Finding God when spiritually empty

When I am thirsty for God I don’t want to be with him.  Spiritual thirst drives out love so I reject its source. Practically, I struggle to read the Bible or pray, while being tempted by my cravings.

… God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, … in a dry and parched land where there is no water. [Psalm 63:1]

So, why is this spiritually thirsty writer longing for God? The psalm gives some clues about finding God out of spiritual emptiness.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. [Psalm 63:2]

Past experiences of God’s glory seen amongst his people remind me of what could be.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. [Psalm 63:3]

Reflecting on past experiences of God’s love and the impact that had can remind me that his love is the essence of life, so I can choose to glorify him, no matter how I feel.

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. [Psalm 63:4]

When I thirst, praise is a choice reflecting a relationship that perseveres with God despite his apparent absence.

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. [Psalm 63:5]

So, I worship God even in the most barren times, confident that in time God will satisfy me with rich spiritual food. Barren times ask the question – How much do I value God?

Sharing in Heavenly Glory

We discover Glory through seeing Jesus’ return to heaven.

How the king rejoices in your strength, O Lord! … For you have … withheld nothing he requested. (Psalm 21:1-2NLT)

Following his crucifixion, Jesus returns with joy at God’s victory.  All has been done, not by superman Jesus but, in divine partnership with God.

You have endowed him with eternal blessings and given him the joy of your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord. (Psalm 21:6-7NLT)

This glorious life of faith, hope and love is beyond anyone but for his eternal blessings of grace given to those who trust him.

You welcomed him back … You placed a crown of finest gold on his head. (Psalm 21:3NLT)

Like Jesus, we receive the victor’s crown after faithfully running the race set before us. Faith meets our weakness!

He asked you to preserve his life, and you granted his request. The days of his life stretch on forever. (Psalm 21:4NLT)

Hope looks above the crisis to a sovereign Lord- the adventure of an eternal exploration of the infinite God.

Your victory brings him great honor, and you have clothed him with splendor and majesty. (Psalm 21:5NLT)

God clothes us with the fruit of the Spirit; a love which exudes splendour and honour.

When God seems far away

I experience a thrill when the Lord opens his word to me. When the messages are few and far between, I wonder if the lack of experience points to failure. Yet –

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. Psalm 139:7-8

Even if I had deliberately run from him, I could never have escaped. The passage began –

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. Psalm 139:1-2

The Lord knows whether I allowed something between us. If I ask him to reveal where I went wrong, he can show me. He is concerned for the state of our relationship.

Sometimes that silence has another purpose. He asks if I will persist with him without that sensation of awe at his word I so enjoy.

I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. Psalm 139:11

God sees through my darkness. All my fears and concerns are unveiled before him and we are left with the question, how will I behave when I feel like I am abandoned – though I am not?

On the edge yet hopeful

Trusting God is easy when all is well, but when we are on the edge emotions challenge truth.  A dread of failure and shame can send us packing. An experience of refuge steadies us.

In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. (Psalm 71:1)

There is no pretence here that terrible things never happen. We have all suffered shame.

Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness … for you are my rock and my fortress. (Psalm 71:2-3)

We don’t just need guidance to avoid traps. We need God in his righteousness and grace to rescue. We need him to be the foundation on which we stand; everything else will ultimately disappoint. We need him to be our fortress of protection from assaults by enemies- including from within.

Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked … For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord. From birth I have relied on you… I will ever praise you (Psalm 71:4-6)

We grow up believing that powerful manipulators will win. Such fear keeps us from God, yet when we look back on our life with God, we see his rescue again and again. So, pressed in by strong people, on the edge, we can prayerfully go forwards in hope, praising in anticipation.

I have become like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. (Psalm 71:7)

Some may reject us as a lightning rod for trouble, yet we stand firm on God our refuge.

Why isn’t life always ‘peaches and cream?’

Why would the Lord leave me with constant background fear? He says he will deliver me from them all.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. [Psalm 34:4]

Usually fears bubble away in the background, even as I pray. It’s only when the fear becomes acute that he delivers me. Maybe, because what is really valuable in life- faith, hope and love are all developed most thoroughly in the presence of challenging circumstances.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. [Psalm 34:5]

This radiance is in the presence of fear. With faith and hope, the presence of fear will not take away joy; there is confidence God will save the day.

Looking to God brings confidence that there will be no shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him… [Psalm 34:6-7]

We want to be well off. Yet the Lord hears the call out of poverty.

Who will the poor man fear? those who threaten him, or the Lord? People say, I had no choice. If I hadn’t, terrible things would have happened!  -meaning, I didn’t believe God would rescue.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. [Psalm 34:8]

Let’s wait for God, living out the faith, hope and love -the real treasures of life and see his blessings!

Receive blessing

God’s blessing is not through using right methods, but quietening our hearts to listen to him. Yet the voice challenges-

Blow the ram’s horn at new moon, and again at full moon to call a festival! Psalm 81:3NIV

God called on his people to hold a festival every two weeks at new moon and full moon. In our busy, busy culture – a waste of time!

