Last week we talked about Making time for God and how we could set aside more time throughout our day to pray and open ourselves to God. But what happens when God APPEARS to not show up? When I was doing the Introduction for the podcast I talked about knowing what it’s like to feel like you’re praying in a vault and asking, “Where is God”. When you not only fell shut off from God but you’re shut off from the world. I can say this was the absolute lowest point in my life because I wasn’t praying. I knew God wasn’t listening and I stayed there for a couple of years.
This week we are back in the book Beginning to Pray (Affiliate Link), by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom. In the first chapter, he helps us see why sometimes it appears as though God is not present.
Prayer Is A Relationship
The first thing Metropolitan Anthony reminds us is that prayer first and foremost is a relationship that is deep and can’t be forced. Either on us or on God.
If you have met someone you like and want to establish a relationship with them you make plans to get together, to get to know each other better. The same is true with God. If we really want a relationship, we will spend time with Him. And, like a relationship with a friend, there will be times we show up both physically and mentally and times we don’t. We may be there physically, but mentally we are just going through the motions. If we have to work at connecting to people we can see, how much harder do we think it will be connecting to a God who lives in us, but we can’t see.
But, just like building a friendship, we don’t give up at the first sign of struggle. We don’t just expect it to happen, we make time to cultivate and grow the relationship. However, if we don’t “feel” like we connect with God on a regular basis we may give up on Him in a heartbeat. Let’s face it, if we are really honest about our relationship with God, He has a lot more to complain about us than we can complain about Him.
Prayer Is A Moment of Judgement
Metropolitan Anthony says that meeting with God is always a moment of Judgement for us. Not in an eternal sense but a personal sense. Think about the Israelites when God wanted to show Himself to them,
'When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen, but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” '
God knows everything about us and there may be times when we don’t want Him to show up because of unaddressed sin in our lives that we think we can hide from Him. We can’t fool God. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He wants to give us a chance to search ourselves and repent before He shows himself fully to us.
As an Orthodox Christian, I attend confession with my priest, on a semi-regular basis. I also have two accountability partners who I can trust and can be open and honest with.
Unlike most people believe, confession isn’t about punishment, it’s about drawing us back to God. The priest doesn’t forgive us, God does, but God knows that when we share our burdens they become lighter.
In the book of James, we read, ‘The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. ‘
I know a lot of people both in and out of Orthodoxy who say they don’t need to confess to anyone else, they can confess to God and he forgives them. That is absolutely true. The thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that I can lie to myself. I can always justify my behavior. But, when I am talking to someone else about my behavior they can help me carry it just a little. If we are truly honest with another person it cleanses us and we begin to get truly honest with ourselves and God and the relationship grows.
Do We Really Want A Relationship With God?
The third reason God feels absent because we need to ask ourselves, do we really want God to show himself to us? What Metropolitan Anthony is asking is do we want a relationship with God or do we just want something from God? When the car breaks down or someone we love is sick our prayers become fervent and passionate. We really want God to see how passionate we are about the issue at hand.
Let’s look back to the Israelites in the book of Judges. They loved God and trusted Him when they were about to be attacked, but then soon forgot him when the danger was gone. That’s us. That’s me at least. So much of the time I don’t really want God, I just want Him to make me feel better or answer an urgent need I have.
Jesus was treated this way all the time in the Gospels but He doesn’t get tired of it because He knows we are needy people, but this is not where we need to stay at with God. Christ wants a relationship with us. It’s okay to be passionate about our needs but we can’t mistake that passion for a passion for God. If we want Him to show up for us we have to show up for Him, not just when we need him.
So What Can We Do?
The fact is that our feelings can be deceiving because God is never really absent. We just feel like he’s absent.
In the Book of Jeremiah, we read ‘Am I a God nearby, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord.’
And in Acts, when Paul is talking to the Athenians he says,
'From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him, we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’ ‘
In the Orthodox Church, we have the prayer to the Holy Spirit. In it we affirm that God is “everywhere present and filling all things.”
So how do we begin to be present with God, so He can be present with us?
Go back to what Paul said, In Him, we live and move and have our being. He is our everything. Metropolitan Anthony says we have to start being open and honest, understanding that we are sinners and we need God to change us. We must become weak so that He can become strong in us and through us.
He says this, “The kind of weakness which means being completely supple, completely transparent, completely abandoned in the hands of God. We usually try to be strong and we prevent God from manifesting His power.
We have to want a relationship not just a need met.
When we give up trying to force our agenda on God and abandon ourselves to Him, we will learn that He has been here all along. Part of us, knowing us better than we know ourselves.
One of the reasons I talked about chapter 4 first is that I think we have to learn to Make time for God to give ourselves to him. (Obviously, the editor of the book didn’t agree but that’s a different subject). You can read about making time for God or you can listen to that episode here.