In our walks with Jesus, there are times when it’s easy to feel His presence. During these seasons, there’s a greater sense of closeness. Maybe it even seems like He’s hearing and answering prayers on our schedules. Then, there are other times when it feels like we are in the wilderness, and God is nowhere to be found. Maybe you feel like He isn’t hearing your cries or it seems hard to hear His voice. Each one of us has or will experience these different seasons.
For you, summer might be a season in which you feel distant from God. You might be living in a place where worship is not a regular part of your routine or the change in community makes you feel vulnerable to temptation or just very alone. The best way to describe this season is exactly how David does in Psalm 42—like a dryness. And God’s presence is what we pant for, like a deer for flowing water.
When he wrote Psalm 42, David, like a lot of us right now, was physically removed from the place where he routinely felt the presence of God. According to the ESV Study Bible, he was in exile somewhere north of the sea of Galilee, far from the sanctuary in Jerusalem where he felt most connected to God in worship.
In the psalm, David describes the extent to which he not only was exiled, but felt exiled. He wrote about his lack of appetite because of his grief, about how his enemies taunted him and asked him where his God was, and about how he even at times questioned where God was.
“Why have you forgotten me?” David asked God in the psalm. (Verse 9)
But for every time David cried out in fear, doubt or sadness, there was one more verse in which David encouraged his soul and reminded himself of the nearness of God. A lot of us have been there. We know what feeling far from God feels like. But, David’s psalm tells us two things: one, that feeling far from God is exactly that—a feeling. It’s our perception, not our reality. And two, it tells us that we can change our perception.
Through the example David sets in Psalm 42, God invites us to do the same and to encourage our souls when we feel like He is far from us. There are a few ways David did this.
First, in verse 4, David reminded himself of the times he had already experienced closeness with God, when he led praise and worship and felt full of God’s joy.
"These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. " (verse 4)
Second, starting in verse 5 as part of the chorus, David told his soul to look to the future when he knew he would not feel as downcast and would once more praise God joyfully and feel His presence.
"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation." (verse 5)
Third, David reminded himself of the truth about where God was.
“By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me” (verse 8).
God promises us all throughout scripture that His presence will always be close to us. We can see and hold onto these truths when He feels distant. Here are a few verses, for example:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:23-24
When we feel dry and distant from God, we can do the same things David displayed in Psalm 42—treasure past experiences with God, look to future senses of closeness with Him and remind ourselves of the truth. We must remember that God is always close to us, no matter what we feel.
If you are experiencing some kind of affliction, realize if you feel God is far away, He is actually winning the battle for you. And if you feel like God just isn’t close to you, He’s probably trying to get your attention in a new way or just wants you to enjoy a quiet moment of relationship with Him. He hasn’t abandoned you. He’s actually way closer than you think.
Author | Lindsey Conway