Welcome to a sacred place!
For what looks like words may be life. And what is spelled out in black and white may be transformative.
“…what happens in the next few minutes borders on the holy…The quietness will slow my pulse, the silence will open my ears, and something sacred will happen. The soft slap of sandaled feet will break the stillness, a pierced hand will extend a quiet invitation, and I will follow.”
~ Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, p. 19
The day held a sense of expectation. As I took my place in the pew at the Beth Moore simulcast, I knew God was going to do something great. But, as each session slipped by, so did the hope that God would speak to me in a personal way. Until the afternoon session…
After lunch, I engaged a woman who had prayed the opening prayer, mostly because I was interested in receiving the Bible study she had written on Nehemiah. We chit-chatted a bit and then an unusual thing happened. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “May I pray for you?” Not knowing how life-changing the next few moments would be, I answered, “Sure”, in a rather nonchalant way. What transpired in those few moments has become the impetus for this website.
She prayed a powerful, Spirit-inspired, prophetic prayer over my life. I have no accurate recollection of the specific words that were spoken; I just had the awesome sense of being in the very presence of God and hearing Him speak directly into my soul. She prayed over my ministry. She prayed over my family. She prayed over my future, but most importantly, she prayed an answer to a prayer I had been winging toward heaven for close to six years. I had been seeking God for something I could do for the Kingdom that was tailor-made for me and this stranger named my specific niche in ministry. She called it out from the hazy boundaries of my subconscious and the oblivion of my fearful desires and she birthed in me a monumental dream: a dream of writing.
The Lord joined this dream to the trauma I had experienced through my lifetime to create something new, something bold, something transformed. He formulated a vision in me of how that dream might play out, “You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isa 48:12b)
God has taken me on a number of detours since that day: a left-turn at heartache, an underpass of pregnancy in my 40’s, a bridge out sign directing us to move countries, and a traffic jam of waiting on God. Another almost-six years have passed me by since that startling day and God is calling me out again. This call feels similar – to inhale His truths, to breathe out life through the medium of words – and yet different, because I am different. God has broken me down and has begun His good work of rebuilding me brick by painstaking brick.
I am humbled by this opportunity and greatly conscious of my inherent weaknesses. But I invite you to join me as I write with passion, with trepidation, and with, what I feel, is a powerful undergirding of the Spirit. Will you join me in helping to rebuild some walls in our lives and in the lives of those who are broken around us?
Part 1b of 6
The Sufferer’s Dungeon
Matthew 11:2, Luke 7:18
“I Don’t Understand”
A couple of weeks ago, I watched an interview between Lisa Harper, a writer and well-known speaker, and Nancy Mattingly, who answered much of the correspondence for Living Proof Ministries. You may recognize this ministry because of Beth Moore, whom Nancy served alongside for close to twenty years.
Nancy talked about the raw grief she experienced when her son - age 32 - took his own life. This was a man who loved the outdoors, whom people admired, but who also struggled with depression. In that depression, he isolated himself from people, which led him into deeper despair. He was troubled, but no one knew the extent of his struggle.
Nancy recalled the night she got THE NEWS. It was a Bible study night, but there was a threat of snow, so everything in her town in Texas closed down. Consequently, she was home with her husband when the policemen showed up with the horrible announcement. No snow came that night, but as Nancy looked back on those life-changing hours, she saw the Lord’s hand in it. In fact, she spoke these words, “The Lord was near.”
Her agony was unparalleled, except maybe by her husband’s pain. What do you do with so much anguish? Both of them were desperate to find answers, but Nancy remarked, “We didn’t get any answers.” Her husband cried out at one point, “I don’t understand,” and Nancy’s wise remark, “We’re not going to,” answered his immediate query, but opened the door for many more questions.
There was a real tension in their lives of loving Jesus with all of their hearts and still not having their questions answered. Nancy’s pain burst forth at one point, “It’s not a question, it’s my son.” The tension came about because they knew God was a great God. He does things that are literally impossible, yet He chose not to in their son’s desperate case.
With all the church surrounding her, with all of her friends from Living Proof helping her, she took her anguish to Jesus one day after another. God did not answer her questions, but He did help her get through each sorrowful moment. He helped her put one foot in front of the other until one day became a week and one week became a month. She knew there had to be a purpose; she could either hide in her four walls or be real before those who were watching.
One powerful help in all of her questioning and anger was the ministry of the Word of God. Not just after the trauma, but even before. She could look back and see that God had prepared her through His Word prior to the shocking event of the suicide. Nancy called it “Word loading.” Just as runners carb-load before a big race to get enough energy to sustain them for the long haul, Nancy spoke of God Word-loading her up before this big suffering race. Her questions of What? and Why? were answered in God’s emphatic “I Am!” He reminded her that His love was for always, that He was faithful, that deep could call to deep (Ps. 42:7). His depth of resources could minister to the deepest pits of her pain. (Interview came from Lisa Harper, Job: A Story of Unlikely Joy, from Lisa’s sermon entitled The Unlikely Joy of Just God, p. 157 and session 7.)
As I heard Nancy’s story, I was struck by two things: her quiet humility and her confidence in God. Granted, this trauma is years past now and time has a way of dulling many pains, but I sensed a real peace in this courageous woman. It was obvious that she had struggled, but like Job, had won over her bitterness and anger toward God.
The tension of knowing God could have done something, but chose not to is a very real faith dilemma. God never answered her questions as to why this awful event occurred, but notice that later on, after the pain had receded a bit, after the comforters had started to trickle away, after days and weeks and months had gone by, she was answered, in part, by God’s presence. God spoke His “I Am” to her “Why?” and expected that to be enough to calm her aching heart. And in the process of this give-and-take of divine comfort, surprisingly, she was able to start moving again, start serving again, and start telling her story again...and again.
My story of unanswered prayers and consequent questions began almost twenty years ago. The year 2000 is when I fully surrendered my heart and life to God. Yes, I had been a Christian since I was six years old, but I had always lived like many believers do: straddling the fence between complacency and whole-hearted devotion. It took a terrible trauma for me to fall flat on my face, broken and desperate for God’s grace. That day began an increasingly intimate walk with God, stepping forward in faith when He called and falling down in doubt when He seemed to stop talking.
That is what a faith-walk usually looks like. There will be mountaintop experiences of incredible revelation and intimacy, but like Peter, James and John, who watched the Lord be transfigured on a mountain, there will always be coming-down journeys into valleys of doubt and confusion (see the contrast between Mark 9:2-13 and Mark 9:14-32). Jesus will, at one time, seem so close, so loving, so near, but then will appear to withdraw...and at the most desperate times. I have cried out for His presence on so many occasions in these last faith-growing years, both in exultant satisfaction and in desperate searching. What I have found over the years is that the most amazing growth spurts I have experienced in my trust came not from the mountaintop excursions with God, but in the confusing, questioning, begging-for-answers trauma of the valleys. It seems to me that unanswered prayers and dark nights of the soul actually fuel our thirst for the Living God.
I think that is the lesson John the Baptist came to understand, too, in his dungeon of unanswered prayers.
A Brief Review
If you will recall, this devotional series began in a cramped, locked and forgotten dungeon. John the Baptist, the man who heralded the Messiah, now languished in Herod’s prison. Not because he did anything wrong, mind you. He actually did everything right and earned incarceration as his earthly reward. His question to Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” is one of incredibly pain-filled pathos. It is also a clear indication that John struggled with a dungeon mentality.
His circumstances had so overwhelmed him that his faith began to waver. He wanted deliverance from the pit of his circumstances; maybe even NOW! Sitting in a dark, dank cell, he could not understand why Jesus, his own cousin, would continue ministering to others, but neglect a rescuing ministry for him. In some ways, it was too much for his faith to bear.
It may be hard to relate to John in prison if you are sitting in your solid home, listening to the summer birds and enjoying your own freedom to come and go without hindrance. But I hope I was able to prove last week that, though physical dungeons are definitely the minority experience, all of us will struggle with an emotional dungeon at one time or another. Job and many of the psalmists certainly did and they were co-authors with God of the very Bible we study today.
Your emotional prison sentence will probably begin with some sort of trauma or disappointment, where you will call on God with desperation. In those times you will feel walled in by your circumstances, captive to the will of changelessness, and you will need a Deliverer. But after crying out for help, you will begin to wonder if you are being heard, for sometimes God will remain strangely silent. Your prayers will go unanswered and you will wonder if God cares for you at all. And that is when the questions come. “Do you hear me? Why aren’t you answering? Am I so unimportant to you? What am I doing wrong? Do you love me at all?”
As I was preparing to write the first installment of this devotional series, I was gung-ho to head toward my preconceived destination, but on one of my Starbucks mornings, the Lord took me in a completely different direction. Since I am trying to be open to the Lord writing this devotional through me, I followed His lead as best as I could. The u-turn God took me on was actually the thought that all of these questions and doubts stem from a deeply imbedded law mindset. Grace enables honestly. Grace engages the vulnerable soul. Grace moves us to trust. And grace engenders obedience. It is the law at work in our members that causes us to hide and deny, doubt and disobey, question and walk away from grace.
We studied five different passages of Scripture together last week, attempting to see the law at work in our hearts. I am not sure what thoughts or phrases rang true for you, but I have found that I am more comfortable resting on the law. It seems sure and steady and measurable. It captures my sense of justice and equality. It occupies my mind with the ability to do something - anything - to make the pain go away. Resting on grace and truth, depending on love and quietness, these are the harder steps to take. Yet grace is the way forward out of the dungeon of despair and into the dawn of destiny.
To remind us about what we studied last week, I have given you a chart with all the main points in one place. Hopefully, this will jog your memory and allow me to move forward and build on this foundation.
