Mission Hills—It is good to be home! My name is Josh Weidmann. I had the privilege of serving as a teaching pastor, among other things, and it is good to come back to see faces I love and people dear to my heart. It’s home! It so neat to see the new things you are doing here! Congrats on 75 years. Congrats on the new vision for expansion! Dove Valley, the Mill… wow! God continues to use you all to transform lives. I am cheering you on!
For those of you who remember my wife, Molly, she is doing well. We are four kids in and loving life. I want more kids but my wife told me to find another uterus. Our home never has a dull moment… or enough diapers. But we are loving being parents. I hope by God’s grace they turn out somewhat normal, but there are times I wonder if I’m messing them up.
Take for example and experience I had recently with my 2-year-old daughter: she trusts me more than they should. My kids assume I know what I am doing when that is only true about half the time. A few months ago, my two-year-old daughter showed me her trust by letting me hang her by her ankles upside down in a trashcan.
We had dropped the baby’s bottle in the trashcan, right after Molly had said, “Don’t let the baby’s bottle drop on the ground.” I tried to reach it, but I couldn’t. I said, Carolina, let me have your ankles. I handed my phone to my 4-year-old—here, take a picture of this, and I held her upside down and lowered her in the trash.
We called it “operation stinky poo” because the trashcan was full of diapers. My son yelled, “Hold your breath, Carolina! The smell could kill you.” But you know what? She never once questioned if I was going to drop her. She trusted me. I asked her to do something crazy, stinky, not something most dad’s do to their kids. But she trusted me. She trusted me. [pause]
Today I want to talk about the moments in our life when our heavenly Father asks us to trust Him, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so. Those can be some of the most confusing and trying times for our faith. Often it means that God is asking something of us and not giving much examination as to why. I’ve entitled my message today after a topic that is close to my heart: When God Goes Silent.
While I am normally an expository preacher, today I want to be “Expostital” or “Topisitory”— I guess you could also say “Topigetical.” I want to look at a topic biblically and at the end we will explore a main passage and apply it to our life. Join me as we encounter God through His Word. PRAY [taking a knee here]
Does God Hide from Us?
When was the last time you thought God was hiding from you? Perhaps it was when that job ended and you had no idea what was next. Or when your child rebelled and it was as if God was standing in the corner not intervening. Maybe it was when the doctor came back in the room and gave you that bad report. Or perhaps it was the loss of that person you thought would always be there.
Truth be told: there are many moments (and usually the hardest moments) in life when he feels like God is far from us. But what if I told you that the whole while, I thought God was hiding or silent, but He wasn’t. God never hides, but He waits for us to return to Him. He is constantly calling for our trust. Trusting God is the antidote for overcoming fear and confusion associated with His silence. When I learn to trust the heart of God, then hearing His voice is seemingly irrelevant.
However, there are times in our suffering or even the mundane days of life when God’s voice feels muffled. The busyness of my job and family causes Him to feel far. Everyone else seems to grab for my attention and they all seem to have a louder voice than God. There are times it feels like He is sitting quietly in the corner refusing to talk until everything else shuts up.
When the line goes quiet, you can’t help but wonder if you had a bad connection. Overcoming fear, gaining clarity, or feeling comfort are all real desires in our relationship with God. When we don’t experience these, doubts and discontent begin to bubble to the surface. Most of us start to look at our own life and try to put a finger on something that caused God to stop talking. We treat God as if He is another person, assuming we ticked Him off somehow and He is giving us the silent treatment. Even our close friends give us the cold shoulder sometimes, so why wouldn’t God?
Recently, a woman came up to me, weeping, at the end of our church service. She is a saintly soul who has walked with God for over thirty years. She mumbled through her tears, “I can’t feel God like I used to, and it’s freaking me out.” My stomach lurched and landed in my throat—I knew exactly how she felt. I’ve been there.
This may not surprise you, but I hope it brings you comfort: You and I are not the first people who has experienced God’s silence. You are not the first to get frustrated with Him, fume at Him, and perhaps even shake a fist at Him. There are many examples of people in the Bible who waited on God when He seemingly went mute.
- Abraham wanted God to say something as he marched up to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son… but silence.
- Moses wandered in the desert for years, longing for God to talk and do something… but silence.
