Hearing God in a Crisis

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good…

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

My family and I are in the midst of a tragedy. We are walking through grief and loss. My older brother has just died at 47. He was in a car accident. He left behind a wife and three kids. We feel like so much has been stolen from us. So much time and so many memories that were yet to happen were ripped away from us in an instant. My nieces and nephew lost their dad. I lost a brother. My parents lost a son. My sister-in-law lost her husband. My kids lost an uncle. The pain is real and intense.

During these kinds of seasons we need the presence of the Lord to be near to us and comfort us. We need Jesus to bring His peace that passes all understanding. And it is extremely helpful to hear from the Lord as He speaks to us about what is happening. Yet, many people report that during difficult times, they don’t hear from the Lord. It often feels like the Lord is silent.

I have some thoughts on this. I believe the Lord wants to speak into these situations in our lives. I don’t believe the Lord wants to be silent. But I believe we often experience a kind of silence for a couple reasons.

Have you ever been on a video conference call and someone started talking while they were still muted? You can see their mouth moving but you can’t hear anything. It’s not that they aren’t talking but the mute button is keeping you from hearing them. I believe we sometimes interact with God this way. God is speaking but we don’t hear him. We have a mute button on in our spirit.

The thing that opens communication with the Lord is trust. If we can trust him implicitly in good times or bad, no matter what happens, then the communication lines stay open. Lack of trust shuts down our ability to hear from the Lord. So if personal crisis causes us not to trust the Lord, then we are shutting down the very thing we need in that moment–the voice of the Lord.

Not only does mistrust shut down our ability to hear, but it will sometimes cause God to stop speaking. He stops speaking because He loves us. That may sound strange but just think about it for a second. Imagine you are grieving an incredible loss in your life. Now imagine someone you don’t trust starts talking to you. In that moment, do you want them to keep talking? No. It doesn’t matter what they are saying. It doesn’t matter if they are saying all the right things. If we don’t trust them, we don’t want them speaking to us while we are in the midst of deep grief. It would be better if they were just silent.

God knows this. If we don’t trust God, it doesn’t matter what He says to us in that moment of grief and pain. If we don’t trust Him, we will misconstrue whatever it is He wants to tell us. We will doubt it, question it, and misinterpret it. Our lack of trust toward God often means it is more loving for Him just to be present with us and not speak to us in that moment.

Yet, in the midst of grief and pain, we are willing to hear from people we trust. So if we trust the Lord no matter what, we are willing to hear from Him in the midst of our pain. God speaks and we listen. And when we hear the word of the Lord in the midst of our tragedy, it is so helpful, so comforting, and so clarifying.

This may sound strange to some, but here’s the truth: God has not been silent during this tragedy in my life. In fact, the only way to describe my interaction with God right now is that God has been downright talkative. In the midst of my grief, pain and loss, He has had so many things He’s wanted to say to me.

He has spoken to me directly through scripture, through prayer (His still small voice in my heart), through friends, and through prophetic words from others. When I didn’t know what to pray, the Lord gave me different themes and things to focus on that directed my prayers. When I was confused by what seemed to be missing pieces of the puzzle, God dropped a puzzle piece on me that brought understanding.

My wife had a prophetic dream in the middle of our crisis that brought tremendous clarity. My good friend had multiple prophetic visions that he shared with me that were hard to hear at first but brought a level of comfort and understanding. This is why the above verse of scripture says, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.” If we can learn to receive and process prophetic words on our normal days, then they will become lifelines during a crisis.

Trust is what keeps those communication lines open. When God begins to speak, and He says something unexpected, trust is what allows us to receive His word without being confused or offended by it. Jesus is the most trustworthy person I’ve ever met. We owe Him our unconditional, implicit, unyielding trust.

We need to stop believing the lie that God is always silent during hard times. Not true. God loves to talk us through a crisis. He loves to speak. He loves to speak words that bring clarity, understanding, comfort, and peace. If God is quiet, it may be that He knows what we need in that moment is His tangible Presence and not His words. But it also might mean that our inability to trust Him has shut down communication. Let’s make sure our trust in Him keeps those lines of communication open. Even during a crisis, He is worthy of our trust.

