After three fruitful weeks of doing ministry with my wife Nancy in India, I am finally back! Therefore I'd like to get back on schedule and pass on what I found to be an encouraging thought for your spiritual edification. It is taken from the devotional classic, "Streams in the Desert," by L. B. Cowman. It struck me as a story (or analogy) containing much truth in regard to those difficult times in life when we cry out to God from the depth of our being and he seemingly remains silent, distant, or fails to respond to our cries. May her words offer encouragement to your soul. Enjoy.
"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Jesus crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.' Jesus did not answer a word." Matthew 15:23
"Are you reading these verses as a child of God who is experiencing a crushing sorrow; a bitter disappointment, or a heartbreaking blow from a totally unexpected place? Are you longing to hear your Master's voice calling you, saying, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid" (Matthew 14:27)? Yet only silence, the unknown, and misery confront you -- "Jesus did not answer a word."
God's tender heart must often ache listening to our sad, complaining cries. Our weak and often impatient hearts cry out because we fail to see through our tear-blinded eyes that it is for our sake that He does not answer at all, or that He answers in a way we believe is less than the best. In fact, the silences of Jesus are as eloquent as His words and may be a sign, not of His disapproval, but of His approval and His way of providing a deeper blessing for you...
Let me relate a beautiful old story of how one Christian dreamed she saw three other women in prayer. When they knelt the Master drew near to them. As He approached the first of the three, He bent over her with tenderness and grace. He smiled with radiant love and spoke to her in tones of pure, sweet music. Upon leaving her, He came to the next, but only placed His hand upon her bowed head and gave her one look of loving approval. He passed the third woman almost abruptly, without stopping for a word or a glance. The woman having the dream said to herself, "How greatly He must love the first woman. The second gained His approval but did not experience the special demonstrations of love He gave the first. But the third woman must have grieved Him deeply, for He gave her no word at all, not even a passing look."
She wondered what the third woman must have done to have been treated so differently. As she tried to account for the actions of her Lord, He Himself came and stood beside her. He said to her, "O Woman! How wrongly you have interpreted my actions! The first kneeling woman needs the full measure of my tenderness and care to keep her feet on My narrow way. She is weak and needs My love, thoughts, and help every moment of the day, for without them she would stumble into failure. The second woman has stronger faith and deeper love than the first, and I can count on her to trust Me no matter how things may go or whatever people may do. Yet the third woman, whom I seemed not to notice, and even to neglect, has faith and love of the purest quality. I am training her through quick and drastic ways for the highest and holiest service. She knows me so intimately, and trusts me so completely, that she no longer depends on my voice, loving glances, or other outward signs to know of my approval. She is not dismayed or discouraged by any circumstances I arrange for her to encounter. She trusts me when common sense, reason, and even every subtle instinct of the natural heart would rebel, knowing that I am preparing her for eternity, and realizing that the understanding of what I do will come later."
"My love is silent because I love beyond the power of words to express it and beyond the understanding of the human heart. Also, it is silent for your sake -- that you may learn to love and trust me with pure, Spirit-taught, spontaneous responses. I desire for your response to my love to be without prompting of anything external." Learn, then, the mystery of His silence and praise Him every time He withdraws His gifts from you. Through this you will better know and love and trust the Giver."
I must confess I have seen something of this truth actively played out in my life. I am not by any means a giant in the faith, and have a long way to go (as those closest to me will affirm). But I have often wondered why it is that when I first came to Christ I had far more intense, tangible, faith-building spiritual experiences where I tangibly sensed God's presence, witnessed startling answers to prayer, and received what could only be called profoundly clear guidance attested to by others and confirmed by God's grace in providentially bringing certain things to pass.
Yet, as I grew in the Lord I noticed the number of them diminish significantly. Initially (for the most part) God seemed to answer my cries more quickly, and in ways that seemed more tangible and dramatic, even stunning this newly born-again child on many occasions. But as I continued to walk with the Lord I found He was slower to "rescue" me from trials. Rather, He started to let me weather them. Instead of the former hand of help offered quickly to usher me out of hardships, He left me to endure hardships, go through heartbreak, and walk through dark nights of the soul where my path led through valleys so deep it seemed to my impatient soul the darkness would never be dispelled by the light!
And though at first it was very unsettling and sometimes frightful (feeling God had abandoned me), I soon realized that the spiritual life is in many ways like a parent teaching it's new child to walk. At first you are there with arms outstretched ready to grab the wobbly-legged 9 or 10 month old at the slightest sign of them going down, often keeping a grip on their arm or shirt, or grabbing them before their diaper-lined rear end ever hits the ground!
But at some point (out of love and a desire for them to learn and grow) you must let go of the shirt, pull back, and refrain from helping them. As they grow you must let them learn to stand (and even fall) so as to realize the consequences of their actions and the need for wise choices and good decision-making. God does the same with us. As infant Christians he responds more quickly, and in more tangible ways, realizing how frail we are in the faith and how much help we need initially in order to make it past those first hurdles in our new life. But imagine how absurd it would be to see a parent cautiously hovering over their six or eight year old in the same way, holding on to their shirt and ready to grab them before they ever fall.
No, as a child grows into an adolescent and then into adulthood, the parent steps back further and further and gives more space, freedom, and responsibility. Why would God, as the perfect parent, do any differently with us as we grow spiritually?
In the Bonds of Christian Charity, Pastor Jeff