I do not know where this devotional series will land with you, but I am fairly sure that you are either going into a time of trials, going through a time of trauma, or just barely coming out on the other side of some type of faith-debilitating experience. I write these words with confidence because unfortunately, due to Eve’s first trials, tribulation dots the landscape of our earthly panoramas. I pray it will be an encouragement to you to know that I am currently in the middle of a tremendous season of trials, involving a long engagement with God over unanswered prayers. Actually, that is why I am writing this series, because I want to do this well. I want to handle my emotional angst in a godly manner. I want to be a Joseph or a Paul or a Silas, who went through their own prison sentences without shipwrecking their faith.
My vulnerable thoughts laid out bare before you are working two different purposes, I pray. They will help me process all of my earthly perspectives, helping me to transform them to godly perspectives - that’s one. And the second purpose is that these devotionals will hopefully, light the steps you can take to do the very same thing - surrender to God’s will - when something comes along in your life to cause you to question God.
In this first lesson - now split in half - we are struggling with the question, “What do we do with a God who will not answer our prayers?” I hope to answer that question, in part, by the end of this devotional. I am also seeking to wrestle with this dungeon mentality we all fall into at the beginning of our pained dialogue with our heavenly Father. My tentative goal today is to move us out of a dungeon mentality and into the flexible peace God’s perspective brings.
My Go-To Perspective
If you are anything like me, God’s silence is not only irritating; it is downright painful. Consider these ironies: God commands us to pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Eph. 6:18), then when we do, He acts like He does not hear us. He exhorts us to cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7), but then He withdraws in a very uncaring manner. He promises that if we believe, we will receive whatever we ask for in prayer (Mt. 21:22). Then He bars the gates of heaven so answers do not filter through.
It feels frustrating, exasperating, and infuriating. It reeks of rejection, abandonment, and even betrayal. It leaves a petitioner in anguish, distress, and suffering. What is God after? What is He trying to tell us? How do we approach this God with trust and faith? Is it even possible to have an intimate relationship with Someone who is so enigmatic and mysterious? I lay my focus question for today’s devotional out on the table: What do we do with a God who does not answer our prayers? How do we manage the dichotomy of a God who commands us to undertake an endeavor, which is then divinely blocked?
I am not the only one who struggles with the silences of God. Rebekah, Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth of both the Old and New Testaments prayed for a child. Over their lifetimes they received many answers from God, but God did not reward them with a child until they had wrestled with His sovereignty for years. All of them eventually received children from God, but what about the women in this day and age who do not? Barrenness is a unique type of suffering. It is one that God could relieve, but often chooses not to.
Leah begged God for the love of her husband (Gen. 29:31), but in her lifetime, she never received it. Rachel was the favored wife and Leah could do nothing to change that fact. Unlike Rachel, God opened Leah’s womb over and over, but it was not enough to turn Jacob’s eye. A husband with a roving eye, a spouse who falls out of love - these occurrences are a unique kind of suffering. It is a prayer God could answer, but often chooses not to.
I am positive Tamar prayed for a good husband; all girls looking toward womanhood do at one time or another, but what God allowed in her life almost destroyed her. Her half-brother tricked her into serving him a meal and in the process, he raped her. One prayer was instantly snuffed out. He could have married her and made things right, but he rejected and abandoned her. Another prayer snuffed out, for from that time on, she lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman (2 Sam. 13:20). No man would marry a disgraced woman, not even a corrupt man. In these days, abuse and abandonment are becoming more and more common. They, along with the usually- unwanted state of singleness, are a terrible kind of suffering. God could do something about these painful situations, but often chooses not to.
Paul struggled with something that really got under his skin. He called it a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan, that tormented him. Three times he prayed to God, pleading for Him to take it away from him, but God did not (2 Cor. 12:7-8). God spoke with him about it and gave him a reason, but he did not answer Paul’s prayer. Cries for healing are a signature type of suffering. God could heal, but sometimes He chooses not to.
Mary and Martha sent word to God that the one He loved was sick (Jn. 11:3). Instead of rushing to Lazarus’ side, Jesus stayed where he was two more days...and Lazarus died. Jesus did not come to their rescue; He did not heed their request. In essence, He chose to ignore their prayer just to make a point. (We will study this passage more later, but for now, feel the pain of the delay.) Jairus also pleaded with Jesus to heal his daughter and Jesus agreed; He was on His way to save her, but then a woman touched Him and He delayed Jairus’ answer for another health need (Lk. 8:40-48). While Jesus was otherwise occupied, Jairus’ daughter died. God’s delays are a suffering in themselves, but what about the prayer for a loved one to recover and live? Life and death prayers are important. God’s choice to delay even to the point of death is a terrible suffering. God could answer right away, but sometimes He chooses not to. And people, dreams, marriages, even ministries, sometimes die.
A Canaanite woman approached Jesus crying out, “Lord, son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession” (Mt. 15:22). The painful next phrase reads like this: “Jesus did not answer a word” (v 23a). What do you do with a Jesus who refuses to even communicate? More than this stark phrase is the point Jesus was trying to make to His disciples: they were racist and judgemental. By acting like they did toward this woman, He revealed to them their stingy hearts, but the woman suffered while He used her as an object lesson (see vv 23-28). A prayer for God to eradicate spiritual bondage is an important prayer, yet Jesus did not give her the answer she sought when she wanted it. Spiritual captivity and the silence of heaven are two very painful types of suffering. God could do something, but He sometimes decides not to.
I could go on and on with examples; the Bible is full of them. But more than that, your life and experiences are full of them. Prayers for healing and friendship that never materialized. Requests for a runaway child or an unsaved loved one who never came back. Finances that trickled away. Jobs that never transpired. Churches and marriages and families that split despite your most fervent pleas. All of these instances, and many more, dot the landscape of your life and mine.
My pained heart echoes the fervency of the psalmists: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent” (Ps. 22:1-2); “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy” (Ps. 42:9; 43:2); “Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Ps. 44:24); “My life is full of trouble...You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths...I call to you, O Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you…Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me” (Ps. 88:3, 6, 9, 13)?
The anguished question of John the Baptist languishing in a prison he did not deserve, claws at both my heart-strings and my faith. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else” (Lk. 7:19). Jesus was out and about doing great things - healing, saving, setting captives free - and John, the forerunner of the Messiah, was stuck in a dungeon. His prayers are not recorded for us, but I can guess what they would sound like based on his doubting question: “Don’t you love me? Don’t you care? Am I so insignificant to you? GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
I can guess what type of prayers were launched from John’s prison cell, because I often feel the same way. God is not answering my prayers and it feels like He does not love me or care one iota about my crisis of faith. He chooses to remain distant, despite my best efforts and I ask God why He is leaving me in this Dungeon of Denial.
I know He loves me if I read His Word. I know He cares for me deeply; I have only to look at the cross. I know I am significant to Him. I know His power is able to accomplish great things for me. But all this knowing in my head doesn’t ease the pain in my heart. Loved ones should not be ignored. Beloved sweethearts should not be disregarded. The anxious pleading of a family member just should not be overlooked.
But in God’s economy, sometimes these “should nots” become my reality. And that’s the crux of the matter: what do I do with God when He treats me this way? God is love, yet He behaves in unusual ways toward His children. Why? That is what we are trying to figure out in this series. What I can tell you at this juncture is that the answer to the question I have just raised involves perspective. Clearly, we need a new perspective.
This concept of law versus grace is paramount to our dilemma with God’s silence. It is vital to our perspective about God. The Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day struggled terribly with His perceived assault on their law-abiding tendencies. They were often seen trying to trap Jesus with questions of the law. In fact, they could not see Jesus clearly because their perspective was so steeped in the soil of this earth.
One such time they came to Jesus with a question about marriage. One man died and the law said that a brother must marry the widow. As it turned out, the widow went through all seven brothers because they kept dying off. “At the resurrection,” they questioned, “whose wife will she be, since all of them were married to her?”
Jesus’ reply to them was brilliant. He bypassed all of the questions, all of the mixed agendas, all of the skewed perspectives and spoke to the heart of the matter, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead - have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Mt. 22:23-32).
The Sadducees spoke from an earthly perspective. Yes, they were trying to catch Jesus saying something against the law, but Jesus bypassed their evil intent and spoke to their erroneous theological positions. His reply to those learned men of the law gives you and me four simple principles by which we can test our own perspectives, enabling us to live in God’s grace.
1. We must know the Scriptures
Only in the Bible will we learn the truths that transform our minds, reveal the lies, and up-end the earthly soil of our hearts. This word ‘know’ means “to have seen, and by extension, to know - to understand” (ESV Strong’s). It is not enough to see the words on the page. They must be known and understood in the recesses of the heart.
2. We must know the power of God (Mt. 22:29d)
Not knowing the Scriptures led to error, but so did the lack of knowing about God’s power. Remember that knowing involves understanding. It is the experience that comes from engagement with God. I can know God’s power to heal with the head, but I come to experience it when the cancer is removed from my body. I can know about God’s love, but it becomes real for me when the Holy Spirit whispers, “You are my beloved.” There is an experiential knowing that occurs when we are in relationship with God.
3. There are some matters that we know nothing about (Mt. 22:30)
The Sadducees made complete fools of themselves, speaking of the resurrection like they were experts. Only God knows the future because He is the One who has designed eternity and the resurrection from the dead. He let the experts know some things about the resurrection that was new to them out of the goodness of His heart, but He did not need to. He owed them no explanation. After all, He is God. Job realized this too after God overwhelmed him with the essence of Who He was, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). The principle to remember is this: if you do not find your answer in the Scriptures or by experiencing God’s power yourself, leave the matter up to God. There are some secrets in this universe. Let Him tell you them personally when you sit down with Him in heaven.
