“When There Are No Words”
Blue Christmas Service
December 22, 2019
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 was dismissed and given an hour to clean out my office and leave the building. My termination was totally unexpected. They tried to say that it was performance related, but since my reviews were all good, they really didn’t have a reason at all. Later I found that I was just 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.
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, even when it felt like he didn’t. Behind the scenes, God knew Job’s character. God knew the future. 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, prayer, pain, 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 and more and more like I was going with the flow and was a part of God’s plan. With the help of my pastor, I explored something different. That exploration led me to seminary, and to 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 for my life. Even then, God was leading me toward something new.
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 so that you can become the person that he created you to be. Even now, God is leading you to a new place, and possibly to a new mission.
My prayer is that you will hold tight to Jesus. May you will trust him with your journey, even when the journey is hard, even when there are no words and your prayers are only groans.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.