When God seems distant in your life, what do you do?
It’s important to remember that the Christian life is not one of perpetual happiness. You will hit highs and lows, ebbs and flows, and not every season will be the same. We all go through it. The question is not if, but when, and so a few questions might help diagnose the problem (if there is one).
I don’t have the silver bullet answer. But here’s 4 questions to ask if God seems so far away:
1. Have you turned feelings and experience into an idol?
Feelings are tricky, aren’t they?
I mean, I want to feel close to God. I want to feel his nearness. But I shouldn’t expect that to always be the norm, not when we live in a broken world.
Tim Keller recently said that experience has become a major idol in western churches. Instead of looking to the Word to be our guide, we look to our feelings and intuitions. We shouldn’t. This is part of american individualism and needs to be addressed.
Don’t get me wrong: feelings and expressions are good. But when we make experience more important than God, we create an idol. We have to trust who God is over what God gives.
2. Are you in regular fellowship with other Christians?
I once heard a guy give an analogy about the church.
“The church is like Noah’s ark — it stinks. But if you leave, you’ll drown.”
I don’t love that analogy, because I don’t like saying the church stinks. But I get it: If you leave the church, you will not grow in your faith, and you might even drown.
When you feel distant, are you in fellowship with others believers?
If the answer is yes, then go a step further: Tell them about your struggles.
I make this mistake a lot. I tend not to tell others when I’m in the valley because I don’t want to seem like a burden. I don’t want to weigh people down with my own junk. But this isn’t the route to go. There’s plenty of wiser, older, more mature believers around me who are ready to help when these feelings come. I need to tell them.
Can you relate? Tell trusted Christians about the feelings you’re facing.
3. How’s your private devotional life?
I’m always amazed at the number of believers I meet who put such a low emphasis on personal devotions.
If you’re not spending regular time in the Bible and prayer, you’re inevitably going to feel distant and empty, weak and irritable.
“Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus says (John 15:5). Nothing.
Jesus’ half-brother, James, chimes in: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
Draw near to God and let him fill your empty bucket.
4. Do you have hidden sins in your life?
Of course, for God’s people, all sins are forgiven — past, present, and future.
Instead, what I have in mind here is Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Intentional, deliberate sin that is not confessed and repented of creates distance. Not because God changes, but because you do; not because God pulls away from you, but because you pull away from God.
Maybe it’s porn or lust. Or maybe it’s gluttony or unrighteous anger or whatever. It’s these sorts of things that plague our conscience and rob our joy, and keep us (feeling) far from God.
But there’s good news.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
No questions, no guidelines, no steps. Just confess and repent, and by God’s grace, it’s gone.
Other People Go Through This, Too
C.J. Mahaney talks about feeling distant from God is his classic book, Humility:
“… Like you, I have wildly fluctuating emotional experiences from day to day in my devotions. One morning I’m profoundly aware that God is near to me, while the next day I can sense only his absence. In a matter of hours I go from what seems to be an effortless experience of pure joy to asking, “Where are you? Where did you go?
The fact is, of course, He didn’t go anywhere. Yesterday He allowed me to sense His presence; today He seems to be sending the message, “I want you to grow more in your trust in Me; therefore, I’m withdrawing that sense of My nearness.”
And even if you never feel God’s tangible presence again, take heart: in heaven, you will experience things that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined. What a glorious day that will be.
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