4. We must know God Himself (Mt. 22:31-32)
The Sadducees knew about God from the Torah, but their knowing did not lead to understanding. Jesus spoke this caution in John 5:39, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” Because they knew the law, they knew about Exodus 3:6, where God said to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” “If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even when addressing Moses, hundreds of years after the first three patriarchs died, then they must be alive to him, for to him all are alive” (Lk. 20:38 - Tyndale Commentary). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). He is the eternal God of the covenant, which means that He loves us for all time and in all ways. They knew about God, but never made the connection that Jesus was God.
Our perspectives about God, about His silence, can be examined in the light of these four principles. God sometimes seems to stand aloof. He may choose, in His sovereignty, not to answer your questions. This is painful because the absence leads you to feel unloved by God. However, is that perspective true or slightly skewed by the earthly law of your minds? Line up your perspective on God’s silence with the grace-filled principles Jesus spoke to those studious law-abiders.
When God is not answering your prayers, you must know the Scriptures which say that He is love (1 Jn 4:8), full of mercy (Jms. 3:17, and very, very good (Ps. 119:68). When the heavens are silent for you in this season, you must know the power of God, either by remembering how He has worked in the past or by living on the borrowed faith of another believer. When you experience the dark night of the soul, you must trust God enough to let some of the unknowns that are not dealt with in Scripture go by the wayside, knowing that all of your answers will be addressed in heaven. Lastly, when you are in the waiting period, take the time to know God. If the “I am” that looked down on the Israelites’ plight cared enough for them to hear and answer (Ex. 3:16-17), don’t you think that same “I am” will take care of you when the time is right?
The law of sin in our minds tells us one thing about God’s silence, that He is unloving or impotent or uninvolved. Jesus reminds us that we are to choose the renewal of our minds through the rebirth of the Word. The Scriptures testify to the very opposite of our earth-bound perspective; they testify to the truth, which can set you free: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
What does a free perspective look like? You will be free to question. Free to cry. Free to share your doubts with God. Free to look into the Word of truth. Free to move with the Spirit as He works in you. Free to sense God’s presence when you cannot understand what He is doing. Free to receive His grace and ultimately, become free to trust even when He does not answer your prayer.
If we are to answer the question, “What do we do with a God who chooses not to answer our prayers?” we will have to change our perspective about both our situation and our God. We will have to move out from under the attitude that our unanswered prayers are a Dungeon of Denial. Dungeon-mentality saps faith. Prison attitudes cloud our vision. Cell thinking is a wall to intimacy. We need God to spring us from the captivity of our unbelieving reasoning.
In every psalm we studied last week, including the story of Job, there are pivotal moments of clarity. It is as if the Lord unveiled each writer’s eyes for a moment, as if He pulled back a curtain that was shrouding the truth. Their law-induced dungeon mentality gave way, if even for a few phrases, to some pivotal movements of grace. And that grace, my friend, was enough to sustain them, to work its way into their law-abiding mindset enough to change their perspectives on both God and their circumstances.
But, I will warn you, the perspective principles gleaned from Matthew 22 must fall into place. Grace flows out of the Word and the Person of Christ. It stands to reason, then, that you can position yourself for this incredible perspective-changing movement when you 1) know the Word (22:29c), 2) know the power of God (22:29d), 3) know there are some things you will never know (22:30), and 4) know God personally (22:31-32). I pray that these principles are true of you so that you are ready to receive God’s ready-made movements of grace in your dungeon of denial.
Let’s look once again at Scripture to see how grace overcame the law in the minds of those sitting in their dungeons of unanswered prayer. Let’s study the triumph of God’s grace in the sufferers with a dungeon mentality. Those captives that sit in darkness and deepest gloom, those prisoners suffering in the iron chains of doubt and confusion can be changed by God’s perspective. He can bring them out of darkness and the deepest of gloom. He can break away their chains and cause them to praise Him for His unfailing love (see Ps. 107: 10, 14-15).
The Grace of Attentiveness (Ps. 22)
David, if you will recall, wrote this psalm from a very low point in his life. He felt forsaken by God, mostly because God just would not answer his prayers (vv 1-2). To add insult to injury, “all who saw” him mocked and insulted him for his faith in God (vv 7-8). David’s innate feeling of shame led to a sense that he was a worm, insignificant and worthless (v 6a). Therefore, he thought that God could not be bothered with him, that He did not care, because David was a bad person and not worthy of intimacy.
Somewhere in the midst of being bombarded by the Law of Worminess, grace broke through. A snippet of glory shines out of David’s shame-induced state and he remembers a truth about God, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (vv 9-10).
Just because the Passion translation says this so wondrously, let me share that with you as well, “Lord, you delivered me safely from my mother’s womb. You are the one who cared for me ever since I was a baby. Since the day I was born, I’ve been placed in your custody. You’ve cradled me throughout my days. I’ve trusted in you and you’ve always been my God.”
There is so much theology in these two verses that I have to hold myself back from waxing eloquent. There will be time over the next six weeks to deal with some of these beautiful ramifications, but for now I want you to see what overcame his shame, if only for a small moment: it was the grace of attentiveness.
The law told him he would never measure up, that God really did not care for him. When God seemed to stop talking to him and answering his prayers, he immediately thought his ‘worminess’ was to blame. But as he shared his thoughts with God - negative as they were - the Holy Spirit showed him a truth that stopped him short. God had always been caring for him.
The thought that God would be so attentive to him leads quickly into another incredible reason to worship. Attentiveness occurs when the object of attention is special to the observer. David had an ‘ah-ha’ moment about his relationship with God. The Creator did not choose to disregard his pleas because he was uncaring. Instead, He chose to pull back from David so that he would feel the void of His care, of His love, of His presence, for a reason. That reason was two-fold: both to purify the heart and deepen the love. As David sensed a greater distance, he cried out and the silence ministered to his need of a Savior as well as his need for a Lover. The silenced heavens would begin their purifying work as David began to examine the ‘why’ of God’s seeming rejection. David would then partner with the Holy Spirit in making a few things right with God. Out of that purifying process, David could pursue God more nobly than before and God would let Himself be found in His perfect time by the refined-by-silence seeker (2 Chron. 15:2).
David struggled with the Law of Worminess; you may too. Now, I am not an oligochaeteologist, a scientist who is knowledgeable about worms, so I had to do a bit of research to talk with any credibility. What I found out about these little worms really encouraged me. Listen to these little-known facts:
- Worms have no legs, arms, or eyes. They cannot see anything although they are sensitive to light.
- The largest earthworm was found in South Africa. It was 22 feet long.
- Earthworms breathe through their skin.
- Worms will become paralyzed if exposed to light for over an hour
- Darwin studied earthworms for 39 years.
- They can replace lost segments of their body.
- They are both male and female.
What blessed me in all of these ground-breaking facts (Get it? Groundbreaking? Sorry. I’m not so ‘punny’ this late at night.) were the unique qualities this ground crawler possesses. God made them incredibly special. They can move without any limbs. They can breathe without a mouth. They live in darkness quite happily. They can replace entire portions of their body. They are both male and female. Even Darwin was so fascinated with the complexity of these seemingly insignificant creatures that he devoted thirty-nine years to their study.
Their complexity speaks to a very attentive Creator. David called himself a lowly worm, completely forgetting that a worm was intricately fashioned by a caring, loving, attentive God. In the same way that the worm’s shape and unique qualities had been carefully planned, so had David’s life. If God was so attentive to a inching nightcrawler, how much more attentive He would be to His child’s needs.
In that moment, law was overcome by grace. Shame was overcome by attentiveness. And David’s perspective about himself, about his situation, and about his attentive God began to change. The silence and David’s ensuing cries for answers allowed David’s heart to soften toward the ground-breaking truths of God’s inherent character.
You may feel as worthless and insignificant as a lowly worm. Perhaps you feel like God is too busy for you, that He does not care for you because you are somehow not good enough for Him. I have news for you. God attended to you before you were born and cradled you in His ever-loving arms all of your life this far. Who knew a worm had so many special qualities? I can tell you: God did, because just as He lovingly, carefully, attentively fashioned that little hermaphropod, He created you even more carefully. His silence should not be interpreted through a shame-based worthlessness, but through a new perspective that He is extremely vigilant toward you and is working His best plan for your life. Allow the grace of God’s careful attentiveness toward you soothe your troubled spirit and unanswered questions.
The Grace of Purposed-ness (Ps. 88)
Heman the Ezrahite was a man of God; in fact, he was a leader in the church during his time. Yet for some unknown reason, when he penned this psalm, he was in the depths of despair. Fear dogged his footsteps as he lamented a troubled soul (v 3a), a dying health (v 3b), an absence of friends (v 8), and an overwhelming presence of grief (v 9a). Without saying the actual words, he alludes to the despairing thought residing in his soul, “I am without hope,” for no man begins to talk about death and darkest depths unless he is in the pit of despair. The Law of Pittedness had constructed a roadblock to feeling loved by God. When that happened, Ethan, this scared pit-dweller, could only surmise that God was angry with him: “Your wrath lies heavily upon me,” he wailed (v 7a). I believe Ethan concluded that God chose not to answer his prayers because He was just plain angry with him.
There are only three redeeming moments in this whole psalm, and one of them is virtually invisible unless you read the fine print. The first moment of glory shines through in Ethan’s opening statement, “O Lord, the God who saves me” (v 1a). Ethan began his diatribe against God with the knowledge of His saving character, but that was not enough to drag him from the depths of despair. More grace movements were needed.
