Where Did God Go?


Psalm 13


I found an interesting article the other day, it read:
A plane carrying 55 passengers circled an airport in western Scotland for half an hour while an air traffic controller had lunch.
The officials at the airport on the island of Benbecula in the Western Isles of Scotland apologized Monday for the incident, which took place last Friday, but blamed it on a shortage of air traffic controllers, of which they have only one.
The Times newspaper said that there had been an uproar in the terminal building as families watched the plane from Glasgow linger in a holding pattern, tantalizingly within view.
It had left Glasgow 25 minutes late, and finally touched down in Benbecula 55 minutes late after the controller returned to his radar screen.

Life can be like that sometimes, can't it? Like you're stuck in a holding pattern.

When I became a Christian, at the age of 21, I experienced an incredible change in my life. It seemed at the time like I had been thrown into a rushing stream - like I was swept away. Things were going by so fast. I was learning new things everyday and my relationship with God was advancing at an incredible pace. It was like I became a new person. The most profound change was a sense of God's presence that followed me every where I went. I woke up each morning with a sense that God loved me, that I was right with him, that I was in the center of his will, and that all was well in my world.

Then, I don't remember exactly when it was, but I didn't sense God's presence as I had before. Suddenly, there seemed to be a distance between us. Where before his presence was so real to me, he now seemed to be distant. Where before I had felt a zeal, an enthusiasm, now my heart felt cold. There must be something wrong, I thought. There must be something wrong with me. God's feelings for me must have changed, or I wouldn't feel this way.

The longer I've been a Christian, the more I've realized how common this experience is. You go through times when you experience the highs of the mountain top, then you go through times when you face the lows of the valley. And it doesn't happen just once - it happens again and again throughout the course of our lives. The thing that's important for us to realize is: Even during the valley-lows, God's presence in our life is just as real as it is during the mountain-top experiences. In fact, during the times we're going through the valley - when we don't feel God's presence - we have the opportunity to grow by leaps and bounds in our Christian walk, because these are times we learn to walk by faith. Regardless of how you feel, it doesn't change the fact that God is always there, and you can live in his presence 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Practicing the presence of God in our lives is not a feeling we depend on, it is a faith we live by.

A pastor once said, "In the Christian life, your feelings will go up and down, and will sometimes run hot or cold. You can't be driven by your feelings; faith has to be the engine of your Christian life. It is faith that drives you forward."

This is a lesson that King David learned. He went through times when he couldn't feel the presence of God. One good example is Psalm 13. He begins by saying:

Psalms 13:1-2 (NKJV) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? 2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

David wrote Psalm 13 at a time in his life when it seemed like everything had fallen apart. Saul, the king, was jealous of David's popularity, and for years had been trying to kill him. David had been able to avoid death, but he had to leave behind his closest friend, Jonathan, who happened to be Saul's son. Ultimately, David found himself desperate and feeling very alone.

He learned, however, that our desperation is God's opportunity. It is when we are at our wit's end that we most often see God go to work in our lives. The problem is, however, that before God begins to deal with our situation, He wants to deal with us. We want Him to fix our complication; He wants to form our character. We want Him to change our circumstances; He wants to change us.

This doesn't mean God isn't interested in our problems; it means that God is interested in long term solutions. He doesn't want to treat the symptom; He wants to treat the illness.

Psalms 13:1 (NKJV) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt, "Where did God go?" Have you ever felt like God had forgotten you? We know he hasn't gone anywhere or forgotten us, but we sometimes feel it anyway. To feel forgotten by God is a terrible feeling. I hope you never feel this way, but the fact is, if you haven't, you probably will.

Jeremiah felt forgotten by God when he lamented the Jewish captivity:

Lamentations 5:20-22 (NKJV) Why do You forget us forever, And forsake us for so long a time? 21 Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored; Renew our days as of old, 22 Unless You have utterly rejected us, And are very angry with us!

