When Feelings Lie

Zion said, the Lord has forsaken me and the Lord has forgotten me. “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.“Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” Isaiah 49:15-16a

Do you feel forgotten by God? Do you feel as if He abandoned you in a moment of crisis, leaving you to deal with it all alone? Do you feel as if God doesn’t love you or that He doesn’t care? 

Those are terrible feelings to have. I suppose we all have those feelings at times. There have been times when my faith has been shaken by my feelings. Consider the feelings David expressed in Psalm 13, when he asked, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” Psalm 13:1David’s feelings shook his faith, prompting him to question God and to doubt His goodness.

The mighty Elijah once crawled up under a juniper tree and prayed he might die because he felt alone and abandoned by God. His faith was also shaken by his feelings. It happened to Joseph. It happened to Jeremiah. It happens to us all! Some crisis comes along, and we feel forsaken and forgotten by God. But life has to be lived on something more concrete than feelings, because feelings can lie. A good example of that comes from the experience of God’s people during the time of Isaiah the prophet. They vented their feelings about God. They expressed what they felt, but as is often the case, what they felt was simply not true. They said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.” Isaiah 49:14 Please allow me to walk you through God’s answer to their feelings. It is one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. 

Our Feelings Often Contradict God’s Promises.

What is God doing in your life? Do you have a pretty good idea, or is it fuzzy sometime? Honestly, we don’t always have a clear picture of God’s activity. Neither did these people who were moaning about being abandoned by God. Pay careful attention to God’s purpose for His people.

Listen to Me, O islands, and pay attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; and He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show My glory.” Isaiah 49:1-3

This wonderful plan for God’s people looked forward to the coming of the Messiah as their Deliverer. But the collective feelings of His people are expressed in the next verse.   But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; Isaiah 49:4

When God outlines His activity in your life and mine, He traces it back to before we were born! God shaped you for a purpose! You have also been concealed in the shadow of His hand! He has a special purpose for you! He wants to display His glory in and through your life! However, His people often lose sight of God’s activity, feeling as if they have toiled in vain and spent their strength for nothing.

That can happen to a fine Christian leader. It can happen to a minister. It can happen to a Christian spouse who is praying for the salvation of his or her mate. It can happen to you. It can happen to me. In fact, it has happened to us all. Our feelings are often set in contrast to what God is doing within us and around us. In our discouragement, we can easily conclude our time and efforts in the service of the Lord are wasted. Perhaps your circumstances leave you feeling God has abandoned you. You feel He has withdrawn His hand of blessing from your life. 

Feelings are not a sin. It is a sin when you begin to live and act on your feelings instead of your faith in God. Feelings can shake your faith. What we need is a faith strong enough to shake our feelings.

Our Feelings Often Contradict God’s Activity in and Around Our Lives.

Thus says the Lord, “In a favorable time I have answered You,
and in a day of salvation I have helped You; and I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, to restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages; 
Saying to those who are bound, ‘Go forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ Along the roads they will feed, and their pasture will be on all bare heights. 10 “They will not hunger or thirst, nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; for He who has compassion on them will lead them and will guide them to springs of water. 11 “I will make all My mountains a road, and My highways will be raised up. 12 “Behold, these will come from afar; and lo, these will come from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Sinim.” 13 Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted. Isaiah 49:8-14

This was good news! These verses also point to the coming work of the Messiah. It is like reading from the book of Revelation here in the Old Testament. It is the story of God’s purpose in the lives of these people among whom He was working. God was working powerfully in their behalf! But that is not how they felt.How about you? Do you feel like shouting for joy because of the clear evidence of God’s activity? Or do you feel forgotten?

God said, “I have answered!” But they said, “God isn’t listening.” God said, “I have helped!” But they said, “God doesn’t care.” God said, “I will keep you!” But they said, God threw us away.” God said, “In you I will show my glory!” But they said, “We’ve wasted our time telling His story.” God said, “Shout the news!” But they said, “All we can do is sing the blues.” They said what they felt, but it was not true.

I have been in the middle of some problem when I felt like God walked out on me. I have been weighed down with heartache when I felt like God didn’t care. I have been down on my knees when I felt like God was not listening to my prayers. I felt this, only to learn later that God was working powerfully in my behalf. My feelings were false. I allowed my feelings to shake my faith. What I needed was a faith strong enough to shake my feelings. Our feelings are often contrary to the activity of God around us.

God once put Moses in the cleft of the rock and covered him with His Hand. He did so to protect Moses from the overpowering brilliance of His glory. In fact, it was when God was closest that it was darkest for Moses. Those were the moments He was covered with God’s hand. Sometimes, we feel under a dark cloud when we have problems. We feel God has hidden His face from us. We feel God doesn’t know where we are or what we are going through. Then God comes to our aid and the darkness is past. But like Moses, we didn’t see Him coming. We only saw the results of where He had been. Could it be that some of those dark, gloomy days prior to God’s deliverance are the real glory days when, if we were allowed to see the full picture of God’s activity, we would be devastated by the awesome glory of God!

