Feeling Alone

Have you ever felt that God wasn’t listening anymore?  I hope you never have, but the fact is, if you haven’t, you will.  There will be times in your life when God seems to be far away, and intimacy with Him 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 can learn to walk by faith, not by feelings.

I have been reading Psalm 13, which is what I 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.  David shows  our faith can overcome our feelings when God seems far away.

 Ps 13:5 “But I trust in your unfailing love.”

When I read this I hear David saying: “I won’t let despair get the best of me. I will just assume you are with me…watching over me…taking care of me…leading me along the way, regardless of how I feel about it.”

I have a friend who works for a company that is struggling to stay afloat. There have been some rumors that he might be transferred, or even laid off. This has put him in a state of limbo. He doesn’t know if he is staying or going, or if he’ll have a job next month. When he goes to the office he isn’t sure what he should do from day to day. As a result, he’s been afraid to begin any long-term projects and has found himself floundering — at a time when he can least afford to flounder. He finally said to me, “Since I really didn’t know what was going to happen back when I started this job I’ve decided that the only thing that has changed is that back then I expected the best and now I’m expecting the worst.  So I’m just going to trust God that everything will work out for the best, whether the company succeeds or fails, and keep doing my job the way it’s supposed to be done.”  His situation hasn’t changed but he has because of where he placed his trust in God.

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 God’s presence.  Assume God’s love.  Assume God’s mercy.  Assume God’s guidance.  Assume God’s protection. Even though you don’t feel His presence, love, mercy, guidance or protection — trust that God is there by faith. This is how we, in David’s words, “Trust in God’s unfailing love.”

This means we continue spending time alone with God whether we feel like it or not.  We go to church each week whether we feel like it or not.  We serve whether we feel like it or not.  We include God in our daily life 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.  Cling to God’s presence and act the same as if you felt His presence.  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 trust that you are right here with me.”

Cling to God’s presence: trust God not your emotions.

Ps 13:5,6 “My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”

 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.

 I try to think of all the things I know to be true, and offer them up to God. “Lord, you’ve made such a difference in my life. You’ve given me joy. You’ve provided for me. You’ve forgiven my sins. You’ve given me eternal life. You’ve answered my prayers.” [Here’s where keeping a prayer journal pays off!] As I remind myself of these things, and as I offer them up to God in prayer, I find myself strengthened in Him.

I’m not saying pretend to feel something that you don’t really feel.  I’m saying that God knows how we feel; so we might as well be honest with Him.  I search your heart for those things I know to be true, and, by faith rejoice in them.  I 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.  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 an incredible difference in my life, and I cling to that.  And I thank him for it.

Cling to God’s truth: rejoice in what God has done, not your emotions.

God loves you whether you feel it or not!  Cling to that truth.

When God Seems Far Away

I have had a number of “conversions” in my life.  I first confessed Jesus as my Savior and was baptized when I was 8 years old.  I can’t say I really experienced an incredible change in my life because I was blessed with a wonderful Christian family so I had been in church all my life. 

 During High School two contradictory things happened in my life simultaneously.  I began to preach on a fairly regular basis and I began to develop an alternate set of friends who had no idea that I was a Christian, much less a “preacher boy” (Yes, the rumors you’ve heard are true, I did win the “World Preacher Boy” contest when I was 16). 

The summer after High School graduation I experienced my second “conversion”.  My contradictory lifestyle had caused me to loathe myself and at church camp I admitted to myself that I had become a “Christian atheist”.  That is, I talked a lot about God but didn’t consider Him at all in my decision-making and I certainly did not feel close to Him at all.  I was a “good moral man” externally but internally I was alienated and rebellious.  During that week at camp I realized that I couldn’t go on living “two lives” anymore.  It was either go all the way with God, or get rid of Him entirely.  Fortunately, I decided on the former and made a public confession of what a hypocrite I had become.  I wanted to go all the way back to the basics, so I chose to be baptized again.  I consider that my actual baptism into Christ because it was a decision that I made of my own free will and volition as a young adult.  It was humiliating to be baptized in front of some of those that I had baptized myself but afterwards I felt great.  In fact it was like I became a new person. The most profound change was a sense of God’s presence that followed me everywhere I went.

I had this incredible “bubbly” feeling inside — knowing that God loved me with all His heart, that I was right with God, that I was committed to doing His will, and that all was well in my world.  As I went through the day I sensed God’s presence; I could see evidence of Him in everything that happened.

At this point, my experience was consistent with everything I had heard about the Christian life.  This was the mid sixties, at the beginning of what was called “the Jesus Movement”, and the Christian slogans that were popular were phrases like “Turn on to Jesus…Get high on Jesus…Jesus is a natural high…Jesus is the eternal high.”  So, naturally, I thought that since I had given my life to Jesus, I would feel good all the time.  And at first I did.

