Craig Groeschel - When God Feels Far Away
Today, I wanna talk to you about the presence of God. And I'm curious how many of you, and there's no right or wrong answer to this, how many of you believe you felt the presence of God at some point in your life? Type that in the chat if you want to, "I felt the presence of God". Now, here's a question. For those of you that are at worship today, how many would say that you felt the presence of God today? I got a question for you, a follow up, 'cause I'm curious. How do you know? Like how do you know you felt the presence of God today? Did you get tingling? 'Cause sometimes I do.
Were you so overwhelmed with emotion that you maybe just cried in the presence of God? 'Cause sometimes I have. Did you feel an unusual, like heavenly peace, even though your life may be chaotic but in the presence of God you just felt at peace? Is that how you knew you're in the presence of God? Because God's presence can give you a tingly feeling, and so can sitting close to somebody really cute. Amen? You say amen to that. It's true. God's presence can make you cry, and so can a really touching YouTube video, right? God's presence is incredibly peaceful, but some would say so is a bubble bath with a candle and some Ed Sheeran or whatever your favorite is, right?
So how do you know when you feel the presence of God? And here's a follow-up question. If you didn't feel the presence of God today in worship, whose fault is it? Whose fault if you didn't feel God? Is it God's fault? He was holding back on you? He's revealed himself to the person to one side and the other, but not to you? Was it your fault? Like you weren't paying attention or you weren't ready? Or was it your worship pastor's fault because he didn't pick your favorite song? Whose fault is it? What do you do when you wanna feel the presence of God, but you don't feel God. Some people seem to experience them all the time, but you may not experience them that often or maybe never at all. If you don't feel him, is he there? Is he real? We're gonna answer those questions today. Let God's words answer them. And the title for today's message is "When God feels far away".
So Father, we ask that as we draw near to you, that you would not be far away, but you would do what your word says and you would draw near us. We pray this in Jesus' name, and everybody said. Amen.
Hey, would you look at the person sitting next to you and say, "God is with you today". You can type that in the chat if you want to. Go ahead and have a seat wherever you are today. One of our favorite things to do is after church we often will spend time getting to know people and hearing their story and such. And there's one particular week when I met the most precious and sweetest young girl. Her name was Megan. And she was probably about 16, maybe 17 years of age. And she was obviously hurting and explained to me how her dad had recently died of a brain tumor. And she said her mom wasn't a believer at all. And she said she was just really hurting, looking for answers, looking for God. And so she would drive herself to church every single week, but she was disappointed because she didn't seem to feel God like everybody else felt God.
She said, "You know, I'll read my Bible, and it doesn't always make a lot of sense to me". She said, "I'll see other people, like they lift their hands in worship and like they're crying and they're obviously feeling something. And I sing songs and I don't really feel anything but numb". She said, "When I pray, I really believe that God's there, but I don't really feel anything when I pray". And you could just almost feel the weight of her heart saying like, "I wanna believe but I don't feel anything. I wanna believe that God is with me, but I don't always feel the presence of God". Maybe some of you can relate. What do you do if you don't feel the presence of God? Well, I wanna tell you that if you don't always feel the presence of God, you're not alone. If you draw near to him and don't always feel or experience some kind of a supernatural moment, you're not alone at all.
In fact, the psalmist in the Old Testament, Psalm 88:13-14, you could almost hear the pain of the psalmist who says to God, "But I cried to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me"? "God, I'm doing everything you want me to do. I'm seeking you in the morning. I'm crying out to you. I'm believing that you're there, God. Why can't I feel your presence"? If you've ever felt like that, you're not alone. David, in the Old Testament, the one who often says, "I did experience God," is the same one who said, "I was running for my life from my enemies, God, and I can't find you anywhere. Have you forgotten me, God? Do you hear the cries of my heart"?
