“Breath of Heaven” by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple, 2018 (Part of Colouring with Jesus” published in South Africa, March 2020).
My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.
During our last two articles, we learned the importance of aiming to be at the middle of our faith; in a balance between Word and Spirit. We need both to live an authentic faith. Brian Nickens notes in his book Hunger Driven, that when we lean on Bible truth alone, it’s like hopping with a crutch. This is one-legged Christianity. You are handicapped. You can’t run. If you are in the radical middle, it’s the perfect place for the Holy Spirit to prune you. He uses scripture and his love as a tool to heal and transform our hearts. He in a sense restores us to ‘factory settings’ of who we are meant to be. He restores us with a new identity: the one that he created us for.
In an earlier broadcast, we learned about our identity, purpose, and our deepest needs: significance and security. Father God gives us our identity as a child of God. Then we inherit an assignment of our own that brings deep fulfillment. Yet this task isn’t part of our identity. It is just an outflow of who we are. Our security comes by being deeply loved. Our significance comes in doing something that lasts, that is an assignment that is perfect for us. This is only part of our significance. We are given joy as we do the work that is uniquely given to us. But we were created for more than those tasks. We were created for relationship and love.
But what happens during a season of what seems to be God’s silence? How do you “sense” God’s presence? If you can’t, you really have to trust God. You need to remember and ponder on the promises he’s already given you. God’s silence can mean many things. Sometimes it’s an outright no. Sometimes it’s because you have already received many words – both prophetic and scripture about an issue. And other times, it’s because he gives you a choice. When I sought God on whether to go see my sick mother in a Canadian hospital, which I was in South Africa, I was met with silence. I assumed this meant no, so I examined my options, and found that we couldn’t afford a visit to Canada when we were already to visit seven months later. I had peace about that. While I thought that was a no, when I shared my heart with my friend Maggie, she told me that it was my choice. I trust that I chose well (it turned out a year later that Mom died. I was not able to see her or go to the funeral, since I was in the middle of chemotherapy, but we did get to see her on our home visit five months prior to her passing).
Can God speak through silence? During my first year of seminary, I took a course called Foundation of Christian Disciplines. We learned much, including: psalming, spiritual friendship, mentorship, and silent retreats. I was somewhat daunted over the idea of silence. How can God speak that way? But He can! Our professor assured us that it’s difficult to hear God’s voice when you’re in an adrenaline rush. So we packed up for a retreat over an hour’s drive north east from Toronto. We shared our dreams from God, our journaling, and even the silence together. You can read your Bible and be in the same room as others, but you must be silent. It seemed at the time that the silence was actually deafening. My ears were ringing. But God’s presence was there. Holy Spirit settled our souls down and we focused on him. During our silence, I had spontaneous thoughts about issues I’d not brought to God. This was a time of coming clean. Other times where I’ve had silent retreat was during meal times at retreat centres, and in another course. What I noticed during those times, was that I felt strangely close to the people with whom I was sharing retreat. We bonded in that silent time, just as lovers may cuddle together and not say a word. If the silence is comfortable, then rest in it. It’s meant to be rest, or white space in the midst of our very busy lives.
We are too often surrounded by noise, and times of intentional silence help us tune in to God’s voice in a different way. We can get an inner knowing during these times that can be followed up through reading through scripture. Guideposts editor Dan Hoffman shared a similar experience when he went on retreat. He said, “The silence around me amplified the discourse going on in my head. Then I recalled Father Carlos’s talk from the day before, when he told those in attendance that our true identities in the eyes of God had nothing to do with our attachments to our health, professions, and material goods. Father Carlos told us that [if we] believe that these things constitute who we are, [this] leads to suffering and self-hate when these things fail us.” These things are NOT us. So Hoffman persevered. He writes, “as always happens when I meditate, my thoughts drifted elsewhere and followed their wandering course. Then it happened—a subtle shift. It was as if I’d stepped outside of myself and was merely an impartial observer, eavesdropping on my own inner-monologue. I was appalled at how I was treating myself. The silence had its own voice, a non-judgmental one of compassion and understanding—even though it said nothing.” [Adam Hunter, “God’s Grace,” Guideposts Sep 26, 2016, from: https://www.guideposts.org/inspiration/miracles/gods-grace/can-god-speak-through-silence]
Later on, he thought back on that experience and realized that for a moment, he could see himself from God’s perspective. He had an inner knowing; something that he couldn’t explain, but it gave him comfort in the midst of pain.
