Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What Do I Do When I Can't See God?

Yesterday we considered the valley experience and the response of the great Shepherd, as we looked at Psalm 23. I was stating that this "shadow of death" experience can be faced in many different situations in our lives but our God has given us certain promises that we can rely on. In the midst of these moments our greatest task is to trust our Father's love. This love has promised to protect and to strengthen us, to make it possible for us to face and survive these periods of life. But what happens when our Spirit refuses to respond? Those moments that seem to take us into such a dark place that we cannot get our eyes to look up? Have you experienced any of those valleys? What do we do then?

There are times in our lives when we experience grief that is so poignant, so heart wrenching that we cry out for our hearts to be removed. We want some kind of relief even if it means that we would not feel anything any more. That is how we feel for that moment but that's only because it hurts so much. To feel nothing means to forget that deep love that has caused us to feel this pain and I don't think that any of us really want to forget that love. That would be the real tragedy. Yet, this pain paralyzes us so that we can't think rationally any more, nothing makes sense and it feels like our world is crashing to an end. We may even sincerely say that we do not want to go on any more. What do we do?

This is when we hope that our faith is sincere. If our faith has not been sincere we will remain in that valley because, in this dark place, we need to look in the "mirror" and remind ourselves the importance of this trust in our Father's love. Psalm 42 is my favorite psalm for this and any time I must enter the valley I bring this psalm along with me:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and my God.
(Psalm 42:11)

However, this cannot be the starting point for our relationship with God because it is a result of an healthy relationship that pre-dates the valley experience. It is the reason we must cultivate a good and growing relationship on the mountaintops and when the weather is fair. When we look at the beginning of this psalm we see that the psalmist is longing to see God in the darkness that has enveloped him because he has known God:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
       so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
       When can I go and meet with God? 

It is often, as we talked about yesterday, that grief and pain can seem to hide God on us. This is when faith has to take over completely and we rely on experience as opposed to feelings. Gone is the wonderful sensation of worship and we are left with the basic truth that God loves us and has promised to protect our soul and strengthen us in these times. We long for a sense of his presence but we have to rely on the knowledge of his presence as we grieve our loss and experience our pain:

My tears have been my food
       day and night,
       while men say to me all day long,
       "Where is your God?"

We have to look out from this curtain of pain, look out from the valley, see past the shadows and remember. And what will we remember? We remember the tangible things about our Father's love. We remember the answered prayers, the miracles we have experienced, the practical and physical response of our Father's love. We remember the joys and the celebrations, the many times he has rescued us from these valleys of the shadow of death:

These things I remember
       as I pour out my soul:
       how I used to go with the multitude,
       leading the procession to the house of God,
       with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
       among the festive throng.

It is only in this context of faith, trust and remembrance that we are able to speak to our soul and force our eyes to look up:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and my God.
       My soul is downcast within me;
       therefore I will remember you
       from the land of the Jordan,
       the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

"My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you." It is not something that happens naturally. We can't sit in the muck of our despair and expect someone to rescue us. Our Father is right there with us in that muck but he is gentle and will not interfere until we turn to him, until we remember, until we force our eyes up. We have to decide to put our hope in him. Oh, he will sustain us until we can make that decision. He will sing over us, carry us, protect us, all without us even acknowledging him but he cannot heal us and bring us relief until we look to him. We must remind our soul of the love of the great Sustainer of our faith. We must convince our soul to remember and to rise up:

Deep calls to deep
       in the roar of your waterfalls;
       all your waves and breakers
       have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs his love,
       at night his song is with me—
       a prayer to the God of my life. 

So often we are fake with our Father. So often we refuse to feel the deeper things. So often we fail to go any deeper than on the surface of things. Yet, it is in this "valley of the shadow of death" that we are forced to be real, to deal with the deeper things. It is as we call out in this deep place that God answers from his depth and washes over us with a love that is ours to experience every day yet we fail in it. This psalm speaks of a deeply felt relationship that is provoked by the tragedies and grief experiences of life which forces us to open our eyes and see in that deep place:

I say to God my Rock,
       "Why have you forgotten me?
       Why must I go about mourning,
       oppressed by the enemy?"

My bones suffer mortal agony
       as my foes taunt me,
       saying to me all day long,
       "Where is your God?"

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
       Why so disturbed within me?
       Put your hope in God,
       for I will yet praise him,
       my Savior and my God.

Beloved, you have not been forgotten, only blinded to the reality of his presence and love by the grief that has gripped your heart. Remember! Force yourself to remember everything from your past, the mountaintop experiences, the quiet moments, the miracles, the answered prayers, promises fulfilled, those great moving times of worship. Remember and trust. Remember and proclaim your faith. Remember and cry out to him. Remember and force your eyes up. Remember and praise him in the midst of the shadows. Then watch and see what he does. Our Father loves us and on that love we must rely and depend regardless of the valley we may be in. If it was real before the valley then it will be real in the valley. If it was not real before then prepare for it to become real in your grief. "Deep calls to deep".

1 comment:

Pat said...

Very encouraging post Pastor Paul I have a friend in a desperate place and I'm sharing this with her,thanks for sharing with us from the well of wisdom God has given you.