- Job’s life imploded; He wanted answers from God… silence.
- Isaiah was an unpopular preacher, hated by his hearers for the judgment he kept yelling about. All he wanted was for God to back him up . . . but silence.
- The apostle Paul begged God to release him of suffering, or at least explain it… but silence.
Many examples of God’s silence exist, but in all of them we see God do something great as the people waited or because of their waiting.
King David has the most recorded instances of praying and begging for God to open His mouth by saying honest prayers like, “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!” (Ps. 83:1 ESV).
What we learn from these towering figures of the faith is that they had the same struggles we do. Many times, they felt not towering, but tiny. Yet they demonstrated courage and perseverance to push through their doubts about God. They endured their own times of asking, “Where’s God?”
John Zxerce said it well: “Authentic faith always leaves room for God to be silent.” There are seasons when God will not speak in a loud voice, or even speak at all, but we must never lose faith that He is present and has a plan.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” in Isaiah 55:8. That is comforting, because it means His wisdom is greater, His mercy is deeper, and His response more deliberate than any of God’s creation. In the verses preceding this statement, God gives a sweet invitation to “seek the Lord while He can be found; call upon Him while He is near” (55:6). If He were just another version of us, He would have given up on humans a long time ago. Instead, He invites us to come near. He is always seeking those who will draw close to Him, and sometimes His silence is a beckoning us to come closer. Overcoming God’s silence starts by understanding why He is so quiet.
Let me state what I think is the largest problem we have when it comes to understanding God’s silence: all of us who have made a hobby of projecting our past experience on God. We have an idea of what we think God is like and assume that He acts similar to the way any human would act.
Speaking of hobbies, let me tell you about my coffee obsession hobby
If you come over to my house, the first question I’ll ask you is, “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” It’s more than a hospitable offer—it’s my gauge as to whether you and I are going to become friends. J Okay, that may be too extreme, but you have to understand that I love coffee and I want to see if you do as well.
I started drinking the sweet nectar of heaven when I was only 7, and I’ve been drinking it ever since. I owned my own cafes for a while. It is not rare for me to spend a few hours of my life and a few gallons of milk practicing latte art as a favorite pastime. Coffee is not just a warm beverage, it is a way of life for me.
So, if you replied that, yes, you would like a cup, the next question I would ask you (as a litmus test of the future longevity of our relationship) would be, “Great, what kind of coffee would you like?”
Unknowingly, your next answer would tell me your level of love for sublime brown liquid. It would tell me a lot about you if you replied, “Do you have an Aeropress?” or “Can we brew a Chemex pot of pour over?” or “What kind of full-immersion brewer do you have?” or “How about a toddy over ice” or “Yama cold brew cup, black, please.”
Yes, I know. I sound like a coffee nerd already. But, I am. I geek out over this stuff. I’ve made it my hobby to collect as many coffee brewing devices as I can own (ask my wife). I can brew just about any coffee, any method, at any time.
I have another hobby that is not quite as cool.
I’ve made a hobby out of projecting feelings from my past onto situations of my present. I know—messed up—but I think we all do it. Let me explain.
Just as I collect coffee brewing systems, so I also collect past perspectives and use them to “brew up” just about anything I want to think or feel in a present moment. Maybe it was the way someone hurt me or the way I failed. Those past feelings are quickly projected onto a current or future situation, therefore predetermining what I will believe or chose to believe about the new situation. I sell short the new experience by confining it to what I have felt in the past.
Just as I’ve categorized my different brewers as full immersion, pressure extraction, or pour-over gravity driven, so I also have categories of what I want to feel. I can pull any type of past experience to project how I want to feel or think in any situation.
Just like my hobby of coffee brewing takes a lot of time, so I’ve given hours of my life over to the idea of hyper-evaluating situations based on my historical knowledge. I have lost sleep or stress out about things that are not real in current situations. I let people who hurt me in the past be more believable than the people who love me in the present, not to mention the perfect God who never leaves me or stops loving me. But, sadly, I even use my hobby of projecting feelings of the past on to my relationship with God.
The Strong Silent Type
If you have studied psychology or spent any time in therapy, you might have heard the term transference. In the parlance of psychology, transference is “the phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another.” This is why you instinctively (and irrationally) dislike your new coworker—the one who reminds you of your cousin Bob, who was always mean and competitive with you. Or it’s why you avoid the person in your life group who seems quick to criticize you, just like your mom or dad did.
