In a world dependent on its own idea of rationality, truth, reality, reason, and tangible fact there is a question that seems to be on the mind of everyone at some point or another, even the most devout of Christians: “How do I hear God?”
This is generally accompanied by a great many follow up and (somewhat) related questions:
“How do I feel his presence?”
“How do I know he is really there?”
“How do I know what I’m hearing is God’s voice?”
“How do I know God is really listening if it doesn’t feel like he’s answering?”
“What if I miss his answer, or get it wrong somehow?”
“What about when God is just silent?”
That last one is my favorite.
Silence. It’s so uncomfortable in a hustling, bustling, and busy world, too consumed by it’s noise to appreciate its absence. Noise has become so normalized that I think we tend to equate silence with boredom. And in a productivity and success-minded society, boredom means wastefulness, meaninglessness, nothingness— it is shameful.
Now here is the problem, historically and Biblically, God speaks in the silence.
“Then he said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.” At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper.” -1 Kings 19: 11-12
Satan doesn’t have the power to shut God up, and he doesn’t need it. All he has to do is make enough noise so that we can’t hear God. And he doesn’t even have to do that anymore! We have been buying his lies for so long, that he has convinced us to make the noise ourselves. We quite literally are doing the enemy’s work for him.
It seems though, the closer we draw into the Lord, the more unbearable the noise becomes to us, because we long for that peaceful rest which is not able to be found in this world, and which certainly cannot be found in its clattering.
Somehow, in the past three years, as we have all had to distance ourselves from one another, we have also simultaneously grown louder; perhaps it is because we have to yell across the room now that we can’t sit right next to our neighbor. Perhaps we have just shifted the means of our noise-making to the little rectangular screens that sit inside our hands, offices, living rooms, and homes. Either way, the louder it got, the more I couldn’t take it. And I fully believe that was the Spirit within me groaning, and not my own will longing for peace.
So I did what Jesus did (without really realizing it at first): I withdrew. I let it get quiet. I was obedient when God asked me to cut out places that were noisy and it allowed God to work in my life and make me comfortable with silence. And here is the incredible thing that happened- he took my hand, he drew me out deep to a wilderness place so magical and so magnificent; once we were so far from it all that he was sure no one would hear us, he began speaking to me. And I could hear him, as clear as day. I had to meet him there sometimes, and work around the world’s noise; I would get up early—like, still dark out, early—to converse with him before anyone else was awake to fill the airwaves with sound. It was worth every sacrifice.
My life at the time was full of his light; it was glorious and I felt loved and secure in a way I never had before. But this is a fallen world full of sin, and perfection like that cannot last forever—at least not until Jesus returns. It was—not to play into an already well-worn troupe—a summer loving: blissful, innocent, and a bit ignorant of reality. No matter how much we dread it, every year, without a doubt, autumn comes. Things grow darker, dimmer. The light of the summer fades away as quickly as it appeared.
I remember the night. It was August—summers winding close. I was looking up at the stars in one of the darkest places in the country. Do you know about the Dark-Sky phenomenon? It refers to the few places left on earth which haven’t been touched by light pollution from humans. From these spots, the night sky is able to be viewed clearly, in its near pristine state. Glorious views of the heavens and celestial objects can be seen with the naked eye.
I lay on my back on the ground, my sister next to me. We were just looking up, taking in the brilliance of it all. She saw a shooting star. The little twinkling lights seemed closer than they had ever been- I felt as if I could just reach an arm up overhead and grab a handful to keep in my pocket for a dark and dreary day.
We were enthralled, caught in the lore of the Milky Way, unable to avert our eyes, and wouldn’t you know—it was so eerily quiet. It was way out in the middle of nowhere; there were simply no people around to make noise, other than the few families and astronomy enthusiasts there with us.
It was one of the greatest places I’ve ever gotten to experience.
And out of the darkness, I felt God whisper something to me: “It’s going to be dark for a while.”
I knew, immediately. I knew that we weren’t going to be talking as much in the back and forth style I had grown accustomed to. I knew that in the near future and continuing for I-don’t-know-how-long, it was going to feel like I was screaming out to a big dark empty sky, void of the stars and the Son.
On our drive home, I was listening to Ellie Holcomb talk about the making of her album, Canyon, on a podcast. Funnily, she described having an experience similar to mine while camping at the bottom of the Grand Canyon—another place where the night sky breathes free from light pollution. Of course, I know it was not coincidence. It was the Spirit. She said that within that experience she learned that only in the greatest darkness was God’s light able to shine brightest, in all its power and glory. I cried. My sister was in the passenger seat. It was awkward.
I will never say that God does not keep his promises, because my goodness his words have always proven faithful. The next season was dark. So dark. The darkness was full and overwhelming and it felt so inescapable. I just wanted to talk with God. I mean, I could—it just felt like he wasn’t listening, because I couldn’t hear any answers. And because I’m a human with weak faith in a God that’s entirely too good to love me anyways, I stopped talking to him—not altogether, but the conversation grew occasional, like close friends who have drifted apart; you know the other still exists, but because you see their posts on Facebook, not because you are in their day-to-day life.
I don’t want to give the darkness too much time, so I will just say that it was what all darkness is: frustrating, devastating, life-draining. I knew God was still there, at least I trusted he was. He was just not answering at the moment—and to be fair, he told me he would be stepping away from the phone. I still believe there was a reason for it, even if I never come to know it. I figure all the detailed plans and intricate ways of the Father of a billion galaxies may just not be my whole concern and that is okay.
