How to Navigate Those Times When God Seems Far Away

imageCan I tell you a secret, one people don’t like to write blogs about? Sometimes I set aside time to be with the Lord and all I hear is… Nothing. Crickets chirping. Dogs barking outside my window. Kids pestering each other in the other room. I open my Bible or listen to my audio Bible and I have to keep going back, because I can’t remember a word. I get lost. I wish this didn’t happen when I feel like I need Him most, but it does.

What then?

I’m in a season of pretty deep testing.  And here I come over and over to the Lover of my soul seeking whatever He has, and it’s always enough, but I’m not going to tell you it’s all rainbows and angelic visitations. Here’s why- I don’t want for you to think that there’s any difference between me and you. When I get through this, I want you to say, if He can do it for her, He can do it for me. Not- she’s really fill-in-the-blank, and if I were more fill-in-the-blank, God could do something with me, too. That’s the line the enemy wants us to believe, but it’s not true. We need to tear down every scrap of that terrible lie in our hearts. Sometimes my time with God is boring, dry, and I’m tempted to do something else instead. As my friend Donna says, “If God doesn’t show up, let’s just watch a movie.”

Why would I bring this up? I recently listened to someone’s testimony about a difficult time, and she said how the Lord was so near. She’ll miss this season when it’s over, because of His nearness, and I nodded my head, because it’s so true. He’s near to the broken-hearted. It’s scripture. It’s our experience. And those are the times we never forget. They are seared deep into our spirits. Grace gifts. Love encounters. They revive us and reveal Him. We’re sustained by a Power that is totally other and yet wholly ours, because we are one with Him. I love those moments, and they happen over and over in our walk with Holy Spirit.

I left that meeting and soon wondered, “I haven’t felt that nearness in the recently. What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t He coming to me.” In spite of His pursuit, His faithfulness, His unending kindness, I wondered. In spite of my daily times set aside for Him, I wondered. I write this in case you’re wondering, Where are you God? What’s wrong with me?

Another reason that I bring this up is because I remember asking someone in leadership this question once, and they had no answer. I’m not sure why he didn’t have an answer, because it seems to be a universal experience of humans in relationship with God, but he didn’t. Maybe the Lord wanted me to search it out on my own. Either way, I’ve been down this road a few times since then, so I want to give the answer I wish someone had given me.

So what do we do when our time with God feels dry? Here are some things that have gotten me through those patches over the years.  This isn’t a formula. For me, it’s usually one of these.  Follow Holy Spirit and see if any of these may help you get connected again.

1) Ask Him if anything is in your heart that doesn’t please Him. Those things can cause separation, and if not repented and confessed, it can become a slippery slope leading away from Him. Sometimes it’s subtle. Ask for ears to hear and eyes to see things from His perspective. That’s His will for all His children. If He shows you something, confess it and turn away from it. Receive His grace and forgiveness, and move on to whatever He wants to do next.

2) Ask Him if there’s a wound in your heart that has prompted you to build a wall to protect yourself. What we build to keep the pain out also keeps the Him out. In a fallen world, where misunderstandings and hurt are common occurrences, this is always a possibility. We often do it without knowing it. Usually when this happens, I need to pour my heart out to the Lord about whatever caused me to shut down. I give Him the pain, and let Him carry my sorrows. The wall crumbles and I’m back in Papa’s lap again.  It’s not always quick and easy, but if I’m willing to go there, He meets me.  (Honestly, if you’ve been building walls all your life because of pain and trauma, it will probably take time for that wall to fall brick by brick, but that’s a blog for another day. For now, rest assured, He is faithful and patient, and His presence and fullness are on the other side of the wall, so it’s worth dismantling all you’re hiding behind to let Him in. He’s a more secure Fortress than that wall.)

3) If nothing’s there, then just keep coming, keep knocking, keep seeking. He won’t disappoint. Don’t give up. He’s is there. He never leaves. Even when we don’t know how to connect, nothing can separate us from the love of God. His love is about what He’s done, not what we do or feel. He remembers what we’re made of- dust. From down here, He sometimes seems far away, but He’s as near as the heart beating in our chest. He’s catching every tear and storing it in His bottle. He is cheering us on. He is carrying us when we don’t think we can take another step. Remember the poem Footprints? That’s what this is. You’re not forsaken. You just live in this thing called skin and sometimes it gets in the way of seeing the spiritual reality.  Keep pursuing Him.  Or rest in the assurance that He’s pursuing you. He won’t stop.  Often strife gets in the way of connecting, so relax.

