Friday, December 2, 2016

Do you feel me?

Please permit me a moment of complete honesty...  There have been moments, even seasons of intense disbelief in my life.  On the outside it may appear that I have a strong and secure faith in Jesus Christ, but that's not always true.  I did not grow up in a Christian home.  I was 19 when I decided to follow Jesus and I had NO IDEA what that meant.  I remember the first time I experienced complete and utter disappointment and doubt in this unseen God that I had decided to give my life to...  there was a girl in our church, she was beautiful (inside and out), she was an awesome athlete, she was kind, her smile would light up the room and she made everyone feel seen, she was in the prime of her life, enjoying high school, and out of nowhere, she was diagnosed with cancer.   I couldn't believe it.  As a church and community we prayed for her, we fasted, we cried and we prayed some more.  She battled so bravely.  When you would go to see her in the hospital she would ask you how you were doing... as if anything I was going through could compare to her pain.  Tana Jo left this world way too young.   I could not believe that this God I had decided to follow would not intercede in this.  My faith was rocked.  

There have been many times in the last 20 years that I have been disappointed by God, there have been times of complete darkness, and there have been times of pain and hopelessness.  More than that, there are times of nothingness.  Times when I don't feel God, when I wonder what I'm holding on to.  When I find myself floating in a vast, empty space and I don't know how to get back to the place I was, when I was so sure all of this is real. 

I'm sure you've all heard or read the story of old Job: 

"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was BLAMELESS and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil." Job 1:1

Job was a good man, a loving father, and he had great possessions.  The Bible says that he was blameless before the Lord and all that he had was a blessing from God, but all that was stripped away from Job.  Many times we read the first chapter and we praise Job, because in all of Job's personal tragedy he does not sin against God or speak ill of his treatment.  He says, "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked shall I return, The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; Blessed be the name of the Lord." vs 21.  But there's a lot more to this story.   After losing his 10 sons and daughters, all of his possessions and then his health Job does what any of us would do...  He sits down in the dust and despairs for his life.  Fast-forward to chapter 38, after God listens for 36 chapter to 4 different men expel all of their earthly wisdom, He decides to speak up for himself and boy does he have some things to say. 

"Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: Who is this that darkens counsel by words WITHOUT knowledge?  Now prepare yourself like a man; I WILL QUESTION YOU, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Tell me if you have understanding." vs 1-3

The Lord then goes on for 4 more chapters asking Job question after question that He can not answer until finally Job confesses "I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from you.  You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me."  Job 42:1-3

Job realizes what we all need to...  God is God and we are not.  Our understanding is limited.  We see things from our earthly, limited, mortal perspective.  When we try to understand God, apart from faith and His own WORD about himself, we will sit down in the dust and despair. 

What do we do when we lack faith, when we've lost trust?  When sin has separated us from God or when painful situations that we don't understand make us doubt His goodness?  What do we do when we are so far away from the faith that saved us and we have no idea how to get back?  When it feels like a season of darkness will last an eternity.  When your prayers go unanswered and doubt steals your joy?  What can we do? 

James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you..."

But how do we draw near to God?  The bible says "If my people will humble themselves and pray..."
Prayer is an act of humility before God.  It's a confession that we need God.  Like Job, answering God and admitting he didn't know anything, we have to understand that we don't understand it all.  The Bible says that FAITH comes by hearing the Word of God.  The faith to believe, in a God who's ways are not our ways, only comes from reading the Bible, but there's another nugget of wisdom in God's word that I believe has helped me draw near to God and to FEEL His presence more fully than I have before in the past...

Hidden in his little verse is a treasure worth more than all my earthly goods...  The truth hidden in these few words gives me access to the God of this universe and well, you could say it gives the key to God's heart...  what is this treasure you ask???

"But YOU are HOLY, O YOU who inhabits the praises of Israel."  Psalm 22:3

First we must come to an awareness of God's holiness. 

The best that the dictionary can come to is- having a spiritually pure quality, entitled to worship.

That doesn't even begin to help us understand that God is not like us.  He is good, He is pure, He is all wise, all knowing.  Like Job we have to come to God with an understanding that He is God and we are not.  We have no real understanding apart from what He reveals to us.  The second part of this verse says He inhabits praise.

Inhabits- to live or dwell in. 

The God of the universe dwells in the praises of His people.  When we recognize His God(ness) and we come to Him in humility and we exalt (praise) and lift up who HE is, He draws near and makes a home in our praise.  Praise is the key to God's heart. 

"Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him and bless his name." Psalm 100:4

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect (at peace) with him..." 2 Chron. 16:9

Our circumstances can not determine our understanding of God.  When life doesn't look the way we think it should, when pain rules our days and tears consume our nights, when we don't understand the ways of an invisible, all-knowing, Holy God we tend to stray away.  We run away from God and hide like Adam and Eve.  We doubt His goodness and forget His grace, but this is not the way it has to be.  Sometimes I don't feel God, but that doesn't change that He is always holding me in his hands.  Jesus said 'No one can pluck you out of my Father's hands."  Paul said "Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  It's us who stray, but we can find our way back to Him when we humble ourselves and pray.  When we enter into His courts with praise and thanksgiving He promises to draw near to us and that's when we begin to feel His presence all over again.

Find something to praise the Lord about today.  Look past that thing that's causing you to doubt and the pain that is blinding you from the goodness of our God.  Search your life for evidence of His grace and praise Him for who He is and do not stop until you have felt God draw near to you. 

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