Leaving

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

John 19:25-27

Jesus knew the pain and the promise of leaving. He had to look down from the cross, bloodied and beaten, and He had to see the pain of His grieving mother. He knew He had to leave her. He had to go. Knowing He couldn’t stay, Jesus asked His best friend John to step in as His mother’s son.

There was tremendous pain in leaving for Jesus. Yet, there was also incredible promise. Jesus, Himself, said to His disciples:

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 

John 16;7

It was good that He was going away and returning to the Father because the Holy Spirit could then come and do what Jesus could not do. The Holy Spirit could fill every believer and fill the whole world with the Presence and power of God.

Leaving the people we love, leaving the things we love, leaving the places we love is painful. Yet, there is promise in the pain.

The apostle Paul knew the pain and promise of leaving. On his way to Jerusalem, not knowing what would happen to him there, he stopped by the region of Ephesus to say goodbye to his close friends.

Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you,from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents…And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there…

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Acts 20:17-22, 36-38

Paul knew he had to go, but it was painful to leave. God had called him to step into the unknown and face an uncertain future. And God had called the elders at Ephesus to stay and step into their own unknown and uncertain future.

There is pain and promise in leaving. The pain is the loss. The promise is that there is a stripping away, a disentangling, that happens which opens new doors and new possibilities. This combination of pain and promise, shedding and possibility, is perfectly articulated by the author of Hebrews.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

In the midst of leaving, it is easy for the person leaving and the person staying to grow weary and lose heart. Yet, if we can embrace the pain of leaving we might also be able to embrace the promise. In the leaving a disentanglement happens that allows us to run the race that was marked out for us. We have a race marked out for us that is unique to us, unique to our life. And so we keep our eyes on Jesus in the leaving, remembering that He endured the pain of leaving as He went to the cross. He endured this pain for the joy set before Him. The joy came from the promise on the other side of the pain. We must keep our eyes on Him so that we don’t grow weary and lose heart.

Leaving is painful. Leaving is full of promise. It’s both.

Leaving is loss. Leaving is a shedding that opens new possibilities. It’s both.

Let us grieve the pain of leaving, and, somehow, through the tears, open our eyes to the future we couldn’t see before.

Heaviness

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3

When Jesus started His ministry in the synagogue of His own hometown of Nazareth, this is the passage that He read from in the scroll of Isaiah. This passage is the prophetic mission statement for the Messiah. After Jesus read this passage, He told the congregation, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). In other words, Jesus said, “I am the fulfillment of this passage, and I will do all that it says I will do.”

There are so many profound and important truths buried in this passage, but the one I want to highlight today is one from the very last line. Jesus, through the Spirit, is able to give us a “garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” The Modern English Version of the Bible calls it a “spirit of heaviness.”

Have you ever been in a season that felt heavy?

A season of heaviness is often a season of loss. We experience the loss of a loved one, a death in the family, a friend who moves away, a co-worker moves on, a job falls through, a marriage breaks down, an offer gets turned down. In a season of heaviness there is often a combination of losses that begin to pile up. When this happens a spirit of despair–a spirit of heaviness–can weigh down our soul.

Have you ever been there? Are you there now?

The Bible tells us that the antidote to this heaviness is a garment of praise. When we feel the heaviness set in, we need to praise the Lord. We need to worship even when it feels like the opposite of what we want to do. We need to praise Him, not for the circumstances we face, but for who He is despite the circumstances. We need to praise Him for His goodness, His kindness and His love for us. He is worthy! He is worthy!

Praising God in the midst of heaviness is like taking off in a rocket in the midst of a thick, dark, cloudy sky. In order to punch through the clouds we have to keep going. A garment is something you wear. It’s something that stays on you. In order for it to be a garment of praise, it has to be more than just once. It has to be a continual offering of praise. It has to be something we wear.

When we ask the Lord to clothe us in a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, and when we begin to wear this garment of praise all day long, we will eventually punch through the clouds. The funny thing about clouds is that it is always sunny on the top side. Always. The sun never stops shining. Clouds only conceal the truth that the sun is shining, but the sun never stops shining. Praising God because He is worthy helps us bust through to the top side and see the sunshine that has been there all along.

If you are feeling the heaviness today, here is a song that will help you get to that place of praise. It’s a beautiful rendition of the Doxology.