A woman desiring to pray grabbed an empty chair and knelt before it. In tears, she said, “My dear heavenly Father, please sit down here; you and I need to talk!” Then, looking directly at the vacant chair, she prayed. She demonstrated confidence in approaching the Lord; she believed He was sitting on the chair and listening to her petition.
A time with God is an important moment when we engage the Almighty. God comes near to us as we draw near to him in a mutual involvement (James 4:8). He has assured us, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). Our heavenly Father is always waiting for us to come to Him, always ready to listen to us.
There are times when we struggle to pray because we feel tired, sleepy, sick, and weak. But Jesus sympathizes with us when we are weak or face temptations (Heb. 4:15). Therefore we can “approach (God’s) throne of grace with confidence, so we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).
Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden knew what it felt like to be on the far side of the moon. For three days back in 1971, he flew alone in his command module, Endeavor, while two crewmates worked thousands of miles below on the surface of the moon. His only companions were the stars overhead that he remembers as being so thick they seemed to wrap him in a sheet of light.
As the sun went down on the Old Testament character Jacob’s first night away from home he too was profoundly alone, but for a different reason. He was on the run from his older brother—who wanted to kill him for stealing the family blessing normally given to the firstborn son. Yet on falling asleep, Jacob had a dream of a staircase joining heaven and earth. As he watched angels ascending and descending, he heard the voice of God promising to be with him and to bless the whole earth through his children. When Jacob woke he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).
Jacob had isolated himself because of his deceit. Yet as real as his failures, and as dark as the night, he was in the presence of the One whose plans are always better and more far-reaching than our own. Heaven is closer than we think, and the “God of Jacob” is with us.
It was very late when we stopped for the night at a country inn outside of Munich. We were delighted to see that our cozy room had a balcony, although an oppressive fog made it impossible to see into the darkness. But when the sun rose a few hours later, the haze began to fade. Then we could see what had been grimly shrouded the night before—a completely idyllic scene—peaceful and lush green meadow, sheep grazing with tiny tinkling bells about their necks, and big white clouds in the sky that looked exactly like more sheep—huge, fluffy sheep!
Sometimes life can get clouded over by a heavy fog of despair. Our situation may look so dark that we begin to lose hope. But just as the sun burns away a fog, our faith in God can burn away the haze of doubt. Hebrews 11 defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (v. 1). The passage goes on to remind us of the faith of Noah, who was “warned about things not yet seen,” yet obeyed God (v. 7). And Abraham who went where God directed—even though he didn’t know where that would be (v. 8).
Though we have not seen Him and cannot always feel Him, God is always present and will help us through our darkest nights.
I’ll never forget sitting at the bedside of my friend’s brother when he died; the scene was one of the ordinary visited by the extraordinary. Three of us were talking quietly when we realized that Richard’s breathing was becoming more labored. We gathered around him, watching, waiting, and praying. When he took his last breath, it felt like a holy moment; the presence of God enveloped us in the midst of our tears over a wonderful man dying in his forties.
Many of the heroes of our faith experienced God’s faithfulness when they died. For instance, Jacob announced he would soon be “gathered to [his] people” (Genesis 49:29–33). Jacob’s son Joseph also announced his impending death: “I am about to die,” he said to his brothers while instructing them how to hold firm in their faith. He seems to be at peace, yet eager that his brothers trust the Lord (50:24).
None of us knows when or how we will breathe our last breath, but we can ask God to help us trust that He will be with us. We can believe the promise that Jesus will prepare a place for us in His Father’s house (John 14:2–3).
After I clumsily knocked over my glass on the restaurant counter, the spilled beverage began to cascade over the edge and onto the floor. Out of sheer embarrassment, I tried to catch the waterfall with cupped hands. My efforts were largely unsuccessful; most of my beverage rushed through my fingers. In the end, my upturned palms held little more than a meager tablespoon each, while my feet stood in puddles.