I heard an unknown voice say, “Now I will take the load from your shoulders; I will free your hands from their heavy tasks. Psalm 81:6NIV

This same voice commits to take off our load. Yet this load is carried with a sense of Christian duty. So, can I listen or will I continue my self-destructive drives?

You cried to me in trouble, and I saved you; I answered out of the thundercloud and tested your faith when there was no water at Meribah. Psalm 81:7NIV

The voice calls when we are in the wasteland calling for water. When we are in trouble we discover our deepest motivations.

You … must not bow down before a false god. For it was I, the Lord your God, who rescued you … Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it … Psalm 81:9-10NIV

When I am in trouble can I settle down and wait for him to feed me?

Those who hate the Lord … would be doomed forever.  But I would feed you with the finest wheat… Psalm 81:15-16NIV

Do I hate or trust? Do I receive doom or blessing?

Living in hope

God’s promises inspire hope. Do we have faith until he fulfils?

We live in two worlds- embracing current reality and simultaneously being prepared.

When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. [Psalm 105:12-13NIV]

The patriarchs wandered Palestine holding to a promise that they would be a great nation, all the while while having nothing to show for it. How did they achieve it? They believed God.

He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: … [Psalm 105:14-15NIV]

God was faithful. He protected them from abusive kings even when they succumbed to fear in their doubts.

He called down famine on the land  and destroyed all their supplies of food and he sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave. [Psalm 105:16-17NIV]

Things seemed to go backwards. The son Isaac hoped in was sold as a slave.

Famine tests our resolve we look for consolations elsewhere, sometimes good things, sometimes not so good. It is good to live in current reality, but not to let go of what God has promised.

It is hard to appreciate that God might be manoeuvring his servant into the optimum position.

… till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the Lord proved him true. The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples set him free. [Psalm 105:19-20NIV]

What has he promised you?  Can you faithfully wait for him?

Value of sacrifice

At the great reckoning, many who trusted in ministry will be shocked to see people less gifted or fruitful honoured for their wholehearted devotion to God.

Afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me. I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox. (Psalm 69v29-31NIV)

The Lord is more pleased with the prayer and worship of someone in a challenging situation than he is with the size of our sacrifices. We look at the good done through sacrifice. An ox would feed a village. What could a poor person’s sacrifice of a bird be to that?

In today’s terms, we sacrifice ourselves and those close to us for ministry. We ask others to join us in this sacrifice, justified by a need for growth. Yet in this we can forget God who is master of the universe. Let us so focus on Jesus and his love that our ministry flows from it.

The poor will see and be glad—  you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people. (Psalm 69v32-33NIV)

Those who are too poor either emotionally or in time and money to make heroic sacrifices can rejoice that God values our prayers. They are not despised second class citizens to God.

We see this in Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. The owner pays for willingness to work rather than hours worked.

Salvation the great leveller

We imagine those who are deeply spiritual and those who are effective in ministry ascending into heaven to be with Jesus.

But the righteousness that is by faith says: ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”’ (that is, to bring Christ down) (Romans 10:6NIV)

The drawback of having a sliding scale of spirituality with some close to God and some far is that we water down the reality that only Jesus reached heaven by his own righteousness. For everyone else, whether deeply spiritual or of questionable spirituality the way is through faith in Jesus. He takes us to God through the power of the resurrection, the gift of God’s amazing grace.

‘or “Who will descend into the deep?”’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). (Romans 10:7NIV)

In the same way when we guess who will go to hell we despise the lengths Jesus went to for each of us. He died for them! He is well able to save them.

 if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9NIV)

Salvation is the great leveller. It comes through a profoundly simple act of surrender and faith. These words are not a formula, they ask questions of our will: Am I willing to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of my life? Am I willing to believe that God had the power to raise Jesus from the dead, and by that same power can save me?

What does Jesus is Lord mean?

For many who acknowledge Jesus, the term ‘Jesus is Lord’ is their ticket to heaven. After all the Bible says,

If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9NIV)

Yet the declaration “Jesus is Lord” is about the whole of life. It is not some cheap password to get us ‘saved’.

In the same way, salvation is as much about the here and now as heaven. Life constantly presents me with opportunities to look to Jesus for salvation. Life situations challenge my independence when I realise I can’t do it; I need Jesus. They beg the question: Do I trust him? They challenges my belief: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? If he did, then this crisis I am going through is trivial in comparison. ‘Jesus is Lord’ is not a get out of jail free card to be brought out when I die, it is a recurring theme of life.

‘Jesus is Lord’ is also a place of surrender. I know I can’t ask for help unless I submit to Jesus. What is the point of trying to deceive the one who sees deep into my soul. So the recognition that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is an act of repentance. It is through this alignment of my heart coupled with believing he has the power and will to rescue me that I am saved. Saved in crises now, saved from eternal hell after death.