God asks that we love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. But what about when you don’t feel like worshiping? What about times when God seems a million miles away? When things are happening around you that don’t add up? When it’s twenty below, and spring’s a long way off.
How are you supposed to love God when it seems that God has abandoned you, or worse, seems to be slapping you around?
In times like these, I like to turn to the Book of Psalms for comfort and perspective. The psalms are actual songs/poems written by people who went through the fire and the flood, then describe how they found God in the midst of their pain. One of the most powerful of these is Psalm 73, written by a companion of King David’s named Asaph. Reading Asaph’s words can give us some insight into how we are to worship God when we’ve lost that loving feeling.
Asaph begins Psalm 73 saying, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” He starts well enough. But then verse 2. “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.” Asaph has experienced something which has caused him to question God’s love for him, and consequently, it was threatening to undo his love for God.
In verse 3, Asaph begins to let us see inside his heart, and why he’s thinking this way.
“For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.” (He must have watched the Golden Globes the other night.)
But then he adds this:
“This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.”
What is at the heart of Asaph’s struggle? He’s watching godless people lead lives of leisure, prosperity, happiness and health. Meanwhile, the godly ones, those who love God and His truth, people like himself, are getting the short end of life’s stick. For Asaph this doesn’t add up. Something’s terribly wrong with this picture.
We’re not immune from asking questions like these. When the doctor says that tests came back positive. Or the job is lost, or the job is not found. When the child becomes prodigal. When the car says, “I’m done. That’s all folks.” When the prison doors shut. When the obscenities shower down on you.
Our reflex is to say, “Hey wait a minute. This isn’t what I signed up for. God, I thought you were looking after me. Maybe this being a Christian is just a waste of time. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure.”
We’ve all had thoughts like these at one time or another. As for the thought of worshipping God at moments like these – please. No loving father would allow his child to go through this, we say to ourselves. God must not be very loving, or maybe God’s not there at all.
Asaph will take a journey in Psalm 73 which brings him to a much better place in the end. But before we explore that journey, the first healing thought is to be found in realizing that you’re not alone in having these experiences. Neither are you the “black sheep” in God’s family.
These questions you’re struggling with are questions that God’s people have been wrestling with since the beginning of time. There are entire books in the Bible devoted to the subject of “God-abandonment” – such as Job and Lamentations. There are people who took master’s degrees in the art of suffering, like Jeremiah who watched the final destruction of Jerusalem, was hated by the people, and was not even allowed by God to find consolation and happiness in a wife. (No wonder he is called “the weeping prophet”.)
The first healing thought is to be found in realizing that we’re not alone in having these experiences. Neither are you the “black sheep” in God’s family.
“Well, if I’m not God’s black sheep, what am I then?” you ask. You’re a human being with a fallen nature who lives in a broken world, that’s who. And because of that, suffering is part of the deal, for good and bad alike.
What’s more, you’re a human being with a fallen nature whom a very powerful and loving God has looked upon with incredible grace and compassion. So much so that he entered this broken world of ours, suffered with us, then suffered for us, and now is reaching out to you, yearning for you to invite him to come close.
If you take his hand, some of the pain might go away (as you learn to stop doing the stupid things that hurt you.) You may also experience an increase in pain (as the people around you, who are doing the stupid things, resent you for trying to live differently). But then all the rest of the pain will still be there. The only difference – and what a difference! – being you won’t have to face that pain alone.