Summary: What do you do when God feels distant? It happens to all Christians.
What about When God Seems Distant?
Purpose Driven Life #14
November 15, 2003
When God is near and you can almost feel his presence, it’s easy to worship Him. If this happens here, you can have tremendous feelings of exhilaration and can go home tremendously buoyed up. If it happens during one of our prayer meetings, you can go out feeling like you want to have everyone else join in another time so they can feel the same thing. If you go about your daily work and life and have a day when you’ve had a particularly good and close time with God and you feel like he is right there with you are you go about your day, you almost fly through the day. All of us have had days and times like this. Maybe you’ve gone into a special gathering of Christians and the presence of God was there.
I’ve felt this in Squaw Valley at an autumn festival in the distant past of 1972. I’ve felt this in the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in 1972, en route to college in California and attending a public presentation sponsored by our church. I’ve felt this at special services in Langenburg, SK, while serving in Yorkton and Dauphin. I felt this when I attended the Billy Graham School of Evangelism in Lake Louise a few years back. I have felt this in attending Acquire the Fire in Hamilton a few years back, too. Some days, I go through the day as if with wings.
You’ve experienced the same thing sometimes in your life.
But what about when you don’t? You and I have also experienced those days when we wonder where God has gone. It seems that nothing is going right in our lives. It seems like there’s no contact with God- we pray, and prayer doesn’t seem to go very far. We want to ‘feel’ God’s presence, and we don’t. We want some wisdom or suggestions on how to face a situation and what we do only makes it worse. We want guidance, or comfort, or a word, or something, and nothing comes. We might wonder whether God has left us and, if he has, then maybe we should just go on out and do and be whatever everyone else around is and does.
These times are every bit as real and, sometimes, at least, more frequent, than the times when we feel the incredible presence of God. A few weeks back, I referred to Brother Lawrence and his book encouraging the practice of the presence of God. Sometimes, we can do this and it’s absolutely wonderful. We feel like we’re in the heavenly realm with God already. But, other times, we feel like we’ve been very much cast down to the ground.
The darkest period of my life happened in 1995, and I went through a period of time wondering where God was and what in the world he was doing. As we approached the ending of our tenure in the Peterborough area, we had looked around and had thought we wanted to live in Kingston. The pastor there, whom we had followed to Peterborough, and us had discussed it and we knew that we’d both be due for transfer at about the same time (transfers were much more part of our psyche then than now, by the way). In March 1994, as our church went through dramatic changes, he chose to go from us, and I was called to pastor Kingston in addition to Peterborough, and the message was that when the time for full transfer came, I’d be in Kingston and Smith’s Falls. This was wonderful. So, for 9 months, I served Peterborough and Kingston. We got to know the people and our daughters developed close friendships among the youth of Kingston. In November, I got a call that I needed to transition to Kingston and Smith’s Falls in January, 6 months earlier than expected; we decided that I could do it from where we lived so we didn’t need to uproot the girls in the midst of their school year. It meant more driving for me, but a small sacrifice to make. However, as you’ll remember, with major church changed initiated with a sermon that we heard the beginning of January, 1995, things changed rapidly. Understanding that we were not between the covenants, but were fully in the New Covenant let to incredible changes for many people. Many chose to not accept and believe this biblical truth, so, very quickly, reorganization of the church occurred as church income plummeted and ministers chose to depart. As this process began, I went along merrily in the word and expectation that had been given. We found and purchased a home in the Kingston area, to close the end of June for our July 1 expected move. The congregations expected to occur what we expected. Then, in March, our world fell apart, really. My world fell apart. Lynn was in hospital in Toronto having thyroid surgery, and we were coming to Montreal for a youth weekend, because I pastored Kingston and this was where those youth came. En route to Montreal, the girls and I went to Toronto to visit Lynn in the hospital. I went to a copy place to get access to a fax, that I hadn’t gotten before leaving home that was going to confirm ministerial transfers. I was, happily, supposed to continue with Peterborough and Kingston and the pastor who had been in Peterborough for three months was supposed to move to Barrie. So, things were fine through the weekend. However, on returning home, there were phone calls and pressure to accept a change- for us to move to Barrie. We didn’t want to. We had our house. We had our lives planned and in order, but from several quarters there was increasing pressure for us to accept a change in the assignment. Out of exasperation, I did, eventually.