God is present with us in our suffering.

Application #1: Believe that God is there even if you don’t feel Him.

This is a very important Foundational Truth that is absolutely vital to your encouragement but may be the most difficult to grasp ahold of. Why? Because your emotional sense of “feeling” is broken. Your trust in the unseen is even more difficult for you.

As an example, when you go to sit on a chair, you trust that it will hold you up. Why? 1) Because it held you up before! 2) Maybe, you gave it a little jiggle test to make sure it could support you. Something as simple as sitting in a chair is something that requires a healthy memory and a healthy mind which connects past experiences to future confidences that help you trust in their strength.

This Foundational Truth must be believed in the absence of any feelings or memories of trustworthiness. This one does take grit! It takes incredible faith to believe that God is right there in your room with you, while you suffer, while you sob, while you despair, while you moan and as you question His very existence! This confidence must be developed and strengthened when you are outside the pit! Often, I used to picture Him beside me, thus theoretically I put human flesh on God.

It was a little unnerving to have God supposedly so close but so distant and so unwilling to reach into my suffering to rescue me. But if I was going to live through my depressive events, I needed to know I was not alone and that He wasn’t unaware of my suffering. When asked where God was in the midst of difficulties and pain, Jason Gray said,

“These are tough questions and it can be so easy to give trite answers. Maybe the most truthful thing I can say is that I don’t know. There was a moment in the midst of the worst of my own pain that I had a profound sense of God’s presence. I remember being curled up on the floor of my bathroom, weeping in the middle of the night, and being surprised to hear the words, ‘thank You, thank You,’ coming out of my mouth.

“But there were also other times when I felt like I was crying into a deep dark emptiness and like I was so alone. But I guess what I believe is that I wasn’t altogether alone. It means a lot that we have a high priest who understands us, right? Because Jesus walked into the dark ahead of us, it gives us hope when we find ourselves in the dark that He’s already there and will meet us—even if it’s hard to see Him.”

Jason Gray, “Jason Gray on Where the Light Gets In,” (Interview by Hannah Goodwyn), CBN.com. www1.cbn.com/music/jason-gray-on-where-the-light-gets-in/

Application #2:  God promises us His presence, not explanations.

I came to realize that I might never get answers. I might never be able to figure it out or bring it under my control. I had to accept that God never promised me explanations and He didn’t have to answer to me. But as long as His presence didn’t condemn me, His presence was the only thing that could comfort me.

“One of the reasons people struggle with contentment is because we’re always looking for explanations for why things happen in our lives. It ticks us off that God doesn’t offer us explanations. So why doesn’t He? Because He’s testing you. He’s testing you to see if you will let go of control and learn to be content, whether He explains it or not.

“God doesn’t owe you an explanation for anything, and you wouldn’t understand it even if He gave it. But even if you did get an explanation, it still wouldn’t take away the pain…

“When God is silent in your life, you’re going through a test. When you don’t hear God and He feels like a million miles away, that is a test! The teacher is always silent when the students take a test. When He is silent, your faith is being tested. Will you let go of control, or will you grab on more tightly? Will you learn to be content? When you’re going through pain this next week or next month or this year, you don’t really need God’s explanation. You need God’s presence. ‘Surrender yourself to the Lord and wait patiently for Him.’ (Psalm 37:7a GW).”

Rick Warren. “You Need God’s Presence, Not His Explanation,” PastorRick.com, December 14, 2016. www.pastorrick.com/you-need-gods-presence-not-his-explanation/

“God doesn’t owe us an explanation for everything and actually what I’ve found is that explanations don’t comfort. What comforts us is the presence of God, not the explanations of God.”

Rick Warren. I couldn’t find the actual source, but it is repeated all over the internet as his quote. www.inspiringquotes.us/quotes/OH4N_xjSuG5tY

Application #3: “Footprints in the Sand”

“One night I dreamed a dream. As I was walking along the beach with my Lord, across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord. After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.

“This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. ‘Lord, You said once I decided to follow You, You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.’

“He whispered, ‘My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.’”

Author Unknown. According to Wikipedia, at least three different individuals claim to have written the poem, thus no particular author will be acknowledged in this book.

We all know this poem and I get choked up when I hear it because it resonates so strongly with my experience. There were days I felt like this. I went for my walks and I felt alone! Where was He? Why didn’t He show up? While I was in my most desperate depressions, He left me. And although this isn’t a biblical passage, God frequently reminded me of this poem. I was so unable to sense His nearness that I accused Him of leaving me.

But, then, although differently than the other sessions where He’d meet with me and tenderly clean me up and whisper His sweet truths into my ears, I began to sense His presence even while feeling His absence (I know it sounds contradictory. I’m sorry. There are so many things about depression that seem contradictory.)

There were no questions for God on those days! No answers from Him, either. I believe on those days, He simply came and walked beside me and said not a word, because He understood the weakness of my soul. I was hemorrhaging on those days. I just needed a Friend Who wouldn’t condemn me, Who was willing to be quiet!!!!

He knew I wouldn’t be able to hear His voice on those days nor feel His touch. He didn’t overwhelm me with expectations I couldn’t meet—neither His nor my own. I feel it is important to mention that Almighty God knew there were days when even His presence could send me down the black hole, because my brain could not filter out the conflicting messages and the voices I was hearing. It was His kindness which didn’t push His way in. It was as if He came to sit with me in my hospital room while I was intubated and sedated; He was there but didn’t interfere with where the illness had me.

He simply came alongside me to offer comfort. Interestingly enough, one of the characteristics of the Holy Spirit, which we often translate as Comforter is the word “paraclete” which actually means in the original texts, “One Who comes alongside.” I didn’t feel Him, but my “feelings” were the part of me that were broken. But I came to trust that He was near, even if He was out of touch. He was there. He was walking with me, watching over me, stroking my face and caressing my wounds. You see, this was another experience where God taught me, “Don’t trust your feelings. Trust Me in something you cannot see!”

Shannon Wexelberg, He’s That Close, © 2002 Doxology Music (Admin by Music Services).

Application #4: God knows what part is depression and what part is you!

“Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night. Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.” Psalm 139:11–12 (NASB)

Do you understand the significance of that? In the dark, we can’t tell what is what! We can’t tell truth from lies. We can’t tell where the arrows are coming from. But to God, everything is illuminated! He knows what’s going on in our heads. He sees the confusion and anxiety. It was a great comfort when I was stumbling around in the dark that God’s hands could still lead me and hold me. “Never Alone” by BarlowGirl does a wonderful job describing a trust in God’s presence even when you don’t feel Him. The solution is to trust in the unseen—a reassurance we receive from His Spirit.

Verses To Meditate On

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV): “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” [Personal note: I just love this verse!]
Hebrews 13:5–6 (NIV): “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So, we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”  
Isaiah 43:2 (NASB): “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”
Psalm 139:7–12 (NASB): “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night.’ Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.”
Joshua 1:9 (NIV): “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Also see: Psalm 23:1-6.

FT11 God is present with us in suffering: I had to accept that God never promised me explanations and He didn’t have to answer to me. But as long as His presence didn’t condemn me, His presence was the only thing that could comfort me.