So this is experiencing God in OUR silent moments. But what of the times where we just don’t seem to hear God supernaturally, other than the Bible? Is this a dark night of the soul as spoken of by St John of the Cross? We may feel like we are abandoned, despite the truth of Jesus’ promise that he will never leave us. Jesus commissioned many disciples in Matthew 28: 20, and then said, “behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” However, even if we practice the presence of God, we don’t always feel him. But he is there. I attended a Glory School with Patricia King in 2003, located near Ottawa. Patricia told us that she had a season in her life when she didn’t feel a thing spiritually. And yet, she is a highly influential prophet! Others around her were touched with laughter and deep joy. She didn’t feel a thing. Usually she does, but for this season, these emotions were turned off like you can turn off a bathroom tap. Yet, she personally did know the goodness of God for years. She was strongly led to just believe by faith. During that time, she was strengthened by her choice to trust God.
Leanne Payne wrote about a similar experience in her book The Healing Presence. This lady deeply impacted me in two Pastoral Care Ministry schools, through deep inner healing, and profound knowledge and personal prayer. She had Word, Spirit and anointed Anglican liturgy all at once. I was so hungry for this. She realized that we need to celebrate our sense of smallness. This was her version of understanding that we need to fully depend on God. Dependence on God is the number 2 Iris Ministries core value. It’s the value that proclaims that God can do the impossible. Leanne writes, that “we can go right on celebrating our smallness while leaning joyfully and heavily on the Son’s greatness and love. We learn to practice his Presence. We trust him to be, always, our adequacy.” [Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence, “Celebrating our Smallness” p24] Leanne takes this further in quoting CS Lewis. Lewis wrote, “the presence of God is not the same as the sense of the presence of God. That latter may be due to imagination; the former may be attended with no ‘sensible consolation. […] It is the actual presence, not the sensation of the presence, of the Holy Ghost which begets Christ in us. The sense of the presence is a super-added gift for which we give thanks when it comes.” [CS Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, ed. Clyde S Kilby (Grand Rapid MI: Eerdmans, 1967, pp 36-37.] Leanne adds, “this simple lesson, [as] expressed by CS Lewis, must be learned by all the saints of the church, small and great.”
Leanne shares wonderful stories from Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers, Mother Theresa and Brother Lawrence. The Healing Presence is worth every penny for this chapter alone. She loves to talk about “incarnational reality.” This is not only representing Jesus, but being so in tune with him that people actually see him in you. This is how I saw Jesus in Heidi Baker the day she gave me the roses. Yet, seeking just the sensations of his presence, or ‘goosebumps’ as you will, is a misdirection. Leanne write: “often the persons with the most dramatic conversions of healings, will be the very souls who have the most difficult time figuring out that the Presence of God differs from sensations they had in their [past] experience of him. Such persons, caught in the subjective trap of attempting to ‘realize’ God in sensory experience, will find themselves looking inward. This introspection, if [they] persist, turns into what may be called the ‘practice of the presence of self,’ or the disease of introspection.” [Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence, “Practicing the Presence” p 26].
Leanne is speaking from her own experience, which she shared with her Pastoral Care Ministry Schools, as well as this book. She says, “I was just such a person in my youth, and through frustration born of this misunderstanding, I final left off trying to be a Christian. It was later, after hard circumstances, that I received the grace to pray, ‘Lord, if I never again […] sense your presence, I will yet obey you.’ These were the words the Lord was waiting to hear. This understanding of the ‘practice of the Presence’ will always be an integral part of any writing or ministering I do. My failure to understand this cost me the precious years between adolescence and age twenty-six; years when I could not hear and obey God.” [Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence, “Practicing the Presence” p 26].
