When God Seems Distant!

Conversations with God
Mark 6:17-29
April 3, 2016

We are about to start a new series, and I really think this is going to be a great series.  The title is Conversations with God.  We’re going to look at times when God seems to be distant and we feel that distance and disconnection.

With what’s going on in the world right now, it doesn’t take long to realize there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense.  We begin to wonder “Where is God in the middle of all the chaos, all of the violence, all of the tension in the world.  Sometimes we’d like to take over, thinking, “If I were God, I would do things a little differently.”

In the first few weeks, we’re going to deal with Bible stories which don’t always have happy endings.  We’re going to deal with stories which are very difficult.  I’m hoping this is going to push you forward in your walk with Christ.  Now you can say,  “Gee, I’m glad I came to church.”

We’re going to look at situations and times when God seems absent, distant, uncooperative, and like He’s not listening.  Otherwise, it should be a pretty basic series.  Then, I’m going to follow this up with a good hard look at prayer!

I got the idea for this series from a series Andy Stanley preached a number of years ago.  I like to listen to Andy’s podcasts, so I picked up some ideas from him.

Let me ask you a question – – – how many of you would say at some point you’ve prayed and it didn’t seem like God was listening?  You were waiting and waiting and it seemed like God wasn’t listening / distant to you?   Raise your hands.

It’s interesting how people can make it even more difficult.  There’s that person you know who’s always praising God.  You say your house burned down and “PRAISE the LORD!”  You’ve got something really bad going on in your life and they got a parking spot at the mall, “GLORY!”  You’re like, “Agh, you make me sick.”

Then you look at your friends and they’re blessed, they have a happy family, a job they love, a marriage they love, they’re financially blessed, and you’re thinking – – – they barely know Jesus – – – and here I am, I’m so faithful and they aren’t.

Where’s God in all this?  Where’s God when life doesn’t make sense?  What do you do when you’re praying and God seems distant?  When God seems silent?

Or God was not doing what you thought He should be doing?  Or God’s timing wasn’t your timing.  The good news is that you’re not alone.  The bad news is that God doesn’t always make sense.  So what are we to do?
Here’s a key thought for us as we get into scripture . . . Just because God is silent doesn’t mean God is absent.  Just because God is silent – – doesn’t means He didn’t hear you.  Just because you don’t feel His presence doesn’t mean He’s not with you.  Just because God is silent doesn’t mean God is absent.  To illustrate this, I want to deal with one of the more challenging stories in the Bible.

I want to look at the story of John the Baptist.  John was Jesus’ older cousin.  He wore animal skins and ate locusts and wild honey.  Here’s the back story.

King Herod Antipas was married – – but was interested in his brother’s wife.  So, Herod Antipas divorced his wife and married his brother’s wife, who was named Herodias.  John the Baptist was all up in their business telling them ~ “This was wrong.”  Herodias, the wife, hated John the Baptist.  Herod actually believed John was a Godly man so instead of killing him,  Herod had him arrested.

Let’s look at the story as told in Mark 6:17-20 ~

17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her.

18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.  But she could not,

20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe.  When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

Herodias wants to kill John. Herod was afraid of John, yet enjoyed listening to him.John was pointing people to Jesus.  John’s calling or purpose – was to prepare the way for the Lord.  When anyone said, “we want to follow you,” he said, “No, don’t follow me.  Follow Jesus.”  He baptized Jesus, but felt unworthy to do it.  John stood up for truth and he was in prison for proclaiming the truth.

If I’m John the Baptist and I’m standing up for Jesus, and Jesus is doing miracles, I’m going to think Jesus is going to do something for me.  I stand up for Him, He’ll come for me.  Most likely John’s just waiting for Jesus to come for him – – – and he ends up waiting and waiting and waiting.  Jesus didn’t break him out.  He didn’t send 9-foot tall angels with swag to break him out.  Jesus kept doing His ministry – – healing the sick, hanging out with the outcasts, while John waited.

Since this is an election year, I want you to vote . . .
How many of you think John the Baptist was unwavering in his faith?

How many think he struggled in his faith?

How many say, I’m abstaining because I have no idea where this is going?
Actually, John the Baptist was human.  He did what we would have done.  He started asking questions.  We can see what John was thinking in Matthew 11 ~

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples

3 and said to Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

He was wondering ~ “Is Jesus really who I thought He was?”

John hears Jesus is healing people and performing miracles.  But is He really the Christ, and maybe . . . why isn’t Jesus helping me?

In other words, Jesus, I’ve been doing all of this and you haven’t come through for me.  So, maybe you aren’t the one I thought you were.  How did Jesus reply?  Jesus didn’t say “Hey, I’m the one.  Hang on, I’m coming at midnight to break you out.”

Instead, Jesus told John’s disciples ~ 4 “Go and tell John what you hear and see:

5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”  – Matthew 11

That’s it!!  Jesus continues pushing the message forward, doing what God sent Him to do.  John continues to wait, trying to believe while in prison.

Then Herod, throws a huge party.  There’s lots of people and lots of drinking.  The king had a little bit too much to drink and now the daughter of Herodias, Salome, does a dance.  Herod loved the dance  ~

22 And the king said to Salome, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.”

23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”

She’s a teenager, I know what he’s thinking.  She wants an iPhone.  She wants 2 tickets to a Justin Bieber concert.  This will be easy!!  She goes, “Mom, mom, what should I ask for?”  Herodias thinks for a minute, whispers something to Salome ~

25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.

God knows what’s going on!  If I’m God, I would send my biggest and strongest angels and get the executioner and Herod and everyone else in the palace.  They would have flaming swords, look mean and scary.  But that’s not what happened.

