When God Remains Silent
Time and time again, Christians find God to be silent in response to their prayers. This is not because God cannot hear, nor his hand too short to reach us, but there lies a deeper purpose in the silence of God. Christians need not fear the God of the Bible to be as Baal when the people cried in vain for the fire to appear by his hand. No, the prophet Isaiah makes it quite clear that God is not one made of gold or silver and carried on the shoulders of men to be set down never to move unless it is picked up again; he is not as one which men cry out to who does not answer and save them from their trouble (Isaiah 46:5-7).
On the contrary, God is the Lord of all. He is sovereign over all things so that there is not one atom or molecule which sits outside of his will. There is never a time when a Christian should doubt that the trial they face, or anxiety which overcomes them is too great for God. Never has a child of God been in a situation where God was not in control; from persecutions to times of peace, God is the one who brings it to pass.
It may be asked, “What then is the point of prayer if God knows what we need before we ask? Why continue in prayer if God is in control of everything? Won’t he just do whatever he wants nonetheless?” Questions like these show that we easily forget why Jesus taught us to pray. It is not for his sake, to wake him from sleep to action, but for our sake, that we might worship God.
From this we gather that prayer when God is silent, is not to wake him from his sleep, or convince him to action by our arguments. It is plain in all of Scripture that God’s hand is always stretched out to his people ready to give aid in a time of need. He is near to those who call on him in truth (Ps 145:18). Why then does God remain silent for a time while we are commanded to continue in prayer? John Calvin writes, “For these reasons, though our most merciful Father never slumbers nor sleeps, he very often seems to do so, that thus he may exercise us, when we might otherwise be listless and slothful, in asking, entreating, and earnestly beseeching him to our great good” (Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 3, Chapter 20, Section 3).
Not only does God, by his silence, desire us to be active in prayer, but desires that we pray properly. This may sound strange to our 21st-century Christian ears, but there is a wrong way to pray. It is often taught that we can come to God as a friend conversing with a friend, but scripture teaches a much higher view of God. Any frivolity in prayer abuses the condescension of God in his fellowship with man. For God to condescend to man does not mean that he has a prideful attitude in regards to the difference between himself and man, but that he must descend to man because he is so much greater. With that, man, because of sin, can never ascend to God, so God must come down to man. This condescension is so great that man has no hope of ever reaching God unless God comes near.
Lifting Up Our Prayer
Often throughout Scripture, we find the action of lifting up to accompany prayer. The lifting of our hands in prayer is not to show others how close we are to God, but to remind us how far removed we are from him. Our hands only reach so high, so likewise our prayers only reach so high. If there is no mediator between God and man, we cannot reach God. Unless God comes down to man, our prayers remain unheard. Unless we lift up our prayer to God, we do not pray rightly. So we need Christ, who is our mediator to God, that our prayers may be heard.
For this reason, we raise our hands in worship that we may proclaim to the world that, although God is far removed from us, he has condescended to us through Christ so we might regain fellowship with him. As we lift up our prayer, we display our dependence on Christ to mediate between God and us. Again, in 21st century Western Christianity, we find this approach strange since the lifting of hands and raising of prayer is seen as a display of how close we are to God, and not how far. We do not worship with a sober humility seeking for our affections to be stirred for Christ. Rather, we are proud in our worship when we think that the worship itself is bringing us nearer to God. God does not work in that way. He works in such a way so that he receives all the glory, and in prayer, we glorify God by lifting our prayers in dependence on Christ to bring them before the throne.
Hard Hearts Means Closed Ears
Not only must we depend on Christ to mediate, but we must also depend on the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts. John tells us, “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14). “But as our faculties are far from being able to attain to such high perfection, we must seek for some means to assist them. As the eye of our minds should be intent upon God, so the affection of our heart ought to follow in the same course. But both fail far beneath this, or rather, they faint and fail, and are carried in a contrary direction. To assist this weakness, God gives us the guidance of the Spirit in our prayers to dictate what is right, and regulate our affections” (Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 3, Chapter 20, Section 5).
We are greatly in need of the Spirit to work in us as we pray that our hearts might not be hardened towards God, or carried away with sinful desires. God shuts his ear to those whose hearts are turned away from him. We must, then, always approach the throne of God in great reverence and dependence; as the letter to the Hebrews makes clear, only then will we be able to approach boldly the throne of God laying all our burdens and requests at the feet of our Father.
So then, the reason why God remains silent to our requests is to make us more dependent on him; to press into him all the more and continue steadfast in the faith. It is to remove our self-relying tendencies so that our trust is fully in him. When God remains silent, he reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes solely from him. He reminds us in his silence that we cannot come to him unless Christ mediates and the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts. He reminds us that we depend completely on him to work, and not our prayer to be the working agent. He reminds us to remain steadfast to the end with full confidence that he does hear, and will bring us to completion just as he promised he would.