This question brings to mind an experience I had early in my ministry. In fact, I’d only been ordained a few months and was teaching at a college. One church had a minister who was much loved by his congregation; he had served there for twenty-five years but had become critically ill. The man was at the point of death. I was supplying the pulpit for several months and helping the congregation deal with this tragedy in their midst.
On a Saturday night, before the Sunday morning service in which we were to celebrate Communion, I received an urgent call that it was possible the minister would not live to the next day. When I came to the church the next morning, I was keenly aware of the profound sense of concern that was in the congregation. I felt an enormous weight to try to have the most meaningful Communion service I could possibly lead. I agonized in prayer, saying, “God, please let me have a special anointing as I come before these people in their need.” I don’t think I ever mounted the pulpit in my entire ministry with a greater desire to know the presence of God than I did that Sunday morning.
I preached, and I went through the sacrament, and it was awful. It was terrible. I just felt a total absence of God, as if I’d been utterly and completely abandoned by Him. My preaching was dead, and it seemed as if I were talking to myself. When I pronounced the benediction and went to the back of the church, I really wished there was a hole in the ground I could jump into so I wouldn’t have to face those people. I felt so miserable for having let them down.
I stood at the back door, and as they started to file out of the church one by one, I couldn’t believe what happened. These people came out, and it was like they had been hit between the eyes. They were stunned. They were in shock. One after another said that they had never been so moved by the powerful presence of God as that which they’d experienced in that worship service. One lady said to me, “The Holy Spirit’s presence was so thick today we could have cut it with a knife.” I just couldn’t believe it. I felt like Jacob when he woke up from his dream and said, “Surely God was in this place and I knew it not.” That really had an impact on me that day. I said, “Wait a minute. God promised that He would be here.” I didn’t feel His presence, and so I thought He wasn’t there. I had become a sensuous Christian, allowing my strength of conviction to be determined by the strength of my feelings.
I realized that I’ve got to live by the Word of God, not by what I feel. I think that’s how you deal with doubt. You begin to focus on what God says He’s going to do rather than on your feelings.
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