4) Remember that these seasons are a natural part of relating to God. One thing that helped me after that meeting, when lies were coming at me trying to discourage me was that I knew David and Job didn’t always feel God right there in their suffering, either. Job said, “I cry out, ‘Help!’ but no one answers me. I protest, but there is no justice. God has blocked my way so I cannot move. He has plunged my path into darkness.”
‭‭Job‬ ‭19:7-9. Job’s pain was real, even if he wasn’t truly alone.

God said Job was blameless. David was a man after His own heart. They both said these sorts of things about the Lord. Don’t even get me started about Jeremiah. He wasn’t called the weeping prophet for nothing, ok. So I just want you to know that you’re in good company if on your journey with God in the dark, it just feels… dark. Just hold on.

5) Sometimes I think He plays hard to get. Not to be manipulative, He’s way too good for that, but no lover always wants to be pursued the same way every time. How boring, right? When I get in a time when my usual daily rhythm isn’t working, I ask Him if there is a different way He wants to speak to me. These times can be transitions into hearing the Lord in new and exciting ways. He’s not withholding Himself to give you less of Himself, He’s wanting you to know Him in a new way. He’s giving us an opportunity to know another side of Him. Think of the four faces of God in the book of Revelation. If we always do the same thing, and He moves the same way, we will miss gigantic parts of His heart. He is vast. He is complex. He is worthy of pursuing every facet of His heart.

6) Sometimes God wants to speak to you through your brothers and sisters. I’m a big advocate of seeking the Lord for yourself and developing your own relationship and history with Him. Otherwise, you’re just eating leftovers spiritually. There’s nothing like fresh bread. However, last week I was asking the Lord to speak to me, and He said, “I have been, through your husband.” My husband had been sharing encouragement with me the past few days, truth the Lord had ministered to Him. Maybe it’s not your husband; maybe it’s your friend or pastor, a stranger, or a child. It’s such a gift to have those around us that are willing to sow into our hearts. The humility of receiving from the vessel He sends our way pleases the Lord. Of course, we test everything and let Holy Spirit be our filter. It’s a blessing for others to be a blessing to you. And vice versa. Every joint supplies. None of us have it all, and the Lord will allow those times when we need His body  to minister to us so that we know that it’s grace to give and grace to receive, and not about any of us having it all together.

7)  Go back to the thing He said last.  Was it an encouragement?  If so, like David, encourage yourself in the Lord.  Read that scripture over and over, listen to that song, share that testimony of how He came to you.  Savor every whisper, nudge, and  tender glance.  God reached out to you!  What a gift!  Was it a directive?  Did you do it?  If not, start now.  The Lord will sometimes be quiet when we don’t do what He’s already said.  It’s His mercy.  If He keeps talking and we keep sinning, that doesn’t help our relationship.

8)  Are you taking care of your body?  If you’re tired, undernourished, that will effect every relationship you have, including the one with God. Our souls and spirits don’t live in a vacuum.  It’s all connected, so sometimes it may be more spiritual to nap or eat than to have your quiet time.  Before you call me a heretic, remember what the angel did for Elijah when he thought he was the only prophet left in I Kings 19?  He gave him food and rest.  We need to steward our bodies well as we pursue the Lord.  My husband laughing at me falling asleep as I tried to read my Bible at 6 a.m. after nursing a newborn several times a night comes to mind.

I saved the best for last.
9) A really sweet thing happened to me in one of the most traumatic moments of this recent assault on my health. I had an emergency appointment with a doctor because I was suddenly aware of a severe infection raging in my body. I had never met this particular physician because I’m relatively new to the practice, and my doctor was unavailable. During the course of events I passed out while I was there. I was so weak, so vulnerable with not a single person in the room that I knew. I felt completely exposed, in spite of the fact that I was so gently and professionally handled. As I was lying there in a crumpled mess flooded with all these emotions, I was crying out to the Lord with the only pitiful whispers I could get out. “Oh, Lord help me. I’m so weak. I don’t know what is happening in my body. I don’t know what to do.” Then the most precious Grace carried me. I heard myself whispering, “Oh, Lord, I know you’re here with me. I’m never alone. You love me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being here.” Up until that moment I did not feel His Presence. All I felt was frail and exposed and completely destitute of everything I needed. Why hadn’t I asked my husband to come with me? He would have left work. But as I said, “You’re here,” I suddenly felt the tangible presence of My Savior there in that room. It was a grace I don’t always feel in those type of moments in my life. I often have wondered, “Where are you, Lord?!” and some time later realized how He was there working on my behalf. Somehow gazing on Him in the mundane left me without a doubt about who He would be to me in the fire. Agreeing with and declaring the truth, even in a weak whisper, set me free from the very scary facts of that moment. I knew He’d be there to pick up all my pieces.

So when you don’t feel Him, declare the truth. Hold onto it, because it is our lifeline. Even the ability to do that is a gift from Him. All is Grace.

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