There is no other positive spoken word in this whole psalm. As I said before, it is the darkest song in the psalter. Why then, would God include this as a possible song for worship? I think it is because of two more redeeming moments of grace. The second movement of life in this psalm is the persistence with which Ethan prays. Three times in this hymn, Ethan announces his dogged determination to pray: “day and night I cry out before you...May my prayer come before you; turn your soul to my cry” (v 1b-2), “I call to you every day; I spread out my hands to you” (v 9bc), and “but I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you” (v 13).
Normally, people in Ethan’s circumstances stop praying. They do not hear anything from God, their pleas are ignored, their prayers are not answered, and so they quit trying to connect. They just assume God is angry with them because that is how human relationships tend to run; when people do not respond to our attempts to communicate, there is usually a reason and probably, one we do not really want to work through.
Ethan did not respond to God’s silence like a human typically does. Instead of shutting down or turning away himself, he pressed in to God’s silence and touched the robe of His essence. He persisted in prayer, in contact, in intimacy, in relationship, in answers, and in hope; mostly, I believe, because he was in love.
He knew God as a Savior. He persisted in prayer because he knew God as a Lover. But there is one more tidbit of information that speaks to my soul and it is found in the introduction to this psalm. Here is what the NIV states about Heman: “A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.” My Bible tries to clarify the term mahalath leannoth, giving this meaning, “Possibly a tune, ‘The Suffering of Affliction.’” Additionally, a maskil is a literary or musical term.
I do not pretend to understand all of the Hebrew words, but that is not what struck me as I studied. Do you remember that Ethan was a son of Korah? He was a descendant of the Kohathites, who were in charge of the temple worship. This particular singer may be the same one mentioned in 1 Chronicles 6:33, “These are the men who served, along with their sons: Heman the musician was from the clan of Kohath. His genealogy was traced back through Joel…” If this same Heman the Ezrahite was the Heman named as the leader of the Korahite guild, we are talking about a very important man with a very important job who had incredibly significant influence.
Despite the loneliness Heman mentions, in this psalm, he is not alone; he is part of something much bigger than him. He may feel like His Lord is angry at him, but he knows God’s love and care or he would not keep pursuing a silent Lover. In spite of the death-like experience he has gone through, he knows the thrill of living life for his Yahweh. In place of the rejection he internalizes at God’s silence, he is not rejected at all. Instead, he is chosen.
“His existence was no mistake; there was a divine plan bigger than he knew, and a place in it reserved most carefully for him” (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary).
Though Heman felt abandoned by God, he wrote this psalm as worship, “To the pure and shining One,” the introduction to the Passion Translation reads. His deepest pain and agony were still worthwhile worship and that is a lesson that can teach for a long time. Additionally, the Passion gives us two tiny words of great import, “To the tune of ‘Pierced,’ for instruction by Heman the Ezrahite” (notice my italicized words). Heman, though struggling with the Law of Pittedness, desired that everyone who would read his words and sing his song would learn how to manage the silences of God. This psalm is an instructive tool for how to approach a relational but sometimes distant God.
Though not obvious to the skimming eye, law was overcome by grace. Fear was overcome by God’s purpose in his life. And Heman’s perspective about himself, about his situation, and about his purposeful God became a teaching monument to grace. The silence and Heman’s ensuing cries for answers opened up a way for you and me to engage a silent God. We can because he did.
You may be full of fear in this season of your life. You may believe that you are beyond hope, beyond the reach of grace. God’s love may seem like a mirage and you may struggle with the innate sense that God will not answer your prayers because He does not love you. I have news for you. God has a purpose for your life. That purpose predates your crisis of faith and will continue when much of your angst has worked itself through. Like Ethan, your purpose involves influence, character-building circumstances, and an avenue in which to walk out the glory of grace. You are not an accident waiting to be ignored; you are a prized possession. God is working all things for your good (Rom. 8:28) and He has plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). Allow the grace of God’s purpose in your life speak to your frustration at His silence.
The Grace of Long-sightedness (Ps. 73)
Psalm 73 is an honest look at envy (v 3). Asaph struggled with the Law of Otherness because the belief that he was inferior to others and God was clouding his perspective. His feet almost slipped in his faith; he nearly lost his foothold because of his preoccupation with those around him (v 2). Discontentment at his circumstances led him to see only the good lot of the wicked: “they have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong” (v 4 and Asaph goes on like this for many more verses). As he looked out and saw the good fortune of those around him, He felt like God was unjust in His treatment of him. Out of that misconception, he began to feel that God would not answer his prayers because he was somehow less than others, “Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason” (v 13 - NLT)?
There is a lot of hope in this psalm, which we will study later, but for today I want you to see how the Holy Spirit turned Asaph’s Law of Otherness into a movement of grace. Asaph mentioned that all of the pondering and talking and trying to come to an understanding was oppressive to him (v 16). He felt suffocated by his musing which, by the way, is a common occurrence for those who engage in negative self-talk (That would be me!). That is also why we are exhorted to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8) because if we don’t, we open up our hearts to a cloud of oppression.
Asaph was oppressed until he entered the sanctuary of God (v 17a). While Asaph was losing his foothold due to his looking-out activities, he probably was not doing a lot of worship. It is hard to praise and envy at the same time. But when he made a choice to enter God’s presence, the Holy Spirit showed him a truth that changed his perspective about his situation and about his God.
Within that sanctuary of intimacy, Asaph came to understand the unbeliever’s final destiny (v 17b). In a blazing moment of grace, God showed Asaph the reality of His kingdom. Instead of being secure, the unrighteous are on very slippery ground (v 18). God destroys them very suddenly. Isaiah also proclaimed this truth when he likened men to grass which withers because the breath of the Lord blows on them (Isa 40:6-8). Unbelievers are far from secure. Just because they have it good in this day and age does not make them exempt from trouble; trouble will come, for Judgment Day is fast approaching. “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Those that build a foundation on wealth, money, corruption or any other highly-prized worldly goal, will be reserved for fire on the day of judgment; there will be destruction of ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:7).
In a moment of startling clarity, Asaph understood the long-sighted goal of God. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare...Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…” (2 Pet. 3:9, 10, 15a).
In place of the Law of Otherness, the Lord gave Asaph His gift of longsightedness. Law was overcome by grace. Discontentment was overcome by the knowledge of God’s planned future. And Heman’s perspective about himself, about his situation, and about his kind God morphed into worship (vv 23-28). Having a long-sighted view enabled him to leave his questions and prayer requests in the hands of a God who will judge and reward in His time.
Asaph may be speaking out the questions of your heart through the words of this song. Why do unbelievers seem to literally get away with murder? Why do people in your church live like the devil through the week and serve in your church leadership without recrimination? Why does God seem blind to all the deceit and corruption that runs rampant on this earth?
The Law of Otherness stews over this dilemma. It causes you to rail against God’s seeming injustice, but God has another way to look at inequity; it is the grace of long-sightedness. Look far with spiritual eyes and you will see God’s plan for the ungodly. Look long into eternity and know your reward. Look within the Scriptures and see God’s justice and mercy. You are not inferior in God’s eyes. He works for the good of all who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). Allow the grace of God’s future plans for you and your place in His kingdom calendar speak to your discontentment with His times of silence and apparent injustice. He has a perfect plan and you are a part of bringing it about. Look ahead, my friend; look ahead!
The Grace of Hopefulness (Job)
The book of Job is a testament to hopelessness and hope, discouragement and joy, fear and courage, silence and intimacy. Within this book lies the questions of the ages. Why does God allow suffering? Why do the innocent struggle? What do we do with a God who, not only permits suffering for His children, but ordains it? How do we respond to God when He does nothing in response to our painful cries?
Reading Job’s story is painful. His cries echo many of my own, the largest cry being, “I am innocent.” Job was innocent, yet his “miserable comforters” sought to pin him to a wall on the basis of some supposed sin. They believed in the law, the Law of Deservedness. Job’s protests only sought to fuel their law-abiding judgment.
Job spends much of his time defending his innocence before God and man with no response from the heavens. In fact, he feels like God’s silence emphasizes His desire to do harm to His servant, Job: “know that God has wronged me and drawn his net around me. Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice...He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree...Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me” (Job 19:6, 7, 10, 21).
Honestly, Job’s cries break my heart. In essence, without saying the words themselves, he is allowing us to see his perspective on God, that He is unmerciful and does not answer His children because He is really out to get them. Job is wallowing in the law, both from the ‘guilty’ (from his friends) and ‘not guilty’ (from within) stance. He needs a good dose of grace.
Amazingly, God granted a spiritual vision to Job well beyond history’s possibility. Despite the fact that Job felt hopeless (see Job 19:10), God gave him the grace of hopefulness. Let me see if I can prove it to you.
Job is considered to have been one of the first, if not the first, book written in our Bible. Many commentators place his historical date around the time of the Patriarchs. If you know your Bible decently well, you will know that besides the hint given at the garden of Eden and the promise to Abraham, no one had any prophetic knowledge of God’s story, the story of redemption, which was fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. There were no books of the Bible, no prophets, and no doctrinal writings. The only relationship that Job could have had with God was one where the Spirit of God came upon him as it did for many in the Old Testament, prior to the gift at Pentecost. That is what makes my next statements so amazing.
Though abandoned by his wife (Where did Mrs. Job go after her “curse God and die” statement?), attacked by his friends, assailed by pain intolerable, oppressed by God’s silence, and dangling from a divine relationship that felt severed, Job spoke prophetic truths that would not come to pass for over 2000 years. It is amazing to me how God reaches into the darkness of this world and lights a candle of revelation. Listen to these statements:
- “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face” (13:15).
