Have your prayers ever been met with silence? I’m not talking about those Lord, please help me find an open parking spot kind of prayers. Or, Please don’t let me get stopped for speeding because You know I’m running late, Lord! I mean the kind of prayers that matter deeply. Prayers whispered from a place of profound pain. Cries from a heart in crisis. The kind of prayers we never pray in polite prayer circles where form, too often, suffocates content.
How do we deal with a silent God? And what’s with the silence anyway?
He Answered Not a Word
One day a Phoenician woman set out to find Jesus.1 She was no fool; she knew how the Jews hated her people, but she was desperate enough not to care. She’d heard about a Teacher who healed all manner of disease, and she determined to find Him. Her gods had disappointed her. In spite of the sacrifices she’d offered, they stayed silent while her daughter remained imprisoned by a demon. She just wanted her daughter back.
Once she found Jesus she cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord! My daughter is demon-possessed. Please help her!” When Jesus didn’t respond, she cried louder, “Please, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Through her tears she saw the looks exchanged between the disciples, noted how carefully they kept their distance, unwilling to have any contact with her—a despised heathen. But she persisted in loudly calling out to Jesus.
Matthew records Jesus’ response, “He answered her not a word” (15:23, KJV). He remained silent. The One who was so easily moved by compassion toward all manner of people now appeared unmoved by the woman’s tears. Deaf to her heartrending cries. The disciples took His silence as support for their own disapproval and asked Him to “send her away, Lord. She’s a nuisance. She won’t quit shouting.”
When Jesus finally answered, His words seemed to echo their sentiments. “I’ve been sent to the lost sheep of Israel,” He said. The woman moved closer, and bowing low before Him she begged, “Lord, help me!”
The disciples watched closely now for they had never seen their Master turn anyone away who’d uttered those words. Once more, Jesus’ response seemed to validate their own as He replied, “It’s not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. Do you expect Me to give the blessings I have for My people to heathens and unbelievers?”
“Oh, Lord,” she answered, “I’m only asking for a crumb, and even the dogs catch the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” With those words, Jesus bent toward her and said, “O woman, what faith you have! Your request is granted,” and immediately her daughter was healed.
All God’s Children
In every miracle He performed, in every word He spoke, Jesus sought to teach His disciples the truth about the Father’s love. A truth that had been misrepresented and misinformed for centuries by the cunning work of the enemy. Jesus longed for His disciples to recognize that the Jewish nation had been chosen to be a light to the gentiles. Favored with a knowledge of God’s love, they were called to share His love with the world. But that was the last thing Satan wanted. It’s still the last thing he wants.
The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were known for their spiritual pride at being the sons of Abraham. They never doubted that they were the chosen ones. Might Adventists be carrying some of that same baggage? After all, we do “have the truth.” Yet, as individuals, many of us struggle silently to believe we’ve been chosen, singled out by God, and called to love and be loved as His treasured child. It’s hard to grasp a love so inclusive that it counts us in.
Somehow, we’ve bought into the lie that while God’s love is freely given to others, we alone are undeserving. His silence would seem to confirm this belief. So, why is He silent? Is He not “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15, KJV) after all?
The Syrophoenician woman had an advantage over us in that Jesus was standing right in front of her. He may have been silent, but He was not invisible. In recording the moment after Jesus’ bread-and-dogs response, Ellen White writes, “This answer would have utterly discouraged a less earnest seeker. But the woman saw that her opportunity had come. Beneath the apparent refusal of Jesus, she saw a compassion that He could not hide.”2
After she holds out her hand in faith and grateful anticipation, she receives the crumb from her Master’s table. Jesus looks at the woman before Him and smiles. One more lost sheep has found her way home. No longer an outcast but a beloved daughter who has just tasted and seen how much she’s loved by her Father.
Breadcrumbs and Mustard Seeds
Though silence can feel like rejection, God is never cruel. He knows our struggle to hold on to our faith in a God who is both silent and invisible.
Not long after Jesus delivered the woman’s daughter from possession, a desperate father came to His disciples to ask for a similar miracle for his son. They tried but were unable to deliver. When they asked Jesus why God had been silent to their prayer, He told them it was “because you have so little faith. I can guarantee this truth: If your faith is the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20, GW).3
A mustard seed of faith is all we need. It’s not much—but it is everything. Jesus once taught His followers that in order for a seed to bear fruit, it had to first die in a dark and silent place (see John 12:24, 25). In order for our faith to take root and grow to full, fruitful maturity, it must be planted in the soil of our hearts. There, hidden from sight, it’s broken open during seasons of silence. In the darkness, new life miraculously bursts forth as faith takes root within us and begins to grow.
A Growing Faith
Times of crisis reveal how well our faith is growing, or if it has stopped developing. It’s easy to remain unaware of a stunted faith when life’s going well. It’s when things get raw and real, when in desperation we cry out, that we discover the true condition of our hearts. Do we have a living, vibrant faith that has learned to trust our Father’s love even when He’s silent? Have we learned to trust Him in the dark?
It’s precisely in those times when His ways remain invisible to us that we must hold on to our mustard seed of faith and trust. He will be true to His promises. He is faithful during our darkest days as much as in our brightest days. His love for us remains unchanged by our circumstances.
Crises have a way of cracking our hearts wide open and showing us exactly what’s inside. They shatter our illusions and reveal whether or not we have a living, growing, dynamic faith. In times of silence we recognize our spiritual pride. In the darkness our true need snaps into focus, and we can find the courage to keep bringing our requests to God. In the hard times we learn how to persevere in prayer and discover He is faithful and we’re His beloved children.
Praying as the Beloved
It’s not always easy to believe we’re the beloved of God—individually, not just corporately. Sometimes we’re tempted to think that because Jesus was the only One called “My beloved Son” by God, that He alone qualifies as the beloved.
But, “the word that was spoken to Jesus at the Jordan, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,’ embraces humanity. God spoke to Jesus as our representative. With all our sins and weaknesses, we are not cast aside as worthless. ‘He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.’ Ephesians 1:6. . . . The light
which fell from the open portals upon the head of our Saviour will fall upon us as we pray for help. . . . The voice which spoke to Jesus says to every believing soul, This is My beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”4
So then, with our mustard seed of faith, let us press on in the face of silence and follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to our Father’s table. When we do, we—His beloved children—will find ourselves Home, right where we belong.
Karen J. Pearson is the associate pastor of the Meridian Seventh-day Adventist Church in Idaho. She serves as Prayer Ministries coordinator for the Idaho Conference.
1 This story is taken from Matthew 15:21-28. Quotes are author’s paraphrases.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 401.
3 Scripture quotations credited to GW are taken from God’s Word. Copyright 1995 God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
4 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 113.