When I transfer the feelings I have had with imperfect people onto a perfect God, I treat Him like He is just another version of people I’ve known. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though all people are made in the image of God, we often treat God as if He was made in our image. We assume that if He has gone silent, He is acting just like that friend who shut us out after we disappointed him. We suppose He is giving us the cold shoulder just like that old boyfriend or girlfriend did when a minor misunderstanding arose. Or when He becomes angry, we picture Him to be just like that parent who yelled at us when we didn’t listen–for the third time.
If we project our past experience on God, we will misinterpret His silence. As soon as we enter a season of God’s silence, we try to figure out why He won’t talk. We cycle through our catalog of feelings from other people and use them as an explanation for God’s perceived distance. But what if His silence is nothing like what we’ve experienced in our earthly relationships? What if His actions can’t be understood by merely comparing it to what we know other people act like?
Which Side Are You On?
When we treat God like another human, we then reduce Him to two options: Either for us. Or against us.
Think about it, the same is true with how we view most other people, if we are honest. We see people as for us or against us. (There may be a third option of “undecided” or “indifferent,” but we don’t care much about those people as they are not close to us.) In our relationship with God, we put Him in either one of these extremes at any given time. Maturity in faith and life may bring a deeper understanding that God doesn’t actually take sides, but when we are slapped with the stark reality of silence from the Almighty, we automatically assume He is against us (at least momentarily).
Consider the prophet Joshua, for example. He was about to embark on the battle that made him most famous—the battle at Jericho. He was still a rookie when it came to being God’s chosen replacement for Moses. Confidence was rising with every passing day and the promise of God’s presence, but He had to still question how he was actually going to get into the Promised Land with the mighty Philistines on the other side. He calculated his moves, prepared his strategy, and begged God to help them. As he did, God decided to speak, but it didn’t come without first assuming God was like us—a chooser of sides.
Joshua 5:13 (2 slides) says, Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
His answer is surprising: The man didn’t hesitate. With sword drawn and face fixed firmly on Joshua, verse 14 (slide 14a): “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
It was the angel’s way of saying: ehhhhh, wrong question. God is not like you or other humans that he picks sides. But from Joshua’s limited human perspective, there is no way that could have made sense. You have to pick a side . . . us or them! But the man simply replied, “Neither” (5:14 NIV). God is bigger than sides. He doesn’t engage in divine games of red rover, capture the flag or dodge ball. The battleground Joshua looked at in the distance was already under God’s divine control. He ruled sovereignly over the enemy and the Israelites. There was no need to pick a side, He was in control of both sides.
Most scholars agree that this commander was a “Theophany” and maybe even a “Christophany.” That means that this commander could have been the pre-incarnate Christ. He doesn’t take sides; He serves the purposes of the Father. The Bible says all things are “From Him, through Him and to Him” (Rom 11:36).
Jesus doesn’t take sides. Jesus doesn’t act like us. Jesus is ENOUGH! Trust Him.
Notice How Joshua reacted
Joshua had the right response—he fell down on his face in worship. With his face pressed to the dirt [earth], he worshiped God. After the reality hit him that God is not another version of us, the only right response was to worship.
Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
This is the exact phrase God used when Moses was about to embark on the largest battle of his life, freeing people from Egypt. Notice that for both of these men, God didn’t do what we would expect Him to do, if He was acting like another person. He wasn’t giving a plan. He just said: worship me. Trust.
God goes silent to get our trust.
Friend, I don’t know what you’re facing this week, but God does. He knows what your next Jericho is and guess what, He is over all of it! How will you respond? Will you hit your face to the carpet and worship and voice total submission—what do you want me to do next? Or will you draw your sword of self-sufficiency and keep trying to fight on your own because you lack trust.
The fact is, most people in our culture have felt abandoned, betrayed, and manipulated by other people. We often instinctively transfer our earthly hurts to our heavenly Father, assuming that He is abandoning us when we can’t feel His presence. To trust God with our fears and pain, we must realize our redirected feelings often lead us to an inaccurate perception of who God really is. You may not hear God’s voice today, but I you can trust His heart.