My life feels similar on many days. I find myself scrambling to solve problems, oversee details, and control circumstances. No matter how hard I try, my feeble hands are incapable of managing all the pieces and parts. Something invariably slips through my fingers and pools on the floor at my feet, leaving me feeling overwhelmed. No amount of contorting my hands or squeezing my fingers more tightly together makes me able to handle it all.
Yet God can. Isaiah tells us that God can measure the globe’s waters—all the oceans and rivers and rain—in the hollow of His hands (40:12). Only His hands are large enough to hold them all. We needn’t try to hold more than the tablespoon He’s designed our hands to carry. When we feel overwhelmed, we can entrust our cares and concerns into His capable hands.
During an interview, singer and songwriter Meredith Andrews spoke about being overwhelmed as she tried to balance outreach, creative work, marital issues, and motherhood. Reflecting on her distress, she said, "I felt like God was taking me through a refining season, almost through a crushing process.”
Job was overwhelmed after losing his livelihood, his health, and his family. Worse still, although Job had been a daily worshiper of God, he felt that the Lord was ignoring his pleas for help. God seemed absent from the landscape of his life. Job claimed he could not see God whether he looked to the north, south, east, or west (Job 23:2–9).
In the middle of his despair, Job had a moment of clarity. His faith flickered to life like a candle in a dark room. He said, “[God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (v. 10). Christians are tried and purified when God uses difficulty to burn away our self-reliance, pride, and earthly wisdom. If it seems as if God is silent during this process and He is not answering our cries for help, He may be giving us an opportunity to grow stronger in our faith.
Pain and problems can produce the shining, rock-solid character that comes from trusting God when life is hard.
“I see you,” a friend said in an online writers’ group where we support and encourage each other. Having felt stressed and anxious, I experienced a sense of peace and well-being with her words. She “saw” me—my hopes, fears, struggles, and dreams—and loved me.
When I heard my friend’s simple but powerful encouragement, I thought of Hagar, a slave in Abram’s household. After many years of Sarai and Abram still longing for an heir, Sarai followed the custom of the culture and told her husband to conceive through Hagar. But when Hagar became pregnant, she treated Sarai with contempt. When Sarai mistreated her in return, Hagar fled far away to the desert.
The Lord saw Hagar in her pain and confusion, and He blessed her with the promise that she would be the mother of many descendants. After the encounter, Hagar called the Lord “El Roi,” which means “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13), for she knew she wasn’t alone or abandoned.
As Hagar was seen—and loved—so are we. We might feel ignored or rejected by friends or family, yet we know that our Father sees not only the face we present to the world, but all of our secret feelings and fears. He speaks the words that bring us life.
On the day our youngest daughter was flying from Munich to Barcelona, I visited my favorite flight tracking website to follow her progress. After I entered her flight number, my computer screen showed that her flight had crossed Austria and was skirting the northern part of Italy. From there the plane would fly over the Mediterranean south of the French Riviera toward Spain and was scheduled to arrive on time. It seemed that the only thing I didn’t know was what the flight attendants were serving for lunch!
Why did I care about my daughter’s location and circumstances? Because I love her. I care about who she is, what she’s doing, and where she’s going in life.
In Psalm 32, David celebrated the marvel of God’s forgiveness, guidance, and concern for us. Unlike a human father, He knows every detail of our lives and the deepest needs of our hearts. The Lord’s promise to us is, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (v. 8).
Whatever our circumstances today, we can rely on God’s presence and care because “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him” (v. 10).
A financial advisor I know describes the reality of investing money by saying, “Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.” With almost every decision we make in life there is uncertainty about the outcome. Yet there is one course we can follow where no matter what happens, we know that in the end it will not be a wasted effort.
The apostle Paul spent a year with the followers of Jesus in Corinth, a city known for its moral corruption. After he left, he urged them in a follow-up letter not to be discouraged or feel that their witness for Christ was of no value. He assured them that a day is coming when the Lord will return and even death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:52–55).
Remaining true to Jesus may be difficult, discouraging, and even dangerous, but it is never pointless or wasted. As we walk with the Lord and witness to His presence and power, our lives are not in vain! We can be sure of that.