The Apostle Paul, one of the greatest spiritual leaders in the history of the world who found himself blinded by some kinda heavenly light and a shield by the glory of God and experiences the resurrected Christ to me, he said, "I just wanna preach". And he finds himself wandering for three years and suffering in obscurity for 14 years building tents going, "But I thought we're gonna reach the world, God. And I'm just working on another day, working another day, not seeing any life changed". The most emotional one to me though, by far is Jesus, the one who walked intimately with his Father and did his will. His whole life mission was to glorify God in every single way. And he's obedient even to death on the cross and Jesus hanging on the cross, stripped naked, being shamed by the creation mocking their Creator. And he becomes sin for us. And in the mysterious way, God pulls back or God looks away for whatever reason. He's too holy to look on sin.
I can't explain it at all. But Jesus, the Son of God, who's done nothing but the will of the Father cries out, "My God, my God, why can't I feel you"? He says, "Why have you forsaken me? Where are you, God". I don't even know what's going on. If you've ever wondered why you don't always feel the presence of God, you're not alone. And what I wanna do today is though I can't fully answer every question, I do wanna give you some possible scriptural reasons why we don't always feel God. We'll look at three different reasons today of why we don't always feel God. If you ever asked that question, "Why am I not experiencing the presence of God?" one possibility is this, number one, maybe you're oversensationalizing God's presence. You're looking for something supernatural, something awe-inspiring when the presence of God can be that but it's not always that.
In fact, in John's gospel, John 6:30, Jesus was explaining and the context is that some people, they always want a sign. They want something big. They wanna see the lights. Gimme something special, God. Some people are always looking for a sign. "And so they asked Jesus, 'What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe in you.'" "What are you gonna do to impress us? What are you gonna do to prove your divinity? Give us a sign. Give us a show. Give us something". And a lot of us, we crave that. I know I do. Maybe you're trying to make a decision about something like you're dating some guy, like, "Should I break up with him? Okay, God, if you want me to break up with him, all I want is an audible voice that says, 'Thou shalt breaketh him up witheth because an upgradeth cometh.'" You know, or whatever.
Or, "Should I change jobs? I can't stand this job anymore. I want a different one. I just need to know, God, if it's your will, just send a camel in my room right now. If a camel walks in my room, I'll know it's your will". It sounds silly, but I did stuff like this. I was at a spiritual retreat when I was in high school. And I didn't know if there really was a God. They said, "Go have quiet time with God". And so I went out into this field and I took two sticks, like two twigs, and I said, "Okay, God, if you're real, do something with these". I put them in the form of a cross. I thought, "Okay, God, I'll do something spiritual, you do something spiritual". I put them in the form of a cross and said, "Just move one however you want. Earthquake will do it. A bird picking one up will do it. A big south wind will do it. An angel from heaven will do it. Just move a stick and I'll serve you forever. Just give me a sign. I wanna feel something. I wanna see something. If you do that, then I know you're real".
I'll tell you transparently about some of my most intimate moments not feeling the presence of God. Wanna hear 'em? I'll give you three. One was my first communion. I was raised in a Methodist church and at a certain age, we had confirmation class. We went through all this class. I remember nothing but I'm sure it was great. I just don't remember anything. And at the end of confirmation class, we had our first communion. And I remember them telling me, "It was gonna be the most holy experience and you're gonna experience the presence of God and it's gonna be amazing. Your sins are forgiven. You're gonna taste the body of Christ, the blood of Christ". And I knelt down at the altar and they gave me this dull, dry wafer thing that stuck to me it's like eating cardboard. And then I'm ready for my first sip of wine. I'm taking a bunch of this blood. Oh, I'm getting some wine, Jesus. It's grape juice. I'm like, "I could do this at home. Saltine cracker and my GOGO Juice and I'm good to go".