There will be times in your life when God seems to be far away, and living in his presence 24/7 seems like nothing more than a fading memory, or a distant dream. When that happens, you have the opportunity to become closer to God than ever before, because this is a time in your life when you'll learn to walk by faith, not by feelings. Today, we'll take a closer look at Psalm 13, which teaches us what to do when God seems far away. David wrote this Psalm when he was going through an emotional valley; yet he continued to find strength and direction in his faith in God. There are three things we can learn here.

So, what should you do when you feel like God has forgotten you? First of all:

1. TELL GOD ALL ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS

You don't have to read the Psalms for very long to discover that David freely poured out his heart to God whenever he wanted. In fact, sometimes he almost sounds impertinent. In verses 1 & 2 he says repeatedly, "How long?...How long?...How long?...How long?" This is David's way of saying, "Lord, can you hear me? I am trying to get through to you!"

Sometimes we think there are subjects that we can't discuss with God. We know that God wants us to worship Him. But we feel, "How can I tell Him that what I really feel is anger toward Him? We know that God wants us to praise Him. But we feel, "How can I tell Him that I really feel let down by Him?" We know that God wants us to trust Him. But we feel, "How can I tell Him that my faith is running out of steam?" We know that God wants us to be joyful. But we feel, "How can I tell Him that I feel anything but joyful?"

How ridiculous these feelings are, when we consider that: "Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8). David didn't hesitate to tell God exactly how He felt.

David isn't the only one in scripture to have cried out boldly to God. Moses did, Job did, Isaiah did, Paul did, and Jesus did. They all told God exactly what was on their heart-even though it wasn't very pleasant. God knows anyway, so there's no use in trying to hide our feelings. Being honest with God about the way we feel is the beginning to getting ourselves back on track. You find solutions when you share your problems with God. This is the key to overcoming the feeling that God has forgotten you; share your problems with Him.

David felt that God had forgotten him. He felt abandoned (v. 1), and forsaken (v. 2). We may feel abandoned at times in our lives , but that does not mean that we have been abandoned. Regardless of how we may feel, God knows what He is doing. He has an end result in mind. We may not be able to see the big picture, but God can.

When you feel God has forgotten you, you can also:

2. ASK GOD FOR HELP

Psalms 13:3 (NKJV) Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;

After David finished pouring out his heart to God, he turned to thoughtful, rational prayer. He had been so overwhelmed by emotion that he actually was afraid it would take him to an early grave. But David refused to let his emotions get the best of him. Instead, he nailed them to a powerful truth: He called upon God, saying "O Lord my God." In the Hebrew, the phrase reads, "Jehovah my Elohim." These are both names for God. Jehovah means: "the God of promise" and Elohim means: "the God of Power." By calling upon God as "Jehovah my Elohim," David was saying, "God, I believe you have the power to keep your promise."

You see, years earlier, when David was a young man, Samuel the prophet had anointed David to be the next King of Israel. According to the word of God, David would rule Israel. There was nothing Saul could do about it. By asserting his belief in the power of God's promise, David nailed his emotions to the Word of God, and he began to see things in a different light.

True and honest prayer always moves us closer to God. David later penned these words:

Psalms 34:17 (NKJV) The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.

There are times when we feel God has abandoned us. When we face those times, we should tell God exactly how we feel. And, like David, we should ask God to give "light to our eyes" (v. 3) so we can see the situation from His perspective. Then, the situation won't look so hopeless, and we won't feel so helpless.

Do you remember the story of Elisha and the circumstances he found himself in? The Syrian army had surrounded the city of Dothan to do away with the prophet Elisha. When Elisha's servant saw the army, he was alarmed and afraid. But Elisha assured him that those who were with them were more than those who were with the Syrians. And then he prayed asking for the young man's eyes to be opened:

2 Kings 6:17 (NKJV) And Elisha prayed, and said, "LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Isn't that what you and I need - spiritual sight to see our circumstances and complications in the bigger picture as God sees them? As David prayed for God to show him, he began to see that God was aware and in control of the circumstances he found himself in.

