If you’re feeling far away from God, guess who moved?
Do you ever feel like God’s least present when you seem to need Him most?
Lost In Darkness
When I struggled with depression following my injury, God seemed to be a million miles away. I knew intellectually that He was right beside me, but it sure didn’t feel like that. I imagined myself wandering in darkness so impenetrable that not even God could find me.
As I began to get a handle on the depression, I seemed to discover edges to the darkness. Bits of light penetrated the oppressive blanket of despair. And I found that as I felt less lost, God’s presence suddenly felt more real.
While I was grateful for this feeling, I recall thinking that the process was backward. I really needed God when I stumbled in the shadows. Why did He feel closer as my need decreased?
Of course I know this was all in my mind, but that knowledge made it no less real or perplexing. It’s a question I hear frequently from others as well: I know I always need to feel God’s presence, but why does He seem farther away when I need Him most?
When I think back on my emergence from darkness, I notice something else. As I wandered less, I was more able to focus on something other than my pain and fear. I read the bible more frequently. My prayers involved more listening and fewer desperate pleas for relief.
I recognize now that God didn’t change or move. His Spirit always spoke to me, in darkness as well as light. The difference? I was listening.
In this passage from John, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples.
- If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. John 14:15-21
As I read this promise, I understand that seeing Jesus depends on my obedience. But it’s not that He hides when I’m disobedient, because He promises not to leave us as orphans. He’s always here; if I desire to see Him, I need to look.
That sounds easier than it is. In fact, it’s counter-intuitive. He’s saying that when I’m most lost and frightened is precisely the moment I need to trust Him the most. It’s sort of like a road map—you don’t bother with it when you know where you are, but it’s indispensable when you’re in unfamiliar territory. But how often do we keep going, certain that we’ll find our own way, rather than stopping to consult the map?
I think the trick is to practice during the good times. Just like you learn to read a map before you’re lost, you need to practice listening to Jesus when things are going well. The more you learn, the more you trust, the better you get at hearing Him and sensing His presence.
I’m always amazed when I see someone in a desperate situation who seems almost serene in their trust of Jesus. It’s almost like they’re in denial, ignoring the reality of horrible circumstances. But usually those folks have practiced for just such a moment. They’ve spent a lifetime listening to Jesus, trusting Him, practicing His presence.
If you’re lost right now, God didn’t go anywhere. If you can’t see Jesus, it’s not because He’s hiding. Your own fear, guilt, or regret might be clouding your vision, but He’s right there. He’s still the light of the world, even if your eyes are closed right now. He’s never going to leave you.
Stop and listen, not because it’s easy but because He promised that if you do it His way you’ll find peace and rest. Trust Him, not because you feel like trusting Him but because He’s already been to the bottom. He knows the way out.
Trust Him more, and you see Him more. See Him more, and you trust Him more. It’s the infinite cycle of sacrificial love that will bring you into God’s presence.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
What’s your way of practicing Jesus’ presence?