What should I do when I am having a hard time feeling God? A few weeks ago I was on fire for Him, and had been for a while, but lately I’m having a hard time even feeling that He is with me. I have continued reading my Bible and praying on a regular basis, but I don’t feel like it’s helping. I’ve asked for Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit, reveal to me my sins that would keep me separated from Him, etc. Nothing seems to be changing, and it scares me.
Jed Brewer replied:
This is a great question, and it’s something that a lot of people wonder about and struggle with, and I commend you for having the courage to ask it.
The first thing that we want to be clear on is that we don’t live by feelings. This Christian life is lived by faith, which is, ultimately, a special kind of strength that we receive from God, which enables us to make the decision to trust God. That trust is then brought-to-life in the choices we make and the way we live. We should note that feelings don’t come into play anywhere in here.
And that’s important, because feelings come and go, and feeling go up and down. You will find, as you walk with the Lord, that he will bring you to places and ask you to do things that you really don’t feel excited about. This is normal. (Read Matthew 21:28-32) Likewise, you will probably find, in your life, that you have moments of feeling really good about a direction or idea you’re considering. And then you’ll pray and ask for wisdom, and the resounding reply will be, “Holy cow - do not do that!”
Of course, Jesus spelled all of this out directly. In Matthew 13, he tells a famous story about a Farmer planting seeds. You should read the whole thing, but here’s the important bit: “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.” (Vs. 20-21 MSG)
What Jesus is saying is that emotion can’t drive the bus in our relationship with God. It just won’t work, ‘cause there’s nothing to it.
And that leads us to the next thing – there’s nothing to it. We have a way (all of us) of thinking that our emotions must mean something. The problem is, they really don’t have to. I don’t say this to in any way make light of your question, but, here are things that can cause you to feel the way you have described in your question:
- being overtired
- being stressed out
- having your period (for ladies)
- being sexually frustrated (for guys)
- being overworked
- having a cold
When we feel off, we have a way of thinking it must be this huge big deal where we’ve lost our fire and there’s some secret sin in our lives and perhaps God has rejected us. (The first two are rarely ever the case, and that last one never is.) But, often, the truth is something far simpler: we need a hot shower, a hot meal, and a good night’s sleep.
Of course, many times, we have strong feelings, and they are connected to something real, and serious, it’s just not the thing we think. So, for example, if your family situation is difficult, that often leads to the feelings you’ve described. Likewise, high stress levels over a long period (like, if you were in school and you were constantly pressured to excel) can lead us to the same place. Both of those are real problems, neither of them say anything about you-and-God, but both of them can lead us to where our feelings about us-and-God are out of whack.
So, where does that leave us?
First, sit down with God and just tell him how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling off, disconnected, out-of-sorts, blah, numb - tell him that. He understands, and he wants to hear it. Ask him for faith to believe what he says even when you don’t feel it.
Then, run a mental checklist. On the simpler side, do you need to get some sleep or have a meal or get a weekend to yourself? If so, hook that up and take some good care of you. That is both right and necessary.
If we’re not seeing anything there, ask the Lord for wisdom about if there are larger things in your life (like family drama or school pressure) that are wearing on you, and perhaps you’re not seeing them. Sit down with an older Christian friend and talk stuff out – this has a way of bringing things to light.
Lastly, it will help – a lot – to get out of your own head. The best way to do that is to find people in need and do something to hook them up. Go swing a hammer with Habitat for Humanity. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Go by the nursing home and visit with folks there. Get your focus off of you and onto other people.
Finally, don’t get discouraged. God loves you, he believes in you, and he’s not going anywhere. The walk you’re on has ups and downs and twists and turns. God knows that and understands - you are riding a bucking bronco, not a pony. Make the firm decision to never let go, no matter what. And, then, having made it, let yourself relax.