Sunday, February 11, 2024

When God seems Distant: The Teacher is Silent during the Test

There have been a few times in my life when I felt God’s presence depart from me. And it was for the purpose of testing me, to see what decision I’ll make without his presence strong upon me. Don’t get me wrong, God was still with me in those times. He hadn’t left me or forsaken me. But, his presence, his influence, even his power in my life had departed temporarily, as I was being tempted, or going through a hard time. And I was left with what I’d learned from God to guide me.

That seems natural, as the old saying goes the teacher is always silent during the test.

James 1:12 ESV “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

During those times we want to pray, even if we don’t feel He is close. We want to read the word. We want to hold fast to God’s commands.

In our journey with God so far, we’re learning something Madam Guyon wrote, “You gradually recognize that prayer is the true way, the real way, of finding God. And once you have found Him, you proclaim joyfully, “His name is an ointment poured forth.” (Song of Solomon 1:3) -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 22

But we’re challenged by Jeanne Guyon that this journey will not be without difficulties and problems.

There was a man named Elijah who was a heroic servant of God. He was surrendered to God’s will for his life. He was bold, he was fearless. He confronted false teachers in his time, hundreds of them, and God worked mightily through his experience. He was an outcast in his time, hated by Israel’s leaders, feared by the people, and criticized constantly.

After Elijah’s greatest moment of victory over the false prophets of his time, Elijah was exhausted. He must’ve felt at those moments far off from God, tired, weak. And it was at that moment that Queen Jezebel sent a message to him that she would kill him for what he’d done.

It was too much for Elijah at that moment, Elijah ran for his life. He ran for days. God cared for him on the journey.

There will be times when we feel weak, when we feel far from God, even when it seems God has withdrawn from us. That’s the time when we want to cling to what we’ve been taught and stay true to our Master.

Then, after the test is through, the teacher comes over pleased that we’ve passed, we’ve walked through the flames, we’ve not been burned, and all is well.

Elijah ran for his life. But God was with him on the journey. He ministered to him, cared for his needs, fed him, and gave him rest. Then God revealed himself to Elijah on the mountain, in a still small voice.

We will have periods of dryness. We will face times when it feels like God is far off. We will face times when it’s hard to pray. We can learn in all this, to simply be OK with where we are at right at this moment.

We’re always longing for more, aren’t we? We want it to feel good. But it won’t always feel good.

As you seek to know God better, as you embrace this journey to really be intimate with God, it will ebb and flow.

Nothing in this life will ever be perfect in how we experience it. One day is a good day, the next isn’t as good. One day we feel deeply close with one of our friends, a few weeks later, we don’t feel as close. One day when we bike ride it’s perfect, glorious even, the next it’s just dismal and sad.

In a romantic relationship, some days we get along super well, other days we argue an disagree and feel miserable.

Accept in your walk with God that there will be times when you feel very close, and there will be other days when you feel far off. Don’t get discouraged.

“I would encourage you to have a believing heart from this point on. You must not be discouraged. There will be a little difficulty along the way as you seek to go into a deep relationship with the Lord.” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 22

It ebbs and it flows. But keep pushing toward God in the journey. But then as you push toward Him, and you sense Him near, cease striving, and simply enjoy His presence.

As Jeanne Guyon said, “What is the point? The point is this: There is a fire with you and it ebbs and grows. That fire, when it ebbs, must be gently fanned, but only gently. Just as soon as that fire begins to burn, again cease all your efforts. Otherwise, you might put out the flame.” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 23

Friends it’s like this in any goal we set for ourselves to achieve. There will be ups and downs. Allow God to develop in you a perseverance, where you don’t give up. You keep going.

Honestly I have a hard time with this sometimes. I get far too disappointed when things go wrong. I get far too disappointed when we have a poor turnout for dinner church or Sunday school or Bible study. But I’m slowly learning to take it in stride. I remember a roommate used to say something to me, he said his dad always said it to him. He would always say, “You gotta roll with the punches.”

What does that mean? I wasn’t sure for the longest time. I knew it meant to persevere through difficulties. To not give up. But apparently it comes from boxing. When you take punches to the face in boxing, which you certainly will even if you win, you’re supposed to allow your body, your head to move in the same direction the punch is going, and it lessons the blow you take, that slight movement makes it more bearable. So if you get punched from the front, you’d slide back slightly to lesson the blow.

Take the hit, lesson it, keep it outside yourself, don’t internalize it, and you can keep going without getting discouraged.

That’s why the bible tells us to “guard your heart.” We can’t let certain things into our hearts. They have to stay on the outside. And other things we have to let in, good things, like love, trust, and peace and friendship. But keep criticism out, keep anger out, keep hate from others out, don’t take it inside yourself. Keep it out.

Romans 5:3-5 ESV “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

A lot of this all goes back to the heart. Guard your heart. Keep your heart encouraged. And in prayer, always believe in your heart that God is there and will answer completely.

Jeanne Guyon said, “Praying with a believing heart is more important than anything else that has to do with prayer!” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p.23

We’ve got to believe, through and through, when we pray, that God is really here and really changing everything as a result of the prayer. God is real. God is good. God is answering. God has answered.

Lastly, I want to point us to the heart issue of the motive of the heart. As we seek to get to know God better and better, we want to examine our motive for doing so. Why are we doing this?

There are some common reasons, we love to experience God. We want to know God better. We want the sweetness of fellowship with Him. Those are all reasons we may have.

But Madam Guyon points us to a higher reason. She says, “Bring a heart that is seeking nothing from the Lord, but desires only to please Him and to do His will.” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 24

It reminds me of the parable that Jesus taught about the servants. From Luke 17:7-10 it says, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” -Luke 17:7-10

Yes, we are God’s children through faith in Jesus. Yes we call God Father. Yes we call Jesus Lord and Savior. Yet in all that we must remember we are servants of God. So our chief desire as a servant of God should be to please Him and do what He tells us to do. Do His will.

Let’s review our key points from today:

1. If God seems to depart in a trial, it may be because we’re being tested

2. Spells of spiritual dryness occur, but we can know God remains with us

3. When tested, hold firm to the truths of God’s word

4. Take the hits in the spiritual trials, but don’t let discouragement sneak into your heart, stay focused on Christ

5. Guard your heart to develop perseverance 

6. Pray with a believing heart – believe God hears and does in fact answer

7. Develop the motive in your heart of simply wanting to be a servant of God