“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 9. No Panic
Reb 8:1 “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”
Habakkuk went up on his ‘ramparts’ onto the walls of the city where he could look out, pray, watch and listen and wait. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Lk 5:16) See also Lk 6:12, 9:18, 22:41) Lonely places are quiet places, places that are free from interruption – mostly! (Mk 1:36,37) It seems clear that in such times of prayer Jesus communed with the Father and got a sense of what was next on the Father’s heart, hence he prayed before choosing the twelve. (Lk 6:12,13)
But I wonder if there were times when heaven seemed silent when he prayed. I am sure he would have been praying on the cross and as the weight of the sin of the world came on him and shut off his vision of his Father, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46) For that unique moment in history the God-Son on earth was separated from the God-Father in heaven and he was utterly alone carrying the guilt of the world.
But that cry was a cry that David had initially penned (Psa 22:1) but the psalms are littered with such cries, for example, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psa 10:1) or “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psa 13:1), or “Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.” (Psa 69:17) I say littered but there aren’t that many of them, but enough to show us that there were times when God seemed far off and heaven appeared silent.
And then we come to our starter verse when we are told there was silence in heaven for a half an hour. Commentators wonder about why there was this half hour of silence. Was it to take in the awfulness of the state of the earth that was to receive terrible judgments in order to try to bring mankind to its senses? We don’t really know, we aren’t told. But one thing we can know, it isn’t because everything has got out of control. God is NOT having a half hour break to think through what to do next. It’s never like that. As someone I read recently wrote, “There is no panic in heaven, only plans.” As we pray and watch and often have to wait, we wait for the revealing of God’s plans, thought through before the world began. Always remember that, whatever happens, and don’t panic because He’s not!
We need to let these truths sink in some more. Let’s summarise the difficult bits: sometimes when we pray we don’t seem to get answers, sometimes when we wait on the Lord, heaven seems silent and He seems distant. For me, this morning was one of those times. When I went into my quiet place and waited all I heard was silence, all I sensed was alone-ness. Have I sinned so that He stands at a distance? Not that I am aware of. Have I been casual in my entry into His presence? I don’t think so. So what is happening at such times.
I believe the truth is that at such times the Lord is probably teaching us, or reinforcing teaching we’ve already had, and three reasons come to mind.
The first is that prayer and listening is not mechanical, it is not automatic, if we speak the right words He will speak words back. It doesn’t work like that, it is all about relationship, two people communicating and so if one wants to remain silent for a moment, that’s fine. It’s not what we expect from communication between two friends, but sometimes it is necessary. Sometimes one of us would just like to be quiet and be a listener and not a contributor, and we’ve got to learn that.
The second reason, I believe the Lord sometimes goes silent on us is so that we don’t become proud and present ourselves of super-spiritual people who have an automatic hotline to the Almighty. No, whatever we hear, whatever experience of the Lord we have, is pure gift, it is grace, it is mercy. Almighty God doesn’t have to communicate with us, He is God! We are simply His children, recipients of all of His goodness which we don’t deserve. There is no room for spiritual pride here. No man or woman of God has room for boasting. As Paul once wrote when he was expounding the wonder of justification, “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.” (Rom 3:27) and as he pointed out to the Corinthians, “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor 21:28,29) and later, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7) When it comes to us and spiritual matters, we have no room for any boasting and so sometimes, I believe the silence that comes in the waiting times is just a reminder of that.
The third reason, I believe, is that we learn not to trust in emotions. It is wonderful when the Lord turns up and we have amazing experiences of Him, but the reality is that we must not rely on emotions. We can exalt in them but not make them the basis of our spirituality. That comes from Christ on the Cross and from nowhere else. So, as we pursue this pilgrimage of learning to watch and wait, let’s hold the whole enterprise lightly and remember that we are learners and God is the teacher and He will teach us at the pace He sees we can handle and if sometimes He goes silent, it is only to help us remember how precious the times are when He is not silent. The working of humility comes in various ways.