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Worshipping When God Seems Absent

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Have you ever felt like God has forgotten you? Turned his back on you?

Where are you God? Why have you abandoned me?
Some people feel that way … but wouldn't say it out loud

If that describes you, it’s good to know that you are not alone. Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century preacher, once announced from the pulpit of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever gets to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” This was not unusual for him. Ten years earlier, he had been honest and vulnerable as he introduced a sermon on Isaiah 41:14.

Periodical tornadoes and hurricanes will sweep o’er the Christian; he will be subjected to as many trials in his spirit as trials in his flesh. This much I know, if it be not so with all of you it is so with me. I have to speak to-day to myself; and whilst I shall be endeavoring to encourage those who are distressed and down-hearted, I shall be preaching, I trust to myself, for I need something which shall cheer my heart … my soul is cast down within me, I feel as if I had rather die than live.… I need your prayers; I need God’s Holy Spirit; and I felt that I could not preach to-day, unless I should preach in such a way as to encourage you and to encourage myself in the good work and labor of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you have walked many miles with Christ, you know what he means. You have probably felt the same way at times. There are days when my prayers seem empty too, when my Bible is just letters on a page, when I feel like God is nowhere near me.

Psalm 13 ESV
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 13 NIV
For the director of music. A psalm of David. How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Psalm 13
Background of --- ???
Many feel it was during the conflict with Saul … David on the run … Saul’s attempts on David’s life … just not sure
In whatever case … David was feeling a sense of divine abandonment:

RESPONDING TO A sense of God’s absence. Many in today’s world live out of a sense of abandonment. The existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre calls this sense of loss of the divine the “condemnation of freedom,” because without God everything is permissible and nothing has any true significance or purpose. As a result, each human is “forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to.”

There are several possible responses to this sense of abandonment. Some assume that God has withdrawn or hidden himself because he doesn’t want to associate with me. This attitude assumes that I am the root cause of God’s apparent absence. Many today struggle with such feelings of unworthiness, believing that abandonment by parents or even active abuse is the result of some wrong within themselves rather than brokenness within the parents or abusers. The psalmist of Psalm 13 talks of wrestling with thoughts and experiencing daily sorrow in the heart. Such inner turmoil often grows out of self-condemnation and can lead to anger, paralysis, and despair.

Others respond to the hiddenness of God by denying his existence altogether. If God is out of the picture, then humans are left entirely to their own devices. The only avenue available is to rely on self-power and self-control. When God is removed, we are left to make our own way in the world.

The third possible response is that mirrored in Psalm 13: to “wait” on God as an acknowledgment of our own powerlessness and dependence on him. This need not be silent suffering, for both Job and our psalmist fill the void with their questions and appeals to God. And that is as it should be. The continuing conversation, even though one-sided, affirms the relationship—just as a father estranged from his son (or vice versa) continues to write letters even when no response is received.

The lessons the Psalter offers regarding divine absence include the following.

• The experience of divine abandonment is real and painful and is rightfully brought to God in laments and questions. God is not offended by our honest questions or even our heated complaints. Both confirm our desire for relationship and our faith that all is not as it should be.

• Divine absence need not be seen as the result of some failing within ourselves. Even the righteous suffer, and indeed suffering without divine intervention can be understood as one of the hallmarks of faithful living.

• Suffering the absence of God can be redemptive as others are brought to realize through our experience that the painful realities of life do not deny the existence, power, and compassionate concern of our God.

• God is worth holding on to faithfully even when we do not experience him as present.

•In your worship, in your prayer … express how you feel HONESTLY

There is a weariness in vv:1-2
There is an apparent absence of God; anxiety of soul; and supremacy of an enemy
In Phil Yancey’s book on Prayer he tells of Karl … an Air Force Officer who suffered head, neck, and spinal injuries:
he was paralyzed from the chest down … had no bladder or bowel control
Lived life from a wheel chair
But that, Karl said, was not the worst.
The most severe was that he felt as though God had withdrawn his presence.
Karl continued to pray … with no sense of God’s presence
4x david asks “How Long?”
He is wrestling with God’s delays … honestly
Wading through the crud and the darkness and anxiety and mockery and it seems as though it never will end.
The danger isn't that we will blow out … but wear out.
David Powilson tells a story about a lady he had been counselling …

Martina had suffered more terrible things than anyone I’ve ever known. She was married and in her mid-30s when she and her husband sought counsel for conflicts they were having about how to raise their children. We addressed those, but as her larger story also emerged, she made a profound impression on me. She had been sexually abused from childhood until she was rescued by the Department of Youth & Family Services (DYFS) in her teens. She had been used as a sexual receptacle by her father and older brothers. Her entire life, from age 4 to 15, was an Auschwitz of sexualized violence. It was all she ever knew.

