Why is God silent when we pray? In the Bible we find God speaking with multitudes of people. Starting in Genesis we read about God talking with Adam. In Revelation, we read about God talking to John. Throughout the entire Bible we can read about God speaking to people. Were those events restricted to the Bible, or does God still talk to people? If he does still speak, why does he seem to be silent when we need him? Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” God has invited us to call to him, anytime, for any reason, and he will answer us. Since God wants us to call on him, why would he remain silent? Let’s see what scripture says about this.
Are we listening to God?
Sheep learn to recognize their shepherd’s voice and follow only their shepherd. In basic training, soldiers, sailors and pilots learn to recognize the voice of their training instructor and follow only that voice. As Christians we need to recognize God’s voice. In 1 Kings 19: 9-12 the word of the Lord came to Elijah. First Elijah saw a whirlwind, and then he experienced an earthquake, next he saw a fire. “And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (verse 12). God did not speak through the wind, earthquake, or fire. God spoke in a gentle whisper.
Sometimes God’s silence can be a sign of his presence. When he is silent we become so hungry for him we seek him in such a way our relationship with him has been strengthened.
For more than fifty years I have been a Christian and have never heard an audible voice from God. When he speaks to me he speaks a whisper in my heart. Some may call it a “gut feeling.” To me it’s God speaking. He does not speak to my ears or my mind. When something is in my mind I know it is me thinking, but when it is in my heart I know that it is God speaking. If I am not careful, I miss him. So the first thing we need to do if we are to hear from God is recognize his voice. If we have unconfessed sin, God may be shouting at us to get our attention. We need to listen for him.
What are some barriers that keep us from hearing God?
We need to be able to discern God’s will. I John 5:14-15 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we ask of him.”
How can we know God’s will when we are new Christians? We can read the Bible. The Bible says it is God’s will that everyone believes in Jesus, that we tell others about him, that we love other people, that we do not neglect gathering with other Christians, that we have no other gods before him, that we seek first the kingdom of heaven, and many other examples. I have heard people when they pray say something like, “If this is your will, let it happen.” We need to learn to pray for and accept his will.
Jesus said his new commandment is to love God with all our hearts and love others as ourselves (Mark 12: 30-31). Failure to do so may hinder our prayers. Matthew 7:11-12 says “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Why would God give us anything if we are cruel or unkind, negligent or unconcerned about others? We need to treat everyone we meet the same way Jesus would.
Another thing that may cause God to be silent is our lack of faith. Matthew 13:58 says, “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” I know from personal experience that God will allow circumstances to continue until we learn to have faith in him. That lesson was painful and I have not forgotten it. I know my faith is not perfect, but I believe without any doubt that God will take care of me.
Does God choose to be silent sometimes?
A humorous commercial I’ve seen shows a young lady calling her boyfriend to tell him she is giving him the silent treatment. Does God ever give us the silent treatment? Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God.” 1 Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Were Peter and Isaiah saying that sometimes God refuses to listen because of our sin? Possibly. Or perhaps, God wants us to wait, because patience is a virtue that strengthens our love for the Lord (2 Peter 1:6).
Sometimes God’s silence can be a sign of his presence. When he is silent we become so hungry for him we seek him in such a way that our relationship with him is strengthened. I remember stressful events when I thought God was silent. I pleaded with him to show me what I did wrong, or what I failed to do. I begged him to finish teaching me so I could receive my answer. Those experiences taught me to trust him without a doubt. God did not even speak to Jesus from Gethsemane to the cross. If he was silent to Jesus, we can expect him to be silent to us.
What should we do when God is silent?
What do we do if we have learned to recognize his voice, forgiven others, confessed our sins, are trying to walk according to God’s will, are treating everyone as we want them to treat us, and believe with all our hearts he will answer our prayer, but he is still silent? Daniel chapter nine tells about Daniel praying, but the messenger who was bringing him his answer was delayed for twenty-one days. Sometimes our answer is on its way but we need to wait for it. The book of Job (pronounced J-oh-b) is a story of a man who went through tremendous calamities yet he remained faithful to God. We need to continue to have faith because we have God’s promise that he will never leave us.
Something I was taught many years ago is that God has three answers to prayer: yes, no, and wait awhile. We need to be attentive to listen to God; he speaks in different places and in different ways. He speaks to me when I pray, read my Bible, attend a worship service, drive my car, take a shower, or any place he chooses. He speaks through prayer, worship, a pastor, or another person. He sometimes prevents some things from happening and allows other things to happen, called closing and opening doors. Sometimes when we think God is silent he is opening or closing doors, maybe he is speaking through a spouse or friend, our pastor, or maybe the answer has not arrived yet.
How many times should we ask for something? I have heard people say if we ask for something more than once we show a lack of faith. Jesus said to keep on seeking, keep on knocking, and keep on asking until we have our answer (Matthew 7:7). Sometimes we have to accept no as an answer, sometimes we have to wait for our answer. We must always remember, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,” (Prov. 3: 5–6).
We have seen some reasons why God might be silent and some reasons why it may seem as though he is silent. For more information on this topic we can read books like: When God is Silent by Charles Swindoll, When Prayers Are Not Answered: Finding Peace When God Seems Silent by Elizabeth Rockwood, Silent God by Joseph Bentz, When God is Silent by Barbara Brown Taylor or Why is God Ignoring Me? by Gary Habermas.
Many say that a formula for prayer is a helpful tool in overcoming the barriers to hearing God. One formula is called the ACTS method: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (requests). When we pray with adoration, confession, and thanksgiving, we prepare our hearts to receive what God is saying about our supplications. Instead of telling him the answer we want, we need to be listening to hear the answer he is giving. However, if our request is wrong, he will deny us; and if our life is wrong, he will discipline us. He is waiting for us to call to him so he can show us, even in his silence, great and unsearchable things we never knew.