Sometimes if you are a feeler, or a Spirit person, it is hard when you encounter God’s silence, or even when he says ‘no.’ But this is a refining time, when he’s actually deepening your roots, and you slowly become less ‘flighty.’ There’s one student in my art classes who is a very insecure little girl. She’s hard on herself. She’s either trying hard to please, or she feels that she isn’t good enough. It’s hard for her to just be still and quiet, although she did this once for Janey in Afrikaans class. We need to sit still and not squirm. We need rest. In order to receive rest, we have to stop. But instead of falling asleep, we need to rest and be alert at the same time. This is all part of meditating on scripture, pondering on specific Bible stories, and promises we’re given. Psalm 46:10 reminds us to “be still and know that he is God.” This is an inner stillness. You can only get that sense of inner knowing in the silence if you are still.
Sometimes when we experience silence, it is not a punishment. It’s an invitation to trust God. It’s an invitation to a deeper level with God to come. God wants us to grow spiritually mature. This is the whole point of my Ways to Grow in God. Our roots need to grow deep, rather than shallow. I learned that desert trees, like those in the Northern Cape and Namibia, have very deep root systems. Other trees in the Western Cape have deep roots due to the wind. They need these for their survival. We also need deep roots in God for our survival. This way we can continue to grow through dry seasons. Here is a story from L.B. Cowman’s devotional, Streams in the Desert: “A woman had a dream, where she saw three people praying. As they knelt, she watched Jesus draw near and approach the first figure. [He] leaned over her tenderly, while smiling and speaking ‘in accents of purest, sweetest music.’ Then, he proceeded to the next figure. [He] placed a gentle hand on her head and nodded with ‘loving approval.’ But what happened next perplexed the dreaming woman.
[Jesus] passed the third woman without stopping for a word [with her]. The woman in her dream said to herself, ‘How greatly He must love the first one! The second He [also] gave His approval, but none of the special demonstrations of love He gave the first. The third woman must have grieved Him deeply, for He gave her no word at all and not even a passing look. ‘I wonder what she has done, and why He made so much difference between them?’ As she tried to account for [Jesus’] action, He Himself stood by her and said: “O woman! how wrongly [you] interpreted Me. The first kneeling woman needs all the weight of My tenderness and care to keep her feet in My narrow way. She needs My love, thought, and help every moment of the day. Without it she would fail and fall.
“The second has stronger faith and deeper love, and I can trust her to trust Me however things may go and whatever people do. “The third, whom I seemed not to notice, even to neglect, has faith and love of the finest quality. [I am training her] by quick and drastic processes for the highest and holiest service. “She knows Me so intimately, and trusts Me so utterly, that she is independent of words or looks or any outward intimation of my approval….because she knows that I am working in her for eternity, and that what I do, though she knows not the explanation now, she will understand hereafter.” [Joanna Weaver, quoting L.B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert https://joannaweaverbooks.com/2018/10/11/when-god-silent/]
This sounds very much like Leanne’s unspoken invitation to trust. I also was given a similar invitation after I had a dramatic encounter at Holy Trinity Brompton in 1995. This was right after my first mission trip in Northern Ireland, and I was led to surrender all my “ambitions, hopes and plans” as Robin Mark’s song, All for Jesus says. After that encounter, I experienced the desert for the first time. Gone were the previous cinematic visions, words of knowledge and my sense of God’s presence. Instead, I had the silence, scripture, poems, prayers with other Christians and embarking on my seminary studies. I was beginning to grow in character, like the character “Much Afraid” in Hannah Hurnard’s book Hinds Feet in High Places.
Author Joanna Weaver shares on her website that we should not be afraid of when God seems silent in his love. She offers us these two scriptures in specific versions for clarity. Listen and receive where God’s silence is highlighted. The first is Zephaniah 3:17, D.R.A. version: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, he will save: he will rejoice over thee with gladness, he will be silent in his love, he will be joyful over thee in praise.” The second is Matthew 15:23 KJV, which is: “he answered her not a word. His disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.” So believe Joanna when she writes, “God is up to something more in [our lives] than just giving us the comfort of His voice. He is working in us for eternity. He wants to be able to say of us, “[They know] Me so well. I can trust [them] with my silence.” https://joannaweaverbooks.com/2018/10/11/when-god-silent/] God’s silence gets into you like a virus. Oswald Chambers describes that you “become perfectly confident [because you] know God has heard [you.]” Is God able to trust you with his silence?