Five months passed. It felt like so much longer. I know that seems like a fairly short amount of time, put into context, but I would encourage you to think back to a time when you had to endure something painful. Time seems to pass much slower in those instances, and I haven’t an explanation or clue in the slightest as to why—I just know it feels very true.
I was 40,033 feet in the air, traveling 500 miles per hour and the temperature just outside my little oval window was -74.2℉. Yes, negative. Myself and the other few passengers on the mostly-empty plane were nearly 5 hours into a 4 hour flight. The plane was literally being flown back and forth over a mountain range below, making little circles of white emissions in the blue sky, as apparently it was too foggy to land in Seattle just below us.
Now here is the crazy part:
All those feet up in the air, way above the weathery clouds and gloomy, dense fog, our plane sat in a portion of clear blue sky, so brilliantly lit up by the bright and blazing sun that I could barely keep my eyes open. I realized something up there, flying back and forth, waiting.
The sun is literally always shining.
It never stops. It doesn’t go away.
How would my perspective shift, how would my life change, if I lived like every day was a sunny one? Well, that doesn’t have to be a hypothetical question, because it is the reality we live in. It’s just that some days, the clouds and fog and gunk clog up the atmosphere. And of course, we humans are so small in comparison to the sun and sky and all that big creation stuff that the sunshine is momentarily blocked out- or it’s just night and the earth has it’s back to her light.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not shining.
The same goes for the stars, Though we can only see them in the darkness, they are always out there—big gastric fiery balls hurling through time and space.
God is kind of like that isn’t he?
He is always present, always shining, always so bright and brilliant that it would blind us just to glance his way. (I would like to point out that this would be the perfect place to make the infamous ‘Sun’ v. ‘Son’ reference, but I love you too much to do that right now.)
Yet, the fog and clouds and the layers of atmosphere separate us from him sometimes. And instead of just acknowledging there is something blocking our view—whether the worldly noise, or sin, or a spiritual fog of sorts—we blame God and say that he has left us alone.
It’s convicting to me, that’s for sure.
Especially when I take the time to try and know the character of God. The best way to do that, of course, is through the Scriptures. Time and again, I feel like God has abandoned me in some way, and then I read things like,
“Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I go from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7)
…and I remember the truth that I literally cannot escape the God of the universe, and he certainly wouldn’t turn his back on me.
A few verses later, the Psalmist continues,
“Even the darkness is not dark to you. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to you.” (Psalm 139:12)
How many times in the Bible do we see God come in the darkness, or like a cloud or on the clouds or in the clouds? A dark cloud itself was the sign of God’s presence that led the Israelites through the wilderness (Numbers 9:15-23). As God and Moses grew closer, Moses had to go into the dark cloud of God’s presence in order to meet with him. And so I pose this question to myself, and to you: what if the clouds in the atmosphere that we feel block us from hearing the voice of God, from seeing his face, are actually the darkness we must walk through to grow closer to him? I think most of us are just afraid of that unknown, fearful of that darkness—I know I am.
And of course, knowing all this, or at least contemplating it, I still doubt when life gets hard, when things get complicated, when this broken world grows messier. Spiritual leaders, friends, cultural Christian influencers—they all say the same thing when I reach out in times like these:
“You have to wait on the Lord.”
“Be patient, because he is working in the waiting.”
“God will answer your prayers eventually.”
Well maybe I’m just stubborn and impatient, but who is to say God isn’t answering my prayers the second I speak or think them? He works outside of time. I see no reason then why it wouldn’t be safe to just live off the assumption that every prayer I’ve ever prayed was already answered and if I don’t see the answer, it’s because I’m bound by this awful and confusingly wretched time-thing that constrains me from being able to see the fullness of God’s power in every moment all at once, because I can only be in the moment I’m in. This may seem strange to you, and that’s okay, but I can also choose to believe it. Because if I believe in God’s goodness, why shouldn’t I believe he has already made things good for me?
God is so much bigger than I give him credit for.
He exists outside of the realm of time and space, above all, in all, through all, as all. Yet, I cannot even persuade my tiny human mind to trust in his words faithfully.
It would take 5,049.98 days for something to travel from the sun to the earth. That is 13 years and 10 months. And that is just the sun in outer space—that isn’t even where God is. He is beyond that. Maybe the answers to my prayers were spoken long ago, they have just been traveling across the space-time continuum and haven’t reached me yet. Of course, God can speak to me instantly right now too, because God can do and say anything.
And friends, what God says is true. The Word is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). When people say that the Bible wasn’t only written for people in the olden days, but also for us to apply to our lives as well, they mean that his words aren’t confined by earthly time, and that is why when we read the Bible it often gives us the exact wisdom we need at the exact moment we need it. That is God speaking. That is his voice—the word he set out thousands of years ago that is just now reaching you in the moment you need it most. So do not discount the Word of God as something that wasn’t meant for you. Every wisdom, every discipline, every command, every blessing—it is for you too as a child of Christ.
And so as you search for the Lord, and seek to know his voice, to recognize his lovely face and the peace of his Spirit, this is the blessing I pray upon you:
“May the Lord bless you and protect you; May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the Lord look with favor on you and give you peace.” -Numbers 6:24-26