But after a few months things began to change.  I came down from my high.  The bubbles evaporated.  I didn’t sense God’s presence as I had before.  Suddenly there seemed to be a distance between us.  Where before God had spoken to me so clearly, he now seemed to be silent. Where before I had felt wrapped up in God’s love, now my heart felt cold.

 I thought “There must be something wrong.”  Specifically my thinking was, “There must be something wrong with me.  God’s feelings for me must have changed, or I wouldn’t feel this way.”  I went to see my preacher, and told him what I was going through.  He wrote on a piece of paper some Scriptures for me to memorize. 

At the bottom of the page he drew a picture of a train — an engine and a caboose.  On the engine he wrote “Faith.”  On the caboose he wrote “Feelings.”  He gave me the piece of paper and said to me, “In the Christian life, your feelings will go up and down, and will sometimes run hot and sometimes run 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.”

 The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more I’ve realized how common this experience is.  Every one of us goes through times when we experience the highs of the mountaintop, and every one of us goes through times when we face the lows of the valley.  And this pattern 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 mountaintop highs.  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 for us to learn to walk by faith:  To let the engine pull the caboose.

For the next couple of days I’m going to try to answer the question “What should we do during those times when God seems far away? 

I want to share with you a reality that doesn’t change regardless of how we feel.  That reality is that God is always with us, and we live in his presence 24 hours a day, seven days week, 52 weeks a year.  God’s presence in your life is not a feeling you depend on, it is a faith you live by. 

This is the reality that sustained King David. He went through times when he couldn’t feel the presence of God.  During one such time he wrote a poem that is recorded for us as Psalm 13

Spend a little time reflecting on his emotionallly charged words:

 “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”

Lonely? Psalm 25 day 3

The humble man acknowledges he has no claim on God but that God has a total claim on him.

Sometimes in our pride, we come before God and demand our rights. The humble person knows he has no claim on God at all, that God would be perfectly within his right and perfectly consistent with his nature if he brought judgment to bear upon us and gave us no grace at all. The humble person knows he exists only because God initiated him and continues to perpetuate him.

How God relates to the humble person, we read in Psalm 25:9,10: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.”

The covenant was simply this: God takes the initiative and says to Abraham and his followers and his progeny, “I will be your God. I invite you to be My people. The only two things I ask of you is to love Me with all your heart and all your soul and all your might and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” To amplify that, He gave them ten commandments.

Those are the demands that God puts upon His people.

They are designed to show that we love God and that we are prepared to humbly serve him.

The essence of our spiritual walk with the Lord is obedience.

David in his dark night of the soul comes before the Lord and reflects upon the fact that God has called him into covenant and is leading him into a life of obedience. There’s always the possibility that when we’re in the dark moments, we will slip into disobedience; there’s always the possibility that we will seek no longer to walk in the path he’s chosen for us – which, of course, is the next thing that David talks about.

Look in verse 12: “Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.” To fear the Lord is to reverence Him, to have an aspect of awe that is transformed into a lifestyle fitting the way chosen for you.

Do we believe that? I wonder about myself sometimes. Do you believe that if you’ve come into a relationship with the living God through Jesus; that you’ve been saved by grace through faith, in order that you might fit into the pattern of good works that God has planned for you?  Even in your loneliness, even in the dark night of the soul, when your troubles are multiplied, do you honestly believe that you’re actually walking through a path the Lord has chosen for you with good intentions?  Believe it!

David knows what to do in this time of intense disappointment and discouragement.  He knows he will spend his days in prosperity and his descendants will inherit the land.

That means that he will begin to know in the practical aspects of life the blessing of God. In verse 14 he says, “The LORD confides in those who fear him.” That means literally that they’re invited into God’s inner circle.

Think of that – at the time of our loneliness, at the time when we’re in total turmoil, we can turn from our solitude and commune with the Lord.  We discover the secrets of the Lord.

We discover access to his inner circle.

If we are able to practice solitude that allows us to reflect on the Lord and what He says, and if we make that a prime factor in our day, we will begin to discover the communion of the inner circle of the Lord. That’s how we handle the inner turmoil of the soul.

David reveals his troubled feelings. I’m sure many of us will relate to his feelings of great need. “Turn to me and be gracious to me.” In other words, “Lord, I feel so inadequate. Help me turn this to good.”

St. John of the Cross said that grief and loneliness are “the knocks and rappings at the door of your soul in order that it might love more, for they cause more prayer and spiritual sighs to God.”

I read once about a man whose father encouraged him to pray.

He said, ” I am so discouraged and depressed. I can’t pray.”

His father said, “Just groan. Just groan.”

