Can I admit something to you? I’ve been going through a small season where I have not felt a strong sense of the Lord’s presence.
I’m venturing down uncharted waters here, so I’m not entirely sure how to process this. Well, not uncharted waters; every Christian has been where I’m at. But we don’t really like to talk about this uncomfortable bit of our faith walk because there’s a taboo that if you can’t feel the presence of God, it’s because you did some awful thing and now God’s withholding Himself from you.
Now I know that there certainly are circumstances when this is true. God is very clear: either our choices lead us to live under His blessings, or under His curses. He is black and white; there is no grey area with God.
But the Bible is also very upfront about what our Christian lives are going to look like: full of trials and persecution, but also full of joy that survives every circumstance. So I feel that it’s horribly hypocritical of the church to allow this dangerous idea to peculate that if we don’t feel the presence of God that it’s automatically due to some sin of ours. Because sometimes, it’s just another trial. Sometimes it’s a test that we have to get through. But it’s really hard to get through it if we think that God’s silence is equal to His wrath.
Did you know that Mother Teresa felt called to what eventually became her life’s work at the tender age of 12? Yeah, a lot of people know that. But did you also know that shortly after that initial calling, she never felt the presence of God again? Mother Teresa, a nun who so many look up to and find encouragement in and long to be like in their own faith walks, went through her entire adult life–until the age of 67–without feeling the presence of God. She struggled with severe depression through her entire adult life as well…
“There is so much contradiction in my soul.—Such deep longing for God—so deep that it is painful—a suffering continual—and yet not wanted by God—repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal.—Souls hold no attraction—Heaven means nothing—to me it looks like an empty place—the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God.—Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His—so He has ever right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God.”
Yet, she continued to serve Him anyways. Why? Why–or how, really–could anyone continue to commit their lives to God without at least an occasional word of affirmation or encouragement from Him?
Because she got it. She understood what so many of us do not:
We are not entitled to the presence of God.
I have had to remind myself many times over the past few years of this truth:
The only thing we are entitled to is death, and it is only by the grace of God that we get to live.
I know that might seem extreme, but hear me out. The wages of sin is death, right? We all sin, correct? So, since there is no grey area with God, this means that if we sin, we must die for those sins. Which is why it was so important for Jesus to die for us. Because if He had not done that for us, none of us would get to live; we would all die, because we all sin. Therefore, the only conclusion I can come to is that the only thing we are entitled to is death. But because of God’s grace on us, we get to live. Anything that is not death is a bonus.
This truth has helped me climb out of the clutches of self-pity during hardships. Because I only end up wallowing in self pity when I feel that I don’t deserve for some awful thing to happen to me. But that’s a lie, because in truth, the only thing I deserve is death. So I do not have a right to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have a right to anything; including the presence of God.
It’s easy for us B.C. folks to forget that people did not always have the Holy Spirit living inside of them. That only became an option after Jesus died for our sins. Before that point, everybody had to live without feeling the presence of God. That’s why prophets were so crucial, for they were the chosen few who received occasional direct communication from God. It’s why the temple and ark of the covenant were so holy and were surrounded by so many rules.
The enormity of this way of life struck me this morning as I read this verse:
King Solomon had finally completed the temple for the Lord after 13 years of building it. The only reason he ventured to build this temple was because God had already told his father that Solomon was destined to do it. Human nature would lead most of us to expect God’s presence to automatically fill a church that we build today. I mean, we’re doing it for Him; of course He’s going to dwell there! But not Solomon; he is still baffled that God would actually let His holy presence dwell in this temple built by sinful human hands, because he was not spoiled like us by living daily life with God dwelling inside of him.
How arrogant we have become to expect that we somehow deserve to feel God’s presence all the time.
But what do we do when we go through these seasons when God does not allow us to feel Him? How are we to get through the trials of life without that in dwelt reassurance from Him?
We chose to believe in more than what our eyes can see, and what our hearts can feel. We remind ourselves of His promise to never leave us or forsake us. We chose to have faith that even though we cannot feel Him, that He is still there. We remind ourselves that we are entitled to nothing, so that we don’t lose ourselves in self pity and become bitter.
And we keep moving forward.
We keep loving.
We keep believing.
We keep trusting Him.
We keep thanking Him for the good in our lives. For even on our darkest days, God is still good.
We keep searching for Him, because we know that we will find Him again.