Psalms 123:2 (NKJV) Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us.

As we focus our attention on God in prayer, we'll begin to recognize that even though we can't see everything there is to see, God can. And He is in control of our lives.

Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

When we share our problems with God, we begin to find solutions.

There is a third step we should take when we feel God has forgotten us:

3. TRUST IN GOD'S FAITHFULNESS

Psalms 13:5-6 (NKJV) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

The NASV reads this way in verse 5, "But I have trusted in Thy lovingkindness"

Some people may wonder how David could swing so swiftly from gloom to gladness. The secret is found in the fact that he shared his problems with God, and then focused his heart on God, and that changed his perspective.

Let me share with you three things that will help us to trust in God's faithfulness, no matter how we feel:

A. Assume God's presence, and do what you know you should do.

David says:

Psalms 13:5 (NKJV) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

He's saying: "I just assume you will be with me, watching over me, taking care of me, leading me along the way." This is a safe assumption, because God promises us that he will always be with us:

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV) "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you."
Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

These words, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," are almost impossible to reproduce in the English with the emphasis of the original, in which no less than five negatives are used to increase the strength of the negation ,according to the Greek idiom. Perhaps the nearest approximation is to render it, "I will never, no, never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee"

Today, almost five weeks after the election, who the president will be is still undecided. Florida has declared Bush as the winner, but there are still some matters to be settled in the courts. In the meantime, the Bush camp has said, basically, "We're going to assume that we have won and continue preparing to serve as the next president of the United States." There's no telling how all of this will pan out, but the worst mistake George Bush could make is to do nothing while this mess is being bounced back and forth from Tallahassee to Washington D.C.

What I'm saying is this: Regardless of how you feel, assume God's presence in your life and do what you know you should be doing. Assume his presence. Assume his love. Assume his mercy. Assume his guidance. Assume his protection - and do what you know you should be doing. This is how you, in David's words, "Trust in God's lovingkindness."

This means we continue the habit of spending time with God, reading His Word and praying, whether we feel like it or not. We come to church each week, whether we feel like it or not. We give, whether we feel like it or not. We share Christ with others, whether we feel like it or not. We serve, whether we feel like it or not. We return to him again and again throughout the day, whether we feel like it or not. Even when you don't feel God's presence in your life, he is there. Assume his presence and do what you should be doing anyway. This is how you put your trust in his unfailing love. It's a matter of saying, "God, regardless of how I feel, I'm going to keep on doing what I know I should be doing, because by faith I know you are right here with me."

The second thing that will help us to trust in God's faithfulness, no matter how we feel is:

B. Cling to what you know is true.

David says, "...My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation." I don't think that David is talking about redemption here when he uses the word "salvation." The Hebrew word used here for "salvation" is yeshuw'ah, which has a broad range of meaning such as: deliverance, aid, victory, prosperity, health, help and salvation. I think that David is saying, "My heart shall rejoice in your deliverance."

When God seems far away, cling to what you know is true. Remind yourself of the things God has done for you, and rejoice in them. David had many victories to remember. Perhaps he thought about the lion he slew with his bare hands, by God's help; perhaps the bear, again, by God's help; perhaps his mind went to Goliath, another example of God's helping him.

You, like David, have experienced God's blessings in the past. Remember what He has done for you. Think of all the things you know to be true, and offer them up to God. You might say, "Lord, you've made such a difference in my life. You've provided for me. You've forgiven my sins. You've given me eternal life. You've answered my prayers" [name some of them specifically!]. As you remind yourself of these things, and as you offer them up to God in prayer, you will find yourself strengthened in him.

