In this time of trial, you may feel forsaken and far from God? Your prayers may seem to go unheard. There can appear to be no reassuring word from God, no healing touch, no sense of his presence, only his soul-crushing absence. Yet, God is closer than your own breath. Here are three things you can do when you think God's gone AWAL.
I will never forget one of my first visits to the Duke cancer clinic. I wrote about it in my book, How Cancer Cured Me. I had been sitting in the busy waiting area for a long time. I had started to grow anxious and frustrated. Finally, my pager flashed red and vibrated, and I walked to the door to meet the nurse. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, but no one came. As I waited, I had a horrible vision. I looked around and everyone and everything was gone. The place stretched out endlessly in every direction with no walls in sight. I was alone, just me and cancer. Even God had vanished, and I was terrified.
Psalm 22, written several hundred years before Jesus, gives us guidance for responding to feeling forsaken. It is commonly understood to be prophetic literature, speaking of Christ's crucifixion. We can read it as Jesus’ prayers and thoughts on the cross. In the first several verses, we see these three things Jesus did, and we can do, when we are forsaken.
Cry out to God!
In Matthew’s crucifixion account, which describes the horrible hours after Jesus’ resurrection, he tells us Jesus “cried out” to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Psalm 22 opens with the same words and expands upon them. Jesus may have been drawing form the Psalm, which he knew well.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2, NIV)
When you feel forsaken, far from being saved, cry out to God. Cry out all day and all night. If Jesus, the son of God can, so can you. You don’t have to accept God’s absence or settle for his silence. Refuse to grant a waiver to the Savior. Cry out!
Use the words of Scripture. Remind God of his promises. If you lack the strength or the words, trust the Holy Spirit is within you helping you pray and praying for you while you are unaware (Romans 8:26, NIV.) Your breath, groans, tears, bended knees, and outstretched arms all become cries for help.
When a baby’s cries out for his or parents, they hear and come to the child. How much more so does our Heavenly Father hear and heed all his children's cries.
It sounds impossible, like mixing oil and vinegar. How can I possibly be forsaken by God and praising God at the same time? Nonetheless, in verse 3 of Psalm 22, cries of praise follow the cries of forsakenness.
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabits the praises of Israel. Psalm 22:3, ERV
We don’t know what thoughts, words, or intimacies of praise Jesus offered the father. Yet somehow, he cried out in pain and in praise. Saint Paul reminds us that the ultimate act of praise is to “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God” (Romans 12:1).
Just because you feel forsaken and far from God does not mean you can’t praise God. Even when you don’t see or sense his presence, you can praise him for who he is, what he has done, and what he will do. Worship him for the good he’s surely doing for you now behind the scenes. Check out this song from Elevation worship, which reminds us God is always present and of his wonderful works.
Praise is key to being with God. God inhabits our praise. It creates room for God in our lives, for him to move in and live with us. He “dwells” in our praise. Some translations prefer “enthroned.” Our praises build a throne for God, upon which he will promptly take seat in your presence.
The psalmist proclaims absolute trust in God even as he feels forsaken. Bystanders ridicule him, “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”” (Psalms 22:7-8 NIV).
Though the Father remains silent and unseen, Jesus perseveres to the end with absolute trust. His final words express his confidence: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (Luke 23:46).
God fully vindicates Jesus’ trust. God rescues, redeems, and delights in him. God raises his sin-atoning, death-defeating, awesome son from the dead and raises him up to his right hand. Jesus lives and reigns forevermore.
Even as you feel forsaken, trust God. He will deliver you through cancer and any other threat. He will come to the rescue and save you. He delights in you, too! Cry out and know help is on the way.
The Bible says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1). Just because you can’t see God doesn’t mean he’s not present! Be careful to avoid having “Peekaboo faith.”
Practice God's Presence
The morning after my Twilight Zone like moment of loneliness at the cancer clinic, I lamented, “God, where were you yesterday?” Through his word, God revealed the answer. He had been with me, but I, like Peter, had taken my eyes off Jesus.
In one of my favorite Christian books, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence reminds us God is always present. No matter where we are and what we’re doing, God is present. We have to learn to be constantly aware of his presence, which takes practice.
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