“When There Are No Words”
Blue Christmas Service
December 18, 2016
By John Partridge*
This isn’t really a Christmas story. But it is a story about how God met me at a time when I had no idea what to do next.
In 2001 I was working for Lectrotherm, a company near the Akron-Canton airport that manufactured, and remanufactured, induction melting equipment for the molten metals industry. We made furnaces that melted steel for companies like Navistar, John Deere, and other companies in the Fortune 500 as well as tiny little places that you’ve never heard of. I was an electrical engineer doing work that I liked and I thought I had a career that would keep me interested and well employed until retirement. But one day I was called into the boss’s office where I met with him and with the director of Human Resources, and was given an hour to clean out my office and leave the building. My termination was totally unexpected. They attempted to say that it was performance related, but since I hadn’t had an employee review in over 18 months, and that one was more than satisfactory, they really didn’t have a reason at all. Only much later did I find that I was only the first of many, as the company struggled with financial problems that would ultimately end in its bankruptcy.
I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me. I had no idea what to do next. I remember sitting on our front porch trying to pray and finding nothing to say. I couldn’t form sentences. There were no words. And so I just sat on the steps and groaned and cried out to God.
Sometimes we don’t have words. And that’s okay because God understands our thoughts anyway. In Exodus 2:23-24, we hear a story of how God heard the groans of his people:
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.
And in Judges 2:18 we hear: Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.
God hears our prayers, even when all that comes out of our mouths are groans and weeping.
For me, what followed was two years of unemployment. As I looked for a job in what was supposed to be a good economy and a solid job market, I had nothing. Hardly a nibble and only one or two unsuccessful interviews. But, at the same time, with the help of my pastor I was exploring something different.
I wondered why.
I was active in my church. We gave. We volunteered. We had leadership positions in the church. And still, nothing. I wondered why I lost my job, why I was unemployed, why I couldn’t find work, why God had allowed this to happen. And God didn’t give me any easy answers. And so, I began to read scripture as I had never done before. I read books that my pastor recommended, and I struggled to discover, not only why I was unemployed, but if, somewhere in my pain, God had a bigger plan. I wondered if God had allowed this to happen because he wanted to tell me something, or because he wanted me to change directions, and if so, where, and to what.
The answers weren’t easy. My prayers sometimes seemed to go nowhere.
Job once felt as if his prayer to heaven just bounced off. In Job 37:17-19 we hear these words:
17 You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind,
18 can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?
19 “Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.
For Job it felt as if the skies were as hard as a mirror of cast bronze and his prayers just bounced off. And even if they got through, he had no idea what he would say to God or how to make his case.
But we know that God heard him anyway, even when if felt like he didn’t. We know that behind the scenes, God knew Job’s character, that God knew the future, and that God had a plan. It took a long time, but eventually Job began to see a small part of God’s plan and, over time, God restored to Job all the things that had been taken from him. For me, after a lot of time, and prayer, and pain, and confusion, and struggle, it began to seem as if God had a new plan for my life. And as I began to explore that possibility, things began to get better; it seemed less and less like I was swimming upstream fighting the current and began to feel, more and more like I was going with the flow, and a part of God’s plan. That exploration has led me here, as a pastor and no longer as an engineer. I am certain that, for now, this is where God has led me, but I am still keenly aware that this might not be permanent. At some point, should God have a new and different plan for my life, someday I could pivot and start doing something else.
My life has been nothing like Job’s, but I learned a lesson that was similar to something that Job saw. Even when it seemed that God was far away, even when I had no words, even when everything seemed to be confused and senseless, even then God was a part of my life. Even then God had a plan and a purpose and was taking me, leading me somewhere.
No matter where you are in your journey, I hope that you will hear me when I say that I am confident that the same is true for you. Regardless of your pain and confusion, regardless of who, or what you wrote on your star today, God knows where you are. God hears your groaning. God has a plan. God is working in you, on you, and through you to transform you into the person that he desires for you to become and he is leading you to a new place, and possibly to a new mission.
My prayer is that you will hold tight to Jesus, that you will trust him with your journey, even when the journey is hard and even when there are no words and your prayers are only groans.
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