When God Does Not Feel Like “Immanuel”

What do you do when you are struggling and God seems far away?

Especially during this season of the year, it seems many of us are hurting. We desperately want to know Immanuel—God with us—but he seems more like Exmanuel–God used to be with me, but now I feel like he’s left me … or I feel like he is so external to my current experience.

You are not alone.

Many others feel this way too. People in the Bible often felt this way. Jeremiah, King David, Martha and Mary, and even Jesus himself felt as if God was not near or had forsaken them in their times when they needed him most. So what’s up with this?

People in the Bible often felt as if God wasn't near when they needed him most. Click To Tweet

In Psalm 77, the author, Asaph, was struggling. He believed and trusted in God, but he was questioning where God was in the moment of his pain. This is difficult for us to understand. Sometimes when we are lonely or hurting or both, we cry out to God and hear nothing. We do not sense his presence even though we are seeking it. We are filled with questions: Why? Where are you, Lord? What is going on here? (Read Psalm 77 and look at Asaph’s questions in verses 7-9; we are not alone in our questions!) We just want to understand and know he is still there for us. And yet, inexplicably … nothing.

Later on—maybe days, weeks, months, perhaps even years later—we can look back and see how God was moving. Later on we understand God’s sovereignty and timing. But we often don’t see that in the moment of our despair.

Asaph came to a turning point in his perceptions in verse 11: “I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago” (Psalm 77:11, New Living Translation). This is one vital reason why it’s so important for us to read God’s Word. The powerful stories remind us of his faithfulness, strength, and love. They give us perspective. They lift us up out of our current circumstances to help us see God is, indeed, in control. We can also look back at our own lives as well and see the way he has worked in more personal ways.

Remembering God’s greatness and sovereignty naturally leads us to worship: an acknowledgement of who God is and how powerful he is. Worship is vital in the darkness of the valley.

For me, at least, all I can say in the midst of this is, I will continue to trust you, Lord, no matter how I feel. I’ve come to a place where I know I must worship God even though I don’t feel like it, and don’t even necessarily sense his presence with me as I call out to him in praise for who he is. It is an act of the will at this point.

I know I must worship God even though I don't necessarily sense his presence. It is an act of the will. Click To Tweet

That was Asaph’s approach:

“O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you?” (Psalm 77:13).

 

So, let’s get practical. When God does not feel very much like Immanuel, God with you …

  1. Remember all he has done.
  2. Read God’s Word and look for his faithfulness and power in the midst of the trials.
  3. Reflect on a time in your own life when God seemed far away, yet he came through.
  4. Trust him—this is an act of the will.
  5. Turn to worship him.
  6. Don’t go it alone. This is the time to be with a community of friends.
  7. Serve someone else. Turn your focus upward and outward.

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