Blog author Jessica Wicks takes this further. Trust is one of the pieces of the puzzle. Another is examining your life for unconfessed sin. Is there anything wrong between you and God? Are you praying with wrong motives? Sometimes this is an issue. It doesn’t hurt to take these to God. [Jessica Wicks, “When God seems silent: Five Practical things to do when you can’t hear God’s voice” https://www.cru.org/us/en/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/prayer/learn-from-gods-silence.html]
Another puzzle piece is God’s sovereignty. This is addressed by AW Tozer. He wrote this in The Knowledge of the Holy: “God is said to be absolutely free, because no one and no thing can hinder him, or compel him or stop him. He is able to do as he pleases; always, everywhere [and] forever.” Job also faced the choice of either accepting or rejecting God’s sovereignty. Job’s wife responded angrily, and suggested he curse God and die. But Job chooses to let God be God. He answered in Job 2:10, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Jessica Wicks notes that “accepting God’s sovereignty also means actively trusting God, realizing he is in control and can be trusted.” [Jessica Wicks, “When God seems silent: Five Practical things to do when you can’t hear God’s voice” (site referred to earlier)]
A third reason why you haven’t heard from God, is if you already have your answer. The Bible is full of answers about what is right and wrong. It shows God’s character and intention for us as his children. You might have had several prophetic words from people who hear God’s voice, but you’ve forgotten them. And now you want more of the same? To be fair, God always confirms words several times. I know he’s certainly done that for me on the matter of my healing. I’m thankful that he still chooses to encourage me to trust him, by the reminders in scripture and in loving prayerful words from others.
As you read the Bible, ask God to make the words come alive to you. This is the best source if you’re not ‘hearing’ him otherwise. The final component is that silence can also be a sign of God’s trust, as shown in the Streams in the Desert devotional mentioned earlier. Oswald Chambers also shares this in My Utmost For His Highest: “you will find that he has trusted you in the most intimate way possible; with absolute silence. This is not a silence of despair, but [it is] one of pleasure; because he saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.” When you are comfortable with someone, you could easily sit together and not say a single word. So in love, silence CAN be a sign of intimacy. It’s the same with God.
It’s also the same when the teen girls that we disciple cheekily ask for something. We sometimes say no. When Tony says no, it’s a boundary. When I say no, it’s a sign that I just don’t want to go there. They don’t complain about that anymore. Sometimes the relationship is enough. For Job, God’s silence was also a result of the depth of their relationship. God knew that Job would be faithful in the end – and he was. At the end of his suffering, he was honoured for all he went through.
Sometimes God actually says ‘no.’ A friend of ours used to be senior pastor until she encountered this experience. She was led to step down from her role and became something else. She was still in ministry, but she strongly felt a ‘no’ that changed the route of how she would serve God. While some ultra conservative Word Christians don’t like the idea of women in ministry, I don’t believe her ‘no’ was entirely due to one scriptural interpretation. But this was meant as a door closing, so another would open. That kind of “no” happens often. I remember I had doors close when I sought entrance to art in the entertainment industry. I had the contacts, but the door was closed. Instead, the Holy Spirit approached me, and led me to Jesus. I remember a half-prayer I spoke out in response to my stunted art career. I said, “Well, that’s it. 1988 has to be the year to change my life.” I mostly meant my career, but it was more than that. That was an invitation to Holy Spirit to whisper to my heart, “Good! Now’s the time to find God.” Nicky Gumbel shares on Alpha about unanswered prayer – and mentions that Ruth Bell Graham had often said that she was thankful that God didn’t answer her previous pleas about marriage. She said “I would have married the wrong man – several times.” [shared on Alpha Course talk – How should we pray?] Pastor Jack Wellman shares that Ruth “was glad, but only later, that God’s answer to her prayer was a ‘no.’ Sometimes the best answer to a prayer is ‘no, it’s not best for you.” https://www.christianquotes.info/images/5-reasons-for-delayed-prayer/ Garth Brooks would agree with his new country song “Thank heaven for unanswered prayer.” Actually there is no unanswered prayer. It’s answered with a no.
