Summary: We all have times of dryness in our relationship with God, and it could be for a variety of reasons. But sometimes it's because we harbor unconfessed sin our life. Isaiah gives us a path forward, a way to renew our relationship with the Lord.
When God Hides
Have you ever had a winter season of faith? You pray, but your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling? You wonder if you really know God, or if God knows you? Philip Yancey, in his book, “Reaching for the Invisible God,” writes: “I experienced the sense of abandonment just as I was making progress spiritually, advancing beyond childish faith to the point where I felt I could help others. Suddenly, the darkness descended. For an entire year, my prayers seemed to go nowhere; I had no confidence that God was listening. No one had prepared me for ‘the ministry of absence’” (p. 242). If we’re honest, we can relate to Yancey in experiencing these dry seasons of faith.
There are lots of reasons why God may remain silent or seem distant or hidden. Maybe he is teaching you something, building your character during your waiting time. Maybe God has something better in mind for you, if you will just wait for his timing. Or maybe ... there is unconfessed sin in your life.
Sometimes God is silent because, let’s be honest, we’re not right with God. And that is the gist of today’s passage. Isaiah wrote these words as a national confession. He wrote them prophesying about a time when Jerusalem and Judah would be in ruins. He knew the devastation was coming because of the sin of God’s people.
As I look at this passage, I notice an honest way to pray through God’s silence. Isaiah was praying for his nation and himself. We would do well to follow his model. Consider this a four-step approach to reach out to God in those times when heaven seems silent. Step 1:
1. Recall what God has done in the past.
Isaiah begins here by remembering the smoke and fire God of Mount Sinai. In verses 1-3 he recalls how the mountain trembled and the fire came down. All of Israel knew there was but one true God. And all of the surrounding nations knew it as well.
When our faith seems as dry as a South Texas creek bed in the middle of August, we need to remember what God has done in our past. After all, we only have faith doubts because we know what it is like to have strong faith! So let us remember the God of our earlier days, because he is the same God today.
The ancient Israelites used spiritual markers to remember. For instance, right before they entered the Promised Land, Joshua directed each tribe to bring him a boulder, and he piled up the twelve boulders in a big heap near the Jordan River. He told them, “When your kids and grandkids ask about this pile of boulders, tell them what God has done. Tell them how God dried up the Jordan so we could cross on dry land. Tell them how God defeated our enemies and led us into the land he promised” (Joshua 4).
We need to remember; otherwise, we are quick to forget God’s goodness of the past. We need to share what God has done with our kids and grandkids and our neighbors and fellow church members. We need to brag on God! When you don’t hear from God now, recall what God has done in the past. Those recollections will build your faith muscles and get you ready for step 2, which is to...
2. Rehearse what God can do in the present.
Maybe God’s not answering your prayer yet, but tell him what you think he could do in your situation. Rehearse what God could do, as if it is already happening. Isaiah rehearses with beautiful poetry in verses 4 and 5: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.” The Apostle Paul later would borrow from this verse to recall God’s saving act through Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9). Isaiah urges us to believe in a big God who can do great things. As the angel Gabriel told Mary, “With God, nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37).
God’s part is to act, but notice that our part is to wait. Isaiah talks of a God “who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” In Psalm 40:1, the psalmist declares, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.”
Learn to wait on the Lord. His timing is perfect. When it comes to waiting, I always think of Abraham and Sarah, who were waiting in their elderly years for God’s promised son. They finally gave up and helped God a little, through Sarah’s maid servant. And out of Ishmael’s birth came serious family dysfunction. Yet, in God’s perfect timing, after 25 years of waiting, Isaac was born.