The Spirit of God can take these inner groanings and translate them in the mind of God, and he will be gracious to us. At the moment of our deepest need,we need to recognize the knocking and rapping on the door of our soul inviting us into a deeper communion with the living God.

David reveals feelings of tension in verse 17 & 18: “The troubles of my heart have multiplied.” So much is going on in his heart that he feels it’s going to burst.  Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.”

That’s the third time David talk about his sin in Psalm 25.  Maybe there is sin we’re harboring. Maybe there is sin that we have not admitted. Maybe there is sin that we’re intent on continuing.

David is saying we need to deal with the sin to overcome loneliness. Sin is the blockage. Sin is the hindrance to enjoying communion with God. Sin is why we don’t  find our souls filled at the moments of extremity.

Maybe David is onto something here. Maybe he needed to say it 3 times before he would get around to admitting the real problem: “There’s stuff going on that has gone on for a long, long time; and I’ve known it shouldn’t, and I know it should stop. I’ve grumbled that my spiritual life wasn’t what it might be. I have felt deprived. I have felt that these things were far inferior to what I might long for, but I’ve hung on to this cherished sin.”  I can relate. Can you?

Here is a good prayer for us to pray when we are depressed and lonely: “… take away all my sins. See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”

Lonely? Psalm 25 day 1

For many Christmas and the “Holiday Season” from Thanksgiving to New Years is the loneliest time of the year.  I was thinking about that and, to be honest, feeling a little lonely myself, so I read Psalm 25 again and decided to write a little about loneliness from a Shadowlander perspective. 

Dring World War II the allies had planned Operation Overlord, the code name for D-Day, for years with vast armies gathered, an incredible navy collected, and enough arms stored to release Europe from the tyranny of the Nazi regime.

In charge of this massive war effort was an American, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. As the logistics expert, he envisioned the whole thing. He pulled everybody together. He got the fractious allies moving in the same direction. He even tamed the British generals, which was no mean feat. The day was set; the moon was right; the tides were right; the weather was all wrong. Eisenhower was the only person who could make the decision.

Then a royal Air Force meteorologist came in to say he predicted a break in the weather. Eisenhower said, “Okay, Let’s go!”

All the generals, the admirals, and the air vice-marshals who had been with him in the room, promptly left Eisenhower alone.

Suddenly, he had nothing to do. He sat down to write two news releases. In one he explained why the operation had failed and accepted full responsibility himself. The other announced that the operation had succeeded and thanked everyone who had participated.

Can you imagine the loneliness and inner turmoil of Gen. Eisenhower at that moment? Casualties of 75 percent were predicted in some areas of the attack. I hope that none of us will ever be in the position of Dwight D. Eisenhower on D-Day. I hope we never know that kind of loneliness.

But we all have felt loneliness and inner turmoil.  I have a friend who worked at a company for several years and returned from Christmas vacation to find a note asking him to come to the boss’s office.  He thinks he’s going to get a raise, but he’s unceremoniously fired. Suddenly the rug is pulled from under his feet. Have you ever felt that kind of inner turmoil of the soul?

Some of you know what it is to await surgery. I do.  You’ve gone through a whole succession of tests and heard all kinds of promises. One by one, your hopes have disappeared. It’s obvious that you must have the surgery. You think you’re prepared. In a quiet moment when you’re totally alone, your heart is in turmoil.  Have you ever experienced that emotional rollercoaster?

Have you experienced the horror of seeing your family split apart by divorce? You knew things weren’t what they should be; you knew your marriage was struggling. Out of the blue, the divorce comes and you are alone.

Or maybe you have experienced the searing pain of seeing your parents snipe at each other until there is nothing left of either and then they divorce. The people you most depended upon all your life have suddenly decided to go their separate ways, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your loneliness is palpable.

This is where the psalmist finds himself as he writes Psalm 25.  He is quite open about his condition:   “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” (vs. 16,17) 

The psalmist admits his need, but he has somewhere to turn.

He turns to the Lord. We’d expect that, but it’s easier said than done.

Do you know the Lord well enough to turn to Him?  We need to be clear who this Lord is to whom we turn.

We need to be sure we have the kind of relationship that allows us to turn to him. Some Christians would say we should never be lonely. Some Christians would say we should never have inner turmoil. Some Christians would say we should always be rejoicing – everything should be great, and we shouldn’t be concerned.   To them I say, lovingly, “What planet are you from?”.

When I hear malarky like that I figure those Christians must not have yet faced any of the experiences I’ve just enumerated. When they do, they’ll soon change their minds (or eliminate themselves as Christians because they experience negative emotions).

Let me give it to you straight, from a Shadowlander who has been a Christian most of his life: Christians go through the same trauma as other people.  The difference is that if our spiritual life is together, we know where to turn.  The psalmist does that in Psalm 25.