I felt nothing. Holy communion and I felt nothing. Then I just married Amy. And there was this spiritual retreat that all my friends said is the best thing in the world. Like there's nothing better. You go to this retreat is the closest thing to heaven. Let me say what? I've been married three months, been married to Amy. That's the closest thing to heaven. This retreat, closest thing to hell. Nothing but a bunch of men in a gymnasium. It was horrible, I hate it all. You told me I'll feel so close to God. I didn't wanna know God. I just wanna go home and see my wife. That's all I want. The closest thing to God and I felt nothing. And I hated it. The worst though was my ordination. I was probably perhaps, no joke, perhaps the latest pastor to be ordained in the American church. I had switched from Methodist to a new group and I had my seminary degree. Then I had to go do another 21 hours of classes that took me forever to do 'cause I was planning a Life Church. And then I had to go through a two-year probationary period.
And so we're a big, big church. I was not ordained, meaning I didn't glow in the dark. And finally, I got to where I could be ordained. I flew out to another state. They put me in these fancy robes and I was one of like 12 people getting ordained. And at my ordination that I'd waited for years and years, I had the worst case of diarrhea that you could ever imagine. I'm up there, I thank God I had a robe on. They're praying and I'm just pinching. I mean, they're praying and I'm pinching. And I felt something on that day, but it wasn't a Holy Ghost. It was something that I'm not proud of. And at my ordination, I felt nothing holy, righteous, or spiritual or whatsoever. And so if you wonder, "What's wrong with you? Why don't I feel the presence of God"?
I came to tell somebody that feelings aren't the only evidence of the presence of God. If you always felt God, you wouldn't need faith. If you always felt him, you wouldn't need faith. You don't trust everything your feelings tell you. If you trusted everything your feelings told you, you'd be in jail right now. Feelings aren't the only evidence of the presence of God. For example, my job is about as holy as it can get. Meaning being a pastor, meaning my job is about God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost and things like that. And I can count on one, for sure two hands, the supernatural experiences of God that left me awestruck. 31 years of ministry and I can count probably on about these many fingers the supernatural experiences that left me awestruck. Most of the time, it's just an ordinary day. You drive to your work. You do your work. And you go home at the end of work. Maybe if you don't feel like you're experiencing the presence of God, maybe you're oversensationalizing it. Maybe you're looking for a sign when Jesus already displayed his love for you on the cross. Maybe you're oversensationalizing.
A second reason you might not be experiencing God, is that maybe your heart has hardened. Maybe your heart has grown cold toward the things of God. In fact, in Matthew's gospel, Matthew 13, Jesus was quoting a prophecy from Isaiah and he said this. He said, "You'll ever be hearing but never understanding". Jesus said, "You'll ever be seeing but never perceiving". Why? "For this people's hearts has become calloused". Their hearts have hardened. "They hardly hear with their ears, and they've closed their eyes". Why don't you always experience the presence of God? Maybe you're a Christian, but you've allowed your heart to harden. It could be that somebody did something to you. They hurt you, and you closed off your heart toward people or toward God. And maybe you had a disappointment and you thought, "I can't really trust God," and you've closed off your heart to God.
Perhaps, I would say based on my study of scripture, most likely the number one cause of a hard heart is what I would call ongoing sin. It's when you just allow a sin, something that's displeasing to God to rule and reign in your heart, and you're not confessing it. You're not doing war against it. You're just kind of accepting that sin and your heart starts to grow hard. And I'll explain it a little bit like this of what a hard heart does. If it's freezing outside and let's say it's super, super, super cold, ridiculously cold. So you bundle up. You put on the thickest coat and gloves and long underwear and hat and scarf and the boots and a whole thing. You look like Ralphie's brother on "A Christmas Story". I can't put my arms down. Okay, whatever. You're covered. If you're covered in clothes and you go outside, guess what? You can't feel the cold. Because you're covered in clothes, you can't feel the cold.
