Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In Part 1, I said sometimes we feel we’re not getting anywhere; we try to pray to God and he doesn’t answer. And we’re in good company because that’s the way many people in the Scriptures felt, including Paul and even Jesus himself.
So, it’s not unusual—to feel that sense of being alone and abandoned by God. So, what do we do? When words fail us, and we feel alone and abandoned, we might do best just to sit and open ourselves up to the company of God’s Holy Spirit praying within, penetrating, speaking, and holding us in our darkness. There are two more things I’m saying.
You Can Find God in the Dark
Many of us have been taught that God is omnipresent, fully present everywhere. In our experience, however, he seems at times to be very close and at other times far away. David was certainly aware of this tension. In Psalm 139:7-8 (CEV) he prayed, “Where could I go to escape from your Spirit or from your sight? If I were to climb up to the highest heavens, you would be there. If I were to dig down to the world of the dead you would also be there”. But the same man also cried, “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1 – NIV).
These are difficult experiences, for we want God to be near us. And so we don’t know what to do with those times when the heavens are silent, and our prayers don’t seem to go beyond the ceiling.
We have accepted, perhaps, a distorted image of a God who is always there, always accessible, always communicating with us. A common saying has been, If God seems far away, guess who’s moved? The obvious implication is that I must have drifted away from him.
God’s ways are not our ways; his thoughts are above our thoughts.
While it is true that God hides from us when we sin against him, it is also true that God is an ungraspable mystery. His ways are not our ways; his thoughts are above our thoughts. He is transcendent as well as immanent. He is not a genie who can be summoned by rubbing the magic teapot called prayer. Although he is everywhere, we are repeatedly told to seek after him with all our hearts.
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We often think of light as the primary metaphor of God’s presence, yet the darkness of God is also a theme worth exploring: “The Lord has set the sun in the heavens, but has said that he would dwell in thick darkness” (I Kings 8:12). Recalling God’s appearance at Sinai, the Psalmist said, “He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him — the dark rain clouds of the sky” (Psalm 18:11 – NIV).
God is the God of the dark as well as of the light. Darkness is a natural part of the trip, and it is never permanent; it must always give way to dawn. It doesn’t mean that God has left us. He suffers with us, weeps with us and enters our darkness. This is a holy darkness that moves us into a new way of relating to God. Even the experience of ‘God’s absence’ is another way of probing his mysterious presence.
You Can Grow in the Dark
God takes even the darkest moments of life and redeems them for a good purpose. Nature tells us that darkness produces growth. For nine months all of us experienced a dramatic multiplication of cells as organs were formed, hair and eye colour and even personality were programmed in the darkness of the womb. Similarly, for a seed to germinate we must cover it with soil, and the roots make their way down into dark places where they find nourishment for the emerging plant.
The most significant events of Jesus’ life took place in darkness: his birth, his arrest, his death, his resurrection. Our darkness may be an opportunity to move into a deeper dimension of the spiritual life. We learn what it means to trust when nothing makes sense and faith is the only thing left to which we cling.
Larry Crabb says in his book Encouragement:
At those moments when the loneliness is greatest, we must … entrust ourselves so completely to Him that our psychological doom is assured if he fails to respond … then godly character will grow. His glory bursts through most brightly when the night is darkest.
Hudson Taylor accomplished incredible things in his ministry to China. In the process, he lost two wives and numerous children to disease and unsanitary conditions. At the end of his life, he expressed the strength of his belief when he said, “I cannot read; I cannot think; I cannot even pray, but I can trust.”
When there is nothing left to hold on to, trust in the Lord with everything you have. Know that you are not alone. When words fail you, sit and allow Jesus to pray in you. Know that God shares with us the darkest moments. Trust and hold on because the dark is God’s chosen place to help us grow.