“Where are you God? How come you’re not answering me God? Why are leaving me like this God? I just can’t take it any more!”
We’ve all been there and if we’re honest, the majority of our experience in prayer centers around God’s absence more than His Presence. Yes there are times when we’re overwhelmed by God’s Presence and feel that we’re standing before the Almighty Himself; but if you’ve ever tried to pray consistently and regularly, you know that those times are the exception, not the rule.
In fact, if you’re like most people (including myself), more often than not you’ll finish your time in prayer and not feel anything spectacular or earth-shattering at all. You’ll wonder if your prayer even went beyond the ceiling.
You know for sure you were talking, but was anyone up there even listening? It’s not just me, is it?
If you’ve never set out to pray consistently, this might sound strange to you; but if you have, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the feeling of “where are You God?” and “how come You’re not answering my prayers God?” It’s the feeling of calling a friend, pouring your heart for 10 minutes and then realizing that you got disconnected 9 minutes ago.
I’m talking about feeling God’s ABSENCE more than His PRESENCE when it comes to prayer.
[How’s that for a motivational speech to get you fired up about prayer? Who’s ready to pray after that intro?YEAH!]
Now, just for the record, let me clarify and say that God is never really absent; He is ever-present at all times and in all circumstances. I am not talking about a REAL absence of God; I am talking about a PERCEIVED absence of God – when we cry and shout and scream and beg for God to answer us and feel as if we’re just talking to ourselves.
Perceived absence of God does not equal real absence of God.
So why does God do that? Why does He seem to make Himself absent at times? Is it because He doesn’t care? Is it because I’m not good enough or worthy enough to warrant His Presence? Is it because He’s too busy solving all the big problems in the world and my problem just isn’t important enough?
Why does God seem absent when I pray?
Before I answer, let me start by saying that I can NOT explain (nor even understand) all the reasons why God would make Himself absent from your prayer life. I am not God and I’d be foolish to try to limit God’s ways and explain them all in a 1000 word blog post.
However what I can do is share what I have learned from my own experience and from the experience of others. This might not explain why God is absent from your prayers today; but it might explain why He was absent yesterday or last week. It might not solve all your prayer problems, but it might help you take a step closer in experiencing true intimacy with God in prayer – the kind that we desire and long for.
So here’s my theory. Ready? Sometimes – even though you may not agree at the time – God’s absence is the BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU!
(everybody just relax, take a deep breath, count to 10, then read that sentence again)
God’s absence (perceived, not real) may be the best thing that ever happened to you. Why? Because you might not be ready for Him and His delay might be for your benefit more than you realize.
Let me explain. Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant when He said this?
“For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” (John 9:39)
What does it mean when He says “for judgment I have come into this world?” That sounds kinda scary. Didn’t Jesus come to save us, not judge us?
In his fantastic book called Beginning to Pray, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom tells a story that illustrates why Jesus’ presence is “judgment” and why His absence is often for our benefit.
The story is of a man who came to the Metropolitan and asked to “see God.” Like many of us, the man felt God was absent in His prayers and was coming find out why. So the Metropolitan asked him a question; he asked him if there was any particular passage of Scripture that the man had read recently and that touched his heart.
“Yes,” the man answered, “the passage concerning the woman taken in adultery” (John 8:2-12).
“Great!” said the Metropolitan. “Now sit back and ask yourself, who are you in the scene which is described? Are you the Lord, or at least on His side, full of mercy, of understanding and full of faith in this woman who can repent and become a new creature? Are you the woman taken in adultery? Are you one of the older men who walk out at once because they are aware of their own sins, or one of the young ones who wait?”
The man thought for a few minutes and said “No, I feel like I am the only Jew who would not have walked out but who would have stoned the woman.”
The Metropolitan responded to the man after hearing that and said “Thank God that He does not allow you to meet Him face to face.”
In other words, maybe the problem isn’t on God’s end; maybe it’s on my end.
Maybe the problem isn’t that God doesn’t care or doesn’t love or that He’s too busy; maybe the problem is that I’M NOT READY! And maybe His delay in coming is the best thing that ever happened to me.
As a judge might postpone the trial of an accused man to give him time to get his defense in order, or a father might delay coming into his child’s room until she has had sufficient time to clean it properly, so our Father in heaven might make Himself “absent” to give us a chance to get ourselves ready.
He knows that once He walks in, His Presence will be judgment for those who are not prepared, so therefore out of His mercy, He often does NOT come to us so that we might have a chance to judge ourselves first.
That’s why I say that His absence might be the best thing that ever happened to you.
So the next time you think to yourself “where is God?”, stop yourself immediately and a) thank God for His mercy, b) examine yourself and see if you might be the cause of His delay, and c) repent and ask God for mercy.
For You do not desire the death of a sinner,
But rather that He returns and live.
Remember me in Your mercy,
Forever and ever.
(Coptic Doxology of Great Lent)