- “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend” (16:19-21).
- “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (19:25-27).
- “But he knows the way I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (23:10).
Even as I type these words, I can hardly believe it. We go through testings and struggles that do not come close to the suffering of Job, and we feel like giving up on God. We have the whole Word of God at our disposal - all of God’s promises, past miraculous acts, and examples of provision - and we still waffle in our faith. The Holy Spirit resides deep within our spirits, guiding, encouraging, comforting, and we still want to throw in the towel. Christ Himself stands at the Father’s side interceding for us and we doubt His activity on our behalf. We have all of these incredible gifts of grace and yet we still fall into unbelief.
Job had none of these gifts. All he had was a prior relationship with His Creator that was so sweet that it nearly killed him when it was withdrawn. How did he make it through? How was he able to go on? It feels like a bonafide miracle to me.
Before Christ was ever prophesied to come and die so that we might have the eternal gift of heaven, Job was given the hope of his resurrection. He knew that one day he would stand face to face with God. He understood Christ to be his witness and advocate. He saw with spiritual eyes that Christ lived to intercede for him as a friend. He futuristically called Christ his Redeemer before the cross was prophesied and written down on a scroll that would become our past. He knew Jesus would return to judge this earth. That day, he knew he would go to be with his Best Friend in heaven; oh, his heart yearned for that day. And lastly, in all of his squirming to get out from under his oppressive circumstances, he knew - he KNEW - that it was all a test. Not only did he comprehend that truth, but he seemed aware of the outcome: that he would come through the test with flying colors. He would come forth as gold.
Friend, I do not know about you, but this sounds like the grace of hopefulness. In between all the questioning and all of the pain, Job KNEW something about his God that changed his perspective. It gave him the strength to overcome the Law of Deservedness heaped upon him by his friends and by his own questioning heart.
Though it was a fight to the finish, law was overcome by grace. A “you are sinful” attitude was overcome by the hope of the resurrection revealed to Job in some miraculous way. And Job’s perspective about himself, about his situation, and about his redeeming God led him to an open dialogue with a silent partner. God’s stepping back only wooed Job on and in the end, he did come forth as gold.
Words from friends or family may be resting unlawfully upon your shoulders as you read this. The Law of Deservedness may be bowing down your heart in hopelessness. God may seem very far from you, just like He seemed to Job. More than that, He may seem downright unkind, like He is out to get you. I have news for you. Though silent now, God is a merciful God. He does bring hope when He reveals grace. From the beginning of time, even before the time of Job, He predestined your life to be saved by a Redeemer. One day you will stand face to face with your Advocate and Friend. Does your heart yearn within you?
A glimpse of God’s eternal plan was all it took for Job to shout out vanguard calls of hope. His hope was based solely on his faith. You have much more fodder than Job did for your belief system. Know this: God is your Redeemer and one day, the Lord will come down from heaven in the midst of trumpet blasts and you will rise to meet Him in the air. “And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Just like this truth gave Job a burst of hope, “encourage each other with these words” of hope (1 Thess. 4:18). Allow the grace of God’s return to fuel your faith with hope even in the midst of His silence. Jesus Himself says, “Yes, I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
The Grace of Closeness (Jdg. 6, Ps. 42-44)
All of us struggle at one time or another with the Law of Indebtedness. Gideon did. The sons of Korah did. Job did and many believers do today, and not just the rich pastors who preach a prosperity gospel from their huge platforms in their mega-churches. The Law of Indebtedness purports that if we are faithful, God owes us. If we are God’s children, He must treat us kindly. If He is indeed loving, then He should bless us. Instead of a negative view of ourselves, this law deceives us into thinking we are too good for what God has allowed. Pride rears its ugly head in the relationship. Maybe that is why God is silent when we pray.
Gideon would not have called his attitude proud, but he did struggle with the Law of Indebtedness, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? The Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian” (Jdg. 6:13). God’s presence with him and his fellow Israelites should bring a return of blessing, shouldn’t it? Didn’t God owe them security instead of suffering?
The Sons of Korah struggled with this same law. Because He did not give them what they needed, they felt He was not a good God. They prayed for vindication and rescue from wicked men. They asked for freedom from their oppression (Ps. 43:1-2), but God did not answer. Though they had been faithful to God, He continued to crush them and cover them over with a deep darkness (Ps. 44:17-19). God had done incredible wonders in the past (Ps. 44:1-3), even imbuing the songwriter himself with godly strength (Ps. 44:4-8), but now, all that was gone. Their hearts had not turned back, but God seemed to have turned away (Ps. 44:18). This was not fair! How could God do this to them?
In the midst of these godly men’s verbal accusations toward God, a ray of grace shone through. Something changed their perspectives on their situation, if only for a few minutes. That movement of God was the Grace of Closeness.
Gideon turned this gift all around, but listen to these grace-filled words that the angel spoke to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Jdg. 6:12). Though he did not see it at the time, the grace of closeness for Gideon, despite God’s seeming absence, was the gift of with-ness. God’s presence was with them. Even though they did not see Him in the circumstances, He was with them nevertheless.
In Psalm 42, we see the psalmist panting for the presence of God (42:1-2). He misses God so badly, even remembering how he worshiped with such joy (vv 3-4). Yet he is downcast and disturbed deep within his soul (v 5ff). He talks about being bowled over by God’s breakers, the circumstances of his life (v 7). But then a very sweet refrain stirs in his soul, “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me - a prayer to the God of my life” (v 8). Do you see it? Do you catch the grace of closeness? All is black and dark in his life and then this gift of with-ness breaks through the clouds in the singer’s heart.
In the next Psalm, the singer continues to mull over God’s gracious presence. He prays a beautiful prayer of with-ness, “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight…” (43:3-4). In the midst of all the singer’s frustration with God’s silence, the presence of God still has the power to transform his emotional state.
In Psalm 44, the singer sits in captivity. He is oppressed and scattered (v 11). He feels reproach from his enemies and disgraced all day (v 13, 15). Yet sprinkled throughout his rather long lament, this Korahite remembers the joy of God’s presence. He focuses with fondness on God’s past acts and decrees that God acted out of His great love for his ancestors (vv 1-3). A clarion call of companionship bursts from his lips, “You are my King and my God” (v 4a); God is his and he is God’s. The psalm ends with a wonderful request of with-ness, “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love” (v 26).
In all of these examples, the Law of Indebtedness was overcome by grace. A proud, “you owe me” attitude was overcome with the remembrance of God’s proximity. God was only as close as their memory could conjure, their faith could muster, and their lips could mutter. These vulnerable, but godly men came to see themselves, their situation and their God in a new light. Realizing God’s closeness, despite earthly appearances, helped these men leave their prayers in the capable hands of a God who was with them all the while.
Do you struggle at all with this law? A good way to check if you seek God as the Gift or the Giver of gifts is to analyze how you respond when God does something unexpected, like say “no” to a desperate request. If you respond with outrage, the Law of Indebtedness may be buried deep down in your faith, especially if you find yourself entertaining an errant thought in order to build a case against God. You may feel that He owes you more than what you are receiving. As you try Him in your heart, you may declare Him ‘guilty of being terribly un-good.’
I have news for you. Though silent now, God is a good God. Not only is He good, but all His ways are declared to be good as well (Ps. 119:68a). Ways that include not answering prayer. Acts that include withdrawing a sense of His presence and steps that include a dark night of the soul. If you are experiencing this blight on your faith, remember the grace of closeness promised in this sweet verse, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Apparently, those who experience the aroma of brokenness squeezed from the flower of God’s silence find God’s closeness to be a comforting reality in their lives.
Come close, sweet Jesus.
Connecting Some Dots
You will have trouble in this world (Jn. 16:33). It is one of God’s promises. Along with that trouble will come a desperate attempt to seek God for change. No one likes to hurt. No one wants to feel like her life is coming to an end. We all hate pain, so we beg and pray, cry and cajole a God who we believe is powerful enough to do something about our anguished heart and desperate circumstances.
But then, God is silent. Honestly, padlocked heavens erode our faith more than the lack of positive movement in our situation.
Like the Israelites, we want the situation changed NOW and in the way we prescribe. With hardships bearing down on us, we begin to thrash around in our prisons, complaining to God about our troubles (Num. 11:1-2). We perceive the God we think we know out of our distorted memories, remembering the melons-and-leeks-sustenance of our past; never mind the fact that those memories are encased in leg irons and handcuffs. My friend, those sweet remembrances are the icons of captivity in our former lives, yet we long for them with an intense craving (Num. 11:4-5). Shackles of the past call to us like long-haired sirens and their undulating tunes and far-off hazy images seem somehow preferable to us than the angst of our present pain-filled realities. Life is that bad!
God is giving manna to us, blessing us with small, intimate acts of goodness, but we have lost our appetites and our perspectives. We cannot see the revelation of Yahweh in our dungeon deserts (Num. 11:6). It does not matter what encouragement we receive from the Body of Christ, what revelation our pastors dole out in each Sunday sermon, nor what Spirit-Word springs up from the pages of our study Bibles, we cannot hear God’s small-but-clear call of truth over our discouraged hearts and broken spirits (Ex. 6:9 - NIV and ESV).
God is speaking to us, but we are too busy complaining, crying, despairing, longing and questioning our misfortune to really, truly hear Him.
“But pain insists upon being attended to, ” C.S. Lewis once said. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 92). Yes, right there in the black hole of our dungeons, the Spirit uses our shattered dreams and crushed hopes to get our attention. He speaks to us through His Word if we continue to seek Him there. And He moves around us constantly to guide us to truth, if we allow our hearts to be open to the painful, confusing surgical knife that eventually brings healing.