I cannot get into all the details of her recovery but listen to one key facet …

•In your worship, in your prayer … ask God for what you NEED

Did she “get over” her first fifteen years of life. No. Will she ever get over it? Not in this lifetime. Not ever—in the best sense. It will mark her for all eternity because this is where the love of God met her. Her gratitude and joy will always stand out against that backdrop. Her hard-won, grace-given strengths show the fingerprints of her sufferings. Her love is a particular kind of love, forged from the furnace of a particular kind of hate. And her remaining sins still take a shape that reflects the damaging marks of her life experience. She tends to fearfulness—“I just want to disappear off the scene, Poof!, and not have to face hard things.” She can tend toward irritability—“Don’t come near me. Leave me alone.” An irrational suspiciousness and panic can get triggered, especially around assertive men, even when they pose no real threat—“What will he do to me?!” In her marriage, there has been a long, slow process of disentangling sex from being a dreadful evil and remaking it as a simple good. She’s come a ways; she’s got a ways to go. Her husband is a tender man (with his faults, of course), and she’s learned more trust even while he’s learned more patience.
“I’ll never get over it. But it does not determine me. Or, better, my instinctive reactions do not determine me. God breaks in, and everything appears in a different light.” What does Martina teach us? Many things. But I’ll mention three things about her life that made a particular impression on me.
First, we can cry out to God, “Where are you? Why is this happening to me? Why did it happen? Why am I still struggling? How long until you free me from this trouble? It hurts so much. I don’t want to be angry. Have mercy on me. You have promised me good, and what good can come of something so hard?” It makes all the difference in the world that such things are said with a grief that needs God, that believes he is good, that loves him. Some people say things almost like this as bitter accusations against God. But angry reasons not to trust are the opposite of anguished trust. Martina had not only read the psalms, she had taken to heart their inner logic of honest faith. Her faith was not necessarily tranquil—faith can’t be tranquil when troubles squeeze in on us and erupt inside us. Like in so many of the psalms, God repeatedly met Martina’s daily honesty with what she needed for that day.
Powlison, D. (2014). “I’ll Never Get over It”—Help for the Aggrieved. The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 28(1), 21.•In your worship, in your prayer … ask God for what you NEED

•In your worship, in your prayer … ask God for what you NEED

The next verses seem almost instinctual ...
You ask God … where r u … you endure his apparent absence
The Psalmist goes right on praying
This is lousy logic … but excellent faith
Here faith doesn't appear to have it’s reasons … but it does have it’s reactions.
It’s spiritual muscle memory (Learning proper technique in the gym is important for protection … it’s muscle memory)
A clear evidence of genuine faith is this … what is your knee jerk reaction to the trials you face …
Here the Psalmist Goes to God in prayer and worship asking for what he needs
He was specific …
Note the three-fold “Lest” in vv:3-4 - He is thinking through the assaults on him … he is processing the trouble
He supports His petition with arguments … reasoning … clear thinking
This is the turning point of the Psalm
Light up my eyes lest i sleep the sleep of death
Prayer for strength
I think the sleep of death here is probably some deep anguish - despair
Sickness and despair seen in eyes
Lose the twinkle in the eyes … loss of inner joy shows in the eyes
1 Samuel 14:29 ESV
Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey.
Lest my enemy say I have prevailed over him
Lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken
Implied in these two statements is more than David’s well-being … It’s God’s reputation
God please dont give my enemies any excuse to blaspheme your name …
Psalmist wasn't afraid to ask God specifically in prayer
PS … Turning to God in Prayer was the turning point in this Psalm

•In your worship, in your prayer … Trust God to do for us what we CANNOT do for ourselves

Three key words/phrases in vv:5-6
Steadfast Love - Chesed (128 x in Psalms) - One of the most important words in Hebrew Bible - Translated - Mercy; lovingkindness; steadfast love; compassion; goodness - This is not warm fuzzy love; this is loyal love; covenant love.
IN a Marriage the vows are till death do us part … That is Chesed
The love of the Father to the wayward son in --- that is Chesed
The unswerving love of God for us in our coldness or rebellion … that is Chesed
David is trusting in this Steadfast Love
Salvation - David is looking to the Future … That isn't here yet

“Salvation” in this sense means complete well-being. God will meet every need. David means more than knowing that his sins are forgiven, as wonderful as that is. He means complete salvation: comfort for his heart, quiet for his mind, healing for his body, complete safety, perfect peace. God is not just saving our souls: he is saving us body, mind, heart, soul, spirit, senses, eyes, hands, feet, thoughts, emotions, relationships—everything we are! God says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

David had not yet received what God had promised. He looked forward and rejoiced to see God’s salvation in the distance. This is the way it has always been for God’s people. We look forward by faith for blessings that are to come. Peter puts it this way:

[P]reparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

3. Dealt Bountifully - Word here is Gamal … it means to deal fully or adequately with; carries idea of ripening (fruit being brought to fullness) - HCSB - Treated me generously
The image here is that of completeness; goodness (NLT)
David is singing to God for his goodness … even though his situation apparently had not changed
In the summer of 1851 the body of the English missionary Allen Gardiner was found by a search party hidden in a boat on the beach where he had taken refuge for the last days of his life when he and his friends got shipwrecked on Tierra del Fuego. We know his thoughts because as he was dying of starvation and thirst he kept a journal radiant with life and hope. He wrote out passages from the Bible, and one of those was and verse ten; “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” Then he wrote under it in the feeblest handwriting, “I am overwhelmed with the sense of the goodness of God.” What a deliverance from self-pity and despair was his. That is the blessed privilege of every believer.
In this Psalm we see David:
On his face in Despair and Despondency
On His Knees in Prayer and Dependance on God
On His Feet Rejoicing in the God of His Salvation
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