Sometimes we may not understand when God says no. He doesn’t always say no – sometimes it’s a matter of timing, or due to a precondition, like repentance. Other times he’s waiting for a specific person to bless you. Author Shannon DeGarmo shares that in the times where we are disappointed with the ‘no’, there are these key things to remember. These are: to remember that God is good, to remember his promises to us, and to know that he is sovereign. God is God and we are not. He also has a purpose of saying no. We can’t see that far ahead, and we don’t always know the consequences of our actions. Sometimes it’s for our defense, like protecting a small child from a hot stove. God also does not leave us alone, even though we may pout and feel like an abandoned small child. I’ve seen plenty of those in Avian Park. But this is not the case with us. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/women/what-we-need-to-remember-when-god-says-no.html [DeGarmo]
Sometimes when God says no, it’s out of compassion. Nicky Gumbel shares in the Alpha Bible app, why Jesus said no to the mother of Zebedee’s sons. She asked for a glorious position for her sons, without knowing the consequences. Matthew 20:21-22 share her request: “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking!” Nicky shares that Jesus’ refusal was out of compassion. He points out that she “does not seem to understand all the implications of her request.” [Nicky Gumbel, “Three Ways God answers your prayers” Bible in One Year https://www.bibleinoneyear.org/bioy/commentary/1147]
Trials are not punishments. They are challenges to overcome. They are an opportunity to grow, and trust God. Listen to the words of Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
After I was let go by the radio industry, I had a very painful time. In time, I accepted that that all the doors were closed to advancement, or paid work at all. It was difficult to spend three years as a ministry volunteer. Yet when I look back, I can see that it taught me to depend even harder on God. Dependence on God is after all Iris core value number 2. This time was a season of growth. It also harnessed outreach skills that I use today. DeGarmo also notes that the opportunity where we struggle can become the very thing that glorifies God. [DeGarmo]
The Apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1: 6-7: “Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
King David also endured God saying no to something that was very dear to his heart. David really wanted to build a temple to the Lord, which he shared in 1 Chronicles 28. However, he was told, “You shall not build a house for my name, because you are a man of war, and have shed blood.” Dreams die hard. However, David was encouraged to pass on this dream to his son Solomon, which is shared in the following chapter. When he prayed over his son, he blessed him, praised God’s greatness, and thanked God for all the blessings. He wasn’t bitter, but was thankful. So King David shows his wisdom in response to God’s no. He shows thankfulness, especially as he is given a glimpse of God’s plan. Ruth Bell Graham was thankful that she was given the right husband. There is a reason behind the no. Sometimes we understand it, other times we just have to trust God when it doesn’t make sense. Then there is whether we discern him at all in the silence. But look harder – he is there with you, you just don’t sense him the same way. May you be given that sudden shift to hear God through the silence. May he increase your trust when you don’t feel him at all. May you be led to dig deeper into Scripture and discover more. And may you grow deeper as your trust grows deep roots. This is when your identity deepens into who you are meant to be.
If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on the Coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the listen drop-down menu). Click here (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #57!
If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!
For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I’m now in the middle of 16 radiotherapy sessions in Cape Town. My oncologist believes this may be the last major step of beating the cancer, so it doesn’t return. I’m also in MLD and compression therapy for lymphedema (also known as lymphoedema), which is swelling of the lymphatic system. While we explored that this condition was a side result of the mastectomy, I actually had primary lymphedema in my legs since 2006. It’s time it’s dealt with. Click here to the medical campaign page for info! https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html
We are still crowdfunding to cover the cancer treatments. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our Paypal: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod
If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of Laurie-Ann’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre in Worcester, Western Cape. They are also at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson), and through Takealot.com. Here is the Takealot link: https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424
Thanks for journeying with us!
Blessings to all,
[Here is Garth Brooks video for “Unanswered Prayers”]
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