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?

Glory

What is glory? How was Jesus glorified? One time was his entry into Jerusalem.

 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’  ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’  ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’ [John 12:12-13]

The crowd honour Jesus acknowledging his identity. He has achieved iconic status in their lives.

Do we glorify God through a passionate and single hearted focus on Jesus?

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ [Luke 19:39-40]

The second indication is Jesus’ character in challenging circumstances. He neither ignores, nor attacks his accusers, but affirms truth with humility.

Do we respond to trying circumstances with grace?

Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. [John 12:17-18]

The third part of glory comes through what Jesus has done –raising Lazarus from death. The Father honours those who do his will.

Do we serve Jesus through doing his will?

Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. [John 12:23]

Yet Jesus points to a greater glory to come- his death on the cross.

 

Over the next weeks I plan to explore each of these three areas of glory.

Captured by dark thoughts

How can I stand when I am being played by the tempter of my soul?

I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. (Psalm 88:3)

Issues takes hold, I am overwhelmed as if waves sweep over me so I cannot stand. Whenever I pray, my mind goes to this capturer of my heart. God is side-lined; all is darkness.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. (v6)

The Lord initiated this process. He saw my weaknesses and wished to teach new pathways to Himself that could only be learned through this darkness.

I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you.

Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits … praise you? (v9&10)

He who began this is also the way out. I call to Him in prayer even though my mind is so overwhelmed I am unable to experience God’s wonders or praise Him.

You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend. (v18)

A frustrating aspect of this darkness is that my friends don’t understand, but try to set me straight. The only companion I have left is darkness.

Amazingly the Psalm begins with hope.

 Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. (v1)

The one hope is the Lord Himself. He has proven Himself over time as the God who saves. I have faith He will save again because He is faithful.

A fuller study of Psalm 88 can be found in Overwhelmed by thoughts

What do we value?

Our culture has only one question to determine value – “Does it work?” Jesus takes a different view. After feeding the 5000 He leaves.  Most would have continued the ministry. When the people find Him, He challenges their motives –

  ‘… you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  (John 6:26)

What is the difference between eating bread that came as a miracle and seeing signs? The difference is in the focus. If I look for Jesus because I ate, then I am looking for myself and the focus is on me. If I look because I saw miraculous signs my focus is on Christ and I am looking to worship Him.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ (John 6:27)

This focus is seen in our relationship with God. If the focus of my spirituality is on what works, then it is subject to men’s evaluation which inevitably is temporary and ultimately spoils. The fruit Jesus is looking for is the fruit of lives changed by faith. Faith is proven through trust even when things don’t seem to be working –

‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:29)

Are we able to trust Jesus in how He directs rather than try to use Him to get what we want? This is food that endures to eternal life.

 

A fuller study

Live for eternity

Jesus’ unearths His followers’ motives following the feeding of the 5000 because it is here that the eternal value of what someone does is seen.

‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. John 6:26

What is the difference between eating bread that came to people as a miracle and seeing signs? They were the same event! The difference is in the focus. If I am looking for Jesus because I ate the bread and had my fill, then the focus is on me. If the focus is on Jesus, then I am looking for Him in order to worship Him. Jesus’ statement asks questions about my direction and focus in life –

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ John 6:27

In our materialistic age I can be caught up with what is ultimately material, even if it seems spiritual. Paul identified Faith, hope and love as the three that persist. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Jesus asks questions of our motives too. Seeing our lives through the lens of ‘faith, hope and love’ helps us see if we are trying to use Him to get what we want out of life or whether we are working for the food that endures to eternal life.

 

See a more complete study 

Spiritual emptiness

Why does the Lord take us through periods of spiritual emptiness? We long for intimacy in worship and the word, but encounter dryness.

This seems to be the experience of the Psalmist in Psalms 42&43 (combined as one).

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

This seems blasphemy to a culture exalting intimacy with God. How could God distance Himself? Yet the Psalmist writes –

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night,while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’

When this spiritual emptiness is experienced there are consequences, a rawness to life. One is on edge and brought to the end of natural defences. One is tempted to fill up through satisfaction of physical senses that only scream louder.

In years gone by, the Psalmist may have believed in a ‘technique that worked.’ After gaining intimacy with God through such techniques and then losing it for no apparent reason one gains perspective that God is after more than experiences of wellbeing.

43:3 Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

The break through comes not from our efforts but from the Lord. The Psalmist calls on the one who seems to have forgotten him, recognising that the Lord’s purpose is as much about character as the experience of His presence.

 

For greater detail see the study for the whole passage.

Way out of emptiness

We live in a world of self-interest, committed to feeling better about ourselves or experiences that take our eyes off the state of our lives. How do we let go this futile thinking that only reinforces inner darkness? (Eph 4:17-19)

I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. (Psalm 34:1 msg)

When I take my eyes off myself and lift them to the Father, as I worship Him, then life expands as I see His love and am inspired by His purposes.

Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. (Psalm 34:5)

This worship comes with integrity. It smiles when seeing a twist in life with His mark on it, it calls for mercy when confronted with failure.

Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness. Young lions on the prowl get hungry, but God-seekers are full of God. (Psalm 34:9-10)

Worship opens to His goodness. This opening, represented by opening our mouths, leaves us vulnerable for open doors let in as well as out. True worship is on His terms and receive what He declares to be good.

When in need I am tempted to be the prowling lion looking to devour something, even God! And after devouring, I am still hungry. When I come to God in surrender not focussing on what I want from the encounter but to worship Him, He fills me with Himself. I may not have what I wanted but am satisfied by His presence.

 

The full study on this Psalm is found in What is worship?

Worship, a cure for rebellion

When I really want something, I look on the Bible as a hindrance, getting in the way of what I want. I want to rebel –

 ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’ Psalm 2:3

I despise my convictions as irrelevant for this situation. The Lord however, has a response:

He rebukes them … saying, ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.’ Psalm 2:5-6

I have become so passionate for what I desire that I have forgotten Jesus. The way back is to focus on Him alone. When I have Jesus in focus, when I have surrendered the passion and spent time with Him, feeding on Him, I find my heart is restored. Then questions of ‘What are the limits I can get away with?’ become irrelevant.

For those unwilling to surrender there is a tragic road ahead –

You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. Psalm 2:9

The Lord is clear about His intention. He will not willingly allow us to be drawn away by false gods.

Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Psalm 2:12

Finding the limit of law is a sideshow. The response He is looking for is to worship Him, to choose to delight in Him, not the trappings of this world, to turn my head around and look passionately at Jesus.

 

The Bible study from which this came – biblebase2adaringfaith

Whom do we worship?

Society exalts what we do and what we produce. We find ourselves worshiping the God who does things for us. This leads our hearts to shift our worship from a focus on God himself to what He does, or becoming self absorbed or focussed on the experience.

A discussion arose on what men and women were looking for in each other. The men thought women wanted a provider … In fact the women wanted to be loved.  The women thought men wanted someone to take care of a home, whereas the men wanted a lover and a friend. Less mature responses might be that the relationship is all about ourselves, or to focus on the experience of the relationship, not the person.

A similar misconception works out in worship and life. In Song of Songs 4 the man, symbolising Christ, describes the woman, symbolising His people.  He delights in her beauty.  This is about who she is in character and love, not about doing things to produce fruit. For many our concept of living and worshiping is about what we do and what matters is what we achieve. We find ourselves overlooking who we live for and how we live – the outworking of faith, hope and love. In Song of Songs 5 we see the woman, having heard her lover speak tender and affirming words of love, responding with heartfelt praise of her lover for who he is.

Can we listen to God when He tells us how He loves us?  Can we worship Him for who He is?