June 3, 2017

Where the Desert Meets the Ocean

Listen to these songs by Jonathan Ogden! With YouFar Away, and Waterfall.

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you."
- Isaiah 43:1-2

In the past year God has grown me in my faith so much. It's incredible to see how far he has brought me and all that I have learned. Even now I am continuing to learn and grow every day; I don't think I'll ever stop. I am in awe of the ways in which Jesus has revealed himself to me and I want to share some of what I've learned in hopes that it will encourage and empower someone. I don't write very often anymore, but I think that it's so important to record your encounters with God and look back on how he has shown his faithfulness in your life. So here is this.

Something that I struggled with in the past year and still am confused by at times is the idea of God's presence. Prior to this year, it always seemed to me that if you were a good Christian and were truly close to God, then you would "feel" his nearness. And yet, I only caught small glimpses of his presence and cried out in confusion when I couldn't feel him. I constantly prayed to him, asking why he wouldn't let me feel his presence more. It didn't make sense - if I loved him and was spending time pursuing him, why wouldn't he let me feel nearness? I always heard "seek, and you will find" (Matthew 7:7), but for all the seeking I was doing I didn't feel like I was finding anything aside from frustration. Everywhere I sought him - at church, in his word, through worship music - I was constantly receiving the idea that if I put my faith in him, he would draw me in to dwell in his presence. I remember praying again and again, "God, I believe. But help my unbelief". I heard that he seeks to open our eyes and make himself known to us. So I kept seeking him and striving to feel him and see him in my life. But I was missing something.

I continued to read my Bible and listen intently to sermons. I held on to every encouraging verse; every piece of wisdom that seemed like it would draw me nearer to him. All I longed for was his presence. I wanted nothing else but to know him and to feel him. In time, he began to teach me that this was just the problem - feeling. I was seeking feeling but I wasn't seeking faith. I wanted to understand his heart and to feel a deep connection to my Savior. But during a sermon at my church on Exodus and God's promises and presence, he suddenly opened my eyes and I understood why I wasn't feeling him. My pastor spoke the words that I'd been needing to hear for a long time: "God never promised that we would feel his nearness, only that he would remain near always. This is faith. Hold on."

For the first time I began to understand what faith truly meant. Up until that point I just regarded it as another typical word that you'll find on a cute plaque in every Christian family's home. But I was missing the point. Faith outside of feeling is what we are called to. Faith is trusting, not understanding. It's hoping, not feeling. Looking back on my time striving to feel God for so long, I began to realize that he was always right there. When I was crying out to him in confusion, longing to know him, he was holding me in his arms saying "I am here. I am right with you." He'd never been far from me. Any distance was only imagined by me. When I turned to him and placed all my trust in him, he had already been there waiting. He guided every step of my journey and was faithful to teach me his heart. Now I can confidently say that I have a living hope and a savior named Jesus who gives me strength and never leaves my side. I may drift away and stray from the path, but he remains steadfast always. When I do feel near to him, he is there. And when I do not, he is still there. My feelings will lie to me but my Jesus will remain near even when I can't see him. God always wants to be near his children, and so he is. When I am lost, he is running towards me with arms outstretched, calling my name. He wants to be near to me even more than I want to be near to him.

This is not easy. I still get frustrated when I don't feel his presence and can't understand why my feelings are so inconstant. He takes me up on the mountains, then right back down into the valleys. All I know is that he is a Good Shepherd and I can put all my trust in him to carry me.

The other night, after singing worship for over an hour in a living room with people who love Jesus more than anything, I couldn't feel him at all. But I wanted to so deeply. So I prayed. I sat in the dark, pouring out my soul to him.

"Jesus, why do you play hide and seek with me? I just want to be near you."

And yet again, he revealed his heart to me.

"I am not hiding. I am only seeking."

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