Job came to know the Surgeon. So did Gideon, David, Asaph, Ethan and our Korahite worshipers. They were honest with God about their anguish. They flung questions at the Father, even when He did not answer and the process of wrestling with their Potter molded and shaped a receptacle in their hearts to receive a word of truth. Instead of dying in their law-abiding mindset, God gave them gifts of His grace. He did not change their situations, per se. He did not address their questions. He did not even answer their prayers, but He moved in their lives in an even bigger way: He spoke to their heart issues and their dungeon mentalities. Check out this chart to see God’s clear movement in each petitioner’s life:
To the heart issues of shame, fear, discontentment, sin and disillusionment, God spoke gifts of worth, purpose, patience, mercy and goodness. To the dungeon mentalities of worthlessness, hopelessness, inferiority, sinfulness and injustice, the Spirit of God gave the gifts of attentiveness, purpose, longsightedness, hope and closeness.
He did not answer the prayers for change in the circumstances swirling around the person, but He did answer the soul-cries of each child of His on the inside. He addressed the mentalities that kept each one of them captive in their souls. He did not change their situations; instead, He sought to change their hearts. As a result of this deep-calls-to-deep kind of interaction, their newly-infused hearts began to drive emerging-yet-new perspectives. In essence, God installed the program that began to grow their faith.
The Growth of Faith
Last March I had the privilege of teaching a two-day seminar on True Freedom. A number of Filipino missionaries serving in Cambodia came here to Chiang Mai to be better equipped to deal with the many issues they face on a given day. One of those very real issues was sexual abuse and human trafficking. I was tasked with the monumental endeavor of equipping these women to handle baby Christians who had been abused.
My third session was entitled “The Process of Freedom,” and as I prepared for that lesson, the Lord gave me a simple, clear way of marking faith growth. Two main passages of Scripture - Romans 10:17 and John 8:31-32 - dovetailed together to illustrate how faith is born, matured, and perfected. First we have Romans 10:17, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
There are three main steps in this verse: the word of Christ, hearing the message, and faith. The first irreducible step is the Word of God, the logos of Yahweh. God’s unalterable Word is life and breath. It is grace and healing. It is perfection and truth. But it is very possible to sit in the Word and never be moved by it. The Pharisees had this problem, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (Jn. 5:39).
You see, the Scriptures tell the story of one Person, the Son of God. Coming to the Word requires two realizations: that the Holy Bible is God-breathed and that it is also the Breath of Life, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...In him was life, and that life was the light of men...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (Jn. 1:1, 4, 14a).
A faith-journey always begins with the Word become flesh and the breathed-out words of God.
Notice secondly that hearing the message of Christ is paramount to a life of faith. If a person has accepted the Word into his life and begins to spend time in the Scriptures, he will begin to listen to the voice of God coming up to him out of his Bible. At that time, he may connect with what God is saying, or he may not.
Have you ever been heavily involved in telling somebody a story and realize she is not really with you? Your friend may be “uh-huhing” and nodding her head, but is obviously not listening to you. There is no eye contact or responsive body language. She is only pretending to listen, but is obviously engaged elsewhere.
I imagine this is how God sometimes feels when we sit down to His Word. We are nodding our head (sometimes in sleep) and concurring with everything that is said, but we are not really listening to the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of His Word. Listening implies engagement, but hearing takes the listening a step further to understanding.
Jesus spoke in parables; one of those being the parable of the sower. After he told his story, his disciples did not really understand the meaning of the parable so Jesus quoted a segment of Isaiah 6 to them, “though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand” (Lk. 8:10). In other words, many will only listen to the Word of God. They will not truly hear and understand the deep, spiritual truths that are being given to them. Faith requires a concentrated hearing of the truths of God’s word, a hearing that leads to the third step.
When the Word of God is spoken or read and the Holy Spirit illumines the meaning to a hearing ear, understanding is born. That understanding is the birth of faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). The person first comes to the Word of God. He realizes that God is real and that He rewards His children. As those two truths seep into the heart of the reader, he begins to earnestly seek God, which leads to hearing and understanding. Out of the coming and seeking, he believes those two principles about our Father, constituting a stand of faith.
I illustrate Romans 10:17 in this way:
The Word of God → Hearing the message → Faith
Now to add the second verse: John 8:31-32, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We see four more steps in this verse that lead to freedom.
First, do you see the word “believed” in verse 31? There were many Jews with belief in the law and then there were the Jews who believed Jesus. To those believing Jews, Jesus spoke the following linear equation. Other Jews did not have faith so they missed out on Jesus’ words of life. Belief and faith are two sides of the same coin.
After faith/belief comes the step of holding to Jesus teaching. In essence, Jesus is talking about full-on, uncompromising, obedience. A person’s faith can be assessed by whether she is actually holding onto God’s teachings in both her mouth and in her walk. If her life does not measure up to her talk, she is not really a disciple of Christ. A true disciple remains faithful to Jesus’ teachings (Jn. 8:31 - NLT).
If a person believes and obeys, she will come to know the truth, Jesus says. Ironically, truth cannot be fully known just by reading the Scriptures that reveal the Person of truth. They have to be understood, believed and obeyed before they are fully known. This shows that true knowledge of the truth is a long way down the continuum of faith. Truth is not automatically understood; it must be assimilated over obedient living and revelatory understanding time after time.
Notice then that the knowledge of truth leads to freedom. You and I will be free of shame and fear and a host of dungeon feelings when we sit in the Word, understand the Word, have faith in the Word, live the Word, and really know the Word in the deepest parts of our spiritual marrow.
Check out the following illustration
Word of Christ → Hearing the Message → Faith/Belief → Hold to Teaching →
Know the Truth → Truth will set you Free
Now, anywhere along this progression of faith, Satan will try to interrupt the process. The Word of Christ may go out like the seeds in the Parable of the Sower, but Satan will come along and take the word from their hearts (Lk. 8:12). He blinds their minds so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). They never progress in their faith from listening to the word to actually hearing it.
A young woman may see the Word, truly hear it and even receive it with joy. She may believe in God and what He teaches. However, it is not long until a time of testing shakes her faith. If she is not holding to God’s teaching, she will fall away from God in faithlessness (Lk. 8:13). Another example of the breakdown between faith and obedience is the seed that is choked out by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. This seed does not mature at all, meaning this person does not hold to God’s teachings, thereby, making him a true disciple of Christ (Lk. 8:14).
But there are a few seeds that fall on good soil. They are the people who have a noble and good heart, who hear the word, believe it, retain it through their obedience and produce a crop by their perseverance (Lk. 8:15). These are the ones who know the truth inside and who experience the freedom God promises.
Faith and Unanswered Prayer
By now you may be wondering if we have deviated beyond recovery from our topic at hand. I have taken a bit of a bird-walk to illustrate a point, but I hope I can now bring it all together.
We have studied five different responses to God’s silence, five different dungeon mentalities of those who struggle with God over unanswered prayer. David felt shame and it led to a worthless feeling. He somehow felt that God was too busy to care for him. Heman wrestled with fear, the fear that God did not love him. Asaph admitted to discontentment and the bone-deep feeling that he was somehow inferior to those doing evil in God’s eyes. Job was judged by his friends and came up wanting. Their concern was supposed sin in his life, which led to a hopeless feeling. The Korahite singers struggled with disillusionment. They had been faithful, but God was not giving them what they felt they deserved.
Then five seeds of truth fell from the Sower’s hands. They were the word of Christ to each of these questioning, praying sufferers. Birds and rocks and thorns got in the way of the spread seed because Satan was alive and well in their worlds, so much of their expression to God involved their pain instead of God’s truth. Consequently, they could not really hear the whole message of God to them. Their faith staggered and sunk instead of maturing and growing.
But all of these vulnerable, yet godly men, had an ah-ha moment with God. Somehow a truth of God’s Word penetrated their dungeon mentatilites. David realized God cared for him. Ethan understood his chosenness before God. Asaph came to know God’s justice. Job recovered hope in a resurrection which had never been preached before and Gideon discovered God’s Presence with him at all times.
These five truth-seeds took root and led each struggling man to believe in God. Based on one psalm, we do not know if they held on to these teachings of God so that they knew the truth and found freedom, although a couple of these psalms and the story of Job play out to that end. (We will study these later.) What is important to note here is the truths that were sown.
Unanswered prayer led to pain. Pain led to questioning God. The act of questioning God led to a divine meeting with the Holy Spirit. That meeting led to the sowing of seeds of truth and those truths took root in a burgeoning heart of faith. Even in the middle of a dungeon. Even in the midst of rocky circumstances. Even in the center of unanswered prayers.
How is the Soil of Your Heart?
Like me, you may find yourself struggling today with a dungeon mentality. God’s choice to step back from the answer you are expecting may be deflating your balloon of faith faster than you can blow it up. If so, there is hope. The law does not have to win in your soul. Grace can come to the forefront and shine a spotlight on Jesus, rather than on the answer you desire. And in that God-glorifying process, you may be transformed.
The Word of Christ has been spoken to you like it was spoken over David, Heman and the others.
All you have to do is look back at the chart I created for you so you can see the Scriptures for yourself.
These truths are just a tiny fraction of the scope of God’s magnificent character and awe-inspiring ways. The question is: Do you believe it? If you struggle to even hear the message God is speaking to you through these phrases - His Word - you may have ears to listen, but may not be truly hearing. Satan may be snatching the seed from reaching the soil of your heart. Without that internal planting so that understanding comes to bear, your faith may wilt.
But if you choose to believe God’s words, you will grow in faith. if you listen and hear enough to speak these truths out, when temptations, hardships, or faith crises come along, you will hold to the teachings of God, proving your discipleship is genuine.