27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head.  He went and beheaded him in the prison

28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.

John the Baptist served Jesus faithfully, saying  Jesus will increase – – – and I will decrease.  Repent and turn to Jesus – – – – Jesus had the power to rescue him – – – but that didn’t happen!

That just doesn’t feel right.  Our way of thinking is that someone like John, someone like ourselves, should get Jesus coming to our aid.  Now, that’s emotion speaking.

If we take a step back and remove the emotion, here’s what we know, John’s mission was accomplished.  John came to prepare the way for Jesus and He did that.

God’s purpose was fulfilled, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the gospel was being proclaimed.  What God planned came to pass.  It just didn’t come the way John planned.

Here’s a vital passage for us.  Proverbs 19:21 tells us 21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

We have lots of plans, but it’s the Lord’s purpose that prevails.  We could say – – – Many were the plans in John’s mind but it was the Lord’s purpose that prevailed. OR Many are the plans in our heart but it will be the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

We can share our stories about our plans which didn’t come to fruition.  Or the stories of our children, our loved ones, our friends.  We have them.

Let me just say, on the scale of problems in the world, oftentimes our problems are not life and death.  Sometimes they are!  But there’s nothing worse than to have dreams crushed.  It’s despairing.  You could argue, “God, we’re  serving You so faithfully.”  We hate those moments!  But we are not to despair!

Let me tell you why.  Because God’s word is true!  I can have my plans, my desires, my dreams.  They can all be noble and great dreams, but if they are not part of God’s plans they are not going to happen.  I believe God has something better for me.  But I have to change course and not expect God to change course.

You see, at the moment we may be totally confused.  When I look at my path, it’s amazing I’m in Alexandria, Indiana.  How did this Jewish kid end up here?!  It was part of God’s plan which I was totally clueless about . . . and frankly still am.  But it’s to follow the path God lays out for us, even when it doesn’t make sense.

Because God’s word is true and because God is always faithful, I don’t have to understand what’s going on in order to continue to trust in God.  21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart but it’s the Lord’s purpose that will prevail.

You don’t have to understand the plan to trust God’s purpose.  You don’t have to like the plan to trust God’s purpose.   Some of you have some very personal, very urgent problems.  Some of you are praying for someone you love who is sick.  Some are grieving the loss of loved ones you prayed for.

Some of you have worked hard, but you were laid off.  You’re wondering, “How am I going to get through this?”  Someone has migraines and you’ve been everywhere and tried everything.  You prayed and prayed . . . and the headaches are still there.  You don’t understand why.  You don’t have to understand the plan to still trust God’s purpose.  He is still good.

We can’t interpret God’s goodness through our circumstances.  We need to interpret our circumstances through the goodness of God.  We believe God is good.  He is always good.  God cannot be anything but good.  We don’t have to understand everything in order to trust God.  If you serve God long enough, live long enough, you’ll hit those times.

If you’re like me, you’re like, “Okay, what’s the plan?  I want to know the plan.  Just tell me the plan, and I’ll be fine.  I may not like it, but at least I’m not clueless. What’s the plan?  Oh, this is the plan, I’m living it!  This plan was the plan.”

You may ask what’s the plan and God may say trust me.  Really!?  That’s the best you’ve for me, God!?  Then Proverbs 19 jumps up . . . and we’re reminded ~
21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

My faith is no longer in my plan.  My faith is in God’s purpose and plan.
This is how I would like for it to come about.  This is how I’d like to see it.
This is how I think it should happen, but my faith cannot be in my plan.
My faith is in God’s purpose.  It’s Jeremiah 29:11 talking to us . . . 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  His ways are higher.  His ways are better!  I am not the main actor in this play.  I’m here to serve God, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When we think about it, Jesus experienced almost the exact same thing.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, when He knew the cross was before Him, He fell on His face and prayed 39 My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;

He was talking about a cup of suffering.
Then Jesus said . . . nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.

Not my plan – – but your purpose.  “Not my will Father but your will be done.  Father if there’s any other way than me going to the cross, would You do that for me, Father?”  But . . . not my plan, your purpose.

You know what happened.  We just celebrated that last weekend.  Mankind almost beat the life out of God’s Son.  He was unrecognizable.  He was almost dead, spikes driven through His hands and feet.  Hung on a cross to be shamed before the world.  Before Jesus gave His life, He cried out to His Father and asked, “My God, why?  Why have you forsaken me?”  If I could add to it, why are you distant and silent?  Why won’t you do something?  Why do you seem distant?

Just because God is silent, doesn’t mean God is absent.  Here we are over 2,000 years later.  God loved us enough to let His Son suffer so that Jesus’ purpose was fulfilled.  Whenever God doesn’t make sense . . . when He seems distant . . . and you cry out and you ask Him, do a miracle . . . .

God will hear that request and there are times when God will bless you in ways you could not imagine.  You’ll see supernatural healings, you’ll see the miraculous.   You’ll see the goodness of God displayed in ways you could never have imagined.

On the other hand, there are times when your plans and your prayers don’t go exactly as you hoped.  Your prayers are good, noble prayers!  God hears them, He really does but . . . 21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

That’s why we can’t put our faith in our plans . . . we must put our faith and trust in God’s purpose.

I don’t always understand the plan and purpose.  Much of the time we don’t.  But, we are called to trust in the goodness of God even when He doesn’t make sense, even when He’s distant.  My friends, whatever you are going through, don’t give up, trust in God’s plan, trust in His people!  We will be there together . . . for 1 another!

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