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Thoughts From Ray Ortlund

Dear Friends,

Today’s ‘thought’ has to do with what to do when we seem to have lost touch with God. It’s by Ray Ortlund, and was taken from his blogsite ‘Christ is Deeper Still.’ The entry was posted October 30, 2015, and is titled, “When God Seems Unreal.”

Most every believer I have ever broached the topic with (except those who have not yet broken free from, “our need to be impressive” as Ortlund puts it) have confessed to going through times when God felt “distant,” “unreal,” or “far away.” Times when it felt as if He had “abandoned” them or “turned his face away” from them. Times when that sense of closeness and intimacy they once knew with Him seems to have evaporated. It’s an experience that can be doubly painful for those who have known the pleasure of His presence in the past, yet go through an extended period of time where they have to lament its loss.

Over the years I have discovered that the reasons for such ‘desert experiences,’ ‘spiritual winters,’ or ‘dark nights of the soul’ can vary. It may be sin, trauma, burnout, or the grief of loss; unnoticed idolatry, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, or God simply choosing to grow us. I've even come to believe God will withdraw the sense of His presence (like withholding food) to make us more appreciative of what it means to have Him in our lives, or make us hunger after Him even more (Psalms 42 and 61). So, if you have been there, or are there now, you may find this entry helpful as one possible reason and remedy. Enjoy.

When God Seems Unreal
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." I John 1:7

“Sometimes God seems unreal, remote, theoretical. When that is so, there is always a reason. God is in fact real. So are we. That it doesn’t seem so demands an explanation. The problem might be intellectual in nature. We might have doubts. God wants to satisfy our honest doubts with reasonable assurances. God loves our minds. He made our minds to know him. So, this barrier to reality with God is significant but surmountable.

The primary problem might be more personal in nature. I John 1:7 says that God is, “in the light.” The light is where God locates himself. It’s where he has made himself findable. If we want him, it’s where we need to go — out into the light, where God already is, waiting for us.

To “walk in the light,” in the context of 1 John chapter 1, is an honest relationship with God and with one another. Honesty about our sins and failings and weaknesses and shortcomings. No denial. No sweeping the past under the rug. No evasion. But stepping out from the shadows of denial into the light of honesty. It’s humbling, even painful, to face ourselves in this way. But owning up is how we get free from our need to be impressive, and how we experience the comfort of being truly known and forgiven and connected.

Walking in the light might make us feel exposed, vulnerable, and embarrassed — initially. But entire openness to God – about who we really are, and what we have really done, is where God becomes real again. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light…”

The wonderful blessings God has for us out there ‘in the light’ are two-fold: The first is deeper fellowship with one another, as the walls fall down, and we discover how much we have in common and the sympathy flows back and forth as never before; and the second is cleansing by the blood of Jesus his Son, as he frees us from long-standing sins by the mighty power of his finished work on the cross.
When we get real, we find that God is real.”

Sometimes, when things are thrown into turmoil (as they were this past year) we can (contrary to the admonition of Scripture) take our eyes off the Jesus we are called to fix them on (Heb. 12:2). Even those in full time ministry can get so caught up in serving Jesus, that if we are not careful we can lose touch with the Jesus we are serving. Care for our own soul takes a back seat, and soon we find ourselves running on our own strength (our own adrenalin) -- and end up like the branch cut off from the life-giving sap of the Vine.

We must often learn the hard way that it is not possible to live the Christian life apart from our desperate need for the replenishing streams of God's grace. And in such cases "getting real" means admitting our own need, and our own personal lack apart from His enabling grace. It means returning once again to the only Inexhaustible Source of light, love, grace, power, joy and strength. In so many ways we will find God becomes real when we get real, by confessing and pleading with a convinced and earnest heart: "Lord, I so desperately need you. How could I ever have thought I could do it without You and your soul-strengthening grace."

In the Bonds of Christian Affection, Pastor Jeff


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