It was a beautiful setting in the mountains of Western Oregon. A large church had scheduled a Men’s Retreat for the weekend, and I was honored to be their guest speaker.
The first session was about 30 minutes away, and I was walking the perimeter of the outdoor basketball court by myself. Thinking and praying, I was looking forward to the time with the other men. I felt that I had a clear message from the Lord that would build them up, equip them, and refresh them.
A Promise of His Partnership
As I walked and prayed, I had an unexpected encounter with the presence and the voice of God. His presence literally felt like a barrel of wonderful, warm water was poured over me, and then I heard His voice inside me. “I will be with you!”
The extraordinary sensation of His presence lasted just a few moments. I felt so blessed to have had the Lord encounter me on this day, for this retreat. My faith and confidence level felt incredibly elevated, and I made my way to the meeting room for the first session.
A Vacuum of His Presence
The worship session was good, the men were ready to worship and to engage with the Spirit of God. Just a couple minutes before I was to be introduced, I had another experience regarding the presence of God. This time, however, it was a sensation of His departing me!
I sat there feeling all alone, abandoned, and confused. What about what had just happened on the basketball court a few minutes earlier? God, why am I experiencing these things? First I am drenched in a sensation of Your presence, now I feel like You have departed our solar system.
Remembering His Promise
I was gently reminded of what He had said to me: “I will be with you!”
It was time for me to speak, so I stood up and proceeded as I had prepared ahead of time. Throughout the remainder of that retreat, in every session, in every prayer time, I had a sensation that God had just disappeared.
Thankfully, I kept remembering His message to me, so I plodded forward in faith that He was there and active. The men seemed oblivious to my sense of God being absent, they were responding to the worship time, the speaking time, and the prayer time like they were in Heaven. It was incredible to watch.
The retreat time closed out after the Sunday morning session and we headed back to the home church. We were all together again in the evening service at the church.
The Worst Weekend Experience
The Senior Associate Pastor, a friend of mine, walked over to me and remarked at how incredible the retreat was. He asked me how I enjoyed it.
I said it was the worst weekend of my life!
He looked at me like I was kidding. Then I relayed the story of having God’s presence come, and then having it seem to go. The entire time at the retreat I felt absolutely nothing of the presence of God, in fact I personally felt like He had left me in a vacuum.
I’m not one to rely on feelings very much. I don’t need goose bumps, tears, laughter, or anything else to signal to me that God is present. But for this weekend the sensation of His absence was more overpowering than anything I had encountered to that point.
God’s Promise is for More than a Sensory Experience of Him
That weekend taught me a valuable lesson. When God Says “I will be with you!,” He means it! Even when there is no sensory evidence, He is there, He is working, He is involved.
The experience of the three Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (recorded in the book of Daniel, Ch. 3) was no doubt a time of being deprived of all sensory evidence of God’s presence as they were beaten, tortured, bound, and thrown into the hottest furnace of the day. And yet, God was with them, and showed Himself in due time.
Joseph (who had received dreams from God, Genesis 37) likely was very confused and felt a God-vacuum when his brothers attacked him, threw him in a dry well, then sold him into slavery. And yet, God was with him, and showed His hand of blessing in due time.
Elijah, after being used by God as a conduit of great Divine power to conquer the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18) had a time of when he felt the God-vacuum. He wanted to curl up and die! And yet, God was with him, and again showed Himself in due time.
God is With You even in Your Current God-Vacuum Experience
My friend, regardless of what you are going through, regardless of how much pain you are experiencing, regardless of how deep and dark the depression might be, regardless of your sensation of a vacuum being left behind by God’s seeming departure, He has not left you alone. He is with you!
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
(Isaiah 43:2 )
Trust Him. Stay the course, do what you know to do that is in line with God’s ways. Soon, He will reappear and you will again live with a sensation of His presence within your life and ministry.
#PastorsTip #DivineEncounter #PresenceOfGod #PromiseOfGod #VacuumOfGod #GodWithUs