Sometimes it's easy sometimes to feel like God is just not very interested in us at the moment. Even though we 'know' that He has promised never to leave us or forsake us, our daily experience just doesn't seem to bear that out. Our prayers don't seem to get answered. Our times in the Word are dry and uninspiring. Trials and tribulations pile up without any relief in sight. And from all the reports we hear, God seems to be very busy blessing others -- just not us.
Sounds kind of self-preoccupied and whiny, right?
When we are in the midst of this, the encouragement we get from others often takes one of two paths. The first is the "are you sure there isn't some sin in your life"approach. The second path takes a more strident "oh grow up and trust God"tone.
While there may be 'some' truth to both these attempts at encouragement, I have found that neither is necessarily applicable in some situations. My experience leads me to believe that there are seasons in our lives where we face trials that may have the appearance of tolerated sin or spiritual immaturity, but are something different altogether. They are, in fact, seasons of profound deepening of our relationship with God that come about precisely because we are actually yearning to live godly in Christ Jesus and we have actually grown in Christ. It is because we have reached some measure of understanding and maturity that we can bear God's further work of interior increase.
So you see, God has not abandoned us. On the contrary, He is desiring to bring us into a rich new experience of trust and love. And while those periods of growing seem almost unbearably long and painful, God knows exactly when to send us tokens of His presence and encouragement.
An example of this took place a few Sundays ago at the church my wife is attending. Built in the round, this church is an interesting, and blessed, mix of liturgy and liberty in the Spirit. During one part of the service it is not unusual for people to go up to the altar and pray. Often people will lay hands on one another and pray for one another. This is not the stewardship of the leaders, it is left up to the Lord to direct each individual to respond to the prompting of the Spirit in such a way that His people are edified.
So here is the story...
There is a woman in that little church that for years has been in the midst of a profound trial. She lost her husband, whom she absolutely adored, and was experiencing all the trials that come with having lost a dear companion in life. She was, in fact, still struggling years after his passing from profound feelings of sorrow and loss and the corresponding heaviness of spirit that accompanies that. She sought the Lord earnestly for relief and yet the grief would just not lift.
Then one Sunday, as she struggled with this profound heaviness of spirit, something amazing happened for her. Here is what happened in her own words:
"This past Sunday, when I went to the altar for ministry (a time of prayer) by myself, I was praying for inspiration about how to find those quiet moments with God that Fr. Rob spoke about in his sermon, and for comfort. I asked Jesus to pray with me and put his arms around me. In the next moment, I felt someone kneel next to me and put her arms around my shoulders. She stayed with me throughout ministry and when I stood up, I saw that it was my neighbor in the pew. She later told me that she had had a powerful impulse to get up and go to the altar and although she wasn't sure it was "the right thing to do," she did it anyway. She listened to the nudge from God, who was answering my prayer and demonstrating once again His love for me."
Shortly after this her grief lifted and she experienced an amazing lightness of spirit.
There a few lessons I take from this...
First, God knows what we can bear during His formative work within us and He will bring comfort and encouragement at just the right moment.
Secondly, we are God's arms of comfort and heart of compassion. If that person,(who happened to be my wife Pam, hadn't responded to the prompting of God when she did, God's comfort may have been delayed for this person.
Thirdly, there is no 'wrong time' to respond to God's prompting. Every now and then we need to be brave enough to do the 'unconventional' thing that will bring help and healing for another. Wouldn't you rather see the Lord move mightily for another rather than proper protocol observed?
Finally, sometimes the most comforting thing we can say is nothing at all. Sometimes all that is necessary to lift the weary heart is a comforting arm on their shoulder and quiet prayer in their behalf.