November 23, 2014

Why – Why Don’t I Always Feel the Presence of God?

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Why Don’t I Always Feel the Presence of God?
Sycamore Creek Church
April 21/22, 2013
Tom Arthur

Peace Friends!

Today we’re wrapping up a series called Why?  We’ve looked at some pretty hard questions and if you’ve been talking about this stuff in your small group like my small group has, it has brought up some pretty deep things.  These Why? questions get at the deepest longings of our hearts.  Today we explore the question: Why don’t I always feel the presence of God?

Have you ever felt the presence of God at some point in your life?  Did you feel the presence of God this morning?  If not, whose fault is it?  Was it your fault?  Maybe you were not tuned in enough?  Or maybe it was God’s fault?  God didn’t like what you wore today?  Or maybe it was the worship leader’s fault.  He didn’t play songs you like.

I think this brings up another interesting question.  How do you know God’s presence?  Do you get tingles?   Well, so can sitting next to your girlfriend in a movie theater.  Do you cry?  Cutting onions can make you cry.  Do you get a warm feeling?  Peeing in a swimming pool gives you a warm feeling too.

Whatever the answer to all those questions, if you do not always feel God’s presence, you are not alone.  The Bible itself talks about not feeling God’s presence.  The psalmist says:

Psalm 88:13-14
But I, O LORD, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.  O LORD, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?

Today I want to give you five possible reasons why you might not feel God’s presence.  Each one begins with “maybe” because it might number one, or it might be number three.  Or it may be some mixture of two and four.  Or something else altogether.  But I think these are five basic biblical principles that can give us some helpful direction for answering the question: Why don’t you always feel God’s presence?

1. Over-sensationalizing
Maybe you don’t feel God’s presence because you’re over-sensationalizing it.  You’re looking for the big and the dramatic.  “God, show me your presence by making a camel walk into my room!” We read in the book of John:

John 6:30
So the crowd said to Jesus, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” 

They wanted something big, but Jesus wouldn’t give it to them.  He rightly understood that spectacle doesn’t necessarily produce transformed hearts.

I grew up in a Pentecostal/Charismatic church.  I love the church I grew up in.  I didn’t leave it.  I just married into the UnitedMethodistChurch.  But there were some strange things about my church.  They “spoke in tongues.”  That meant that they believed that when someone received the Holy Spirit of God’s presence, that you spoke in either a real foreign language that another person from that country could understand or a personal prayer language that no one understood except God.  Sometimes this created a two-tier system of Christians: those who spoke in tongues and those who did not.  I asked God several times to give me this gift of speaking in tongues.  One night there was even an altar call for it.  I went forward and several adults laid hands on me praying that I would speak in tongues.  They even held my hands up in the air for me.  They prayed more fervently than I think I have ever heard before.  But after thirty minutes of a valiant attempt to cajole God into making me speak in tongues, we all gave up and called it a night.  Now I learned that all you need to do to speak in a strange foreign language is have a baby.  Then you speak in tongues every time you see the child!

OK, I do believe in weird stuff like speaking in tongues, but that’s another sermon for another day.  What I don’t think is that everyone gets that quite sensational gift.  And if we expect it or some other sensational thing, we may just miss the quiet presence of God.

2. Distracted
Maybe you don’t feel God’s presence because you’re simply distracted.  Jesus went over to some friends’ house and Martha couldn’t stop doing work to hang out with him.  Meanwhile, her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening.  Martha got upset that Mary wasn’t helping, especially because it wasn’t kosher back in the day for women to sit and learn with the men.  They were supposed to be helping in the kitchen.  So Martha complained to Jesus, but Jesus had other ideas.

Luke 10:41-42
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Some of us are seriously distracted by all kinds of things.  Perhaps the biggest distraction is technology.  And of all the tech that distracts us, there’s nothing like Facebook to keep our minds buzzing from one thing to the next. Have you seen this commercial?  It’s called fifteen status updates in fifty seconds!

We’re super busy aren’t we?  You’re a taxi for the kids.  You’re keeping the house up.  You’re distracted by doing church work, the work of God!  You’re distracted right now by the pop-up window telling you a message just came in.  Maybe you don’t feel God’s presence because you’re too distracted.

