How does God work through the seemingly empty times of our lives? What does it mean to feel empty in life? Why does God send emptiness to us? Join me as I consider how that God empties our lives so that He can fill us with His Glorious Presence! All quotes are from Larry Crabb’s Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Path to Joy.
The Core Problem we face as pilgrims: the battle for desiring God first
The world and its fallen nature seek to distract and disorient those seeking to walk with Christ. Jesus confronts this in numerous parables. He warns us that our hearts will be where our treasures lie. He also warns us against worry and doubt with the example of the birds and lilies of the field. Jesus requires that we trust and seek Him above all else–not our education, wealth, health, government, political party, etc. The disciples struggled with the meaning and purpose of God’s coming kingdom. Remember how that they debated on who would be greater in God’s kingdom. They wanted instant triumph and victory but encountered a crucified Messiah.
When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness after His baptism, the temptation centered on Jesus’ divine purpose. Satan unsuccessfully tries to get Jesus to take the “easy” way out and depend on Himself apart from God’s power. We face this same challenge as we navigate our lives with career, family, and other relationships. Do we seek things or people more than God? What are our greatest desires? Do we desire to please others or self more than our Creator God? What is the source of our lives: specifically our desires and joys? Whom do we abandon ourselves to?
The Problem of Idolatry in our hearts
That’s the real issue with idolatry! We don’t carve wooden Asherah poles, set up temples to Astarte, or sacrifice our first born child to Molech like the ancients, but we desire things other/more than God. Do we seek wealth, comfort, and pleasure above Christ? That is the root of idolatry: anything that we love/desire more than God or anyone that we value more than God. Good description of modern idolatry–what it is and how it functions
Have you ever considering why the Hebrews struggled against idol worship? The culture(s) around them practiced idolatry in order to guarantee the god/goddesses’ favor. It was a cultural practice to ensure prosperity, success, and comfort. Even though God revealed Himself and provided His laws and precepts, the Hebrew people struggled with idolatry until they were sent into exile. By the time of Jesus, they were enslaved to religion and Roman rule. Strict rules and religion replaced the baals and asherah poles.
If we’re honest before God and with ourselves: we all have our idols, wrong ideals about God, and lesser desires that we try to “fill” up our lives with apart from God. Our world is an active evil force seeking to tempt us to worship ourselves, others, and material prosperity. For a good discussion on why idolatry is so attractive:
What is God’s solution to our problem? He convicts us leading us to turn to Him and away from the “lesser things.” God’s Mercy and Righteous Judgment works in our lives to “empty out” and “cleanse” us.
Suffering and Emptiness that lead us closer to Christ are God’s Mercy!
Suffering can take multiple forms in our lives–emotional and physical. Job is an example of a righteous man who suffers great loss. Faithful Christians get cancer, die in accidents, and struggle with unfair events in life. Suffering is an opportunity to draw closer to Christ in trust and desire and invite Him into the situation!
There is a trap that people find in trying to “explain the whys” of suffering. It’s best to not presume things that we can’t know for sure. An older lady suffering from recurring cancer and was in the terminal stage recounted a conversation from church. A fellow member admired her for her faith. She told her that she must be blessed by God because “God kept sending cancer her way.” The ailing saint wasn’t comforted by this thought and asked me for my opinion on this. She told me that she didn’t want to die but had accepted her fate. She asked me if she should keep asking God to heal her and if she should continue cancer treatments even though the outcome probably wouldn’t be successful. Here’s how I answered:
- God’s ways are not our ways, we don’t know why, but we can trust God because He reveals Himself as being Perfectly Good, Righteous, and True. Trust in God and keep seeking Him!
- God’s way(s) of healing involve the ordinary and extraordinary things of life. Continue to fight the cancer with treatments and accept any additional time God gives you. Keep living for God until death comes.
- God is with you. He is present in your time of despair and illness. We don’t walk alone in our journey of faith when walking with God.
- God makes all things new in Christ including you–our hope is in being Resurrected and reunited with Christ for eternity. Your hope is in Christ; not in being cancer free during your life.
This was a difficult conversation; yet an opportunity to encourage a sister in Christ facing a difficult trial. This precious saint was daily choosing to trust and depend on God even as her health faded. She was desiring God more as her life was coming to an end. Her faith sustains and encourages her as she faces death.
God desires for us to experience Joy in His Perfect Love
Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us alone in our incomplete, faulty understanding of Him! God’s gift of joy is all about His perfect love for us as demonstrated on the cross. To paraphrase Larry Crabb: we think that God should cooperate with us to make our lives “work” so we can feel joy in our earthly lives. We wrongly assume that God’s job is to make us feel completely happy and experience joy in life. Here’s the underlying problems with this mistaken view of God’s job: (pg. 136)
1.”better circumstances . . .can never produce the joy we were designed to experience. Only an intimate relationship with Perfect Love can provide that joy.”
2. In this life we can never feel what God intended us to feel, at least not in full measure. To be completely happy, we must experience perfect intimacy with Perfect Love and every “second-thing” blessing that Perfect Love can provide. In this life, we have neither. God will provide both, but not till heaven.
God’s perfect love refines us and draws us closer–Emptiness is an opportunity for God!
God fills the empty hearts. He seeks the lost and is gentle to the wayward soul. He is our Good Shepherd! IF you experience emptiness seek God and open yourself to His Presence. Larry explains the greatest opportunities of life: pg 140
“1. And life is an opportunity to live through shattered dreams and discover that we really long to abandon ourselves to the Perfect Love of God, the love revealed when Jesus died.
2. It is an opportunity to trust Him with our experience of emptiness and fear, to trust Him to forgive our resentment over bad things that happen and our determination to feel good with or without Him. . .
3. Life is an opportunity to feel pain. . .to realize that what we most deeply want is simply not available in this life, and then to trust God as He purges us of depending on the pleasures that blessings brings.”
May God encourage you through His Perfect Love! When you feel the most empty, May He graciously speak through Psalms 23 and 103 to your soul!
For His glory and your encouragement, I write these words,