Of all the ways God speaks, the one I like least (and fear most) is his silence. The absence of his voice seems to come at the moments I most desperately long for a word. In those moments, his silence feels like God at his cruelest.
We cry out to God, we promise to do exactly as he says, and we get silence. It hardly seems fair.
Paradoxically, God often speaks the loudest in his silence. But his words do not always come as a voice. They come as action. Later in life, when we remember the silent voice of God, it is those “words” we come to treasure most. His Spirit breathes life into our lives, and his silent words somehow take shape in our hearts.
Learning to hear God is not a gimmick. We can’t force God’s hand, and we certainly can’t force him to speak. He doesn’t respond to our incantations like a dog to his master’s command.
He is God, and he speaks in the moments that he determines best and with the methods he knows we need most. And some lessons need the laboratory, not the lecture hall.
God is always speaking—always! But some words need to be shown, not told.
Consider the Life of Esther
Esther lived when Persia ruled most of the known world. Tens of thousands of Jews live scattered in exile throughout the Persian empire. The grand vizier Haman hates these alien Jews and he convinces King Xerxes (mostly through bribery) to exterminate every last one.
This is THE time for God to speak or send a prophet. Instead God acts. Just look at the story:
- King Xerxes gets drunk and commands Queen Vashti to parade herself before his drunken friends.
- Queen Vashti refuses.
- The king holds the world’s first international beauty pageant. Esther is crowned Queen.
- Esther’s uncle Mordecai overhears and then foils a plot to assassinate the king.
- But the king forgets to reward Mordecai.
- Evil Haman convinces King Xerxes to kill all the Jews and steal their wealth, and Haman secretly builds gallows on which to hang Mordecai.
- That night the king can’t sleep, so he orders past court records to be read (which would put anyone to sleep). Mordecai’s story of loyalty is retold and the king realizes he never rewarded Mordecai.
- At that very moment, Haman enters the court to tell of his plans to hang Mordecai. The king asks Haman what should be done for the man that pleases the king. Haman (sure that man must be himself) suggests an elaborate, city-wide honoring ceremony.
- The king tells evil Haman to lead the procession that will honor Mordecai.
- Queen Esther invites the king and Haman to a couple dinner parties. She tells the king (in Haman’s presence) that Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews will include her.
- Haman is killed on the gallows he built for Mordecai, and all of God’s people are saved.
If any single event hadn’t occurred, the Jews would have been wiped out: if the king hadn’t gotten drunk, or if Vashti hadn’t refused, or if the king had rewarded Mordecai immediately (instead of forgetting), or if the records hadn’t been read that very night … destruction.
The Strangest Twist in Scripture
And yet … Esther is the only book in the Bible in which God isn’t mentioned. No words, not even prayers. It’s like the proofreader, at the very last moment, says, “Wait, we forgot to mention God!” and the production manager says, “Oops, too late, it’s already gone to print.”
Throughout the book of Esther, God is silent. Can that be it? Just an editorial mistake?
Or does Esther’s story show God speaking on every page, revealing his unbelievable ability to turn all things (even evil plots against his people) into good; so that later, when we look back, we see him shouting his words of power in ways we’d never imagine. All in his seeming silence.
If God seems silent in your life right now, just remember. There are some things that God can’t tell us. He shows us instead.
P. S. I recently wrote a book all about developing a conversational relationship with God: when he speaks and when he acts. If you want to nurture a personal, intimate relationship with God, may I suggest you buy Hearing God in Conversation.
Eugene Peterson said, “I picked it up out of curiosity, and I couldn’t put it down.”
Gary Wilkerson wrote, “This is a remarkable book that teaches both how to hear God’s voice in Scripture, and then to hear his voice in every avenue of life. It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide than Hearing God in Conversation.