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When God seems silent

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 7:7-11

A friend sent me this essay. See if it is as true to your life as it is mine.

Satan called a worldwide convention. In his opening address to his evil demons, he said, “We can’t keep the Christians from going to church. We can’t keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth. We can’t even keep them from conservative values. But we can do something else. We can keep them from forming an intimate, continual experience with Christ.

“If they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken. So let them go to church, let them have their conservative lifestyles, but steal their time so they can’t gain that experience with Jesus Christ. This is what I want you to do. Distract them from gaining hold of their Savior and maintaining that vital connection throughout their day.”

“How shall we do this?” asked his demons. “Keep them busy with the nonessentials of life and invest unnumbered schemes to occupy their minds,” he answered. “Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, then borrow, borrow, borrow. Convince them to work six or seven hours a day, 10-12 hours a day, so they can afford their lifestyles. Keep them from spending time with their children. As their families fragment, soon their homes will offer no escape from the pressures of work.

“Overstimulate their minds so they cannot hear that still small voice. Entice them to play the radio or CD player wherever they drive, to keep the TV, the DVD player, and their CDs going constantly in their homes. Fill their coffee tables with magazines and newspapers. Pound their minds with news 24 hours a day. Invade their driving moments with billboards. Flood their mailboxes and e-mail with junk, sweepstakes, and every kind of newsletter and promotion.

“Even in their recreation, let them be excessive. Have them return from their holidays exhausted, disquieted and unprepared for the coming week. And when they gather for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so they leave with souls unfulfilled.

“Let them be involved in evangelism. But crowd their lives with so many good causes that they have no time to seek power from Christ. Soon they will be working in their own strength, sacrificing their health and family unity for the good of the cause.”

It was quite a convention. And the demons went eagerly to their assignments.

Has the devil been successful in his scheme? You be the judge. A recent poll reveals that while nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they pray to God, only one in four is “completely satisfied” with his or her prayer life. Only 60% of Protestants who pray are “absolutely certain” that prayer makes a difference in their lives. Most say they are too distracted to pray regularly.

They are the people I want to address today. The three in four who are not satisfied with your prayer lives; the 40% of you who are not certain that prayer makes a difference in your lives; those of you who are praying but not receiving; those who are so busy that praying is a struggle; those who are listening, but God seems silent.

We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there. Some of you are there right now.

How to pray

So what do we do? Ask, seek, and knock, Jesus says.

Note the ascent. A child asks for his mother’s help. But he cannot find her, so he seeks her. He still cannot find her, but there is a closed door. And so he knocks at the door, hoping to find the one he seeks so he can ask for the need she can answer.

So with us. We ask, but it seems he does not hear. We seek, but it seems he is not to be found. We knock, but it seems the door is closed. But it is not. Your Father will always open to you.

But you must pray. How? First, with urgency. Jesus’ words are imperatives, commands. Clearly praying means something to God. And it must mean something to us.

Charles Spurgeon: “He who prays without fervency does not pray at all. We cannot commune with God, who is a consuming fire, if there is no fire in our prayers.”

Maltbie Babcock: “Our prayers must mean something to us if they are to mean anything to God.”

Spurgeon again: “The sacred promises, though in themselves most sure and precious, are of no avail for the comfort and sustenance of the soul unless you grasp them by faith, plead them in prayer, expect them by hope, and receive them with gratitude.”

And again he said: “Do not reckon you have prayed unless you have pleaded, for pleading is the very marrow of prayer.”

Pray with urgency, and continually. Jesus’ words are in the present tense: pray and keep on praying.

Jesus prayed before light, after dark, all night long, continually.

His word commands the same of us: “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

George Mueller, the great minister and man of faith, prayed patiently for five personal friends who did not know the Lord. After five years, one came to Christ. In ten more years, two more were saved. After 25 years, the fourth friend came to Christ. He kept praying for the last friend for 52 years, then died. The fifth friend came to know Jesus a few months afterward. Keep praying.

