When we pray, we speak to God. And yet how does God speak back to us? We often speak of prayer as a two-way conversation: we pray, and God "answers" our prayers. Still, we are hard pressed to define what constitutes an "answer" from God. Sometimes we speak of God answering us through everyday events. Other times, we say that God has answered us through an insight he gave to our minds. Still other times, we look back at our lives and see how God answered our prayers in ways we did not understand then. And yet again, we speak of God's answers when they come in specific ways in which God grants our requests.
But none of this helps the one who looks for an answer from God and does not receive it. While other Christians speak of God responding to their petitions left and right as if He were audibly whispering in their ears, those smitten by the silence of God wait - and wait - and wait. And still no answer comes. His silence is unbearable, stifling, driving them to despair. They call, and He does not answer. They seek Him, and He is nowhere to be found. But has He not promised to hear us? Has He not told us that He would answer? Has He not urged us to persist? And yet His silence remains unbroken.
Where do we search for an answer in a land barren of words? How do we draw words from the well of silence? God has promised to meet us. Where then, is He? Where is the fulfillment of His promise? Where in this desert do His words of living water flow? Where does His silence break?
And we must lean on His promises, and search for Him where He has told us He would be found.
He has not promised to answer us with visions from heaven. He has not promised to answer us by planting thoughts in our minds. He has not promised to answer us through the words of others. He has not promised to answer us through "secular" or "Christian" music. He has not promised to answer us with voices in our heads. He has not promised to answer us by descending from heaven and meeting us at our coffee tables. He has not promised to answer us through religious experience. He has not promised to answer us with "the pull of the Spirit on our hearts." He has not promised to answer us by not saying anything and letting us figure it out on our own. He has not promised to answer us through the words of Confucian philosophers. He has not promised to answer us in any sort of miraculous event, whisper in the ear, or coincidental discovery.
Surely, it is possible for God to speak to us through any of these things (although some, admittedly, are a bit far-fetched). But we should not seek to find Him in these places, for He has not promised to be there.
He has promised to meet us in His Word.
Oh you who seek a message or a reply from God, look no further than His own Word! It is in the divine words of Scripture that you will find your Lord, for it is breathed out by Him. There He has promised to meet us, there He has promised to speak to us, there He has promised to instruct us, to reveal Himself to us, manifesting His whole counsel to us. There He has promised to give us faith, for "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." It is there that His Holy Spirit guides us, for His Spirit inspired the Word, is in the Word, and works through the Word. Some claim prophecies, others personal divine guidance, others miracles, and certainly we should not diminish the value of these things, should God choose to reveal Himself by them. But the one way in which He has actually promised - and His promise cannot be broken - to reveal Himself to us is in His Word, the Word of Holy Scripture. Friend, should you seek an answer to prayer, do not grope in despair for a special revelation from God. He already has revealed Himself specially, and when you talk to Him, look no further for His answer than in His Word. For when Elijah sought Him, He was not in the great signs - the fire, the whirlwind, the earthquake - but in the still, small voice. That still, small voice is His Word. Seek Him there.