3. Hardened Heart
Maybe you don’t feel God’s presence because you hardened your heart.  Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah when he says:

Matthew 13:14-15
With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.’

Sometimes I wonder if someone wasn’t close to God sometime in the past but got hurt by the church.  It happens.  It even happens in our church.  We’re not perfect.  I’m not a perfect leader.  But what we sometimes do then is we take that hurt that we got from the church and we project it onto God.  We get hurt by a church or by a Christian and we transfer the hurt to God.  So that we don’t get hurt again, we harden our hearts thinking we’ll protect ourselves from getting hurt again.  All we end up with is a hard heart.

4. Sin
Maybe you don’t feel God’s presence because you have built up a wall of sin between you and God.  Returning to the book of Isaiah we read:

Isaiah 59:1-2
See, the LORD’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

“Iniquity” is a synonym for sin.  And sins create “barriers between you and your God.”  If you’re a Christian and you sin, you’re still a Christian.  If you continue to live in unrepentant sin and do nothing about it, God’s patience is long but God will eventually give you over to your own sin.  And sin always drives us away from God.  Let me give you an example.  I sin against Sarah, my wife, almost every day.  I say something I shouldn’t say.  I think a thought I shouldn’t think.  I don’t serve her when an opportunity arises.  I criticize her rather than encourage her.  Each one of these sins is a brick. Now I also take down bricks when I do things like apologize, serve her sacrificially, speak encouraging words to her.  But if all I do is put bricks in place, pretty soon there’s going to be a wall in between us that will be, short of supernatural intervention, impenetrable.  I think of Toby Keith’s song, A Little Too Late.

Maybe you don’t feel God’s presence because you’ve built a wall of sin between you and God.

5. A Stranger
Maybe you don’t feel God’s presence because you’re a stranger to God, you don’t know God.  Do you know about God, or do you know God?  Do you believe in God, or do you believe God?  I’m talking about the difference between what the head knows and what the heart knows.  Jesus was teaching about this at the temple one day:

John 7:28-29
Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him.  I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”

If you know Jesus, you know God.  Walking with God is not about feeling but faith.  It’s not about having the tingles, the warm feelings, crying, or any other emotion.  It is about trusting in God when you feel God and trusting God when you don’t feel God.  Faith is pleasing to God. In fact, according to the Bible, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).  Here are three promises you can hang your hat on today.

1. You will find God when you seek God.
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13

Seek God not as a side gig.  Not as a hobby.  But seek God as a whole life, full-on, heart-pursuit.  I’m not talking about hide and seek.  I’m talking about seeking God with everything you’ve got.

So how do you seek God?  Here are some basics.  Open the Bible daily and read it.  Search the Bible for God.  Spend daily unhurried time with God.  Regularly attend worship, even when you’re out of town!  Not just once a month. Not just every other week.  Do it weekly.  Listen to music and sing it.  Celebrate God through music.  God is all around you.  It’s like cell phone reception.  You just have to have the cell phone to tap you into it.  The Bible, prayer, worship, music, these are the cell phones that tap you into God’s presence.

2. You can do life with God’s presence.
Seven days a week you can find God’s presence. Not just Sunday.  In fact, faith is mostly a Monday through Saturday gig.  You don’t have to go to church to find God.  You can find God while changing that stinky diaper.  You can find God while you’re cooking your dinner.  You can find God while you’re sitting in class. Jesus says:

John 14:16-17
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

God’s presence is here with you in the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, all day long: sunrise, when you go to work, when you come home to your family, and when you go to bed.

3. You can experience God right now.

Acts 17:27-28
His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him — though he is not far from any one of us.  For in him we live and move and exist.

There’s nothing keeping you back from this right now.  It’s not something you earn. It is something that has already earned you.  It’s not something you must get your house in order first to receive.  It is something that helps you get your house in order.  Give it all to God.  Everything.  It begins with giving God all of you.  It continues every day when you get out of bed giving all of yourself to God.  It begins right now.

Will you let me pray?

God, I want to give my whole self to you.  I want to follow you even if I don’t feel your presence.  Give me faith that you are faithful to me and to the world.  In the name of Jesus and in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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