In the same way, if you're covered in sin, you can't feel God because our sin separates us from God. And so I would just say super respectfully in the same way I would say to myself, if you don't really feel like you're experiencing the presence of God, I would ask you, is there a sin that you've just gotten comfortable with? You've kinda made friends with this sin. You've kinda rationalized it out. You know, the sin of jealousy. You're jealous of her, her perfect hair, her perfect kids. And the fact that she's got more shoes than Oprah, whatever it is, you know. Or someone, they hurt you and you're just ticked. You're just not gonna forgive them and you're just living in bitterness and unforgiveness. Or perhaps it's the sin of lust. And you just look and lust and look and lust and look and lust. And you try to tell yourself, "Well, at least I'm not doing something worse". But the reality is you're caught in a prison and you can't get out of it.
You know, maybe I think there's a whole generation of people that have just made friends with being entertained by sin. You just turn on Netflix or you turn on Apple. You turn on Prime or whatever it is you watch. And you just are entertained by filth day in, day out. And you start to wonder, "Why don't I feel the presence of God"? In the same way, if you're covered in clothes, you may not feel the cold. Perhaps if you're covered in a sin that you're not dealing with before God, maybe you can't feel the presence of God because of that. Or it could be a flip side of that. For example, when I met Amy, I was a new Christian. And when I became a Christian, my first assignment was like stop doing all the big sins. I don't know if any of you are there like some of you are still there 20 years later. I just stopped getting drunk all the time. I just stopped cussing like a sailor. I just stopped having premarital sex.
And so I worked really hard stopping those big sins. And then I just got obsessed with like Bible study and prayer and fasting and attend this church and this thing and Christian radio and T-shirts. And before long, in the middle of all my religious activities, I wasn't really experiencing the presence of God. And it wasn't that there were sin blocking, but somehow it became more about my performance than it was about his presence. Suddenly, it was more about my religious duties than this genuine devotion to God. Why is it that you may not be experiencing the presence of God? Why don't you feel God? Well, maybe you're oversensationalizing. You're looking for a sign. Maybe your heart has hardened. Or number three, and this is my favorite, is maybe God just wants to draw you closer. Maybe God just wants to draw you closer to him.
In fact, I love what in Acts Chapter 17, the context Paul was actually preaching in Athens. And in verse 26, he said this, "From one man God made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in histories and the boundaries of their lands". Now, why did he do this? Verse 27 tells us why. "God did this," why? "God did this so that they would seek him". Why did God do it? "God did this so they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though," the good news is, "he is not far from any of us". Why did God do this? God did this so that we would reach out to him, so that we would seek him. Maybe God may let you get to a point in your life where you crave him, where you seek him. And sometimes it's the hard times that make you seek him even more than the good times. Have you noticed that? Hey, have you noticed how challenges and headwind and suffering often produces the best in you spiritually? And have you ever noticed how the opposite, how comfort and ease and prosperity produces the worst? What does deprivation do?
If you don't feel like you're close to God, deprivation draws out desire, right? What happens when you don't eat? What do you get? Hungry, give me something to eat. What happens when you don't drink? What do you get? You get thirsty. Give me something to drink. And when you don't feel God's presence, guess what? You want him all the more. You want him, you need him. You crave him, you long for him. You thirst for him. You hunger for him. You want the presence of God. And here's what's kinda cool about God is he wants to be pursued. He wants you to want him. I like when Amy pursues me. And she likes when I pursue her once every three nights, right? You guys are ridiculous. Where are the other? I didn't know. I don't even know where you guys are. You're being so quiet, ridiculous. You're like, "Is there air in the room"?
God wants to be pursued. He's a relational God. He's a jealous God. He wants your heart. He wants your devotion. He wants your passion. In fact, he gives us an incredible promise. In Jeremiah 29:13, he says this, God says, "You will seek me," and what happens when you seek me? "When you seek me," he says, "you'll find me". It's a promise. If you pursue God, he will reveal himself to you. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart," God says. "I will be found by you," declares the Lord. When you draw near to him, when you pursue him, when you crave him, when you hunger for him, God loves to be pursued. And he loves to reveal himself to you. He loves you so much. So if you don't feel God, remind yourself, just because God feels distant doesn't mean God is absent. Just because you don't feel him doesn't mean he's not there. Don't believe everything that you feel. Your feelings will fool you. Your feelings are not facts.
