Friday, 29 April 2016

When God Feels Distant

Dear Friends,

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?  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?


Friday, 22 April 2016

God the Father Loves You Dearly

Dear Friends,

We recently celebrated my son, Josh's, eighteenth birthday.  We had a night away with extended family, which included a meal out, an amazing birthday cake made by Jason and  watching Josh open his presents.  The following day we all went to Colchester Zoo where Jason and I had arranged a surprise for Josh.  We had organised for him and his girlfriend to have an animal experience with one of the zookeepers.  As meerkats are Josh's favourite animals it obviously had to be a meerkat experience.  He and his girlfriend got to go into the meerkat enclosure.  They weren't allowed to touch them but they could sit and let the meerkats clamber all over them.  They had time to feed the meerkats and talk with the zookeeper about these animals.  The rest of us got to watch them and take photos. 

It was a great break away, everyone enjoyed themselves and it was a great opportunity to make some lasting memories.  Jason and I really enjoyed doing this for Josh.  We did it because Josh is our son and we love him.

Our love for Josh is based on the fact that he is our child.  Our love is not based on whether he has earned it. It's not based on whether he has done enough to deserve it.  Whatever happens our love for Josh is unconditional and constant.

As I reflected on this special time, God made me aware that our love for Josh is a reflection, albeit a pale reflection, of God's own love for us as his children. 

In John's first letter John wrote: 
"See what great love the Father has lavished on us,(that includes me and you) that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1 (NIV)

We have a great example of God the Father's love for his own Son, Jesus, in Mark 1:9-11 "One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.'" (NLT)

God speaks words of love over Jesus.  He acknowledges Jesus as his Son.  We see the special relationship that the two share - Jesus is loved dearly by his Father.  Not only that, we learn that Jesus brings God great joy.  Other translations use the words "delight" or "well-pleased".

God the Father loves his own Son - it's a love born out of relationship.  As a result of Jesus being God's Son, he brings God joy. God is pleased with Jesus, he delights in him and he loves him.  This is not a result of Jesus doing anything to earn the Father's love because Jesus had not yet begun his public ministry. He was yet to fulfil God's purpose for him.

The amazing truth is that God loves me and loves you with that same love he has for his Son, Jesus.  He has calls us his children.  We find our true identity in God - that we are a dearly loved son/daughter of the living God.  It is in this identity that we find real security and peace.  There are some of you who are reading this who need to know this, not just in your head, but in your heart and soul too.

Jesus is aware that God loves us and he wants us to be aware of this too.  Jesus said: "I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me." John 17:23 (NLT) 

In the previous chapter Jesus said to his disciples (and it still applies to me and you today) "for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God." John 16:27 (NLT)

Perhaps you have never experienced this kind of love before.  Perhaps you've only known conditional love from others.  Perhaps they've said "I'll love you if you do this or that..."  Or "I don't love you anymore, you've let me down too many times."  Perhaps they've told you they love you, yet then they've gone on to abuse you and mistreat you.  Perhaps you've been told you don't deserve to be loved and that no-one could possibly ever love you. 

Maybe you've believed what they've told you and you doubt that God could love you.  Maybe you've spent your life trying so hard to make God love you.  You've done everything you can think of so that God will love you.  Yet you still don't believe God loves you.

Today, you need to know that there's nothing you or I, or anyone can do to make God love us.  The truth is that God already loves us.  He chose to love you, even before you were born.  "Even before he made the world, God loved us" Ephesians 1:4a (NLT). You can depend on his love.  There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there's nothing you can do to make him love you less.  God loves you with a perfect love, he loves you unconditionally, he loves you completely and he loves you for ever.

Right now he is speaking these words over you: "You are my dearly loved son/daughter, and you bring me great joy."

To Think About:
Do you believe God loves you?  If you have difficulty believing this, ask God to help you to know just how much he loves you.  You may find it helpful to write out some of the verses mentioned above.

How has God demonstrated his love to you?  Read Ephesians 1:3-14 for starters.

What difference does it make to your life when you believe that God loves you with an unconditional, perfect and permanent love?


Friday, 15 April 2016

What Do You Enjoy Doing?

Dear Friends,

I love to write.  I enjoy writing - whether it's for myself in my journal or I'm writing with the purpose of encouraging others through my blog.  Whether  my writing is just between me and God or there's a wider audience. I gain pleasure from it either way.

I believe God has created me with this love of writing and that it also brings him pleasure when he sees me doing something he has created me to do.

The Bible says in James 1:17a "Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens." (NLT)

God has blessed each of us in so many ways and it's good to stop and take the time to recognise and give him our appreciation for all that he has given us.

"Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy." 1 Timothy 6:17 (HCSB)

For me, writing is one of the "all things" that God has given me to enjoy.  Our God is an extremely generous God and he richly provides us with so many things.  What are some of the "all things" he has given you to enjoy?

Eric Liddell was a Christian athlete, who won a gold medal in the 400 metres and a bronze medal in the 200 metres at the Paris Olympics in 1924.  His story is told in the film 'Chariots of Fire' (1981). Even though Eric never actually said the following quote taken from the film, it does fit with what I've been saying:

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”  

I do believe God is pleased when he sees each one of us doing those things he has called and created us to do.

Over recent years I have submitted my writing, more times than I can remember, to various magazines and websites.  Only once has a piece of my writing been accepted.  All other times my writing has been rejected.  Yes, it's hard to hear a "no" from someone.  Yes it can be discouraging.  Yes, it can make me question my writing ability.

Yet, deep down, I still have this strong desire to write.  I still believe this desire is from God.  And so I write, believing that I benefit from it and with the hope that it will somehow be a blessing and encouragement to whomever may read what I have written.  If God uses it to bless just one person it is worth it.  I keep on writing because I believe it's what God desires for me. 

I will probably face more rejections in the future when it comes to my writing.  But that isn't what really matters. The opinion of others regarding my writing doesn't really matter. What really matters is that whether my writing is accepted or rejected, ultimately God has accepted me.  I have his approval.  He will never reject me.  He is pleased with me.

You need to know that too - that it doesn't really matter what others think of you, whether you have their acceptance or not.  It doesn't matter whether they recognise that the thing you enjoy doing is God's gift to you. What matters is that you know that God accepts you and he is pleased when he sees you enjoying what he has given you. 

It was such a joy to receive an email informing me that my devotional I had submitted to one website had been accepted.  I couldn't wipe the smile off my face, even had I wanted to.  I don't know whether I'll have other work accepted, but nothing can rob me of the joy I experienced from this one.

Some of you follow me on Facebook so you may have seen the link to the website which featured my devotional. It was published at the end of last month.  I've included the link here for any of you who would like to read it:

To Think About:
What do you enjoy doing?  Have you ever considered it from the perspective that God gave it to you expressly for your enjoyment? 
How can you use it to bring pleasure and glory to God?
Take the time to consider what are the "all things" that God has richly provided you with to enjoy.