Sunday, June 26, 2011
Continuing what I started in the last post, here are two more possible reasons God may seem distant or absent when He really is trying to help us:
3. It may be that we've started taking God for granted. Perhaps we've stopped putting the highest priority on seeking Him. We aren't rebelling against Him or living a double life, but we've just begun to be a bit casual about our spiritual life. We don't really feel like we need to read the Bible as often, or we let other things get in the way of church or fellowship much more than we used to. What can God do but remind us how much we need Him? If we've started to take the ability to draw water from the well for granted, then not being able to get it when we want it will restore our appreciation for how important it is in a hurry. If you have to dig down deep and toil to get the water flowing again, you will not soon take it for granted.
As a severe example of this, I have been struck by how often this theme was demonstrated in the Old Testament. God warned Israel over and over that when things started going well for them and they were prospering, they would begin to forget Him. And that's just what happened. As long as Israel was comfortable, they would often grow careless in their relationship with God. But if they were in danger and suffering, they quickly remembered Him and called upon Him. The same is true for us. We have to remember that we always need to be in close intimacy with God, just as the branches depend completely upon the vine for life. (John 15:1-9.)
4. One more possible explanation is that we just haven't taken sin seriously enough or fully appreciated God's call to holiness. We may have turned our backs on some serious sins because of our faith, and we may be actively resisting temptation, but perhaps there are areas in our hearts that we haven't confronted completely. For example, we may have worked hard against greed or lust, but failed to address the underlying problem of self-pity. As we seek God and struggle to find that deep communion with Him again, He may reveal to us areas where we aren't taking His call to holiness as seriously as we should. Holiness is a lifelong pursuit, but the fact that we will not complete it until we leave this life behind should not discourage us from pursuing it diligently.
The Scripture reminds us that we need to take this seriously every day: "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:13.) Paul says: "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1.) And although we find it difficult now, a deep struggle for our relationship with God is often necessary to cause us to take the life of faith seriously: "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God." (1 Peter 4:1-2.) At the end, that's what we want: to live for and be satisfied with God. And God will graciously spur us on in order to get us there.
In the last post I explained why we need to keep on seeking God and not give up, even when we feel we're coming up empty. This post and the next one are meant to consider some of the reasons why God can seem so distant or absent. I compared this feeling in the last post with a well that is no longer giving water. But why would God stop refreshing us when we come to Him in need?
It would be one thing if you were stubbornly sinning, and trying to have a deep relationship with God without confessing that sin and turning away from it. That's an obvious problem. But I am assuming here that you've already searched your heart and there isn't any stubborn refusal to confess sin. You simply can't find a reason for why God suddenly seems distant or absent. You know you're not perfect, but you've been seeking Him and trying sincerely to follow Him. So what happened?
Here's some of what my experience and the Scriptures have taught me:
1. Perhaps, without knowing it, you've only been skimming the shallowness of the water, and there are deep wells below that which will refresh you beyond anything you've ever experienced. God may be saying: "I love you completely, and I will never give up on you. But this living at 75% of your fullness must stop. Dig deep and experience me fully so that you will live your life with freedom and boldness!" God knows you won't dig down and find the deep satisfaction waiting for you unless He leaves you no choice. As long as the shallow water is enough to get by on, we're likely to just skim it off and try to make it through the day. One way I've realized this in my life is in reading the Bible much more deeply and intensely than ever before. Where I might have read a passage four or five times, and thought I grasped it well enough, deep concentration and prayer have often revealed truth and wisdom in the words that I never saw before.
If reading the Bible or praying aren't fulfilling your need for God's spirit like they used to, and you double your efforts to press in and experience God, you often find self-awareness or knowledge of God you never had before. Some of the Scriptures that have impressed themselves on me during times like this have become the most precious words in the Bible to me. They encourage me more than just about anything else, and they often encourage me when nothing else will. Imagine if God stopped up your well and left you parched with thirst, so you would dig feverishly down and down, because He knew there was a magnificent ruby buried down there. When you find something as precious and valuable as those Scriptures have become to me, all the dryness and pain seem well worth it. Suddenly you find that God has so much more to give you to sustain you and bring you joy than you ever realized.
2. Another possibility is that God is preparing you for something much more important and more significant than you've ever experienced before. Instead of your relationship with God being off track, it may be that what you've been doing in your relationship with God has been precisely right, and thus you've matured and grown in your faith. Now you're prepared to handle something greater than you ever imagined. God doesn't call us to lounge about in His courts. He calls us to take up the battle against darkness and bring light to those still enslaved to sin. In order to meet the challenge, He knows you need to have access to a much greater store of faith and confidence than you ever had before. As Hebrews 12:7-11 describes, God is treating you as an heir and training you to stand firm in righteousness.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
What do you do when your spiritual life is dry and parched? When you go to the Bible, or you go to prayer, and for some reason you're just not getting anything from it? What do you do when the source of your comfort and hope seems to have dried up just when you desperately need it?
Let's say you lived in a place where all your water came from an old-fashioned well with a bucket and pulley. Every time you needed water, you would go to the well and let down the bucket, and take it back up full of fresh water. But one day you go to the well and let down the bucket, and when it comes back up there's nothing in it. It's empty. You try again and again, jerking the rope and making sure the bucket is really going all the way to the bottom, but still nothing.
At this point, do you give up and go start digging another well? Probably not. Why? Because it took a lot of work to dig this well down deep, and you've been drawing good water from it for years. It makes a lot more sense to get down there to the source that you've always drawn from and to find out what the problem is. It may be that something got into the well and blocked it up, or it may be that you need to dig down deeper to restore a good flow of water.
This is the same problem we have sometimes in our faith. Where we used to find comfort and encouragement after 10 or 15 minutes of reading the Scriptures or prayer, all of a sudden we find that even pressing on for a half-hour doesn't seem to make a difference in how we feel. We still come away dry and disappointed. But the source of life is still there. The refreshing hope and encouragement you felt in the past came from God, and God is still waiting behind His Word and is still waiting to be found in prayer. He has promised that we will find Him when we seek Him with all our heart. (Jeremiah 29:12-14.) He has promised to never leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5-6.) He never lies or changes His mind. And Jesus told us to keep on seeking God, for He will not delay long in answering our cries.
So keep on digging. Even when you're feeling dry, put your trust in the promises He made to us and keep on seeking Him. If a half-hour doesn't help, then find a way to make it an hour. If you don't find comfort on one day, keep on seeking Him the next day. Dry spells happen, and God always has a good reason for them (I'll talk about that in the next posts). Even so, they don't last if you keep on digging and seeking God to satisfy your thirst. God always intends every dry spell to lead to a closer, better relationship with Him:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
(2 Corinthians 1:8-10.)