When God is Silent: Standing Before Two Doors
Which door will you choose?
All of us will stand before two doors at one point in our life. Some of us are there now, some have been there for months, even years. I am there today.
We are brought to these doors because of unanswered prayer. We have prayed diligently, tearfully, anxiously and perhaps even angrily over some issue that moves deeply in our spirit. We have implored God to move, to act. We have tried to muster faith, hold on to hope and exercise trust. We have read and repeated the promises in Scripture of a God who listens and hears and responds.
What makes this harder is these are genuine, faithful prayers seeking kingdom-focused answers. These prayers align with the promises of God, the heart of God and the will of God. There seems to be no reason for God to delay or deny His answer to these prayers. There is a rightness to the prayer, a sincere faith from the one who prays them and hope in the promise they will touch and move God’s heart.
But nothing happens. Days turn to weeks, then months and maybe years. Prayers continue, then stop out of frustration, then start again. They take different forms, employ new terms. But the outcome is the same. Silence. Situations don’t change…or get worse. Our faith is shaken, our picture of a loving and powerful God who inclines His ear to us begins to blur. In the moving of our faith’s tectonic plates, doubt creeps in around the unwatched corners. It brings with it its cousin, despair.
And one day we find ourselves in front of two doors. A choice is being pressed on us. We can’t move forward, or any direction until we face it.
The doors represent two directions our spirit will travel. The first is a bright door and behind it we find a renewed sense of faith and trust. It opens to a God who embraces us and reminds us again how much He loves us, wants the best for us and is always faithful. There is warmth, assurance and some sense of peace behind this door.
The challenge is, this is a door we have chosen before. And while the blessings of His presence were always there, the relentless reality of our unanswered prayer continued. And the tension between the two is becoming unbearable.
Which leads us to the second door. There is a lure to open this door and enter the way behind it. The door offers relief to the tension by pulling us into a form of spiritual resignation. It allows us to be fed up, exasperated and, ultimately, defeated. The path of resignation eases our frustration by removing our expectations. We simply quit expecting God to answer, which means we quit believing – first in answered prayer, and ultimately, in a relationship with the One who promised to answer prayer.
Choosing this door does not require an abandonment of our faith, just a relinquishment of our expectations of a God who is able and willing to intervene on our behalf. As we are pulled further in this direction we adopt a sort of Christian deism. We don’t lose our faith in God, we just stop believing it will matter in our daily lives. If we allow ourselves to look into the distance, we will see where this path finally robs us of our faith, but we tell ourselves we can travel just far enough to find some relief and then go no further.
Perhaps what keeps us at the door is the realization of the terrible state of our souls at the far end of this path. But those first few steps are so alluring. To ease this tension, give up on God’s promises and relinquish hope feels like a better option than continuing the painful and faith-robbing process of pleading to a God who just doesn’t seem to care.
I’m standing at those doors. Are you?
If so (or in anticipation of the day you will, because you will), I have again found help in our passion to be stewards and not owners of our lives. My theological mentor had a phrase that disturbed me at first, and then became a source of continual refuge.
“What should matter most to us as Christians is not our faith in Christ, but the Christ of our faith.”
I have come to see how the former is the attitude of the owner, and the latter is the disposition of the steward. As I seek to reconcile the haunting, unanswered prayer with the God who promised, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22), I am being given the choice of the steward or the owner.
My human nature wants my prayers to be answered. When they are delayed, I feel cheated, neglected and wronged. My focus is on my feelings, my frustrations and my expectations. And when God does not live up to the billing, I reach for the door seeking to salve my hurts with a balm of justifiable indignation. The door of resignation is the door of the owner.
To reach again for the door leading back to God, I must refocus my attention away from the requirements of my faith, and onto Christ Himself. Prayer is not about exercising our faith, it is about connecting us with Christ, and letting Him work His faith in us.
Today as I found myself again in front of these two doors (which prompted this blog post), I was blessed by realizing I cannot continue this journey on my own. Left to myself, my faith will falter, and I will certainly seek the momentary solace of the path of resignation, even as I know it will endeavor to pull me along much further than I want to go. So I cried out, “Holy Spirit, I can only choose the right way by your power not mine, your faith not mine, your certainty not mine.” I chose to see my life, including this incredibly frustrating issue, as belonging first to God. He has gifted me this life to steward on His behalf. It is not my faith or my life or my issue. It is His. It always has been.
So, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I again chose the harder path of staying engaged in prayer and trusting not in my faith, but in the Christ who gives me the strength to persevere. Stewards continually surrender their life to the Christ of their faith. And His faith, worked in them, is always enough.
Which door will you choose?