Don’t let your feelings shake your faith in God. It might be dark in your circumstances, but that may be because God is just outside, and you are covered with His hand. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Don’t listen to your feelings. Feelings can lie!

Our Feelings Run Counter to the Investment of God in Our Future.

They felt forsake and forgotten. But these next two verses reveal their feelings to be the farthest thing from the truth.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Isaiah 49:15-16a

You may feel God has forsaken you. You may feel God doesn’t care. You may feel God doesn’t love you. You may feel God doesn’t know what is going on in your life. You may feel God is far away. You may feel God never thinks about you and doesn’t even know your name!

That’s what these people said. But that is not what God said! The rest of this chapter speaks of a glorious deliverance. These verses speak of a God who bears in His hands the concern He has for His people. And whatever God means when He says, “I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” I see in that promise the nail scars from the cross.

Zion said, the Lord has forsaken me and the Lord has forgotten me. That may be what Zion says and what Zion feels but it is contrary to all of God’s promises. For God has promised: I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you. Hebrews 13:5

God has promised:But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3a

Thomas, that doubting disciple, had some feelings that made him question Jesus. His feelings deepened his doubt. His feelings shook his faith. But suddenly, Jesus appeared in the presence of all His disciples, and said to Thomas. “Behold my hands…”

All Thomas had to do was see those hands. and his feelings melted into oblivion. Can you see what God is doing? Do you know where God is headed with your life? Do you know all that God is doing within you or around you or for you or in response to your prayers?

No we don’t. But we know what Zion did not know from their perspective in Old Testament times. We know He died on a cross. We know the scars in His hands testify to the investment He made in the our future, and they serve as constant reminders to Him of what we need.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” Isaiah 49:15-16a

Photo by JK

Is He Still the God Who Sees?

Are you running from something? Are you are running from something you can see, or something you can’t see? Are you running from some fear from the past, or from some fear of the future? Are you running from one relationship into another relationship?

Whether from circumstances beyond our control, or consequences resulting from our own sinful choices, life can become very complicated. It can become so complicated that we see no way out of our own personal hopelessness. That was the case for an Old Testament woman known as Hagar. Hagar enters the biblical story  as the maid of Abraham’s wife Sarah. There is no way we can know the exact circumstances in which Hagar lived. It doesn’t appear she was under any form of duress while living in the home of Abraham, until Abraham’s wife gave her the assignment of being his mistress for the purpose of becoming a surrogate mother. The child would become the child of Abraham and Sarah. It was a bad decision from the start for all parties. Once it was clear she was pregnant, Hagar felt superior to Sarah, since Sarah was barren. As a result, Sarah hated Hagar and began to treat her accordingly. Abraham, certainly not an innocent figure in the story, found himself caught between the ire of the two women in his home.

So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence. Genesis 16:1-6

It sounds like a modern day soap opera. It is hard to feel sorry for anybody. You can identify with Sarah and her animosity. After hearing the story, you might feel that Hagar ought to leave. Depending on your own personal perspective, you will either see her as the villain or the victim. However, it is not up to us to pass judgment. Instead, we need to look for the response of God. The focus of the Biblical story immediately shifts away from the main characters, Abraham and Sarah, as God turns His concern toward Hagar.

Hagar was running away. She was running away from a bad relationship. She was running away from her problems. She was running away from her past. Running away is not always the answer. Running away can make problems worse. When you run away, you don’t always know what you’re running from. Is it a person? Is it the problem? Is it something you are afraid might happen? Or is it something inside you. Hagar was running away. It is interesting to me that her name means Fleeing. Maybe that is how she dealt with things her whole life. She just ran away.

Hagar was running without purpose. She didn’t know where she was going. She was flailing her way into the future. She didn’t have a guide. She didn’t have a goal. She never considered where her steps might lead. Would things be better, or would they be worse? One bad decision often leads to another, especially when you are simply trying to run away from the consequences of the previous decision.

The Bible tells us that she stopped by a spring of water on the way to Shur. That word can mean a place of walls. She was looking for security. That sounds a lot like our word sure. In her mind, she was running toward SURE, but in fact, she was running toward uncertainty. She was running toward disaster. In fact, a later verse tells us that this well where she stopped was located between Kadesh and Bered. Kadesh means holiness and Bered means hail. In the Bible, hail is an emblem of God’s judgment. Hagar was, without knowing, running away from God. Is that where you are? Are you somewhere between holiness and judgment? As you run away from your problems, are you simply moving faster toward disaster?