In Atlanta I met a non-Christian who came to our church with his believing wife. We spent several breakfasts together talking about his issues with the faith. When we moved to Dallas, I kept him on my prayer list for unsaved people. I have prayed for him daily across these years. Last week I received news that he has trusted in Christ. Now when I pray through that list, I rejoice. As do the angels in glory.

How do we pray with continual urgency?

Begin. Make an appointment to meet with God. I read this week about a man who put on his calendar each day, 7-7:30, prayer. But he kept missing it. Then he changed it to say 7-7:30, God. That’s harder to neglect.

In Jesus’ name: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14). Do you believe that you deserve to be heard, or do you pray on the basis of Jesus’ death for you?

According to God’s will: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). He will give us what we ask, or something better.

For God’s glory: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (John14:13). Do you seek your glory or his?

With a clean heart: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my prayer” (Psalm 66:18-19).

If God seems silent, check yourself by these biblical standards. But know that your Father wants to hear you even more than you want to be heard. And pray. Let nothing stop you. Do it today.

Why to pray

Now we come to the hard question: why? Why pray with continual urgency, especially when it seems God is silent? Because your Father always hears you.

Jesus promises: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. No exceptions.

God has an “open door” policy with the universe. Billions of people pray in thousands of languages, all at the same time, and God hears each one. You included.

God always hears you—Jesus’ parable proves it. Stones along the Sea of Galilee were small limestone balls, in appearance much like the bread of the day. Fish-like snakes grew in the Sea; they were without scales and thus forbidden to the Jews as food (Leviticus 11:12). Now, if you were a father in those days and your hungry child asked for bread, would you trick him with a stone? If he asked for a fish, would you give him a snake? Of course not. And compared to God, we are “evil.” Our perfect Father who is love always hears us. This is the promise of God.

Second, pray with continual urgency because your heart needs to pray.

Frederick Buechner: We are to pray continually “not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God’s door before he’ll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door.”

Blaise Pascal: “All the troubles of life come upon us because we refuse to sit quietly for a while each day in our rooms.”

Gordon MacDonald: “I have begun to see that worship and intercession are far more the business of aligning myself with God’s purposes than asking him to align with mine.”

Oswald Chambers: “Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished. We look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves; the Bible’s idea of prayer is that we may get to know God himself.”

When we pray with continual urgency, God always gives us what we ask or something better. But what do we do when it seems he has not?

The Greeks told a story about Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, who fell in love with Tithonus a mortal youth. Zeus offered her any gift she might choose for her mortal lover. She naturally chose that Tithonus might live forever; but she had forgotten to ask that he might remain forever young. And so Tithonus grew older and older and older, and could never die, and the gift became a curse.

Our God is no Zeus. He loves us so much he watched his Son die in our place, on our cross, for our sins. Do you know anyone who loves you enough to send their child to die for you? One did.

But he cannot give us everything we ask. A farmer prays for rain; a baseball fan prays for sunshine that same day, for that same county. And God loves us too much to give us all that we ask for. When one of our boys was very small, he watched me use a razor blade to scrape paint from a window and wanted to play with this new, shiny toy. He was incensed that I refused.

When God seems silent:

Perhaps he’s still preparing you for his answer; you need more time in prayer to be able to hear him and obey.

Perhaps he’s still preparing your circumstances. You’re praying for a job, for instance; God must move the person in your job to the next place so you can take his. He’s not done with what he must do to answer you.

Perhaps you’re not obedient to what he is saying; maybe sin clouds your eyes and ears, and you need more time in prayer to be right with him.

Often he has a better answer than the one for which we are asking. He has already answered us, but we must keep praying until we see that he has.

Conclusion

Now, where does this message come home to you?

Do you pray much at all? Continually? With urgency?

Is there a need you’ve abandoned, a request on which you’ve given up? A place in your life where God seems silent?

Perhaps this man’s experience will help. An anonymous Confederate soldier wrote,

I asked God for strength that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn to serve. I asked for health, that I might do great things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for wealth, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might earn the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing I asked for, but all I hoped for. Despite myself, my prayers were answered. And I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

So can we be. This is the promise of God.