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Why can’t I feel God’s presence or relate to Him like I used to?
(For those who put their faith in a special or unique manifestation of God’s presence)
Meet Miriam—an eighty-six year-old, unmarried prophetess, who has been the sole mouthpiece of God to the people of Israel since she was a child. In Numbers 12, Yahweh told Miriam He spoke to prophets in dreams and vision, so that’s how I described God’s communication with Miriam for most of her life…until Moses returns from Midian. Then, I imagined, Miriam’s relationship with God changed as she watched her brothers take the leadership role and this “Yahweh” feel more distant than the El Shaddai she’d known.
“El Shaddai’s presence is more real to me than the Nile. He is the air I breathe. He is the beating of my heart. I converse with Him all day long, and He replies – in His own way. But this morning was different. He is silent.”
Miriam wrestled with much internal dialogue and external exchanges before she came to this pivotal moment:
“A warm breeze lifted her sheer linen head covering. She didn’t consider whether it was Yahweh’s breath or simply the wind. She knew now that Yahweh could speak in any way He liked. She need only lean into the people He placed into her life to hear Him clearly.”
Each of these quotations explores a slightly different nuance to the very common barrier of faith: Why has God abandoned me? I can’t feel His presence like I used to. I don’t know how to relate to Him anymore.
Points to Ponder
Miriam had never imagined that she could know Him any way other than how she’d always known Him. What do you think of this idea that sometimes God might seem silent because He is trying to reveal Himself to us in a new way that we’ve never known before?
How might some of the lessons from week one, about looking for God and seeing God, help us in a time when it feels like God has abandoned us? Again, what kinds of things can make us “blind” to God’s presence?
How might the lessons from week two, about God’s faithfulness and goodness, help us in a time when it feels like God is absent, distant, or indifferent?
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Why do you think God commanded Israel to tell the story of God to one another, as they sat, as they walked as they worked, etc.?
Read this quotation about Miriam’s experience in chapter 19:
“Somehow the confidence of her declarations [about Yahweh] made Yahweh’s silence to her more bearable.”
When God seems silent or absent or inactive, what benefit might there be in continuing to tell others the truths and stories we know about Him and His character?
Describe a time when God felt absent to you, but you were reminded of His faithfulness by hearing someone tell their story, or telling someone else your own story of God’s work in your life.
Read this portion of Miriam’s conversation with her faithful parents in chapter 9:
“‘But how do you know He’s near, Ima, if you don’t have dreams or visions to interpret?’…‘Anyone can develop a God-sense similar to the way we use other senses to experience things. Though we can’t taste, touch, see, hear, or smell our invisible God, He sometimes uses those experiences to communicate His nearness…And sometimes it’s simply a feeling…You simply know He is. There’s no magic or sign. He just is.’”
Now Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Perhaps we, in the Body of Christ, should have similar conversations about the various “manifestations of the Spirit.” Is one kind of “hearing” from God better than another? Is one kind of revelation of God or manifestation of His Spirit more real or spiritual than another? Why do some people “hear” from God differently than others in the Body of Christ?
Describe a time when you weren’t able to see God or sense His presence in your own life, and another believer helped you to see Him more clearly through their gifts, their “manifestation of the Spirit.”
Do you believe that sometimes, even as believers, we might need to develop a new “God-sense” or perhaps have our God-sense stretched or refined? Why might God choose to reveal Himself or manifest Himself to us in a new way, a way we haven’t known or seen or felt Him before?
This Week’s Faith Builders
Let’s implement some of the Deuteronomy 6 commands into our lives this week.
- If you have children (or friends, colleagues, family members…anyone!), ask God for opportunities to tell God’s story, His faithfulness, His holiness, His commands to them this week.
- Or, start a practice this week in your home, your apartment, your dorm room, etc. of reciting God’s goodness or reading scripture as you sit at home in the evening,
- Or brainstorm creative ways to tell His story as you “walk by the way”…maybe to the grocery store clerk, or the drive-thru attendant!
- Adopt a habit of praying (either alone or with a buddy) “when you lie down and when you rise.”
- How might you bind His words on your hand, between your eyes, or on the doorpost of your house? Get creative! Have fun with it! Adopt some new practices of having God’s story always before you and always on your lips, and see what happens!
This week, seek out a fellow believer, from your church or Christian community, whose gifts or interactions with God are different from your own (maybe even someone who you don’t understand very well). Spend some time with this person, asking questions about his/her “God-sense.” How has this person known God? Listen carefully, and see what you might learn about God that is new to you. Consider asking God to show up to you in a new way.
Scriptures to Build On
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our god, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 – “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”