You may want to read:
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps (Proverbs 16:9).
I’m sure you’re aware that God establishes our steps, which does not necessarily mean He also communicates the backstory or motive for directing us one way or the other. The best we can do is make our plans while holding them loosely, knowing that God’s will operates on a higher plane than ours. Even after we set out on a course with His blessing, He can insert a course corrective. What was true one time is not true all of the time. Our plans made sense to us when we laid them before the Lord, but He redirected our paths differently, and sometimes His paths led us to places we never anticipated (Psalm 23:3).
Human ingenuity and understanding cannot answer all of our questions because we serve an active God who is always working in ways that we cannot fully understand or explain. This challenge is tough (and scary) when our plans fall apart, and we face plant into personal suffering. Typically, when this happens, we are tempted to focus on what we did wrong, or maybe we direct our disappointment toward the Lord because He did not meet our expectations. Perhaps you did not do anything wrong, or at least not crazy enough to warrant such suffering. To falsify the character of the sufferer (you did wrong) or the character of the Lord (He did wrong) should not be our first consideration.
Perhaps the Lord knows better than we do, so He redirects our paths in such a way that brings pain into our lives (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Is it possible for the Lord to be up to something kind that can only come about through our suffering? Could the deep pain we are going through today be the tapestry the Lord will use to show the beauty of His plans for us? These are helpful truths to consider as we reflect on His mysterious and good intentions for us. If you’re unsure of His purposes, the real issue for you to ponder during these times of suffering is the silence of God. Why does the Lord not tell you the plans He has for you? Why does He have to be silent?
But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding (Job 28:12)?
From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air (Job 28:20-21).
Silence does not mean a lack of leadership. Just because God is not speaking to you, it would be wrong to assume He is not leading you. Leadership is verbal, and leadership is silence. It can be that there are times when the Lord needs to choose silence over speaking. We see this in Job 28, where our old friend needed the wisdom to figure out what was going on in his life. He went through twenty-five chapters of back-and-forth with his friends, leading to nowhere. The Lord was mysteriously silent through all this jabbering, and Job was aware of God’s quietness. He was hungry for God’s words and weary of men’s wisdom (Job 12:2). Job knew he needed a speaking God, but he could not find Him in his mess (Job 23:3). You are hurting and struggling, and the Lord keeps His cards close to His divine vest. So, Job cries, “Where is wisdom?”
Wisdom is living in a skill that is active, moving, and doing. Wisdom is not passive or static. It does not sit still. Wisdom gives you what you need to respond actively to God and others. It is an ever-increasing and maturing knowledge that you actively apply in the milieu. Wisdom is not a philosophical idea or preachy clichés but a theologically precise, active practice of God’s work through you and into your life context. Wisdom is what you need a lot of to do life well. And Job did not have it. His life fell apart, and he needed the active wisdom of the Lord to put his life back together again. And this is where it gets interesting on our journey with Job. The Lord does answer his query for wisdom. For the first time since the beginning of the book, the Lord speaks,
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding (Job 28:28).
Hey, are you looking for wisdom? I have found it. Its location is in the fear of God. Did you expect that? Did you know that? There is an inseparable connection between the wisdom of the Lord and the fear of the Lord. You gain wisdom by actively walking on the “path of life” with the Lord, and the fear of the Lord is how you walk on that path. The two are inseparable. Without the fear of the Lord, you will not be wise because you need the fear of God to make wisdom what it is. There is a perfect symmetry that most Christians have not considered. At best, they see wisdom as a knowledge-gathering exercise, motivating them to study God’s Word, an essential, but it lacks a vital ingredient—the fear of God.
To fear the Lord means to take Him seriously, knowing He alone is wise and powerful. It is a contrite recognition that we are not wise or strong (1 Corinthians 1:25). Because of who He is, we can trust Him fully in all ways and to any degree. God is God, and we are not. The fear of the Lord is not to be afraid of Him but to be afraid of ourselves. It is a simultaneous recognition of who we are and who He is while discerning the ginormous difference between those opposites. This kind of solemn respect for the Lord brings humility to our souls. The fear of the Lord forms the base upon which we gather and store wisdom.
