Summary: What do you do when you cannot see the footprints of God?
“Soul Talk: When There Are No Footprints”
Ps. 77; (Exodus 14:13-31)
Our son was supposed to be enjoying 6th grade. But he was spending the year at home – not because he was being home-schooled but because he was ill. He had a severe headache that would not go away. The doctors weren’t sure what to do – all that was left was exploratory brain surgery, an option we were not excited about. It turned out they did another surgical procedure which did, in fact, discover the problem and solve it. For the first time in months, he was headache free – only to have them return a few weeks later, though somewhat less severe and not as constant. All eventually ended well but it was a long year – and difficult at times to carry on pastoring. What do we do when there are no footprints?
During that year I never lost faith, but I had plenty of questions and did plenty of wrestling. I believed God was present, but I sure couldn’t see him. With the Psalmist, I was frustrated and confused since God’s footprints where nowhere to be seen. With the Psalmist I was smack dab in the middle of THE ANGUISH OF LIFE. And I, like the Psalmist, did what believers are supposed to do - again and again I CRIED OUT TO GOD I identified with the Psalmist (1-2): “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.” Prayer often originates in pain, and the pain propels our prayers with increasing intensity and frequency. And when it seems like God is not answering the pain deepens, and the prayers increase with still more intensity and frequency. That was the cycle in my life.
Along the way I did something else believers are supposed to do: I REMEMBERED GOD. I kept rehearsing what God is like. I was even preaching it every Sunday. But the pain and distress only grew worse; the active God I was preaching about didn’t seem to lineup with the inactive God I was crying to. At times, sleep was not restful nor abundant. The Psalmist described the mood well (3-4):” I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night.” Far from helping, remembering God, at times, made matters worse. I knew who God was but was not experiencing Him accordingly. What do we do when there are no footprints?
I know my experience was and is not unique. SAINTS THROUGHOUT THE AGES have lived where I was living. John Henry Jowett, pastor of New York’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and later Westminster Chapel in London, wrote to a friend in 1920: “You seem to imagine I have no ups and downs but just a level and lofty stretch of spiritual attainment with unbroken joy.… By no means! I am often perfectly wretched and everything appears most murky”. Charles Spurgeon, who suffered debilitating bouts of depression all his life said, “There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair.” Reformer John Knox prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit and put an end to this miserable life.” Author John Bunyan shared, “I had my temptations attending me.… Sometimes I should be assaulted with great discouragement therein, fearing that I should not be able to speak the Word at all … at which times I should have such a strange faintness and strengthlessness seize upon my body that my legs have scarce been able to carry me.”(1) The prophet Jeremiah cried out, “Cursed be the day in which I was born.” Even Elijah lived there: “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life.” When there are no footprints.
YOU, TOO, KNOW THE ADDRESS. You’ve lived, and perhaps are now living in the depths of despair, where there are no footprints. There are moments, even whole chapters of life when God’s way’s and presence are unseen or unintelligible. “It doesn’t have to be dark outside…to be in the middle of the night.”(2) You’re overwhelmed and not sure where to turn. You’re suffocating under the pressure. The scenes are numberless. Parents keeping vigil over an infant or child, with no signs of relief; the Doctor has told you that “There’s nothing we can do;” your spouse has shared she’s not in love with you anymore, that she’s found someone else, and is leaving and has filed for divorce; the boss called you in an informed you that, although they love the work you do, they had to ‘let you go’; your loved one died way to early and without warning; your child has become prodigal and shut you out and left you behind; your parents disapprove of your lifestyle and will have nothing to do with you; the college you couldn’t wait to get to, you can’t wait to get away from; the prayers you’ve prayed so fervently for healing or transformation haven’t been answered. Yes – the scenes are numberless.