Have you ever experienced a time when God seemed distant? When he was silent? When you didn't feel his presence with you?
If you have, you'll understand how I was feeling a few weeks back when I went through a time of feeling that God was distant and silent. It really was not a nice place to be. In truth, it was horrible.
I was away on a Bible Week with Jason, and I had gone with high expectations. I hoped to hear some good speakers, to receive some spiritual food and I was also looking forward to joining in with hundreds of others worshipping God in song. There is something so special about being with a large number of Christians, all lifting our voices to sing praises to our God.
Yet in many ways, I didn't experience what I'd been hoping for. The speakers all had something good to share and I did learn from them. Yet I didn't feel God with me. The worship was great. Yet I sang the words and they meant nothing to me. I didn't feel God in that place. The leaders in the meetings talked about sensing God's presence with us. Yet all I could think was - "But I don't feel him here. I'm missing him."
Now I know that we can't rely on our feelings because feelings are changeable and therefore unreliable. I also know God promises to never leave us. I know that his presence is with me. I know and believe what God says in Joshua 1:9 "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (NLT)
I know that, in a way, it doesn't matter whether I do or don't feel his presence, the truth is he is with me whether I feel it or not. Even though I know this, it didn't help me as I faced this time of feeling God's absence.
Over a few days I shared with Jason how I was feeling. That the dreams I believed God had planted within me were not going to be fulfilled as I had hoped. It felt like they had died because God wasn't saying anything to me about them and he wasn't doing anything to bring them to fulfilment. In conversations I told Jason it was better to have no dream than to have one which was unfulfilled. It just hurt too much to have a dream come to nothing.
To start with I kept it from Jason that I felt God was distant from me. But in the end, I was so low that I didn't want to keep my thoughts to myself. I opened up and shared that with him too. Life is almost unbearable when it feels like God's not there with you in it and so I needed someone to talk to.
On the one side, we have the Devil who uses opportunities like these to discourage us from following God. They are just too good an opportunity for him to miss. He will do anything to bring us down, to discourage us, to get us to doubt God. He will do his utmost to make us believe the lie that God doesn't care, that he's not interested in us, and that he's deserted us. He longs for us to turn our backs on God.
But on the other side is God. His purposes are always good and he uses these difficult times to grow our faith and trust in him. He uses these times to teach us new truths. God uses these times to increase our hunger for him, to help us to see that nothing else and no-one else can satisfy us like he can.
When I was able to be completely honest with Jason, the Devil's hold on me weakened. His power over the way I was feeling was weakened. When I kept my fears and feelings to myself I felt totally on my own. Completely alone.
The devil wants to make us feel isolated. He wants us to feel separated from other believers. When we are alone things seem so much more worse than they really are. All we have is our inner self- talk. The negative thoughts and feelings go round and round in our heads. The more this happens, the more real our feelings become. They become our reality instead of God's truth being our reality.
By being willing to share with Jason I was no longer alone. Jason was there with me. He listened. He held me. He didn't criticise me for having a weak faith or for not being a "better" Christian. He didn't tell me I was wrong to feel like this. He was my ally. Once I shared with Jason, the situation did not seem quite as terrible or quite as dark as it had been. It was an encouragement and a help to me just to be able to voice what I was feeling with someone who cared.
We are told to encourage one another, for example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14b we read "Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone." (NLT)
When I came out of that experience of feeling God's absence, I was able to once again appreciate just how much God's presence means to me. Nothing can ever compare to the blessing of having God's presence in my life.
I want to encourage you that we all, at same time another, feel that God is distant. You are not alone in this.
There are examples of people in the Bible who also experienced God's absence and silence at different times in their lives. Such as Job who said "I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look." Job 30:20 (NLT).
In Psalm 22 David expressed his pain to God who felt absent: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? 2 Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief." Psalm 22:1-2 (NLT)
I also want to encourage you that when you are going through it, find someone you can talk to. Someone you can be honest with, someone you can trust. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you need to bear it alone.
Make the decision, even before you face such an experience, that no matter what, you will choose to trust God and believe his word, rather than allow the devil to cause you to feel discouraged and doubt God.
Instead of trusting your feelings make the decision to trust in the faithfulness of God.
Can I encourage you that if a friend of yours has come to you sharing their heart with you, would you stand by them. Listen to them. You don't need to try and fix anything. You just need to show you care. Pray for them too, especially if they are in a place where they feel unable to pray.
To Think About:
Have you ever experienced a time when God felt distant and silent? Are you there right now? What do you think was/is God's purpose in it?
What has proved helpful during the experience or what do you think would be helpful?
Is there someone you are aware of who is struggling with feeling God is distant? What can you do to draw alongside them?