Sometimes you gotta get out of your feelings and activate your faith. You just have to believe by faith that if I draw near to God, he's there. Sometimes you don't feel love in your marriage. Well, you didn't walk out. You rekindle the fire. Sometimes you don't feel love for your kids. You may love them deep down, but you're just like, "Ah". You don't give them up for adoption. You pursue them, you love them. If you don't feel God, you don't walk away. You don't blame God. You step into him, you want more of him. Get out of your feelings and activate your faith. Will you ever feel the supernatural presence of an awe-inspiring, overwhelming God that'll drop you to your knees? And the answer is sometimes. You will. I promise you.
If you continue to pursue him, there will be times when he will show up and show off and stun you to where you can't even speak. You can't even stand the whole tamale. Goosebumps, tinglies, tears, and flat on your face, Occasionally. Or often in your case. But in my case, I experienced him most in the ordinary, everyday, simple moments. Maybe you open up your YouVersion Bible app and the verse of the day was like hand-catch for you. And you say, "Oh, there's God. This is exactly what I needed". Or you're having one of those day and your friends just reaches out and says, "Hey, God puts you on my heart and I'm just reaching out to you". You're like, "Oh. There's the presence of God". Or you feel spiritually dry and your child praise a big prayer of faith. And you look on and say, "Oh, there's faith". Or you hear a song and it was like the Holy Spirit wrote that thing just for you. Or you're coming to church and you're down and it takes every bit of faith just to make it.
And when you walk in, God meets you where you are. Maybe gives you a word that you needed to hear. And what he tells you is this, "If you seek him, you will find him". This week, we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ and scripture tells us the amazing news that "an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David,' do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She'll give birth to a son and you were to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet. 'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel which means," what does it mean church, what does it mean? It means God with us. God with us.
Sometimes you have to get over your feelings and activate your faith. The faith that he is the God that will never leave you. He's the God that will never forsake you. When you don't know what to do, he is with you as your guide. When you're hurting and your life is falling apart, he is with you as your comforter. When you feel all alone and don't know where to turn, he is with you as a friend who sticks closer than a brother. When you can't sleep and you're overwhelmed with anxiety, he is with you as a heavenly peace that goes beyond your human ability to understand. When you're covered in sin, as we all often are, he's Immanuel. He's with you as your savior. Jesus Christ the lamb of God, who gave his life so we could be forgiven. God in the flesh, God with us. So if you don't feel God, maybe you've oversensationalized it. Maybe your heart's grown harder along the way. Maybe God wants to draw you closer. What are you gonna do? You're gonna draw near to him.
Call on him in every day situations. Call on him. Call on him. When you go to work to make a presentation, ask him for his grace and his presence. When you feel all alone, when you're hurting, cast all of your cares on him because he cares for you. When you're overwhelmed, just cry out the name of Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Call out to God. You may remember Megan, the little girl which her daddy died. I was talking to her and she was just broken. "Where is God? I can't feel him". And I saw something special in this girl. You could just kinda see it. You would've seen it too because she's driving herself to church. She was determined she's gonna experience God. She hasn't but she's gonna experience God. And I looked at her and I said, "I promise you you're gonna experience God. I promise you because you're," and I said this. I said, "You're stubborn in a good way".
