Empty. Is that you today? Maybe it was last week or last month. You’ll know because it feels like your emotions are flat, and your soul needs life support. You pray, but God feels distant, and your requests go to voicemail. Empty carries irony–the absence of God’s presence.
Some call it “the dark night of the soul,” a phrase often used to describe an excruciating period where our feelings or circumstances eclipse our experience of God. For example, it might follow the death of a loved one, the break-up of a marriage, the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, or the curtain of depression that enshrouds the soul in darkness.
What do we do?
David gets it. In Psalm 63, he is writing from the wilderness. Hunted and haunted, David is a fugitive stalked by Absalom. If you’ve ever had a family member betray you, then you understand the pain David carried. Few wounds slice deeper than when those you love reciprocate with hate. The burden feels unbearable. Shame contends for supremacy within one’s soul.
That’s David. He is alone and desperate, seeking a God who seems distant. What does he do?
David Goes Up
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
How do we find strength for our weary souls and broken hearts? Where do we go when we wake up to another day in a dry and weary land where there is no water?
David goes up. He begins by reasserting God’s role in his life. David may feel vacant and hollow as he passes the time in a barren land, but he reminds himself of a relationship that never fails, one that stands fixed and unchangeable: Oh God, You are my God!
John Calvin said of this verse, “(David) does more than simply pray; he sets the Lord before him as his God.” I love that idea– “setting the Lord before him.” David is saying, “Yes, this is not the life I expected to live. I’m in a barren place, and I feel lost, hollowed-out and empty, like all the spiritual life flushed from my body. But I know who owns me. I know the One I follow. Empty may be my feeling toward God, but empty is not God’s feeling toward me!”
Many of us need to hear this right now. We can all agree that the past few years have been challenging. No one predicted or expected a pandemic. Globally, so much loss was experienced by so many. We never expected life to bend toward such uncertainty; we are awash in ambiguity. And in many ways, we are just emerging from the fog into “a new reality and a new normal.” We still don’t have all the answers. How did the world become a wilderness and change so quickly? Who is responsible for our pain and loss? Where can we find some permanent help?
Believer, God has anchored a truth for us through the cross that remains absolute regardless of our problems, pain, or pandemics. We are loved everlastingly by our Heavenly Father. We have been adopted into his family. We are filled by the Spirit of God. Our present wilderness may seem lonely, but it’s the very place God created for us to encounter him. And in this desert, God is preparing our souls for eternal joy. Because of the cross, these are unalterable certainties that stand firm regardless of how we feel.
Sure, we may feel empty toward God. But the gospel reminds me that God is always full toward us.
Do you see what’s happening here? David made God the answer to empty. David went up. As Calvin said, he “set the Lord before him as his God.” Sometimes, perhaps even right now, we must do the same.
David Speaks Out
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 61:3-4
David’s pathway through the empty heart is not merely pulling the lever of positive thinking. For this future king, truth incites affection and stirs action. So David boots up his playlist and lets the worship begin.
Steadfast love is a glorious multi-faceted word. In Hebrew, the word Hesed speaks of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people. To you and me. It carries the reality of love and faithfulness rooted not in our response to God or our behavior on any given day but in the perfection of his character. Hesed means that God’s commitment to us is not rooted in our feelings–whether full or empty. The wilderness never wins. Steadfast love means that the wilderness never wins.
David’s body may be in the desert, but his soul returns to a steadfast love better than life. And so he speaks the language of faith. David worships.
Is true worship from an empty heart a form of denial? Maybe David’s time in the desert has escorted him through the doorway of delusion. On the contrary, David is a realist. But his realism is not confined to Earth. David also understands the ways of God in a fallen world.
The truth is, life isn’t fair. Sometimes, there will never be a good enough reason on this side of Heaven for the depth of our pain or feelings of despair. We won’t have the answers we seek, and we may never know or understand the big WHY. But, like David, we must learn to live with the IS until enough tomorrows pass while speaking out on behalf of God’s steadfast love.
Maybe for you, this hits even more personally because you can readily identify with David’s feelings in Psalm 63. You feel profound loss, betrayal, or emptiness. As believers, we want to blame something or someone apart from God. We make Absalom the source of our sorrow. We blame others. We blame government. We blame the economy. We blame our spouses. We blame our boss. We blame people. We almost feel defrauded by God because our life has been disrupted in an unpredictable and unfathomable way. When Absaloms arise, we think horizontal rather than vertical. We forget hesed.
David understands. His life had layers of complexity that most of us will never confront. But in his hours of exile and lostness, he decided that his feelings would not define God. Instead, David dealt with reality from the standpoint of Earth and Heaven. He remembered God’s steadfast love was better than life. Reality loosed his lips and lifted his hands. David spoke truth to himself, even when he felt empty… especially when he felt empty!
What About You?
Psalm 63 gives us hope in the midst of heartache. We see through David’s words God does not appear to be acting on chance or punitively. God does not seem to be acting whimsically or vindictively in this passage. Even Absaloms under his authority.
I don’t fully understand it, but there are times God chooses to intervene and empty us. But when I look through David’s eyes in Psalm 63, I see that sometimes God moves us into the desert to meet us. He wants to draw us closer into his presence, to free us from the tyranny of defining God by our feelings. God wants us to purchase–deep down in the parts of our soul that seem ugly and unreachable– that his steadfast love for us remains fixed. And that nugget of glorious truth is better than all of life.
It’s not about how you feel. It’s more about who He is. Even when you’re in the desert. Even when you are empty. Even when your feelings seek to silence you.
Today, you may feel empty toward God. But because of Jesus, He is full toward you. Set that before you. Remind yourself of what is true. Empty is not permanent. But in the wisdom of our God of unceasing love, empty escorts us – sometimes drags us – into the presence of the One who fills the empty soul.
Questions and Reflections
- Where are you today? Are you feeling empty, disillusioned by the things happening around you, or maybe you were hurt deeply by someone you loved? Are you weary, tired, or looking for a way out? When David found himself in this same place, David went up. Are you ready to take these burdens and cares and surrender them up too? Are you ready “To Go Up”?
- How do you find strength for our weary souls and broken hearts? Where do you go when you wake up to another day in a dry and weary land where there is no water? David reasserts God’s role in his life. He recognizes healing and restoration can only be found in God. David knew God put him in the desert for a reason. He believed God was still in control even when he did not understand all the reasons why he was in the desert. David knew only God alone could restore his dry and weary soul. God desires to do the same for you.
- What is your answer to empty? David made God the answer to empty. Remember, empty is not permanent. Let the wisdom of our God of unceasing love escort you – drag you – into his presence. He is the only one who can fill your empty soul.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. God, I give you all my anxiety, heartache, loss, and feelings of despair and hopelessness, for I know you care for me. Please help me to stand in your goodness even when I don’t feel like it and life is hard. When I don’t see your plan, and I don’t understand my circumstances, still I will trust in you. Amen.