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?

Fear or love

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by events and am disoriented –

… the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. [Psalm 46:2-3]

In such times I am comforted by the Lord as I look back at times of rescue and reflect on his care. There is a joy at odds with the circumstances.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. [Psalm 46:4]

Things don’t necessarily end as I want, but I have confidence that I will look back knowing my Father has brought good and that it has been a blessing.

God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. [Psalm 46:5]

So, in dark times I look forward to break of day, that moment when Jesus Christ appears with his grace. This brings me back to v1 –

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though …

Anticipating Jesus’ grace there is a choice not to fear. Fear wells up as I presume events will follow a natural course. Jesus is bigger than events!

Instead I choose to hold onto Jesus’ peace that floods in when I recognise and surrender to his sovereign control.

Allowing fear, I strike out in selfishness and hurt people. Choosing God’s grace and peace, love flows into me and out to others.

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.

To whom do we align?

There are people who have power through words. They puff up their claims of what they will do to gain a following. Depending on our position we love them or hate them.

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? (Psalm 52:1)

The Lord calls them a disgrace. This can either shock or elate us, depending on our attitude to their policy. Yet the issue the Lord has is not with their policy but their deceit.

Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit … You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue! (Psalm 52:3-4)

These champions of the powerful word who strike down their enemies, and sometimes ours, are considered a disgrace by God. We have to consider carefully who we align with.

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin … he will uproot you from the land of the living. (Psalm 52:5)

Are we aligned with those who will be brought to nothing? Who should we align with?

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

The reason we align to powerful people is that they offer us hope. The contrast is when we trust in God’s unfailing love. As we take our nurture and love from him, we are empowered to model God’s love, offering dignity while surpassing the deceit of both sides.

Law meets love

Growing up in a culture that values keeping laws, I struggle when someone bends rules. So, when Jesus confronts the rule keepers I have disquiet.  Would I be on the wrong side of him?

Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ (Mark 3:1-3)

When those who elevate law confront Jesus we see in their hopes to accuse, self-righteousness. Having reduced godliness to keeping rules, their tunnel vision blinkers out God’s glory. Only obeying God’s rules denies his love.

Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent. (Mark 3:4)

If I see Sabbath as alignment towards God and his sovereign authority, then Sabbath elevates God’s love. If I see Sabbath as a law, then that alone matters.

… He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:5-6)

When I struggle in self-doubt, I forget that the Spirit of God will lead me into crises of choice between my cultural norms and his way of love. As far as by grace he has transformed me, so his love will shine through.

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.

Impact of loving God

Those who love God become like him and influence their world.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. [Psalm 36:5-6]

As we meditate on his character- love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice we aspire to become like him.

You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. [Psalm 36:6]

We notice that the Lord loves and preserves all his creatures, both people and animals. They are valued as his creation. We join him, showing that same value.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. [Psalm 36:7]

As we aspire, and in some small way live out this love, people find safety with us.  In effect, they take refuge beneath God’s wings.

They feast in the abundance of your house; [Psalm 36:8]

As we generously share what God has provided, we demonstrate his abundant care.

you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; [Psalm 36:9]

Not being the source, we have no idea what will feed or give life. We merely pass on what he has given us. Then to our surprise, this is spiritual life to those who receive it.

 in your light we see light. [Psalm 36:9]

When we look at Jesus, the light of the world, we see the light of life. Though our situations are dark, he fills us with light from within.

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?

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.