God is the original orator. He spoke the worlds into existence. God the Son exists eternally as the Word, the expression of the mind of God. Throughout Israel’s history God spoke to or through his people–the words “Thus says YHWH…” appear over 400 times in the Old Testament. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came primarily with a ministry of proclamation, and when he rose from the dead he entrusted this proclamation to his followers. The book of Acts chronicles the spread of this Spirit-empowered proclamation, as the apostles preached the crucified and risen Christ and called for repentance and faith in him. Preach, proclaim, teach, declare, speak. These are central to our mission as followers of Jesus.
So what do we do when there is nothing to say, when words escape us? What if we become like Hannah, so deeply distressed, anxious, and vexed that the cry of her heart to Israel’s I AM could not be vocalized? (1 Samuel 1:9-18) Or Elijah, who spoke with unprecedented confidence of YHWH’s supremacy over Baal, yet after the victory on Mount Carmel could only muster words of complaint and the desire to die? (1 Kings 18-19) Or Paul, who had an open door to proclaim the gospel in Troas, but found himself restless and downcast because of Titus’ absence and skipped the opportunity to preach until he found his crucial fellow worker? (2 Corinthians 2:12-13, 7:5-7) What do we do when there is nothing to say?
I found myself asking this question last week as I stared at my computer monitor, incapable of piecing two sentences together. I had come down with something, and for reasons God only knows, the physical malady brought with it intermittent spells of mild depression and mental fog. This is quite unusual for me and my typically sunny disposition. I can count on one finger the times I have shopped at Costco and felt like I would burst into tears for no apparent reason if anyone said anything to me. But that one time was last week, and I knew that trying to crank out an article would be like squeezing water from a rock that was not scheduled for a miracle. So I left the space blank.
The broader question of how we handle depression is too great for my limited understanding and this brief space. So I will narrow my aim and again ask, what do we do when there is nothing to say? In a word, we wait. We wait on the Word. We pause our attempts to speak until he gives us something to say. For Hannah, this looked like sitting at the temple and mouthing her anguished prayers until the word of the Lord came through Eli. For Elijah, this meant resting, running, eating, and having his paradigm of God’s character and ways readjusted. For Paul this meant searching until he found Titus and was reenergized for the mission of proclaiming Christ. For me it meant addressing my physical situation with rest and medicine, saying “no” to what I could not do, and studying for my sermon in hopes that things would change by Sunday morning. And by his grace the darkness lifted, the fog dispersed, and he gave me something to say.
Whether they last for a week or a year, such seasons of waiting remind us that God is the original orator, not us; that he can speak through angels, donkeys, and rocks if our voices are out of commission; that God has placed his priceless gospel in jars of clay; and that he delights in magnifying his power, which often means that ministry accentuates our weakness. Thus even if our hearts are flooded with inexplicable sorrow, we can wait for the Word in hope that when he has something for us to say, he will loosen our lips and ours will be the experience of the Psalmist: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:1–3).