Running away was not the answer. Running away would only make her problems worse. She was running away, but she didn’t know what she was running away from or where she was going. She was running away from her fears. Have you ever had that feeling of being followed—that something or someone was behind you? If Hagar continued to run, she would spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder. What will the rest of your life be like? Will you spend the rest of your life fearing the future or in fear of the past catching up with you?

Something wonderful happens in the middle of Hagar’s journey. Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. Genesis 16:7

The Angel of the Lord found her. This is one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible. In every case where the Angel of the Lord appears, He always turns out to be more than an angel. Whenever this figure appears, the person who encounters Him realizes it was an encounter with God. Some theologians believe this to be an appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Think of that! Consider who found Hagar. He intercepted her on our journey of running away. He found her! He knew where she was. He knew her name. He knew where she had been and where she was going! He knew what was going on inside her and around her. He knew what she was running from, and what she needed to do instead of running away.

Is this the moment God has chosen to intercept you—to speak with you about where you are, where you have been and where you are going. He knows your name! He knows what you need, what you face, and what you need to do!

What are you running from? Are you running from your past? Are you running from something you see looming in the future? Jesus knows all about it. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Genesis 16:8

Was Hagar worthy of a visit from the Angel of the Lord? No! She was not worthy! None of us are worthy! This is God, in His grace and mercy, reaching out to a woman to express His love, to offer His direction, and to spare her from further heartache. God also reaches out to you and to me, even though we are unworthy of His attention and affection.

This turns out to be one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. God reveals His love to Hagar. He speaks promises over her life, offering her a certain future made firm by the power of His hand. What if God is at work to do the same thing for you in your circumstances? God told Hagar to stop running. Instead, she needed to rest secure in His love, even though she would continue to face the wrath of Sarah. God was working His plan. This wouldn’t make all her problems go away, but it would allow her to experience His providential care across the journey of her life.

Out of that experience, Hagar gives God a new name. Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.Genesis 16:7-14

This often happened in the Bible when someone encountered God in such a surprising way. She called God, “El-Roi”. It means, the God who Sees.She named the well the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me. Hagar is the first woman at the well. Remember what the woman at the well in the New Testament said about Jesus. “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done.” John 14:29

She also declared Him to be a God who sees! “He could See my past. He could See into my heart. He could See where I had been and where I was going. He could See that I was thirsty. He could See that I was lonely. He could See what I needed. He could See all the wrong in me. He is the God who Saw me and yet loved me!”

He is still the God who sees! He sees you right where you are. He sees you in the midst of your need. He sees you as you deal with the consequences of bad decisions and sinful living. He sees you, and yet He loves you! He has chosen to meet you in this moment, that He might intercept your journey, and re-direct you toward a better and brighter future. The only sure thing in life is the certainty of His Sovereignty. Would you give Him the opportunity to speak His promises over your life and wrap you in the shelter of His love?

Are you running from something? Are you are running from something you can see, or something you can’t see? Are you running from some fear from the past, or from some fear of the future? Are you running from one relationship into another relationship?

The God who Sees is watching you. He knows where you are. He knows your name. He knows where you have been and where you are going. He is still the God who sees.  He is still the God who seeks to rescue us from our own decisions, from our own dilemmas, from the dread of the past, and from the dread of the future.  Hagar was, without knowing, running away from God. Is that where you are? Are you somewhere between holiness and judgment?

The God who Sees is a God who loves us so much that even when we are walking with our back toward holiness and our face toward judgment, He intercepts us on our journey, and redirects us, speaking His promises over our lives, and offering to swaddle us in His sovereignty.

Photo by Alexander Mils

 

Until I Know What God Will Do for Me

This is a rock bottom moment in David’s life! He is hurting, broken, and defeated. God’s promises seemed out of reach. His life, His future, and to a degree, even his faith, was on hold. On top of it all he was trying to take care of aging parents.

So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it, they went down there to him. Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him. And David went from there to Mizpah of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you until I know what God will do for me.” 1 Samuel 22:1-3

I encountered the verses above in a very personal way two years ago this month. My dad was very sick. The situation required me to make a three-hour drive -one way- as often as twice a week, while maintaining my job responsibilities and my own family. I was burning the candle at both ends, and I was absolutely exhausted. I was also discouraged. I knew I was doing what God wanted me to do, but I didn’t understand how God was going to work out my situation. How was I going to be able to do what I needed to do for my parents and still keep doing what He wanted me to do and maintain my sanity in the midst of it all?

Then one day the Lord met me in these verses. I saw David facing his own crisis of faith.He was destitute, discouraged and in danger. His circumstances brought him a dark, damp, dreary, depressing cave.  He is at a low point. He retreated to that cave in despair. He was joined by a host of others in similar circumstances. But what really touched me, is that in the midst of that situation, David is trying to figure out how he can best care for his parents. Think about it. David had a host of brothers. Where are they? It is David who bears this burden on his own heart.