Psalm 25 is a acrostic psalm.  Each verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. If it was in English, the first verse would begin with the letter A, the second with the letter B, the third with C, and so on. There is artistry and literary genius here. This is a psalm of David.

David has a roller-coaster experience. He starts out by reaffirming his faith. Then, it’s almost as if some of the doubts come back; some of the inner turmoil begins to bubble to the surface again. Then he gets back on track.

David is very open about his feelings: he feels alone and abandoned. But then, interestingly enough, notice that the very last verse of this Psalm says, “Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!” The fascinating thing about it is that here’s a psalm dealing with his troubles, but at the close he’s concerned about everybody else’s troubles.  I believe that speaks volumes about the answer to loneliness.

 I am going to be blogging about the answer to loneliness shown in Psalm 25 over the next couple of days.  I invite you to join me on the journey.  I would love to hear your thoughts along the way.   If you want a blessing read Psalm 25 each day while I am blogging about it.

Trust in God’s unfailing love

I am going through one of those times  when God feels far away.  I take solace during times like this that I am in good company: David was the poster child for feeling distant from God.  That is why I go to the Psalms to see what David did during those times himself.  The reality that sustains me whenever I feel deserted by God, a reality that doesn’t change regardless of how I feel, is that God is always with me.  I live in his presence 24 hours a day, seven days week, 52 weeks a year.  God’s presence is not a feeling to be felt  it is a faith to be lived.

This is the reality that sustained King David. He went through times when he didn’t feel God’s presence.  During one such time he wrote a poem that is we know as Psalm 13:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”

Have you ever felt like that?  I have and if you haven’t, well, God bless you and hang on to your salad days because you will go through times in your life when God seems to be far away, and His presence seems like nothing more than a fading memory, or a distant dream.


David wrote Psalm 13 when he was going through an emotional valley; yet he continued to find strength and direction in his faith in God.  David is a great example of what to do to overcome our feelings when God seems far away.

When David says in Ps 13:5 “But I trust in your unfailing love” he is saying: “I won’t let despair get the best of me. I will just assume God is with me…watching over me…taking care of me…loving me, regardless of how I feel.”

I have a friend who works for a company that is struggling to stay afloat. There have been some rumors that he might be transferred, or even laid off. This has put him in a state of limbo. He doesn’t know if he is staying or going, or if he’ll have a job next month. When he goes to the office he isn’t sure what he should do from day to day. As a result, he’s been afraid to begin any long-term projects and has found himself floundering — at a time when he can least afford to flounder. He told me, “Since I really didn’t know what was going to happen back when I started this job I’ve decided that the only thing that has changed is that back then I expected the best and now I’m expecting the worst.  So I’m just going to trust God that everything will work out for the best, whether the company succeeds or fails, and keep doing my job the way it’s supposed to be done.”  His situation hasn’t changed but he has because of where he placed his trust in God not his circumstance.

We have a new President.  President O’bama’s election was historic, especially for those my age who lived through the tumultous civil rights movement.  But talk about being elected at a bad time!  The country fragmented over an unpopular war, the greedy side of capitalism rearing its ugly head, banks on the verge of collapse, automakers facing bankruptcy and everyone wanting him to solve all our woes in his first year in office!  It must be a temptation to give in to the feeling of despair and just do nothing.  But instead his attitude is “I’m going to assume that the American people elected me for a reason and I’m going to do the job I have been elected to do.”  Even though he had no way of telling how all of this would pan out, the worst mistake Barack O’bama could make is to do nothing until he felt like it and letting  the financial mess we are in just get worse and worse.

What I’m saying is when God feels distant ignore the feeling and “Trust in God’s unfailing love”.  Assume God’s presence regardless of your feeling and get on with doing what you know you should be doing.  Assume God’s presence.  Assume God’s love.  Assume God’s mercy.  Assume God’s guidance.  Assume God’s protection. Even though you don’t feel His presence, love, mercy, guidance or protection — trust that God is there by faith. “Trust in God’s unfailing love.”

This means continuing to spend time alone with God whether we feel like it or not.  It means loving whether we feel like it or not.  It means serving whether we feel like it or not.  It means including God in our daily routines whether we feel like it or not.  David’s example and what I am trying to do is to choose faith over feeling.  I believe the tyranny of feeling over faith is often at the root of our sense of alienation from God.

If you are feeling distant from God and you don’t feel God’s presence in your life you have the opportunity to choose faith and assume He is there.   Choose faith and assume God’s presence and act the same as if you felt His presence.  This is how we “Trust in God’s unfailing love.” Trust says, “God, regardless of how I feel, I’m going to keep on doing what I know I should be doing, because by faith I trust that You are right here with me.”   This isn’t easy, but it is Biblical and it works!