According to John 8:31-32, then, you will come to truly know these truths of God in your heart and that truth will set you fully free. Free of shame. Free of guilt. Free of perfectionism and blame. Free of grief and sorrow. Free of the cares of tomorrow. Free at last; you will be free at last. But this freedom will not be realized unless you hold onto the truths God has shown you. As one of my former pastors used to say, “Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” This is a good word, especially for a disciple growing in faith.
What Do You Do?
With all of the previous pages of groundwork laid, I think I am now ready to answer our focus question. A dungeon mentality says, “God is out to get me. He is ignoring me because I am not important.” I hope I have proven that all of these very real feelings swirling around in our soul are based on assumptions and falsehoods; they are based on our perspective of our earthly situations. We have to get back to the truths laid out in the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). That is the only way our faith will grow.
So what do we do with a God who will not answer our prayers?
The Psalms we studied showed us that there is a lot of godly work going on despite God’s seeming disinterest. I have attempted to show that though God is not answering our specific prayers, He is working very hard in us, around us, and through us to answer our soul-cries. He is not out to necessarily please us, but to change us.
There is something sweet and oh, so intimate in this knowledge. God cares for me, for you, too much to let us continue in our frameworks concocted on lies and false assumptions. He is after more than just what we think of Him; He is after our hearts. What will we do with this knowledge?
Will be harden our hearts against Him because He is not complying with our requests? Will we turn away from Him because He appears to be cold and unyielding? Or will we sink our roots deep down into the truth, despite appearances, despite personal sacrifice, and despite our very real pain? Will we choose to wrestle with the Almighty all the dark night and long day to receive His personal blessing? Will we allow Him to touch the joints of our pride and our shame and our proprietary attitudes? Will we allow Him to stretch the limits of our beliefs in order to encompass the hugeness of who He is? And will we continue to seek Him though He slay us, as Job did finally acquiesce?
In other words, will we trust Him despite all that He seems to be putting us through? For that is the right answer to all of this internal angst. He is good and kind and true. No one is more honest and loving and brave. Not another soul on earth or god made by human hands can perform the miracles God displays in three spoken words, “Let there be” and see a creation grow into maturity. God is the beginning and the end of your faith and He will complete the good work He has begun in you (Phil. 2:13). If you read of the character and ways of Christ in His Word and really truly hear them, you will come to have greater and greater faith. That faith will mature and stretch over any unanswered prayer you will ever lay before the throne of grace.
What do you do with a God who does not answer your prayers? My precious petitioner, you trust Him. When He is silent, you trust He is working good things on your behalf. When chaos breaks loose around you, you can trust that He is still good and loving. And when that prayer that you have cried out to God remains flapping in the wind like a ragged flag, you trust Him to let that be a banner for your soul, announcing your need of His loving soul-ministrations. When a soul-need is announced, He will then come more quickly than any Lover.
The Word of God says God is good and all His ways are good (Ps. 119:68), so what do you do with this God? My friend, you trust Him!
Believe me, believe His Word: you can always trust Him!
I have just returned from yet another dentist appointment, which to me, feels like a matter on par with terrorism and national security. Yes, I feel that strongly about the dentist chair. It is not my fault, unfortunately, because due to circumstances beyond my control, my perspective on dentists was skewed from a very early age.
I grew up in what was formerly called Irian Jaya (It has boasted many names: Irian Barat, Borneo, and currently, just Papua). My parents planted churches on three different stations, meaning three different language groups over the twenty years they served there. Irian Jaya is known for many good things - good beaches, excellent Indonesian food, friendly people, and lots of sugarcane - but excellent dental care is not in my list, as you can see.
There was one missionary dentist that serviced all the missionaries on the island. He often traveled around to the different mission stations every couple of years or so. When I was five, he came to my mission station and when I sat up in the dentist chair, he promptly informed my mom that I had five cavities. Of course, my mom said, “Fill them,” but no one could know that all of the work would be done without novocaine until...it was done with no novacaine. You did hear me right? No novacaine. I had to be restrained on my mother’s lap for that marathon torture chamber and that traumatic episode started a very long hate-affair with all things dental.
I can try to psyche myself up before I go to my appointment. This won’t hurt, this won’t hurt! I can let the dentist know about all of my issues and circumstantial evidence that I need to be babied: my broken back, the TMJ in my jaw, my terrible gag reflex, my incredible fear, but all of that advance warning goes out the window when the dentist pulls out that mile-long needle. I can speak truth into my mind the whole time: This is for my own good. She is actually working to save my teeth. She wants to improve my quality of life. This won’t take too long. But it doesn’t really matter, because the fear pretty much overrides my attempt to transform my perspective.
This is the case in our troubled circumstances of life as well. We go through bad times and we pray that God would change our circumstances, remove our pain, speak to our fears, send someone to bear it with us, but many times, God seems to do nothing. We lapse into despair. Sink into a pit. And lean our heads back in hopelessness against the walls of our prison cells.
We can tell ourselves a million times a day that God loves us. He is not out to get us. And He is acting in ways that are completely for our own good. But this type of self-talk does not put a dent in the fear and doubt we feel while shackled to the cell walls of our anxiety. We are suffering in prison. We are drowning in our skewed perspectives. Friend, we are overwhelmed by a dungeon mentality.
Your perspective on your circumstances feels pretty accurate. You are in deep trouble and God is not answering your prayers. Your pain is throbbingly real, just like the achingly real pain of a five-year-old girl’s mouth being drilled without novocaine. It is possible that your circumstances are getting worse, not better, so why does God refuse to change your circumstances? Like my first dentist appointment, this all feels so wrong and unloving. I was scarred for life by that ordeal and you are feeling like you will be too. So why does God withdraw from us when we need Him the most?
My perspective on unanswered prayers is that I am in a dungeon, a hopeless, despair-filled, empty, useless, cell of a dungeon. I call it the Dungeon of Denial, because God seems to deny my painful reality, deny my worth, and deny my prayers all at the same time. I have no way forward and I certainly do not want to go back. I am stuck, imprisoned in a cell that is not my fault.
Have you ever felt this way? Job did.
Have You Considered?
Has anyone suffered more than Job, except our Lord and Savior? Stricken by disaster. Visited by death. Rejected by his friends and wife. Attacked in his body. Condemned by his closest affiliates. Floundering in his faith and seemingly abandoned by his God. He spent days upon days accruing questions, which were rung from his pain-wracked body. “Give me justice before I die,” became his refrain. His take on his situation, “If I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion and again display your awesome power against me” (Job 10:16). He did not believe God was for him. Instead, he felt like God was mustering all of His forces against him in a terrifying display of His power.
That was Job’s perspective. His earthly angst felt very real to him, but it was not the whole story. Not even close.
Listen to the backstory. One day the angels came to present themselves to the Lord and Satan tagged along. God initiated a very strange conversation with the accuser. “Where have you come from?” God says. “From roaming the whole earth and going back and forth on it,” Satan replied. Then listen to this statement, “Have you considered my servant Job?” Other versions say, “Have you noticed Job” (Job 1:8)?
Why on earth was God calling attention to Job?
He went on to say, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:6-8). Not only did God draw attention to Job, He began to parade all of his good qualities out for Satan to see. He stated that Job was a man above the rest; no one else on the entire earth at that time was a righteous as this man who feared God. And that is when God gave Satan permission to attack everything in Job’s possession except his own body (v 12).
Do you see the paradox in this situation? Far from a terrible set of circumstances just happening upon this poor man, God seemed to ordain them. God did not put a hedge of protection around Job at all; He literally sent Satan an invitation to take shots at him. It was as if God was showing off Job’s integrity and character as a means of bait. Ironically, it seems to me that Job’s faith actually produced his suffering.
Job never heard this conversation before the throne of God. He was not privy to this heavenly chess game. Consequently, he wrestled in anguish with God and with his friends for thirty-seven chapters in his book’s namesake. His perspective on his unchanging situation was not accurate at all in the heavenly places, but he didn’t know. He couldn’t see. And God wasn’t talking.
What would it have done to Job’s faith to have been a fly on the walls of heaven during that heavenly counsel? To hear God brag on him? To hear the devil have to ask permission to go after him? To know that God had singled him out for this display from all the people of the earth? It would have sent his faith soaring sky-high. He could have managed the grief, the pain, the rejection with a lot less questioning and wrestling, but is that really faith?
Faith that sees the future is no faith at all, because real faith is built on invisible realities: hope, substance, future realities, and evidence of things not seen. There would be no testing of faith if Job had gotten to read the manual first; his test would simply have been one of endurance. No, Job could not be allowed to see what was happening at all because he needed to show us how a great man of faith managed devastating life-swings and silent heavens. But through it all, I imagine God standing up in heaven, clapping through His proud tears saying, “See that one there. He’s my best player.”
You see, God’s perspective on Job’s angst was completely dissimilar to Job’s. He saw this God-fearing man’s wrestling match as a special calling, a noticeable position of honor. The suffering Job endured was not meant to be punitive. Folks, it was meant to be a promotion. The silence of God was not a raw deal at all; it was a platform for the display of God’s glory. Instead of cursing God like Satan predicted, Job sat on an ash heap and spoke honestly about his fears. He struggled vulnerably with an invisible Opponent and he showed the world ever after that God blesses those who speak of Him in a right manner (Job 40:8-9), even though their tongues are coated with sores and their heads ache with a million doubts.
In God’s eyes, Job did not suffer in a Dungeon of Denial. Instead, his negative circumstances and unanswered prayers became a platform for God’s Delightful Display.
