Experiencing God in difficult times

A thirst for God? It certainly sounds a little unusual, almost like an abstract poem. In fact, it is a poem, a psalm, that describes the longing for God’s nearness, His protection, and support. Good thoughts in dreadful days.

Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider was in Bad Segeberg in Germany on 21 June 2020 and conducted a divine service there with the following psalm: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42: 2).

This text could not be more appropriate for our time, the Chief Apostle began. The author of this psalm was going through a difficult period. He had experienced great affliction and was even mocked by his enemies. He could not even go to the temple in Jerusalem to encounter his God. His situation was enough to despair. But what did the psalmist do? He mustered all his faith and trust in God: “I am going to stop complaining. There will come a time when I can once again to thank my God.”

The Chief Apostle asked the congregation a question: “Does this not sound familiar? Suffering and misery, trials, and these constant questions: But where is your God now? What good is He to you now?” And because of the coronavirus pandemic we were not even able to go to church for some time. “We can learn a lot from the response of the psalmist,” the Chief Apostle said. “Let’s not be so self-centred and always think that our situation is the worst. Let us feel ourselves into the world of the Bible and the people of the time, let us try and put ourselves in the shoes of our brother and sister here in this country, and abroad, for then we can learn from and draw strength from it.”

The thirst for God’s nearness

Thirst is an early warning signal, the Chief Apostle said as he continued with his sermon. Thirst signals that something is missing: water, some fluids. The psalmist used this image to illustrate his fervent longing for an encounter with God in the temple.

“We, too, thirst for God,” the Chief Apostle said. For man was created to live in communion with God, close to God. “And as long as this fellowship is not assured, something is missing!” Man is as he should be only only in unity and close fellowship with God: without want and happy and content. “This is our goal in life: true happiness, true well-being, so that we are doing really well, and can be with God for ever—this is what we thirst for.”

Some believers dread the day they have to appear before God, the Chief Apostle said, because they fear His judgement. Our thirst for God is free of fear. Jesus Christ has revealed the true nature of God to us: “God is love; He is not a harsh judge. God is mercy. God is grace. He desires your salvation. He desires to deliver you.”

The thirst for fellowship

Our goal is eternal and perfect fellowship with God. In order to attain it, the Chief Apostle said, we must also want to meet God. The psalmist said where this is possible: in His temple. “True encounters with God, those in which He wants to give us eternal life, take place in His temple.”

Jesus had already promised that where two or three are gathered in His name, He would be in their midst. The Son of God meant that an encounter with God is possible in the fellowship of the believers, the Chief Apostle said. This is not an invention of the Church, he added, but a principle of the Christian belief. “We must come together, pray together, praise God together, and worship God together.”

The thirst for His word

God imparts eternal life through His word—this is clear to all Christians. Reading the Bible alone is not enough, he said. Readers choose what they want to read and when they want to read—when it suits them.

The Chief Apostle said: “The word must be preached. Man must humble himself and listen to what God tells Him through the Holy Spirit.” Christians believe that the word inspired by the Holy Spirit is the word of God. “God speaks to me in the sermon. Whether I like it or not, I must believe that it is for me. And if I put it into practice, God will be with me.”

The thirst for Holy Communion

It takes Holy Communion in order to attain eternal fellowship with God. “When we receive Holy Communion, we receive the body and blood of Jesus. This is not about performing a rite, of following a ritual. We receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ gives us life of His life and strength of His strength so that we can become more and more like Him. This happens in Holy Communion. It imparts eternal life.” The Chief Apostle went on to say that if we thirst for fellowship with God, we hear Him exhorting us: come into the fellowship, hear the word of preaching, and savour Holy Communion.

Article info


Peter Johanning
Chief Apostle, Divine service