There is nothing worse than feeling like God isn't listening.
There is nothing that can make someone feel more lonely, more helpless, more small, and more depressed than unanswered prayers. I'm convinced. When the Bible tells you that God is listening and the Gospels say that He will answer you, what are you meant to do when it seems like your needs aren't being met and your requests are being ignored?
There's nothing worse than that feeling of abandonment.
I know for myself, feeling like my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling can send me down to despair in a split second. I start to question it all. "Did I do something wrong?" "Is God sick of listening to me?" "Am I just not good enough to keep God's attention?" "Is God even there, at all?"
We've all been there. You need something, so you pray. And you pray. And you pray. And maybe it just takes too long, or maybe the situation reverses in a direction far from what you had hoped for. You pray, and things get worse instead of better. Maybe you pray for more energy, and instead, you become more fatigued. Maybe you pray for a chance to rest, and instead, you have to work overtime. Maybe you pray for a speedy recovery, and instead, your health plummets to an all-time low.
And all you can wonder is, "What's going on?!" What happened to all the promises in the Bible? Is God forgetting what He swore to do? Has He forgotten that He promised to never leave me? Has He changed His mind? And suddenly, when what we're experiencing doesn't seem to line up with what we read in Scripture... the floodgates of gloom burst open. Say "Hello" to disillusionment and despondency. We believed one thing, and we received the opposite. We tried to have faith, but it didn't pay off. We gave trusting a shot, but it backfired.
What a terrible thing it is to feel disillusioned as a Christian. I've felt it on so many different occasions. I've felt like I went out on a limb for the sake of Christ, but He didn't deliver like He said He would. Or like I sacrificed myself in order to follow the Lord, only I didn't get the returns I was guaranteed. What a terrible, terrible feeling.
Just yesterday I walked down to the Bay by my home to read my Bible for a bit out on the dock. Not going to lie, I felt discouraged. I felt glum. It took everything I had to force myself to open the pages of my NLT when all I felt like doing was staring into the water and having a pity party.
But something changed within me when I began skimming through the Psalms. As I fingered through the pages, something caught me eye. Reading through the verses and stanzas, I was surprised to see that I was reading my very own questions. My exact thoughts and doubts and feelings of disillusionment were suddenly staring out at me from the pages of my Bible.
Psalm 77:1-9 - I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.
You don't let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray! I think of the good old days, long since ended, when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?
Just read through these questions that the Psalmist, Asaph, posed. As I read them, they echo in my own brain. These are the same doubts I struggle with daily. These are the same worries. These are the same feelings of disenchantment- when the Bible has promised you one thing, and the opposite seems to be taking place. I feel it. Asaph felt it.
Scripture says that if we search for the Lord, we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13, 1 Chronicles 28:9, Proverbs 8:17) Asaph knew that, but He sure didn't feel like He was experiencing it. The Bible says that God will always be there for us, ready to help and comfort us. (Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 23:4, John 14:26-27) Well, Asaph prayed. And He didn't feel comforted. He couldn't sleep. He couldn't think. He had no peace and no confidence. Had God failed him?
Asaph's heartcry resounded with my own fears. I was shocked to find one of the Bible's authors questioning God the same way I was. And as I began to read more fervently, chewing on these words of despair, I came to verse 11:
But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
And from that point on, Asaph's lament takes a turn. He intentionally meditates on God's faithfulness to the children of Israel when He redeemed them, rescuing from the land of Egypt. And what I found most interesting is the miracle which Asaph chooses to focus special attention on: The parting of the Red Sea.
Psalm 77:16, 19 - When the Red Sea saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled! The sea quaked to its very depths. Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters -
A pathway no one knew was there.
Think about that for a moment. God saved the children of Israel. He heard their cries for help, and He answered. BUT, He shepherded them along a path that nobody knew was there. It was unexpected. It was unheard of. It was unimaginable. And yet, it's the pathway God chose.
