How can I know God’s presence is with me in hard times?
When we are in deep despair, we feel totally insignificant and might even question the existence of God. In the situation with John, I fervently prayed after our first meeting and asked God how I could help him discover a meaningful purpose for his life. As I prayed, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about asking John to be my “teacher” in helping me better understand his experiences in Iraq and what it is like to live with an unexplainable seizure disorder caused by a TBI. The Holy Spirit seemed to say to me, “Due to your crippling condition and surgeries in your childhood and adolescence, you were denied medical waivers several times when wanting to serve in our armed forces. You are not a Veteran, you’ve not been to Iraq, you do not have a TBI causing an unexplainable seizure disorder, but John does. He can help you better understand.”
I realized what the Holy Spirit wanted me to understand was that instead of trying to come as the chaplain who could minister out of my strength to John, God wanted me to humble myself and raise John to a position where he could be the one with the voice of authority. He could be the one to help me and other team members better understand his condition and experiences. From my own despairing moments, when I was powerless and had no voice over my care … I knew that what John needed was a voice and a purpose. I asked John to be my teacher and encouraged other staff to ask him to teach them as well. Saying to John, “We want to learn from you, help us understand…” gave him a purpose, and gave his life meaning. Empowering John to believe that he had a meaningful purpose in helping all of us (doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains) better understand and learn from him … brought hope to his life.
As I patiently sat and genuinely learned from John, he came to realize that God is not an aloof entity. He realized that God is deeply concerned about him and values his life as significant. God does care for each of us personally, and the Bible affirms that God calls us beloved children.
Readings from the Old Testament / Hebrew Scriptures
We must believe that God is advocating for us.
But I know there is someone in heaven
who will come at last to my defense.
Even after my skin is eaten by disease,
while still in this body I will see God.
I will see him with my own eyes,
and he will not be a stranger.
When we feel abandoned by God, we need to cry with confidence to God to draw near to us.
How much longer will you forget me, LORD?
How much longer will you hide yourself from me?
How long must I endure trouble?
How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night?
How long will my enemies triumph over me?
Look at me, O LORD my God, and answer me.
Restore my strength; don’t let me die.
Don’t let my enemies say, “We have defeated him.”
Don’t let them gloat over my downfall.
I rely on your constant love;
I will be glad, because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O LORD,
because you have been good to me.
God will never abandon us, nor forsake us.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
I will fear no one.
The LORD protects me from all danger;
I will never be afraid
I have asked the LORD for one thing;
one thing only do I want:
to live in the LORD’s house all my life,
to marvel there at his goodness,
and to ask for his guidance.
In times of trouble he will shelter me;
he will keep me safe in his Temple
and make me secure on a high rock.
Hear me, LORD, when I call to you!
Be merciful and answer me!
When you said, “Come worship me,”
I answered, “I will come, LORD.”
Don’t hide yourself from me!
Don’t be angry with me;
don’t turn your servant away.
You have been my help;
don’t leave me, don’t abandon me,
O God, my savior.
My father and mother may abandon me,
but the LORD will take care of me.
Readings from the New Testament
God desires to fill us with joy.
“And now I am coming to you, and I say these things in the world so that they might have my joy in their hearts in all its fullness.”
There is nothing that can ever separate us from the unconditional love of God.
I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. All of creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal his children. For creation was condemned to lose its purpose, not of its own will, but because God willed it to be so. Yet there was the hope that creation itself would one day be set free from its slavery to decay and would share the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth. But it is not just creation alone which groans; we who have the Spirit as the first of God’s gifts also groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us his children and set our whole being free. For it was by hope that we were saved; but if we see what we hope for, then it is not really hope. For who of us hopes for something we see? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will.
We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them.
In view of all this, what can we say? If God is for us, who can be against us? Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son, but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son—will he not also freely give us all things? Who will accuse God’s chosen people? God himself declares them not guilty! Who, then, will condemn them? Not Christ Jesus, who died, or rather, who was raised to life and is at the right side of God, pleading with him for us! Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it, or hardship or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death? As the scripture says, “For your sake we are in danger of death at all times; we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below — there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.
God deeply desires to fill us with hope.
And again, Isaiah says,
“A descendant of Jesse will appear;
he will come to rule the Gentiles,
and they will put their hope in him.”
God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or dream or imagine.
For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love – although it can never be fully known – and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.
Thoughts for Reflection
Draw a picture of where you feel God is in relation to you now. As you are able, share what you would like to change about how close or how distant you feel from God.
Write or share of a time when you truly knew that God’s presence was with you in a very dark place of despair.
Describe what would make you feel more aware of God’s abiding presence with you.
Write or share how God desires to exceed the expectations you have for yourself.
Dear Lord, I wonder where you are. Are you there? Are you out there somewhere? And do you care? Do you care for me at all? Do you know my name?
Many times I feel like crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why?” Help me to believe that you are not only real, but that you are here for me, and that you really care for me. Help me to feel your loving-care and to believe that you will never leave me, nor forsake me, and will abide with me always.
Be near me, please. Hold me, cradle me, and shelter me. Embrace me for all eternity with your love. In your loving name. Amen.
A Blessing for You
May the LORD bless you and take care of you;
May the LORD be kind and gracious to you;
May the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.
Thoughts for Reflection
<ol> <li>Do you believe that you need an answer from God for your own suffering and despair?</li> <li>Write or share why you feel this way. And when you have no answers to your despair, how do you react?</li> <li>What is most comforting for you when you despair without answers?</li> <li>Describe these things. Like the psalmist, write a lament to God in which you cry out your frustrations.</li> </ol>