You don't have to pretend you feel something that you don't really feel. God knows how you feel; you can be honest with him. Search your heart for those things you know to be true, and cling to them. When I feel like God is far away, I sometimes think about where my life would be if I had never become a Christian. Based on where I was before I met Jesus, what would my life have been like if it had followed its logical progression? What kind of career would I have pursued? What kind of person would I have married? What kind of father would I have become? Every time I think these things through, I am overcome with gratitude for God's sovereign mercy in my life. Even when he seems far away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has made a huge difference in my life, and I cling to that. And I thank him for it.

The third thing that will help us to trust in God's faithfulness, no matter how we feel is:

C. Keep Singing Praise to God.

You've heard me say before that love isn't a feeling, it's something you do. Most of you already know that. What we sometimes forget, though, is that praise (or worship) isn't a feeling either; it's something you do. Sometimes when your heart is joyful, you overflow with praise, and you can't help but sing to God what you're feeling in your heart. When that happens, it's wonderful. However, even during those times when our heart isn't so joyful, we should continue to worship him. Even when he seems far away, we should continue to sing our praise to him. This is what David did.

As I've already pointed out, he begins this Psalm by admitting that God seems very far away. And he ends it by saying, "I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me" (v. 6). Notice that he is speaking in the past tense! He said, "God has dealt bountifully with me." Had David's circumstances changed? No! Had Saul called off the bloodhounds and his bullies? No! Had David received a new shipment of arms? No! Nothing had changed, except David's perspective. Suddenly he realized that God had not forgotten him, and that he had not been abandoned. Even though the situation was the same, his attitude had changed.

David isn't saying this because he suddenly experienced an emotional turn-around (in the time it took him to write these six verses) and was suddenly back on top of the mountain. He's saying it because he understands that praise is an act of faith, not of feelings. He's saying, "I will sing to the Lord, regardless of how I feel."

Some people say, "Isn't it hypocritical to sing praise when you don't feel close to God?" I guess it is hypocritical if you believe you're supposed to praise God only when you feel good. But that's not what the Bible teaches. We are to praise him all during the day, regardless of how we feel. Our feelings will come and go; our praise to him should be consistent.

In fact, I'll take it a step further - God knows how you feel. I think he is more pleased when we praise him during those times we don't feel so joyful inside.

For example, if you gave your teenager a car, she (or he) would most likely be overcome with joy, and say something along the lines of "Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you, I love you, I love you!" And, no doubt, their words would be sincere. But suppose you got her (or him) up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning to help you clean the garage, and in the midst of the groggy grumpiness that teenagers have mastered as an art-form, she or he was to say, "You know, Dad, I love you. And I want you to know that I am glad you are my father." Wouldn't those words carry more weight than the others?

It's easy to praise God when you're feeling giddy, but if you continue to praise him even when he seems to be far away, I think he is especially pleased.

CONCLUSION:

There are cycles to the Christian life. Over the course of time, our feelings will go up and down. There will be times when you feel close to God, and times when you feel like he is far, far away. That's inevitable. We don't have to be driven by our feelings. We can be driven by faith. Even during those times when God seems distant, we can experience the power of his presence in our daily lives.

Regardless of how you feel, tell God all about you problems, ask Him for help, and trust in His faithfulness. We trust in His faithfulness by: continuing to do what you know you should be doing, regardless of how you feel; by clinging to what you know is true, regardless of how you feel; and by continuing to sing praise to God. This is what David meant when he said:

Psalms 13:5-6 (NKJV) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

When Fanny Crosby was six years old, she was blinded by an instance of medical malpractice. She lived more than 90 years, and she was no stranger to hardship. During her life she wrote more than 8000 hymns. One of them says:

All the Way my Savior leads me; What have I to ask beside
Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my Guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to swell!
For I know what're befall me, Jesus doeth all things well
For I know what're befall me, Jesus doeth all things well

We're not talking about a life that is driven by surface level emotionalism. We're talking about a life that is driven by faith. That's what living in the presence of God 24/7 really is. It's not a feeling we depend on; it's a faith we live by.



This message preached by David B. Curtis on December 10, 2000. Tape #177.