The fear of God and the wisdom of God work together as cause and effect. The foundational fear of the Lord is the cause that produces the wisdom of the Lord—the effect. Without a right understanding of and maturing fear of the Lord, a person will not be able to gain wisdom from the Lord. It would be like pouring water on oil. The result for a person who does not fear God the right way will experience ongoing and unremitting frustration in his life and relationships, which brings us to Job. He was not taking God as seriously as he should have been. He was popping off at the mouth, lacing his words with accusations. His lack of a proper fear of the Lord kept the wisdom of the Lord veiled.
Have you heard someone speak in such a way that you knew they were angry with God? They might not have said the quiet part aloud because of Christian etiquette, but as they talk about their life, relationships, or situations, they accuse God, who is sovereign over all things. If we complain or grumble on the earthly plane, it is not as though those things happening to us are outside God’s control or permission. We think of God inhabiting the divine space, but He is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. He’s fully aware of every hair on our heads and even our plans. He has the sovereign right to establish our paths. My point is that God is in charge, and we are not. Thus, when things do not meet our expectations, our responses and reactions to those on the human plane will reveal our fear—or lack thereof—of God.
When life does not make sense to us, God sees this; He knows that we do not understand. We are not omniscient. Parents understand this concept. They know there is wisdom and understanding that a child cannot possess. The child must trust beyond their knowledge and awareness of how things ought to be. If the child does not have a sober assessment of what they lack and what their parents possess, he will miss the wisdom of the parents, and his life will be more complicated than it needs to be. There are many things a parent would like to tell their children, but only when the child is genuinely broken and is humbly asking can the parent speak with authority and clarity.
If the child does not have a proper reverence for his parents, the parents may choose silence because it is obvious the child is unwilling to listen. The child’s lack of reverence for the parent shuts him out from the parent’s wisdom. Some would argue, “I have been seeking the Lord. I have been asking for His wisdom. I want to know His thoughts and plans for me.” No doubt all of these things are true, but this is where it will become hard for the inquirer. If the Lord is silent with us, He is rooting something out of us. Many times in my life, I uploaded “seeking the Lord and pleading for wisdom” with self-preserving motives and agendas (Luke 22:42). I was not mature enough or genuinely transparent enough to hear what I needed to hear, and the Lord was silent.
There was no use for Him to speak because I laced my motives with self. The Lord’s silence in my situation was not because He was mean. He was wise and loving. He knew how the thoughts and intentions of my heart were not pure (Hebrews 4:12-13). The silence of the Lord lasted as long as I persisted in holding on to what I wanted more than what He knew was best for me. In my heart of hearts, I knew I was not willing to relinquish my plans entirely. The search for wisdom and its application happens through the process of elimination. The more you eliminate what you want while thrusting yourself on the Lord, regardless of the cost, the more wisdom you will possess.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).
When suffering happens, a typical first response is to manage and control the situation in a way that makes sense to the hurting soul. Rather than seeking wisdom from the Lord, the person leans into his understanding. It is not so much that the Lord is silent as it is that the person is not listening to what he needs to hear. It is the silence of God that leads to the required answers. As our ways prove futile, we begin a process of coming to an end of ourselves. This “end of yourself” is the beginning of wisdom. Once you are out of options and your plans are completely ruined, you turn to the Lord. Then you are ready to listen.
Much like the prodigal son, we have to do it our way, and only when our ideas lead us to more desperation do we decide to be silent and listen to God (Luke 15:17). I imagine the prodigal came back with his hat in his hand, having much more respect for his father, leading to the wisdom that he lacked. And so it is with God. The fear of God and the silence of God work hand-in-hand. The Lord will use silence to lead us into more profound desperation. After we exhaust our self-reliant resiliency and stop leaning on our understanding, we grow our respect for God. A new foundation begins to form. We’re not as high-minded as we realize God has what I need, but my infatuation with myself and a self-willed impulse to do things my way has kept me from His inexhaustible supply of wisdom.
