Following God Through Dark Valleys

I preached a bit shorter than normal on Sunday to make time for our prayer time at the end of the service. During the sermon, however, I briefly referenced one story from my own life about experiencing silence from God, so I figured I would explain a bit more about my own testimony for this week’s blog post!

About 10 years ago I was in college and incredibly active with several ministries. I would go to Sunday school and church every Sunday. I went to a home group meeting during the week, which was a discipleship group with people from church. On Wednesdays I would go to another area church for a big worship gathering geared towards college students. And to top it all off, I was studying philosophy and religion, so my class work often dealt with a lot of theology and Christian history.

It seemed like every day I filled my schedule with spiritually-enriching work, whether that be praising God on Sunday morning, to reading and studying to prepare for seminary. I felt like I was constantly growing. It all seemed to be working well.

But then I woke up one morning and felt absolutely spiritually empty inside. It was an eerie feeling. I prayed, but didn’t feel any sort of comfort. I tried listening to music, but that wasn’t much help. I even tried talking with close friends about what I was going through, but that didn’t work either. It felt like God was on “mute”, so to speak–no answers, no feelings, no emotions, nothing at all. And this was such an alarming thing for me to experience. I had depended on God all those years before this moment. Had God abandoned me all of the sudden?

Upon reflection, this season of my life came about as a result of a few things. A friend of mine had committed suicide over a year before then, but at that moment I think I was finally beginning to process what happened. People in my main friend group kind of had a falling out with one another, so I was a bit in limbo with who to rely on for support. I also witnessed a close friend make some terrible life decisions, and felt like I had let him down because I wasn’t able to prevent the pain he now experienced. I was set to go on a summer-long mission trip to Uganda and Kenya, but suddenly got “cold feet” and ended up cancelling this plan. All these things came together to lead me into a spiritual wilderness.

I would pray and beg God to show me signs, but those prayers felt unanswered. I continued my weekly schedule of going to church activities, but it all felt like I was going through the motions instead of deepening my faith. Even worse, at times when I confided in someone else about my spiritual disillusionment, they couldn’t really sympathize with me. One individual even said that I lacked faith because of what I was going through–I supposedly had “failed” a test from God and feeling spiritually distant was my punishment.

I eventually emerged out of this spiritually dark time after about six months. It seemed like an eternity, but during this time I learned several invaluable things:

  1. God exists regardless of whether I feel God’s presence. We are often very emotional creatures as humans. We think love exists only if we “feel” it in a particular moment. Yet we all know that love may still be present if we don’t feel butterflies in our stomach! The same is also true with our relationship with God. Even if you feel hollow or empty, rest assured of God’s provision and guidance, even when you feel like God is nowhere to be found. God is still moving in our lives even if we don’t immediately see the end result.
  2. Be honest with God about your emotions. We often think we should only offer up our happy thoughts to God. This often leads us to fake our relationship, especially if other Christians seem to be happy with God and we don’t feel that way. In reality, life is a lot messier, filled with mountaintops, dark valleys, and everywhere in between. One thing I learned from not feeling any direction from God for this half-year was that I needed to be more authentic with how I relate to God. God already knows my heart, so why try to fake it if I’m going through a tough time? Being honest in the midst of sorrow led me to a deeper relationship with Christ.
  3. God doesn’t cause sin to happen in your life, but that doesn’t mean God won’t work through difficult circumstances. We will talk next week about the problem of suffering. Even though I don’t believe God caused lightning bolts to “strike” in my life, God was still there assisting me along the way. I learned countless things about myself and who God is. Because of some of the things that happened during this season, I was actually introduced to my wife for the first time. I think God can use any period of wilderness to bring about more redemption.

You might feel extremely close to God right now, and if that is the case, then keep on working at that relationship to endure the day trials and tribulations come. But regardless of whether you feel on fire, apathetic, alone, or even scared, know that God is with you and will never forsake you, even when you don’t feel him.

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