And when I said that, her face changed. She said, "What'd you say"? And I thought, "Maybe I'd offended her as I said, 'Ah, you're stubborn in a really good way.'" And she said, "I can't believe you just said that". She said "My daddy," the guy that died of the brain tumor. She said, "My daddy used to always say, that, 'You're my stubborn little angel.' And you just told me I was stubborn in a good way". And I just looked at her and said, "Do you recognize him? Do you realize that God may be with us right now? Right now". And she smiled in a very, very warm way. And her eyes got a little tear in them. And I'm guessing she might've felt a little tingly wingly, because in that moment it was holy. God was revealing himself to both of us, why? Because we were seeking after him. And the good news is no matter what you're going through, no matter what you're facing, no matter what the weight feels like, no matter how overwhelming the moment seems, if you seek him, if you draw near to him, his word is true, you will find him. Because when you draw close to God, he always draws close to you. And you may end up being just like David who says, "I know the Lord is always with me. He will never leave me. He will never forsake me".
So Father, we ask that in this holy moment, you would reveal yourself. Wherever you're watching from today, a Life Church location, maybe you're watching online. It could be months from now you're watching online and you'd say, "I wanna experience even more intimately the presence of God. I wanna experience even more intimately the presence of God". Will you just lift up your hands right now? Just lift up your hands. I hope every hand goes up, I really do. I wanna experience even more intimately the presence of God.
Father, we thank you that you're always faithful. And whether we feel you or not, we wanna pursue you with all of our hearts. We'll open up your word to seek you. We'll open up our hearts to cry out to you. We'll open up our lives to let you in, to let your Spirit guide us and direct us. God, I pray that there would be times where we'd be overwhelmed by the power, stunned by your presence. And God, I pray there would be an infinite amount of times where we see you in a sunrise, that we sense your presence in a relationship, that we see you working in our life group, that we feel you as you use us just to bring a word of encouragement to someone who's hurting, or feel you when someone encourages us. God help us to see you, experience you in the big ways. And God help us recognize you're always with us even in the small, even in the seemingly meaningless times, you will never leave us. So God as you reveal yourself to us, direct our hearts to do your will in everything we do. God, help us to know you, help us to experience you, help us to draw close to you. Because as we seek you, God, we know that we'll find you.
As you continue praying today, I'm sure there are some of you here who would say like, "I don't even know what you're talking about. I don't know how you'd ever, like experienced God, know God". I remember distinctly thinking that I was a church kid, we went to church often, sometimes whether we needed or not, we'd go to church once a month, twice a month. And for me it was just kinda like an empty ritual someplace you go. And I had no idea that God wasn't just a being in heaven, but he was a relational God who wanted to be pursued. He's a jealous God who wanted our hearts. He's so relational that he didn't just like shout his love from heaven, but he showed his love on earth. He revealed his love by sending his Son Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus, the Son of God, who gave his life, who loved us while we were still sinning. Christ gave his life for us. That's how much God loves you.
And when you draw near to him, when you call out him, when you ask him for forgiveness, when you ask him to reveal himself to you, he always hears that prayer. And by his grace, he will forgive you today. Wherever you're watching from, those of you who say, "I don't know where I stand with God, but I want to be forgiven. I want to know him". Today, we're just gonna step away from our sin and we're gonna take one step toward God. And when you step toward God, he's gonna take a giant step toward you to reveal himself. Wherever you're watching from those who say, "I want his forgiveness, I need his grace. By faith today, I simply step away from my sin. I give my life to Jesus".
Those who say, "Yes, I'm ready. I want his forgiveness. I'm ready to give my life to Jesus today. I surrender my life to him," that's your prayer, would you lift your hands high right now? Just all over the place. Just lift them up. Come on, church, would you celebrate now as we got people in all of our churches, calling out on the name of Jesus. Those of you that are watching online, if you can just type in the comment section, "I'm giving my life to Jesus". Just cry out to him. Wherever you're watching from, would you just pray a very simple prayer as we step toward him. Just pray:
Heavenly Father, I step towards you, stepping away from my sin and toward your love. Forgive my sins. Save me. Change me. Make me brand new. Fill me with your Spirit so I could know you, experience you, and share you in all I do. Thank you for new life. I give all of mine to you. In Jesus' name I pray.