I bet more than a few Christians clicked on this article after reading the title, possibly incensed. After all, doesn’t the scripture say in Psalm 27:14 and elsewhere to, “Wait on the Lord?” Yes, it does. But now that I have you in my web let me clarify what I mean. I don’t mean the fully biblical practice of waiting on the Lord to act. Rather, I’m referring to the modern practice of waiting in silence during prayer for the Lord to speak. I’m willing to bet that most people who have tried this have been met with one thing.
Silence. Here’s a truth every Christian should ponder. God doesn’t speak when, or just because you want him to. God only speaks when he has something to say, in his time, on his terms, and for his own good reasons. In fact, I can think of only one person who not only waited for God to speak, he practically demanded it: Job. And he wasn’t too happy with the result.
Here’s the reality: God usually doesn’t speak because his silence is an exercise of his lordship. Let me explain.
Advocates of what has become known as, “Practicing the presence,” say that we have in Elijah the Prophet an example of someone who waited in silence for the Lord to speak to him and that he didn’t hear God in the earthquake or the tornado or the fire, but in the stillness. But is that really what happened? In I Kings 19 when Elijah was waiting it was because God had already spoken to him previously, telling him to wait for him on the mountain. Then what happened? God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah was not waiting for God to speak. Elijah was waiting so that HE could speak and God could listen.
Allow me to give an example from my own life. I spend a lot of time raising funds for ministry purposes. The most important thing that I do in a meeting is to listen. I actually spend most of my time listening in a meeting rather than talking. Why? Because, in most situations, and this will seem counter-intuitive, listening allows me to control the conversation. I give opportunity for people to express the things they care about the most and through listening I am able to move the conversation forward to the areas that I want them to hear about. That is exactly what God did to Elijah. God controlled the conversation through listening, not speaking.
I use this example because I think that our desire to hear God speak often springs from our desire to control God. Wasn’t that similar to what Elijah was doing? For us, we say, “Speak to me God, I will do what you say.” Sounds submissive, doesn’t it? But, is it really? The “I” is still in control. “I will do it.” Remember when the survivors of Judah went to the prophet Jeremiah and said to ask the Lord if they should flee to Egypt? (Jeremiah 42). Jeremiah said, no, don’t go. What did the people say? We’re going anyway! They wanted God to speak. But, they wanted God to speak so they could listen on their own terms and justify themselves. I think the notion of “Practicing the presence” may have a similar function. We want God to speak about something so that “we” can do it. So that “we” can act. So that “we” can control the outcome. So that “we” can justify our feelings, thoughts, or actions. The reality is that God is silent because God is listening. It allows HIM to control the conversation. It is an avenue through which he exercises his lordship over our lives.
I have a friend who was in the military for several years. He was taught that when interrogating or interviewing a person that he should use long moments of silence. Why? Because long moments of silence forces the other person to fill the silence with words, words that often reveal more than they want to reveal simply because they feel so awkward. How do I know this? Because he did it to me! Silence is a means of control. In God’s case, silence is an expression of his lordship. The lesson here is that when you are in prayer, don’t stop talking. Let God’s silence move you to reveal to him the deepest things in your heart. If God wants to speak to you, he’s perfectly capable of interrupting you and getting your attention. Do you think that he’s not?
Now, I’m not saying that God doesn’t speak in moments of silence. I’m sure that he does that from time to time. What I am saying is that we should not expect that we can get God to speak to us through so called, “Practicing the presence.” Too often thoughts come into some people’s heads and they think, “Oh, God has spoken to me,” when if fact it just might be your own wandering mind. Jesus said his people would hear his voice and know his voice. But we hear God’s voice through the agency of our minds. God forbid that we are listening to ourselves and think it’s divine.
Jesus taught people how to speak to God (Luke 11:1), but never how to listen to God.
Search the scriptures, when did God speak to people? Was it when they were silently listening, emptying their minds of all useful thought like a zombie? Not at all. Consider: God spoke to Adam when Adam was trying to avoid him (Genesis 3:8-10). God spoke to Abraham after he grieved his father’s death (Genesis 11:32-12:1). God spoke to Moses when he was shepherding the sheep (Exodus 3:1-6). God spoke to Jacob when he was sleeping on a rock (Genesis 28:10-17). God spoke to Joshua when he was scared out of his wits (Joshua 1:6,7,9). God spoke to Manoah’s wife when she was sitting in a field (Judges 13:9). God spoke to Gideon when he was beating out wheat (Judges 6:11). God spoke to David when he was shepherding the sheep (I Samuel 16:11-13). God spoke to Paul when he was riding a horse. I could go on. I could go on for a long time. But I trust the point is made. God usually speaks when we are engaged in doing other things; and they don’t have to be “spiritual” things. These people were just living their ordinary lives when God broke through to them and made his presence known. Chances are, that’s exactly what he will do to you as well, if he decides to speak.
If you want to “practice the presence” there’s nothing stopping you. In one sense it’s a good exercise because it at least puts you in a frame of mind to want to hear from God. I can’t really fault that. But for me, I’d rather lay myself bare in words to the Lord. He can interrupt me anytime he wants. And he can do the same for you.