own mind to think clearly. Some ways you can turn off noise in your life include: waiting until late in the day to check your email and messages; getting more sleep; cutting out one television show or one hour of Internet time a day and spending that time in silence, meditative prayer, or Bible reading; walk or jog quietly and use the time for reflection and prayer; simplify your life if it’s too busy by cutting out at least one activity or commitment; make an effort to enjoy simple pleasures in each moment; set aside time in your schedule just to think creatively on a regular basis; do one thing every day to clean up clutter from your home and workplace; make your car a sanctuary of solitude and prayer when you drive alone; and serve others to release God’s love in your life in ways that open doors to His presence.
Seek God in solitude and silence.Spend enough time in silence and solitude regularly so you can concentrate well and quiet your spirit in order to better hear God’s Spirit speaking to you. Plan a spiritual retreat – for a few hours, a few days, or even longer – to seek God through prayer when you’re alone in a quiet place. Meditate on Scripture when you’re silent. Invite God to use your times of solitude and silence to give you His peace, so you’ll be changed for the better once you interact with people again.
Tune in during all types of situations.Don’t limit your perception of God at work to just certain types of situations in your life, such as when you’re in church. Make an effort to notice Him in every situation you encounter, tuning in so you can hear Him speak at work; through your relationships with family, friends and other people; in your leisure time; when you’re studying; as you’re doing chores; when you’re enjoying nature; etc. Open a Bible and invite God to speak to you through it. Think and pray about how He might be using current circumstances to speak to you. Be open to however and whenever God wants to say something to you. Ask Him to help you become more aware of His voice.
Look for the lessons in the silence.Realize that God may be doing some of His most significant spiritual work in you during the times He’s silent. Let the silence motivate you to seek Him more, and depend on Him more when you do find Him. If you become aware that you can’t hear God because you’ve been involved with sin that’s blocking your relationship with Him, repent and ask Him to forgive you. Be grateful that He has given you time to do so; realize that His silence while you’re in rebellion is an act of mercy. If God’s silence signals that you need to wait on His timing for something, pray for patience and the strength to hold onto faith. If you’ve become complacent in your relationship with God, use the time He’s silent to pursue Him with greater passion. If a time of pain has preoccupied you, remember that God is with you in the midst of the pain working toward your ultimate good, and seek Him in the silence. If God has already spoken to you about something, but you haven’t listened and responded in obedience, He may be silent until you respond – so do so. Realize that God’s silence on specific issues may mean that you’re free to decide for yourself from among many choices that all would fall within His will. Understand that God’s silence may be a natural pause as He works out His long-term plans for your life; decide to trust Him as He works behind the scenes. Remember that His timing and methods may be different from what you’d prefer, but He always knows best.
Hold on in faith.Trust that God will redeem the time He seems silent in your life. Know that your greatest spiritual victories may come when you’re least aware of them; expect something amazing to eventually result if you hold onto your faith through a time of silence.
Adapted from Silent God: Finding Him When You Can’t Hear His Voice, copyright 2007 by Joseph Bentz. Published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, Mo., www.beaconhillbooks.com.
Joseph Bentz is the award-winning author of five books and numerous articles in magazines and scholarly journals. He is professor of English at Azusa Pacific University, where he teaches courses in writing and American literature. He earned a Ph.D. and M.A. in American literature from Purdue University and a B.A. in English from Olivet Nazarene University. He lives with his wife and two children in Southern California.