I knew when I read these verses, that God was trying to tell me something. I didn’t know just what. So, I spent some time looking at what David said. As I did, God began to show me some things that greatly encouraged me. I hope they will encourage you.

Remember, this was a low point in David’s life. He was living in a kind of limbo. His life was on hold. He was stuck in a terrible period of difficulty. Here are the things God showed me about David.

First, David Didn’t Know What God Was Doing.

Have you ever faced such a time in your life? Maybe that is where you are today. God promised David a kingdom, but he was living in a cave. There are times when we find ourselves in one of life’s cave experiences.  It seems to us that all of our help and strength is gone.  We are suddenly overcome by loneliness and despair. Even in a cave full of people, David felt all alone! Have you ever been there?  David was living in the cave of despair, and he didn’t know what God was doing.

This is a rock bottom moment in David’s life! He is hurting, broken, and defeated. God’s promises seemed out of reach. His life, His future, and to a degree, even his faith, was on hold. On top of it all he was trying to take care of aging parents.

The statement: “Until I Know…” makes it clear He just didn’t know what God was doing. It was a time of devastating uncertainty in David’s life.

In the midst of his uncertainty, Saul, his enemy, still searched for David every day. He wanted David dead. It was for that reason that David was hiding. This was not a short space in David’s life. It seems to have spanned more than a decade. He would get out of that cave, but it would be years before David would get out of this season of despair that entered his life.

There are times like that for all of us. We just don’t know what God is doing. Maybe you are in one of those seasons today. You can’t see God’s hand. You can’t trace his plan. David didn’t know what God was doing. But in spite of that, David makes this incredible statement of faith: I need make sure my parents are cared for, “Until I know what God will do for me.”

While on the one hand, that statement is an admission that David didn’t know what God was doing, on the other hand, it expresses his confidence that:

God Was Doing Something.

Even though you may not know WHAT God is doing, do you believe that God is doing something. You may not be able to put your finger on what it is, but you know God is at work in and around your life.

What was God doing? This cave, became for a time, a place of separation where David was brought to the place where he had nothing to depend on but God alone. Because it was a place of separation, it also became a place of preparation. It is in times of difficulty and discouragement, when trouble seems relentless, we are forced to ask questions about ourselves and about our faith.

Is God with me? Will God take care of me? Is He working—even when we don’t know what He is doing? It becomes a great test of our faith when we must choose what we will believe about the God we serve. David didn’t know what God was doing, but he did sense God was doing something.

Perhaps the first indication of God’s activity were all these people who came to join David in that cave. They just seemed to show up spontaneously. All of them were just as discouraged as David. Look at that motley crew God called to join him. They didn’t seem to be people of promise. Yet, it was some of these discouraged folks who became David’s mighty men whose exploits in courage became legendary.

What touches me about this passage is that this period of David’s life also impacted his family. He felt a very real responsibility for them—especially for His parents. He takes them to Moab. Why Moab?

If you are a student of the Bible, you will remember that  David’s Great-Grandmother was Ruth, the Moabitess. She married a Jewish man named Boaz. They had a son named Obed—who had a son named Jesse. Jesse was David’s dad. Ruth was David’s great grandmother. She was from Moab. Do you suppose there were relatives in Moab, David thought he could trust to look after his parents?

He took them there he said, “Until I know what God will do for me.” This leads me to the next observation I want to make about this verse:

David Was Willing to Wait For God.

The Bible gives us insights into some of David’s feelings during this very discouraging time in his life. Consider these verses from Psalm 57. They were written by David when he fled from Saul and hid in this cave.

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.He will send from heaven and save me; He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Psalm 57:1-3

Psalm 142 was also written by David when he was in the cave.

I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord; I make supplication with my voice to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.Look to the right and see; for there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul. Psalm 142:1-4

Obviously, he was in the middle of an incredible period of difficulty and discouragement. But David was willing to wait on God. Will you? Will you trust God until you know what He will do for you? David was willing to wait in danger or in difficulty. He didn’t know what God was doing, but his faith made him believe that God was doing something and he was committed to wait on God.

All of us find ourselves in times of discouragement. Our lives seem to be on hold. Our destiny seems down the drain. We are stuck in a dark cave of despair. It is in one of those seasons that David chose to surrender his life, as well as the life of those he loved into the care of God.

My dad died just a few weeks after I encountered these verses. I look back and I see how God was caring for me and for my parents during those difficult days. I didn’t know what God was doing. However, I sensed God was doing something. God taught me that in those times, all we can do is wait on God, as David said, “Until I know what God will do for me.”

Photo by Anaya Katlego