Over thirty years ago, I sat with a woman who had lost her husband and her only daughter. Both of them were hospitalized for about four months before they died. She said, “I can pray for other people, but I can’t pray for myself. My prayers seem to go no higher than the ceiling.”
She felt as if God had deserted her. She could not sense His presence. God did not seem to be listening to her.
I assured her that her feelings were not abnormal. She was not a bad Christian. Some of God’s choicest servants have felt the same way, as we see in the Psalms.
David, a man after God’s own heart, cried out, “To You, O Lord, I call; my rock, do not be deaf to me, for if You are silent to me, I will become like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 28:1). “I stretch out my hands to You; my soul longs for You, as a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails; do not hide Your face from me, or I will become like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 143:6-7). Another psalmist complained, “I will say to God my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me?’” (Psalm 42:9).
Such feelings of abandonment come most often in times of great distress or sorrow. The suffering believer prays, but his circumstances do not change, and the medicine bottle of divine comfort seems empty.
The thing that surprises me about the ancient Hebrew poets is how often their psalms of lament close on a note of confidence, even before their situation improves. For example, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
In the apparent silence of God, they discovered that the Lord was speaking more loudly than when life was sweet. He was calling out to them, “Trust Me when you can neither hear nor see Me,” and they answered, “Yes, I will.”
We see this trust pre-eminently in the Lord Jesus Christ. From the cross, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” followed a short time later by, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Mark 15:34; Luke 23:46). Jesus was truly forsaken by God for a time as He bore the wrath of God for our sins. As a result, no believer in Jesus will ever be truly forsaken. Jesus took our forsakenness on Himself that we might have the continual presence of God through the Holy Spirit.
The night before His crucifixion, Jesus said, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
One of the ministries of the Spirit is to help us pray when we are so distressed that we cannot pray for ourselves. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
To the dear lady I mentioned earlier I said, “I know you feel deserted, as many of God’s beloved children have felt, but the Holy Spirit is in you, and He is turning your groans into a more beautiful prayer than you have ever uttered with your lips.” And she was comforted.
(This essay first appeared in the Allentown Morning Call on June 22, 2013.)