And not only did He choose a route that was surprising or strange, but it was a pathway directly through danger. The Red Sea was fearsome. The Israelites were trapped between a formidable body of water and the approaching Egyptian army. And yet, God led them through the fear. He led them straight into the danger, but guided them safely.
Classic, eh? It seems as though the hidden roads cutting through the places we don't want to go are God's pathways of choice. God brought the Israelites through the Jordan River on dry ground- a pathway nobody knew was there. God preserved Jonah's life by keeping him alive in the belly of a fish- a pathway nobody knew was there. God enabled Peter to walk on top of the stormy waves- a pathway nobody knew was there.
He provided the Israelites with bread from the skies- a food source nobody knew was there. He gushed forth water from a rock for the thirsty population- a spring nobody knew was there. He fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish- a feast nobody knew was there. He destroyed a city by having his people walk around it- a tactic never heard of before. He saved the world by descending as a newborn baby to bring love and peace- a plan nobody would have imagined. He conquered death by dying- a strategy that seemed to make no sense. He brought salvation by rising from the dead- a miracle nobody saw coming.
He doesn't just take the road less traveled; He blazes brand new trails through the jungles of our doubts and the forests of our dread. Maybe that's why it sometimes seems like our prayers aren't being answered. Maybe that's why it often feels like our requests are being ignored.
Maybe it's because we're praying for steak, but He's sending us manna. Maybe it's because we're praying for a bridge, but He intends to part the Sea. Maybe it's because we're praying for the storm to stop, but He wants us to walk on top of the waves. Maybe it's not that He isn't listening, but rather that He's preparing to lead us through pathways we don't even know are there- pathways that don't exist yet.
So often we think we know what's best. We believe that we can see our situation from every possible angle, and we know the best way for God to handle it all. And when He doesn't use our method, that's when we get grumpy. Disillusioned, disenchanted, and discouraged.
But God's way truly is the best way, and His timing truly is the best timing. When God answered the Israelites' cries, He used methods nobody could have predicted, and it produced results far beyond what they ever could have hoped for. However, when God answered the Israelite's requests using their methods and giving them what they thought they needed, it ended in disaster. The Israelites pleaded for a king, despite God's warnings. And when God answered their prayers, the establishment of King Saul's throne ended in catastrophe. The evil, wicked, destructive kings of the Old Testament far outnumbered the good ones. The Israelites thought they knew best. But God knew better.
And just consider the results of allowing God to lead you through the darkness and danger. For one, you can rest assured that He will take you all the way. That He will protect you and give you what you need. Maybe He won't give you what you need in advance, but He will give you exactly what you need for every moment. Your daily bread. Secondly, His provision and protection in your life will stand as a steady reminder of God's faithfulness. After He leads you through the sea or on top of the waves or rains food from the heavens, you won't ever be able to claim that you did it on your own. You won't ever be able to reason that God had no part in your circumstance.
No, He stamps our stories with His trademark of power. Miracles are his signature move. Providing pathways through the very things we want to avoid- that's got His Name written all over it. He leads His sheep through the very waters they fear. He feeds His sheep with what they need for the day- no more, no less. He uses His sheep in their weakness to showcase His strength. That way, there can be no denying that He is intimately acquainted with all of our ways, (Psalm 139:3) and that He is with us always. (Matthew 28:20)
2 Corinthians 4:7 - We now have this light [of Christ] shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
Isaiah 55:8-9 - "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the Lord. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."
I've got a lot of learning to do- mostly unlearning everything I think I know. But this is what He's teaching me: He may not be answering my prayers the way I want Him to or the way I expect Him to, but guaranteed, He's answering them the way I need Him to. He's preparing pathways I don't know are there, and answers I could never dream of. He will deliver me with solutions that will blow all of my strategies out of the water.
In this way, I'll be able to look back on His activity in my life and see without a doubt that He was with me every minute. In this way, my life will be a testament to His existence, His grace, and His love. In this way, I will learn to rely on Him, alone, and never on my own strength.
By following the trail He blazes, He will build my testimony.