when God is silent

when God is silent

Most days, I take my dog for a walk after lunch.

We head down to the creek and poke around for a minute, letting our skin soak up the sunshine and our lungs breath the fresh air, and we always check to see if the blue heron might be visiting that day. We may go all the way to the mailbox and around the far side of the creek, just to kill a little extra time. He always pulls that way, just to make sure I haven’t forgotten that option. If it’s cold out, we keep it short and sweet.

This simple ritual anchors my day, especially the ones where I do most of my work by typing and staring at a screen and reading tiny font in an old book. It’s become a moment of respite; it is also my mid-day heart check with the Lord.

As I walk, I try to turn my inner gaze to Jesus and recognize his presence. He is always present, of course, but during the busyness of my daily work, it is easy to get tunnel-vision on whatever I am trying to accomplish. When I walk, though, I can’t think about whats happening on Twitter or whatever paper I might be working on (I literally can’t hold my phone and the dog leash and walk down a rocky path without something painful likely happening.) I can, however, take in the bright blue of the sky, the tangle of briar thickets, the crystal clear water as it rushes over the teal-toned creekbed, the baby calves playing in the field next door. I can pay attention and wait. I can listen.

And to be honest with you, most days I don’t “hear” anything back. Even if I pour out my heart in earnest prayer, or quiet the questions of my mind, or even ask for a response–most days I don’t feel anything special or different. I know that God is real (the creation shouts of his skill!) and I know that he has been kind to me (the experiences of my life attests to his presence) but I don’t always feel anything particularly “spiritual.”

If you talk to anyone (frankly, honestly) who has been walking with the Lord for a few years, they will echo this sentiment. There is an ebbing and flowing of the Spirit, like the intangibility of the wind. Yes, there will be times of intensity when you sense his presence in a very real way (and most often as not, these times coincide with pain or trauma or unexpected hardship) but there will also be times of silence. Almost as if the Lord is pulling away from us a bit.

This can’t be true, right?? I mean, we’ve all heard the sentiment expressed that if there is any distance between me and God then surely it’s my own fault somehow…

But this doesn’t exactly match the picture we have of Jesus interacting with his disciples and friends.

In Luke 5, we witness Jesus call his first disciples and we see the crowds begin to swarm. How did he respond?

“…and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (v 15-16)

Likewise, we see the pattern in other places of Jesus pulling away from the crowds, and from his disciples, and getting alone with the Father.

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…” (Matt. 14:23)

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

“After bidding them farewell, He went up on the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46)

This isn’t necessarily about sin preventing us from perceiving the drawing of the Spirit, although that could certainly be the case. What I’m talking about is the maturing of our walk with the Lord, where we don’t constantly need the warm fuzzies in order to confirm that yes, the Spirit of God is still present with me (and is actually dwelling within me, even if only in seed form) and no, he hasn’t abandoned or forgotten me. It’s about our recognition of his right to draw away from us, even if only in our perception (and not actually a “distancing” of his love…oh no, his love is steadfast!), in order to draw us to a deeper place with him. If we remain with the crowds, or even with the few, we might miss what he has for us in that stilled place of intimacy.

In Mark 7:31-35, notice how Jesus restores a man in a unique way–

Again, leaving the region of Tyre, He went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. They brought to Him a deaf man who also had a speech difficulty, and begged Jesus to lay His hand on him. So He took him away from the crowd privately. After putting His fingers in the man’s ears and spitting, He touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” Immediately his ears were opened, his speech difficulty was removed, and he began to speak clearly.”

So He took him away from the crowd privately. Did you catch that, too? Jesus drew the man away from the crowd and dealt with him alone, individually, from Maker to created one. He healed the man in the quiet place between them.

Oswald Chambers addresses this pattern in his usual blunt (and so appreciated!) way:

“There are vast areas of stubbornness and ignorance the Holy Spirit has to reveal in each of us, but it can only be done when Jesus gets us alone. Are we alone with Him now? Or are we more concerned with our own ideas, friendships, and cares for our bodies? Jesus cannot teach us anything until we quiet all our intellectual questions and get alone with Him.”

What are those areas of need in our life that only He can heal? What prayers have we been praying for years and can’t yet see the answer? Why does is seem that the Lord is quiet about these things?

It is quite normal for the Christian to wrestle with this dynamic and I find myself walking and praying similar prayers to the open air (you might be there too.) But we must also pay attention when we hear the question asked of us–

Are we willing to follow him out of the crowd to find out?

If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please share it via social media or email to encourage a friend along on the journey! As always, I’m so grateful for y’all!

christmas 2019

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

Glory be, we are almost to Christmas day!

