If you were at Ripon 2 in 2017, you may recall that, on the first night, we were challenged to consider where we were with God. At the front of the meeting room, there was a length of drain pipe filled with sand; we were invited to head up, pick up a lolly stick and place it to represent where we were with Him at the beginning of camp. We were encouraged to put it at one end of the drain pipe if we felt ‘cheek to cheek’ with God or at the other end if He felt miles away or we didn’t know Him, or somewhere in between the two ends according to our own circumstances.
I’d like to ask you that same question again today: where are you with God?
For me, the word ‘when’ in the title is particularly helpful. I think the statement ‘when God feels distant’ is more relevant than the statement ‘if God feels distant’. A journey with God is unlikely to be smooth, steady or continuous all of the time; I’d expect there to be ups and downs, peaks and troughs, or good times and less good times.
I remember getting my knickers in a twist some time ago when I was doing a lengthy project at university. I found myself asking the questions ‘God, where are you and why is this happening to me?’. I prayed a lot, but still nothing seemed to change and, feeling abandoned, was ready to give up. Looking back, there are a few things I found useful when addressing my relationship with God and I’d like to take this opportunity to share these with you now.
“In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
I was glad to be reminded of the power of Jesus, and the significance of his death on the cross.
Remember, the response to distance from God is a very personal one. Everyone has different ways of approaching it and working through it, and I certainly don’t have a quick-fix to make everything fine and dandy again. Our walk with God is a marathon, not a race.
At the end of camp last year we were told, or perhaps reminded, that it doesn’t really matter whether we are ‘cheek to cheek’ with God or seemingly miles away. Irrespective of how we may feel, He is holding us very close:
“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hand” (Isaiah 49:16).