Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like God was nowhere around you? God is real, no matter how you feel. It is easy to worship God when things are going great in your life-when He has provided food, friends, family, health, and happy situations. But circumstances are not always pleasant. How do you worship God then? What do you do when God seems a million miles away? The deepest level of worship is praising God in spite of the pain, thanking God during a trial, trusting Him when tempted, surrendering while suffering, and loving Him when He seems distant.
Friendships are often tested by separation and silence; you are divided by physical distance or you are unable to talk. In your friendship with God, you won’t always feel close to Him. “Any relationship involves times of closeness and times of distance, and in a relationship with God, no matter how intimate, the pendulum will swing from one side to the other”. That’s when worship gets difficult. To mature your friendship, God will test it with periods of seeming separation- times when it feels as if He has abandoned or forgotten you.
God feels a million miles away. Besides Jesus, David probably had the closest friendship with God than anyone. God took pleasure in calling him ” a man after my own heart”. Yet, David frequently complained of God’s apparent absence: “Lord, why are you standing aloof and far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?” Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help?” Why have you abandoned me ?’ Psalm 10:1-3
Of course, God hadn’t really left David, and He doesn’t leave you. He has promised repeatedly, ” I will never leave you nor forsake you”.- Hebrews 13:5 But God has not promised “you will always feel my presence”. In fact, God admits that sometimes He hides His face from us. There are times when He appears to be MIA, missing-in-action, in your life. Floyd McClung describes it as this: “You wake up one morning and all your spiritual feelings are gone. You pray, but nothing happens. You rebuke the devil, but it doesn’t change anything. You go through spiritual exercises…..you have your friends and church family pray for you….you confess every sin you can imagine., then go around asking for forgiveness of everyone you know. You fast….still nothing. You begin to wonder how long this spiritual gloom might last. Days? Weeks? Months? Will it ever end?….it feels as if your prayers simply bounce off the ceiling. In utter desperation, you cry out, “What’s the matter with me”?
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with you! This is a normal part of testing and maturing your friendship with God. Every Christian goes through it at least once, and usually several times. It is painful and disconcerting, but it is absolutely vital for the development of your faith. Knowing this gave Job hope when he could not feel God’s presence in his life. He said, “ I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find Him. I do not see Him in the north, for He is hidden. I turn to the south, but I cannot find Him. But He knows where I am going. And when He has tested me like gold in a fire, He will pronounce me innocent”. Job 23:8-12
When God seems distant, you may feel that He is angry with you or is disciplining you for some sin. In fact, sin does disconnect us from intimate fellowship with God. We grieve God’s Spirit and quench our fellowship with Him by disobedience, conflict with others, busyness, friendship with the world, and other sins. But often this feeling of abandonment or estrangement from God has nothing to do with sin. It is a test of faith- one we all must face: Will you continue to love, trust, obey, and worship God, even when you have no sense of His presence or visible evidence of His work in your life?
The most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience rather than seeking God. They look for feeling, and if it happens, they conclude that they have worshiped. Wrong! In fact, God often removes our feelings so we won’t depend on them. Seeking a feeling, even the feeling of closeness to Christ, is not worship. When you are a baby Christian, God gives you a lot of confirming emotions and often answers the most immature, self-centered prayers- so you’ll know He exists. But as you grow in faith, He will wean you of those dependencies.
God’s omnipresence and the manifestation of His presence are two different things. One is a fact; the other is often a feeling. God is always present, even when you are unaware of Him, and His presence is too profound to be measured by mere emotion. Yes, He wants you to sense His presence, but He’s more concerned that you trust Him than that you feel Him. Faith, not feelings, pleases God. The situations that will stretch your faith most will be those times when life falls apart and God is nowhere to be found! This happened to Job. On a single day he lost everything- his family, his business, his health, and everything he owned. Most discouraging- for 37 Chapters, God said nothing!
How do you praise God when you don’t understand what’s happening in your life and God is silent? How do you stay connected in a crisis without communication? How do you keep your eyes on Jesus when they’re full of tears? You do what Job did: “Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mothers womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised” -Job 1:20-21
Tell God exactly how you feel. Pour out your heart to God. Unload every emotion that you’re feeling. Job did this when he said, ‘I can’t be quiet”! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak!” He cried out when God seemed distant: “Oh for the days when I was in my prime , when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house”. God can handle your doubt, anger, fear, grief, confusions, and questions. Did you know that admitting your hopelessness to God can be a statement of faith? Trusting God but feeling in despair at the same time, David wrote, “I believed , so I said, ‘I am completely ruined!” -Psalm 116:10
Focus on who God is-His unchanging nature. Regardless of the circumstances and how you feel, hold on to God’s unchanging hands. Remind yourself what you know to be eternally true about God. He is good, He loves me, He is with me, He knows what I’m going through, He cares, and He has a good plan for my life. “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light”! When Job’s life fell apart, and God was silent, Job still found things he could praise God for:
- That He is good and loving
- That He is All Powerful
- That He notices every detail of my life.
- That He is in control
- That He has a plan for my life
- That He will save me.
Trust God to keep His promises. During times of spiritual dryness you must patiently rely on the promises of God, not your emotions, and realize that He is taking you to a deeper level of maturity. A friendship based on emotion is shallow indeed. So don’t be troubled by trouble. God’s grace is still in full force; He is still for you, even when you don’t feel it. In the absence of confirming circumstances, Job held on to God’s Word. He said, “I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread”. -Job 23:12 This trust in God’s Word caused Job to remain faithful even though nothing made sense. His faith was strong in the midst of pain: “Though he slay me, Yet will I trust in Him.” -Job 13:15 When you feel abandoned by God yet continue to trust Him in spite of your feeling, you worship Him in the deepest way.
Remember what God has already done for you. If God never did anything else for you, He would still deserve your continual praise for the rest of your life because of what Jesus did for you on the cross. God’s Son died for you and me! This is the greatest reason for worship. Unfortunately, we forget the cruel details of the agonizing sacrifice God made on our behalf. Familiarity breeds complacency. Even before His crucifixion, the Son of God was stripped naked, beaten until almost unrecognizable, whipped, scorned and mocked, crowned with thorns, and spit on contemptuously. Abused and ridiculed by heartless men, He was treated worse than an animal. Then, nearly unconscious from blood loss, He was forced to drag a cumbersome cross up a hill, was nailed to it, and was left to die slow, excruciating torture of death by crucifixion. While His lifeblood drained out, hecklers stood by and shouted insults, making fun of His pain and challenging His claim to be God.
Next as Jesus took all mankind’s sins and guilt on Himself, God looked away from that ugly sight, and Jesus cried out in total desperation, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me”? Jesus could have saved Himself-but then He could not have saved you or me. Words cannot describe the darkness of that moment. Why did God allow and endure such ghastly, evil mistreatment? Why? So you and I could be spared from eternity in hell, and so we could share in His glory forever! The Bible says, “Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made Him share our sin in order that in union with Him we might share the righteousness of God”. 2 Corinthians 5:21
Jesus gave up everything so you and I could have everything. He died so we could live forever. That alone is worthy of your continual thanks and praise. Never again would I wonder what I have to be thankful for even when God is silent!