â€œAt different times on the journey I have tried to fill the emptiness that frequently comes with Godâ€™s presence â€¦â€ â€“ Brennan Manning
â€œThe emptiness that frequently comes with Godâ€™s presence â€¦â€ So thatâ€™s what this is? In recent days, some in the Internet Monk community have especially touched me. I can identify with the despair that has prompted comments in the vein of wanting to give up after seeking intimacy with God and not finding it. They are expressions of emptiness and the fear and frustration that he is not present â€“ the same fear and frustration Iâ€™ve struggled with for a year.
My business is struggling. My emotional well is down to the level of mud â€¦ and my God is being ever so quiet. Then, another phone call a few nights ago and another sad story was added to my extended familyâ€™s anthology of recent trials. It knocked the remaining wind out of me.
I confess that I have begun to succumb to the thought that we are all on a fixed income metaphorically speaking. There is a finite supply and an increasing demand for everything from material wealth to the less tangible, though no less longed for, emotional and spiritual riches. Access to a newswire gives me a daily window to devastations around the world. Natural disasters, war, persecution, famine and disease leave people without resource. To make matters worse, they are also without any comfort in their sufferings. The earth labors. Its people groan. Lack reigns. Am I right to think this way?
Without diminishing the sobering circumstances that are the lot of so many and also without purporting to espouse a prosperity message either of material wealth or of an unrealistic life devoid of all struggle, I make a submission. It is that we are ignoring the reality of Godâ€™s provision and presence in this world and in our lives when we survey our spent surroundings and see no supply. Being a glass-half-empty person by nature, I preach to myself most of all. It is conformity to a way of worldly thinking I have struggled with since childhood.
From the first pages of Scripture to the last, God demonstrates that where there is need, there is also provision. Where there is emptiness, there is also a remedy. Where there is the aching fear that we navigate our days on earth alone, there is a loving God always present and actively sovereign. But our perception fails at times.
Perhaps we see only brokenness, captivity and ash heaps of ruins. Isaiah prophesied and Jesus reiterated that his coming would bring restoration, freedom and beauty. That is where I long to live. Â Yet the road there is often messy and doesnâ€™t necessarily look as we think it should. Jesusâ€™ own life is Exhibit A. Israel expected her Messiah to come conquering. Yet, â€œhe was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.â€ Not exactly what they were looking for.
Perhaps the same could be said for me â€“ for us. Jesus shows up, but heâ€™s not what we expect. I survey my difficult circumstances and the more dire circumstances of those around me wondering, â€œWhere have you been, Jesus?â€
Then he says, â€œI was the hungry one who needed food, I was the thirsty one, the naked one, the traveler, the prisoner, the sick, the lonely and wretched.â€
Jesus is here, but he comes clothed in rejection and sorrow and demanding my compassion. What am I to do? Iâ€™m wallowing in my own weakness just now.
Indeed what are we to do when the human condition is â€¦
Devastation â€¦ and
I am with you if you are thinking, Some of these conditions are mine â€“ and there doesnâ€™t seem to be answer or resource enough to cover them.
Mother Teresa comes to mind at this point. She suffered from a well-documented dark night of the soul for many years and admitted to not being able to sense Godâ€™s presence. Because of this, some have even wondered whether she was truly reborn. Yet, the fruit of her life declares otherwise. If it is as Manning says, that emptiness often comes with Godâ€™s presence, then her long dark night may be the most compelling evidence that the poor and dying she ministered to each day were a manifestation of Jesus. He trusted her with his silent presence in their emaciated bodies. He trusted her to obey him. He trusted her to pray for them and to serve them. He trusted her to not give up. He trusted her to trust him.
Jesus, can the same be said of me â€“ of us?
The truth is â€¦ this is the plan. We are it. We are his body. We are Jesus on earth. And there is enough of everything we need. He is the one who spoke all things into existence by the word of his power. Can he not speak â€¦
Life â€¦ to those who ask in his name?
The Bible we hold in our hands, from Genesis to Revelation, from the time of prophets to the time of Christ is a catalog of profound human need answered by Godâ€™s plenty. The church, from the foundations laid by the Apostles to Christ followers of today, is to catalog the same. Jesus said, â€œI tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these â€¦â€ (John 14:12).
God wants us to articulate the need or desire. When the widow of one of Israelâ€™s prophets cried out to the man of God because creditors were about to take her boys as slaves (2 Kings 4:1-7), Elisha said to her, â€œHow can I help you?â€
Likewise, when Jesus encountered a blind man (Mark 10:46-52) who shouted to him for mercy as he entered Jericho, he demanded a more specific request. â€œWhat do you want me to do for you?â€
Iâ€™ve always thought I was quite good at telling God my needs and desires and expressing them for others in my intercessions. Perhaps not. I tend to cry out for a generalized mercy or to pray along the lines of sympathy rather than taking the time before God to discern what of his will he is working in me. Andrew Murray writes, â€œOur desires are put to the test to see whether they are honest and real and are according to Godâ€™s word.â€
Provision, though unseen, is present. Elisha said to the widow, â€œTell me, what do you have in your house?â€ At first she told him that she had nothing. In truth she had a little oil. Blind Bartimaeus thought had nothing, but Jesusâ€™ presence evoked the knowledge that he harbored within himself a mustard seed of faith. Our truth is that if we have come to Christ we harbor something he can use.
Am I willing to venture it on God even if it appears to be all of my supply? I am so selfish when I am emotionally tired. I want to hide if there is a demand for the little energy I have left. Yet there are times when he wants the vial broken open and every drop poured out.
Acts of obedience â€“ sometimes strange ones â€“ are required. Elisha told the widow, â€œGo around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Donâ€™t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.â€ Similarly, Jesusâ€™ command to Bartimaeus began with the same word, â€œGo.â€
God wants us to participate in his answer. We can identify needs. We can pray, but it requires effort to go. Even as I write this, I can think of several ways that I can go.Â A sick family member needs more frequent visits. Emotionally abandoned children I know need attention. And everywhere there is financial and material needs to supply. There is never a shortage of places and ways to go. The shortage is in the goers.
God creates adequate supplies out of small investments and sometimes out of nothing. The widow did all that Elisha commanded. â€œShe left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.â€ When there were no jars left, the oil stopped flowing. She paid her debts and lived on what remained.
Bartimaeus believed Christ and went on his way healed. Jesus divided the loaves and fishes and fed thousands. Mother Teresa, with no personal resources, ministered half a century in the streets of Calcutta. In his lifetime, George Muller prayed in enough provisions to care for 10,000 orphans. The Apostle Paul received grace to bear weakness and insufficiency as he ministered his way to martyrdom.
It is with the perspective of hindsight in each of these scenarios that we see Godâ€™s presence and the provision he brought. But in the moment, in the daily reality of debt, physical impairment, hunger, sickness and overwhelming responsibility, he may have seemed absent.
Maybe in your moments he seems absent. At times, he has seemed absent in mine, but he is not. He is present in those in need around us. He is present in our own need.
â€œWhere can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fastâ€ (Psalm 139:7-10, NIV).
How else, except by need and emptiness, do we even begin to think of Christ, let alone come to him? How else, except by a continuing and deepening discernment of personal need, do we keep coming? It is our emptiness on earth and Godâ€™s much more in heaven that are meant to meet. The more empty we are, the greater our capacity to receive him. There is no room for him in the sated and self-satisfied. â€œBlessed are the poor in spirit â€¦ blessed are those who hunger and thirst.â€ It is precisely in need that he is present.