Job needed to put his hat in his hand, which he did in the last chapter (Job 42:5-6). Rather than accusing God for not meeting his desires in the way that he expected them, he should have humbled himself, recognized that all his motives and preferences were not pure, and God would not take His anthropomorphic foot off his metaphorical neck until Job became fully honest about the operations of his heart. Like the prodigal, Job eventually came to his senses, as noted by putting his hand over his mouth. He stopped talking and began listening. That is when God broke through the silence and laid Job lower than he was when he came before God. The Lord wanted to ensure that Job’s fear of God foundation was solid and secure because His desire for our old friend was to teach him wisdom, something he could not do without a healthy fear of God.
I am not making an accusation here as much as a confession. It is hard to talk unashamedly about how we may be self-deceived, especially during hard times. Sometimes we can want something so badly that we cannot see how our self-deception is bending our thinking in the wrong direction. We are hurt, lonely, and afraid. And God is silent. In nearly every case, His silence is because we will not let go of something we want—something He knows is not best for us. Thus, the impasse: we disagree with God. Even when discussing those things with friends, we can become feisty, nasty, and accusatory—especially if they do not see things our way. Ironically, our retorts and resistance to our friends reveal our most genuine thoughts about God. We neither fear our friends nor God. Our lack of fear of God sabotages any wisdom He might desire to provide.
Think about the parent with an angry child. What use is it to provide wisdom when the child is rebelling, accusatory, not at the end of himself, and continues to hold onto an agenda or desire that is not best for him? There is no world where he will steward well whatever wisdom you want to give him. It takes a lot of humble desperation to lay all our cards on the table. If we are not willing to be that honest, we will cut ourselves off from the wisdom of the Lord. This life intersection is where two of the more critical questions we should be asking our friends are, “Are there still traces of ‘my will’ in your plans? Are you willing to have all your motives and agendas laid before the Lord?”
Asking these soul-searching questions is the beginning of wisdom. God will speak when we are willing to hold our ideas loosely while asking the Lord to use others to shake us from the things that have captured our hearts. The depth of self-deception and self-loyalty is more complicated and binding than we want to believe. Imagine if your child—if you are a parent—came to you and honestly asked, “What do you perceive about me that I may not recognize about myself? Will you help me to see what I cannot see?” You would definitely speak because two things would be true: the child respects you and seeks your wisdom. He is not devising or self-deceived: he wants what is best for him and recognizes that his self-loyalty blinds him from seeing what that is. He humbly asks you for wisdom out of deep respect for you.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:7-8).
I finally admitted that I was holding onto something dear to me and afraid of losing it, but the Lord continued in silence, leading me into more profound desperation. Eventually, I came to that place of owning my deception and told the Lord I needed Him more than anything else in this world. He was realigning and readjusting my respect for Him. We call this the fear of God. Though I thought I was taking my Christianity seriously, I was not taking it seriously enough. I wanted God, plus other things. Paul was correct; it’s Christ plus nothing, or our lives will sputter religiously while never finding satisfaction with the world’s trinkets. God gave me a contrite recognition of who He is, what He can do, and that He was for me. God was on my side, not against me at all.
He wanted me to have His wisdom, not my own. He wanted me to let go of any hint of selfishness, regardless of the cost. He wanted me to trust Him. Sometimes the silence of the Lord is the best thing for us. If you are experiencing the silence of the Lord, one of the best things you can do is find a place where you can scrutinize your motives and agendas. This step will be your first in stewarding His silence. Through the Lord’s silence, we see an aspect of Job that was not clear to us when we first met him. As we progress through the rest of the book, his hidden motives will be brought to light. After they are, Job will experience transformation when God breaks through the silence and finally speaks.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).