There are seasons in our relationship with God when we don’t sense His nearness. He seems far. With our heads we believe correct theology—God is everywhere, He doesn’t change, and there is nowhere that God does not exist. But with our hearts we believe something totally different because our feelings don’t match up with what we know to be true. In those seasons we feel a lot like Job did in the midst of His infamous drought.
Behold, I go forward but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him;
He turns to the right, I cannot see Him. (Job 23:8-9)
Front, back, left, or right, we don’t sense his presence. We don’t witness His work. We don’t feel His favor. Our heads say “yes”, but our hearts say “no.”
This is when it’s important for our heads to inform our hearts and wait for our feelings to follow. That’s what faith is—the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. That assurance and evidence does not come from your heart, it comes from your willingness to trust in what you know to be true, not what you feel not to be true.
What comfort food do we feed our souls when they’re hungrily seeking God’s presence? The words that Job fed his own:
But He knows the way I take:
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (23:10)
Two things that are meaningfully comforting in what Job says: 1) God is there and knows exactly where I am (He knows the way I take), and 2) He has me there for a reason that is making me better (I shall come forth as gold). Thus we can be comforted in knowing that God knows us, sees us, holds us, and leads us when we don’t sense His presence, and He has planned the way we take so that it will purify us as gold.
Because of this, our best option is to feed our souls a steady diet of the Word and to follow His ways rather than our own. This will give us hope and fill us with faith.
My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. (23:11-12)
Your soul sits empty each day and growls with the hunger pangs of fear and doubt and discouragement and distress. It longs for the nourishing hope and direction that is found only in God’s word. Feast on it, and satiate your starving soul.
God knows the way you take, even when you don’t know the way He takes. He has a purpose for your trial, and it’s to produce gold in you. He has the food that your soul needs. Lean heavily into Him and be satisfied.
One of the profound mysteries and privileges of being a son or daughter of God is that he is at hand. He beckons us to draw near to him and promises that he will draw near to us (James 4:8). How are we to draw near to him? Practically, we draw near to him in spirit through the reading and meditation of his word and the practice of prayer. However, I’m thinking more along the lines of the condition in which we draw near. What is our attitude? How are we coming to God?
Draw near to Him as Lord
“Jesus is Lord of all” is the reality Peter proclaims to the Gentiles in Acts 10:36. Jesus exercises sovereign authority and rule over all things. This is true whether we admit it or not, but for believers we recognize this truth and joyfully submit to Jesus as Lord. This is what it means to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15). When we come to God, we are to have in our mind that he is Lord.
I wonder if this is how we view Jesus on a daily basis. Do we see him as master and giver of everything we need, or do we see him as a means to other things that we want more than him? Do we acknowledge his ways as higher and better than our ways, or do we endeavor to assert our ways over his, whatever they may be? Do we quip with James and John, “We want You to do for us whatever we ask of You” (Mark 10:35), or do we cry with Jesus, “Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36)?
David Wells articulates this backward tendency:
We have turned to a God that we can use rather than a God we must obey; we have turned to a God who will fulfill our needs rather than to a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves. He is a God for us and for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that is must be so in the church as well. And so we transform the God of mercy into a God who is at our mercy. We imagine that he is benign, that he will acquiesce as we toy with his reality and co-opt him in the promotion of our ventures and careers.
When we draw near to God, we are recognizing him as Lord.
Draw near to Him with confidence in His mercy
The good news is that our Lord is merciful and gracious. When we approach him as Lord, we can be confident that he will deal with us benevolently. Since we have Jesus, who bore our reproaches and drank the cup that He wanted to pass, we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
When we draw near to God with confidence in his mercy and grace, we can come with clear hearts. We don’t have to come with a façade or pretentious prayers. Instead, we come honestly. The writer of Hebrews encourages this. “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (10:22).
Do you find yourself in a time of need? If not, you will soon. When you next commune with your Father, approach him humbly as your Lord and honestly as your giver of mercy and grace.
 David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 114.