A Blind Display
The disciples struggled with a skewed perspective as well. It seems to me that skewed perspectives are pretty normal when life does not go as planned.
One day as they were traveling with the Master, they saw a man who had been blind from birth (Jn. 9:1). The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind” (v 2)?
These disciples faced a theological problem. Since most people believed that sin directly caused all suffering - remember that Law of Deservedness? - they could not figure out how a person could be born with a handicap. At birth, that person would not have had time to sin, so the disciples came up with only two possibilities. Either the man had sinned in his mother’s womb or the parents had sinned. They based these options on Ezekiel 18:4, which said that the person who sins is the one who will die, or on Exodus 20:5, where God lays the sins of the parents onto their children, even up to the third and fourth generations of those who reject God.
Jesus’s answer was a complete surprise, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (v 3a). These words do not contradict the universal sinfulness of man. Romans 3:10 says that no one is righteous - not even one and Romans 3:23 concurs, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT).
The point Jesus was trying to get across was revolutionary to these law-abiding disciples. “This happened,” Jesus declared for all time, “so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v 3b). The New Living Translation reads like this, “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”
“Jesus did not consider the blindness as punishment or as a matter of irrational chance; it was a challenge to manifest God’s healing power in the man’s life” (Exposition Bible Commentary). Instead of being punitive, this poor man’s physical condition was an opportunity, an already built-in occasion for God to display His power in an extraordinary healing.
In God’s eyes, this blind man did not suffer in a Dungeon of Denial. Instead, his negative circumstances and unanswered prayers became a platform for God’s Delightful Display. Like Job his pain was not a punishment, but a promotion.
I watched an interview recently between Lisa Harper and Sara Cantrell, which ministered to me greatly. Lisa had spoken on “The Unlikely Honor of Suffering,” which is the first video teaching session from her Bible study Job: A Story of Unlikely Joy. Sara’s story poked huge holes in the Law of Deservedness, revealed all of its skewed flaws, and brilliantly exposed God’s perspective.
Sara had two children, but she had always wanted twins, so she decided to pray for God to bless her in that way. Sure enough, the Lord answered her prayer. She became pregnant and after going to the doctor for her ultrasound check-up, found out she was carrying twin boys. Boy, the whole family was so excited, especially her five-year-old girl.
Mother and daughter shopped and dreamed, planned and prepared. Little boy clothes piled up on the shelves. The nursery was organized and arranged to perfection. According to Sara, the whole family worked to make everything perfect. “We were all in for these blessings God was giving us,” she said.
Finally, it was time to go to the hospital. The anticipation and excitement did not prepare Sara for what awaited her, for when it came time to give birth, she delivered two perfect stillborn identical twins. There was no warning at all, just sudden death. Death of dreams. Death of anticipation. Death of hopes and death of joy.
Sara did not feel that she could survive this catastrophe. She began to question her Lord there in that delivery room and throughout her hospital stay. As she struggled and begged God for answers, she knew she was going to have to make some clearcut choices about her Father: whether He was good or not, loving or not, and whether she could trust Him.
As she and her husband were driving home with two empty car seats, Sara asked God what on earth she was going to tell her daughter Caroline, “God, how are you going to answer her? How do I tell her the babies are not here?” God did not answer her why about the suffering. He did not speak to the issue of the stillborn twins, but He did give her the words to tell her daughter.
As they pulled up to the house on that brisk day in October, their daughter waited excitedly on the porch. Their door opened and the first words out of Caroline’s mouth were, “Where are the babies? Where are my brothers, Mama?” Sara spoke the words God had given to her en route from the hospital, “There are some babies that God chooses to go to heaven. He just takes them.”
Caroline did not respond as Sara expected. With little tan hands held to her chest, Caroline uttered these amazing words, “O Mama, he picked you.”
In that instant, Sara’s whole perspective changed. “What do you say? she said. “He picked me.” You see, the enemy wanted to shatter her by shattering this dream of her life, but her whole attitude just flipped with her five-year-old’s wisdom. It was like a black curtain fell off. In that moment came revelation. In that spoken word, her whole life changed. She saw her pain as a release into destiny. From that day forward until the day of the interview I saw, she automatically adopted God’s perspective, “He picked me.”
You see, in God’s eyes, Sara’s horrible situation of loss was not a Dungeon of Denial. Instead, her negative circumstances and unanswered prayers became a platform for God’s Delightful Display. Like Job and the blind man, her pain was not a punishment, but a promotion.
We come full circle now to the dungeon where John languishes in supposed abandonment and rejection. His question, “Are you the one?” rings from a Dungeon of Denial. He even sent some disciples to find out the answer from Jesus, who chose only to speak cryptically to John’s despair and spiritual pain.
However, much later Jesus addressed the crowd with these words, “I tell you, among those born of women there is not one greater than John” (Lk. 7:28). John was not forgotten in that cell, but exalted in front of a crowd. He was not abandoned; He was honored in God’s eyes. Like Job, he may never have understood the ‘why’ of his unanswered prayers, but God’s perspective stood clear nevertheless.
In God’s eyes, John’s lonely incarceration was not a Dungeon of Denial. Instead, his negative circumstances and unanswered prayers became a platform for God’s Delightful Display. Like Job, the blind man, and Sara Cantrell, his pain was not a punishment, but a promotion. He was chosen to display the very work of God. His dungeon was not a lost cause, but a manifesto declaring the very power of God.
After all of these words, where do you really sit in your heart right now? Are you languishing in your own prison, struggling with questions and unanswered prayers? Which of the five laws of circumstances hold your mind captive to the Dungeon of Denial: the Law of Worminess, Law of Pittedness, Law of Otherness, Law of Deservedness, or the Law of Indebtedness?
As I have studied these passages and written this devotional these past two weeks, I have realized anew the anguish of unanswered prayers. There are just some times when Jehovah-Roi, the God who sees, doesn’t feel like He chooses to see you at all. Circumstances loom larger than the Lord of Hosts, even with an army at His disposal. With all of the omnipotence contained in one spoken word of Jehovah-Jireh, He sometimes chooses not to even lift a finger to provide an answer to a desperate prayer. In the dungeon of your circumstances, Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is There, does not feel like He is “there” at all.
What do you do when your dungeon walls loom larger than the God you serve?
You begin to ask God better questions. Instead of the questions,“Why is this happening, why aren’t you answering?” you begin to ask for God’s perspective. Whenever you want to scream, “Don’t you care?” you begin to ask to know God’s love better. In the place of the basket-full of lies with which you keep questioning God, you begin to ask God to fill your mind with truth. Instead of the dungeon mentality, you have got to pray that God will help you assimilate the Matthew 22 perspective principles into your life. Ask to know God’s Scriptures (22:29c). Ask to know the power of God (22:29d). Ask God to help you bypass all the things you do not need to know (22:30) and ask to know God Himself better (22:31-32).
Do you see the truths coming from the pages of the Word of Christ - that you are loved, chosen, and honored? Do you really hear the message of Christ in this devotional - that your dungeon of denial is really a platform for the display of His glory? Do you have the faith to believe that you are not forgotten and abandoned, that He is working all things for your God and that you have been chosen for this particular trial because of your faith, not in spite of it? If so, then these three truths from Romans 10:17 are beginning to be true in your life.
What you need to do now is to hold on to God’s teachings. Despite appearances. Despite your pain. Despite your assumptions about God and His ways. Hold on, my friend, though God decides to choose you as a vessel to display His glory. “Hold firmly to the word preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:2). Remember this: if you hold firmly to the truths of God’s Word, then you will truly come to know the truth and that same truth will set you free (Jn. 8:31-32).
How might these verses help you move from seeing words on a page to freedom in your heart?
- “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex. 9:16/Rom. 9:17).
- “I will gain glory for myself through (this situation) and (all) will know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 14:4).
- “Stand firm and you will see the salvation He will accomplish for you” (Ex. 14:13 - NKJV).
- “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:5-6).
- “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it . For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isa. 40:5)
- “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isa. 43:7).
- “You are my witnesses and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he” (Isa. 43:10).
- You are “the people I formed for myself that (you) may proclaim my praise (Isa. 43:21).
- “You are my servant...in whom I will display my splendor” (Isa. 49:3).
- Though you are brokenhearted, captive, grieving, covered in ashes, mourning, and full of despair, you “will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isa. 61:1-3).
- “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in (your) life” (Jn. 9:3).
- “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10.
- You are “an ambassador in chains...declare the mystery of the gospel fearlessly” (Eph. 6:19-20).
- “But for this very reason (you have been) shown mercy so that in (you)...Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience…” (1 Tim. 1:16).
These are the truths of the Word of Christ, my friend. Meditate on them. Internalize them. Believe them. This process of faith-building-on-truth can transform your perspective. You will be able to move from a Dungeon of Denial mentality into God’s perspective: your unchanging circumstance is a Delightful Display of His power and glory. And this brings us to the first letter in our acronym “worthy.” You will be able to W - Welcome your prison of unanswered prayer as a promotion instead of a punishment.
Instead of viewing your negative circumstances as punitive, remind yourself that you are chosen. Instead of viewing His apparent silence as unloving, tell your heart that He loves you with an everlasting love. Instead of suffering needlessly, shout it to the heavens that you are being counted worthy of the sufferings of Christ. And instead of fixating on that one unanswered prayer, as huge and overwhelming as it may be, fix your eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of your faith. He alone is your only means to joy, abundance and freedom. If He is not first place in your life, a changed circumstance, an answered prayer, not even a miracle of supernatural impact, will bring you the happiness you so desperately long for.
He is your prison-breaker, your answer to prayer, your perspective-changer. Dear one, He is your treasure, the greatest of all rewards.
Not that answer to prayer.