We are exactly a week away from Christmas and I don’t know about you, but our family is pumped. We are ready for slow mornings and cinnamon rolls; for special homemade treats given to folks we love; for cuddling up by the fire; for reading the Christmas Story with all of our extended family (right before we dive into a delicious feast and secret Santa gifts!)

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Peter Oakes on Galatians 1-2

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“Just as there is a temptation for Christianity to retreat into a message that can be justified on the basis of purely human argument, there is also a temptation for Christianity to retreat into being a system of ideas, rather than being based on a revealing of Jesus…For Paul, Jesus was not primarily someone whose teaching was a source of ideas…Jesus, as risen Lord, also had a continued existence, and thus the church’s existence was in Christ, a part of Christ’s life. The early house-church members were not primarily called by Paul to a set of beliefs and ideas. They were called to participation in Christ.”  — Peter Oakes, “Galatians,” p 62 (italics added.)

Exploring the Gospel of John: Part 4

gospel of john_ part 4

This is a series on exploring the book of John for rookies and experts alike! Start here and read more here and here if you want to follow along.

The heart of Jesus’ message moves to the forefront of the narrative in John 6, as we read Jesus’ discourse with the same crowd that had recently been fed by the miracle of loaves and fishes.

They asked for more food; he offered himself as the Bread of Life.

Continue reading “Exploring the Gospel of John: Part 4”

Exploring the Gospel of John: Part 3

gospel of john_ part 3

This is a series on exploring the book of John for rookies and experts alike! Start here and read more here if you want to follow along.

The author of the gospel of John begins by telling the reader who Jesus is from the outset, similar to the way a musical overture functions.[1] In a dramatic and sweeping pronouncement, John 1:1 declares that the (Greek) Logos, or the Word, was eternal, was with God, and was God himself. He likens the Logos to light, life, and the One and Only Son of God (John 1:4, 14, NIV). John then goes on to illustrate the assertions of the prologue by showing Jesus in a series of stories of personal encounters between himself and individuals (or groups.) As the reader reads through the progression of encounters, a picture of Jesus beings to emerge.

Continue reading “Exploring the Gospel of John: Part 3”

Exploring the Gospel of John: Part 2

gospel of john_ part 2

This is a series on exploring the book of John for rookies and experts alike! Start here, if you want to follow along.

Personally, I have always been drawn to the gospel of John as a favorite account. The interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman of chapter 4 has long been a story from scripture that has encouraged me, especially when Jesus describes himself as the well of life-giving water. The fourth gospel has a way with words that draws a dramatic and compelling picture—imagery of light and dark, good and evil, the kingdom of heaven and the world below. This kind of epic story telling is hard to resist!

Continue reading “Exploring the Gospel of John: Part 2”

LaCugna on the doctrine of the Trinity

quote _header image-1“The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately therefore a teaching not about the abstract nature of God, nor about God in isolation from everything other than God, but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other.

Trinitarian theology could be described as par excellence a theology of relationship, which explores the mysteries of love, relationship, personhood and communion within the framework of God’s self-revelation in the person of Christ and the activity of the Spirit.”  –Catherine Mowry LaCugna, “God For Us: The Trinity & Christian Life.”

everyday theology: trust in Galatians 3

et_galatians 3

‘everyday theology’ posts are bite-sized ideas to chew on from scripture, from other works of theology, and from life. feel free to share wherever you hang out on the internet!

Paul’s contrast of the Spirit and flesh in Galatians is strong (and not without some dramatic language!) He uses the Greek word “pistis” (meaning: trust) in this context in chapter 3—challenging the Galatians on the issue of whether they would put their trust in the message of the gospel that they first believed (as Abraham did), or whether they would put their trust in the “works of the flesh” (likely, circumcision as an outward sign.)

To be “sons of Abraham” (3:6-9) means that our righteousness before God comes by way of our trusting in God. It is by faith (belief and trust working together) that we are made right before God and are able to live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith is the living out of belief, as we see exemplified in Abraham’s life. He trusted God.

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Exploring the Gospel of John: Part 1

gospel of john_ part 1

Doesn’t this time of year just make you want to learn something new?

It’s officially autumn (or, fawl, as we Southerners say) and for anyone enrolled in school–that means new classes! There’s a chill in the air so it’s finally appropriate to dig out that old college sweatshirt and wear it with your favorite pair of perfectly-broken-in jeans. While we’re at it, go ahead and fill up your travel mug with some fresh coffee and let’s hit the books, okay? If you’re hungry to learn, grab your Bible, a notebook, and something to write with and let’s get started.

Continue reading “Exploring the Gospel of John: Part 1”