Hi everyone! Happy December 33rd, 2020!
Friday night, my kids were up watching movies and shows. We like to watch a silly show called Psych. It’s about a psychic detective named Shawn Spencer who sees things other people can’t see. I watch it, and I’m like, ‘Man, I want a superpower like that!’
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have superpowers? To read minds? To see beyond the natural world, into the supernatural?
That’s not precisely what Shawn does. He’s not a real psychic. As a child, his dad taught him to be hyper-observant. Shawn can quickly take in data that others would miss, and he makes quick deductions. He’s able to pass his ability off as psychic because he deduces so much faster than anyone on the police force.
We like the idea of having a superpower even if it’s not a real superpower. The kids like to ask, “Hey, why didn’t you teach us to do that.” They know how cool it would be to process the information on that level. It’s like a superpower.
We all process information differently, though. I would never have learned to do that, and I doubt I could teach it. Some people, like Shawn, take in the world around them using their five senses. They take in the tangible data they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
Others, like me, are intuitive. I don’t always know why I know things because I didn’t learn them on purpose; I just intuitively pick up on stuff as I go along. Most people are observers like Shawn. Statistically, you are probably the kind of person who could learn to observe and take in volumes of information.
The astounding thing about Shawn’s gift, though, is how he processes the data. He’s able to take in an incredible amount of data very quickly and then rationalize it very fast with his conscious mind, immediately producing results. Every episode resolves with Shawn dramatically faking a psychic experience before proclaiming, “That guy did it!” It’s wonderful.
Most of us have to work hard to process consciously but are very adept at processing information subconsciously. You consciously take data, but you process or evaluate the data subconsciously. You don’t think a process through; you just know it in your heart. You saw some things, read some things, heard some things, and can now say, “I feel it in my gut.” Roughly 60% of the US population are gut people.
We love the idea that we can observe the world around us and make rational conclusions. But, we’re used to making subconscious, gut evaluations, trusting how we feel more often than not.
Why did you quit your job? I just felt it was time to move on.
Why did you guys break up? I don’t know what changed. It just didn’t feel the same anymore.
Why do you follow Jesus? Following Jesus makes me feel like I am part of God’s family.
Your feelings are subconscious evaluations of your experiences and knowledge. They’re necessary faculties that help you live life. Feelings are a good thing.
My observation is that few people feel right about 2021. I made the December 33rd joke because I sense others have the same insecurity. Trey told me Friday, “I guess 2020 won”—that’s won with a double-you. It’s a weird time to be alive. A $600 stimulus check might be nice to buy some groceries or other things you need. But the stimulus checks have done little to make anyone feel differently about the current situation. They don’t address the longing and insecurities in our hearts.
We’re tempted to ask, ‘Where is God?’
We’ve wrongly been taught not to ask that question, but we want to—we feel it.
The Prophet Jeremiah wasn’t afraid to ask. Where is God? Jeremiah was in an altogether different situation that was far more dismal than ours today—at least on a society-wide level. But his response tells us how we should respond to our feelings when we have the same question. Where is God?
God stripped Jeremiah from his home in Israel, along with all of the Israelites. They were taken away into exile. God allowed enemy nations to decimate the Jerusalem Temple. Men fought and died. Those who lived made new lives in foreign lands. The nations treated some as slaves. Others had to learn new languages and new ways of life.
Jeremiah was faithful to God, but he wasn’t a perfect man. “The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned” (Lamentations 5:16). The judgment of God took away the crown of Israel. Because of their sin, other nations ruled over the Israelites.
“Therefore, our heart is sick. Because of these things, our eyes grow dim” (Lamentations 5:17). Jeremiah and all Israel felt utterly devastated and abandoned by God. They felt as though God left them. Their hearts told them God forgot them. Therefore, the Prophet prayed, “Lord (Yhwh), remember what befell us. Watch, and see our humiliation.” (Lamentations 5:1).
Jeremiah asked God to remember them. He felt humiliated because of the situation they put themselves in. The humiliation was so great that Jeremiah humbled himself before God, asking that he remember his people.
From Jeremiah, we learn to pray.
Remember us, Jesus. Please remember your people. We’re no different than Jeremiah. We’re foreigners in a strange land. Our city doesn’t operate by God’s rules. This world doesn’t work like God’s kingdom—deceit, war, greed, famine, disease.
We feel abandoned and alone.
Haven’t you ever asked, ‘Where is God? Why doesn’t God help us—his people—in the pains of this world? Why aren’t we blessed? If we are God’s people, why aren’t churches growing and flourishing?’
We know God has ordained this world to die because of sin. But we can pray like Jeremiah, “Lord Jesus, remember us. Watch and see our humiliation.”
In the case of Jeremiah, that was true. Israel worshiped foreign gods, so the Lord sent them to live among the gods of other nations.
To return to Israel and rebuild the temple, they needed God’s restoration. They longed to be in his presence, to know the Lord is with them. For that, they believed they needed Jerusalem and the temple. So, Jeremiah prayed, “Lord, bring us back to yourself” (Lamentations 5:21a).
When we feel abandoned, we do well to remember the promise, “I will never leave you or abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5). But a promise is a conscious faculty. It’s active in your mind.
It’s not in our hearts. And when we don’t feel it, we should pray.
“Lord, I don’t feel your presence, restore us. Jesus, remember us in our affliction, and restore us in your presence.”
“Then Lord, renew us.” Jeremiah prayed, “As in former times, renew [the blessing of] our days” (Lamentations 5:21b). Jeremiah longed to return to the Promised Land. He longed to be in the presence of God. He longed for everything God promised to his people.
Jeremiah never saw the renewal in life because the promise of renewal is for the future. We can pray like John in Revelation, the famous prayer, “Maranatha!” which means ‘Come Lord!’ Our promise is for the future when Jesus comes. We will never have heaven on this earth, but on the new earth that is to come.
