Note: It's Throwback Thursday! I'm digging deep in the archives to resurrect a post. Shannan (my wonderfully insightful wife) suggested it. This post came on the heels of a very tough week when I was not sensing the presence of God.
God is everywhere present, but he is not everywhere felt or heard.
Sometimes God is silent--painfully silent. Put it this way, there are times when God is quieter than a church mouse.
If anyone understood silence it was the nation of Israel. Malachi 4:5-6 records the last words from God before the coming of Christ. It is one turn of the page from Malachi 4 to Matthew 1, but that page comprises 400 years of history. It is called "the 400 silent years." During that time there is no such thing as even a peep from God. No prophets. No promises. No parading of the power of God. No presence (or so it seems).
Can you relate?
Last Saturday I had my own "400 silent years." At least it felt that way. A very full "to do" list at the beginning of the week meant my message prep got off to a slow start. I did a little "scratching in the dirt" on Thursday. Friday came and I still had a long way to go, but I was not worried. "Hey, I have all day Saturday. I'm good."
At least that is what I thought.
Saturday morning I beat the sun out of bed. I got to the office well before daylight. I was hoping for a quick word from God, but it did not come. 10:00 a.m. . . . nothing. Noon . . . nothing. Now mind you, I am studying all this time, but the message just wasn't there. 2:00 p.m. . . . nothing.
I had an event to attend at 6 p.m., another event to attend at 8 p.m., and I was still fighting sickness. Surely God knows all this. Surely he knows there are few things as painful as preparing on Saturday night. Surely he is going to give me the message.
3:00 p.m. . . . nothing!
Somewhere about 4 p.m. I got ticked off. I was the "Job of Boca Raton":
"Come on, God. Do you love me? Do you love your people? Do you care? Don't you know I have to bring a message to Spanish River tomorrow? Lord, there have been times in the past when you have given me the message lightning fast. So WHY is this coming so slowly?"
I began to doubt God, his care, and his promises.
At 6:00 p.m. there was still no word from God, so I attended my evening events and then trekked back to the office. 10:00 p.m. . . . nothing. Midnight . . . nothing. I went home, grabbed three and half-hours of sleep and was back at my desk at 4:00 a.m. FINALLY, at 5:00 a.m. the message came.
Why did it take so long? Why was God silent? I don't get it -- and I do.
Interestingly, I was preaching from Isaiah 7-9 about King Ahaz and his own battle with trusting God. God's word to him was God's word to me:
"If you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all."
Isaiah 7:9 ESV
It is so much easier to talk about the 400 silent years than to live in the silent years. I endured a day and a half of not sensing God. Did that mean God did not exist. Of course not! But how many times when my prayers seem to go unanswered or my body is falling apart or life disappoints do I let my feelings become the barometer for God's presence.
Feelings are very important. God gave them to us. The Psalms are loaded with the feelings of the people of God. In fact, we ignore feelings to our peril. But God never tells us:
- "be encouraged by each others feelings"
- "And now these three remain: feelings hope and love"
- "stand firm in your feelings"
- "we walk by feelings and not by sight"
- "and the life I now live in the flesh I live by my feelings for the Son of God"
- "the righteous shall live by feelings"
- "for by grace you have been saved through feelings"
- "I am reminded of your sincere feelings"
- "And without feelings it is impossible to please him"
Feelings have always been a very poor means by which to gauge the Sovereign's care. The word of God to his people is "faith" not "feelings."
"If you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all.'"
Isaiah 7:9 ESV
Here I was, a pastor for thirty years, experiencing a faith meltdown? Ahhhh!
I take comfort from the words of Eugene Peterson. Peterson, a pastor now eighty years of age, has walked with God for a long time. He has also experienced plenty of those dry moments. He calls it "Living in the Badlands." Peterson writes,
We don't grow and mature in our Christian life by sitting in a classroom and library, listening to lectures and reading books, or going to church and singing hymns and listening to sermons. We do it by taking the stuff of our ordinary lives, our parents and children, our spouses and friends, our workplaces and fellow workers, our dreams and fantasies, our attachments, our easily accessible gratifications ... taking all this and placing it on the altar of refining fire--our God is a consuming fire--and finding it all stuff redeemed for a life of holiness. A life that is not reserved for nuns and monks but accessible to every Dick and Jane in every ordinary congregation.
Yes, we take all the stuff of our ordinary lives, and for the preacher preaching about standing firm in faith that means even putting my faith meltdown before him. As I do I watch him redeem my "400 Silent Years" as well.
What do you need to put before God?
 Eugene Peterson, The Pastor. New York: Harper One. 2011. Page 230.