The Kingdom of God is not present in its fullness, but right now, Jesus restores us and remembers us; he is with us now. We don’t need a temple in Israel because God is with us wherever we go. He will never leave us or abandon us.
So, where is God? Why don’t I feel his presence? Where is the joy of the Holy Spirit?
The inevitable response to not feeling God is to ask, ‘Where has God gone? Has he abandoned us?’ It is not right to think he has taken his Spirit from you, that he has left you, or that God has abandoned you.
We have gone far from him. He has not left us.
When Jeremiah prayed that God would remember, he didn’t think that God had somehow gotten distracted or forgot that he cared about Israel. Biblical remembrance and forgetting are actions. You choose to remember. Consciously or subconsciously, you decide to forget.
God turned his face away from Israel, and Jeremiah prayed that God would remember them. But…
The response we should have to ‘Where is God?’ is for us to remember God, then pray with Jeremiah that he remember, restore, and renew.
Jeremiah challenges thinking about prayer.
Today, it’s common to think of prayer as personal piety or personal spirituality.
• Personal piety is praying in a method and time to demonstrate personal discipline. That discipline is godliness; religious habit.
• Personal spirituality is the idea that prayer develops you spiritually as a self-contained spiritual being. It’s not that God hears prayers, and something miraculous occurs.
These are both biblical perspectives. But both fall short of the primary reason we pray as Christians. Being self-disciplined in prayer is good. Paul said he beats his body for discipline in godliness (Colossians 9:27). A habitual practice of prayer can accomplish personal piety.
In 1st Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul says that he prays and sings praise in his spirit for spiritual benefit. He said others should do the same. Prayer does something real for you, spiritually.
Although valid, both these perspectives stem from the self and are for the self. But…
If I never talk to my kids and never sit down to ask them what they’re thinking. I never ask them how they feel. Maybe I don’t even care. If the room gets noisy, I send them off to the other room with the TV so that I can do my thing. How do I feel about my kids? Where is my interest in them as unique creations of God? Where is my acknowledgment of their humanity?
A lot of parents go through this. I felt like this for a time. I got so involved in work and ministry that I felt like I wasn’t spending enough time with my family. I’m still transitioning out of it and making plans for dealing with it after next week when school starts back up.
I don’t want my kids to go off to start their lives after high school and have no relationship with me. I may never see them again. If I ignore my kids as children, they’ll forget me as adults. And what happens when I grow old? What if I need them? Will they even know me?
Jesus said some would stand before him in judgment at the end of the age, asking to come into God’s eternal house. They’ll be saying, “Didn’t we preach for you? Didn’t we do good things for you?” But Jesus will say to them, “You’re lawbreakers. Leave me; I never knew you” (Matthew 7:22-23).
I know that my interest in my kids reflects a real and lasting relationship. Don’t hear me wrong on this. I already have a relationship. My interest in them reflects it. I don’t express interest to earn a relationship. The relationship comes first.
When we pray to God, our prayers reflect our eternally lasting relationship. You know (head) you have a relationship with God, but you don’t feel (heart) you have a relationship because you aren’t exercising the relationship in prayer. Prayer is the way that we sit with God to be with him.
In this series, we’re going to talk through many ways to be with God in prayer. Prayer is so much more than asking for stuff. Asking is only part of what we do.
The church in the Western world has failed for centuries to teach the full picture of prayer. That’s formed a culture of disconnect from God.
The problem in both is that we have reduced prayer to merely asking.
How do I know prayer is more than asking?
I know that prayer is more because we don’t talk to people we love as we speak to God. When we love someone, we have more profound and meaningful conversations.
What do you make a wife who never says a word to her husband unless she wants something? Shallow.
What do you make a father who never talks to his kids unless he wants them to do something? Disinterested.
What do you make of a friend at work who only comes by your workspace when he needs you to cover a shift? Freeloader.
How will God feel about you at the End of Days when you know some things about him, but you never sat down with him to get to know him?
Jeremiah’s prayer in Lamentations 5 fixes our thinking on prayer.
We learn about Jesus through the Bible. But we get to know Jesus in prayer.
It’s good to discipline ourselves in reading the Bible. It’s right to discipline ourselves in prayer. It’s helpful to develop personal spirituality. But we need to know our Father in heaven as a son knows his father, or like you get to know a new friend. There should be intimacy in prayer. Spirituality comes with some degree of feeling.
We know that the Christian life should be intrinsically spiritual, but we don’t feel spiritual because we have a culture that misunderstands prayer.
Something needs to change.
What needs to change about our prayer lives? How will our lives (now and eternally) benefit from this change?
Jeremiah prayed three prayers for himself and Israel when they were far from God: Remember, Restore, Renew.
These three prayers are immensely practical for us today. If you are suffering spiritually, feeling distant from God, these prayers are precisely the right starting point.
We’re going to send out primers this week to help you pray—to start forming habits of prayer for personal discipline, to reveal something in you spiritually, but more so that you will have words to pray in the presence of your heavenly Father that glorify him.
In this, I hope you will gain a more profound sense of his presence, a deeper appreciation for Jesus, and a longing for your eternal home.
Today as I close, I’m going to pray three simple prayers over you that will be the basis for the prayer guides we’ll send out this week.
• Lord, remember us in every way that we suffer.
• Lord, restore us to the joy of your people.
• Lord, renew our hearts to love you, as you first loved us.
Today, if you feel far from God, I want you to repent of turning from Him. I want you to remember Jesus before you pray that he remembers you. I want you to confess your turning from him before you ask him to restore your joy. And I want you to be concerned about how you feel as you ask the Lord Jesus to renew your heart, that you might love God as he freely loved you.