As a pastor, I talk with dozens of Christians throughout the year. One spiritual challenge comes up more than any other: People feel far away from God.
Maybe this is not a surprise to you because you’ve felt this way too. If so, don’t worry, it’s normal. Sometimes I feel far away from God also.
When I get that way I wonder, “what should I do?” Like so many of the believers I have to remind myself of these essential ideas:
You Can’t Return To God
Recently, I spoke with an older woman who said that after following Jesus for 35 years she suddenly felt like he was far away.
“It’s like I’m on a boat and Jesus is on the shore,” she said. “As the boat drifts from the shore, Jesus gets farther away until I can barely see him or hear him. No matter how hard I paddle the boat, I can’t get closer to him.” She buried her head in her hands and said, “How do I return to God?”
My response surprised her. “You can’t return to Him. You can’t because you’re not far from him. It only feels that way.”
Sure, there are dozens of Bible scriptures that call for a return to the Lord, but here’s the thing—they are all in the Old Testament. The concept of wandering away from God is a purely Old Testament idea and is usually about the Israelite people.
You might be thinking, “Hey, what about the prodigal son and the lost sheep?” If you examine the context of those parables, they are about sinners coming to Christ, not disciples wandering away from the faith.
If you ever feel like you are far away from God, remember this…
Feelings are not trustworthy
It’s easy to feel like you are far away from God. Maybe it’s been a long time since you read your Bible, or perhaps you haven’t attended church in a few months. When that happens, you probably feel disconnected from God.
But remember that feelings are not facts—they are just feelings.
Feelings can be manipulated easily (I tear up for this gum commercial), and feelings are heavily influenced by our surroundings, our mood, and how we are being treated by others.
What is more important than feelings are facts. Understand, I am not saying that emotions are useless. I am saying that when you feel a certain way, whether it be about your self-image, the nation, or your relationship with God, it’s important to consider the facts.
Facts will verify your feelings, and facts can help you change the way you feel. For example, if you feel far away from God, consider this quote from the book of Hebrews, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (13:5). Jesus also promised his disciples that he would always be with them (Matthew 28:20).
So, if you feel like you are far from God, and you’re wondering what you can do to get closer to him, remember this…
God does the work
The most important thing to know when it comes to your faith is this: you’re not in charge of it. Yes, that’s what I said. You have much less to do with your spiritual growth than you think.
In Philippians 1:6, the apostle Paul wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Your faith is a gift from God—given to you through the completed work of Jesus Christ. You can’t make it better, and you can’t make it worse. So many people think that if they read their Bible more, or go to church more, or pray more that God will come closer to them—as if somehow, their spiritual activity conjures God’s presence.
Imagine, if your Christian life were based on what you had to do to keep God close to you, then your faith would be a chaotic mess. At least mine would.
But, if your faith is based on who God is, what He did, and what He continues to do through the resurrected power of Jesus Christ then, let me tell you, your faith will be rock-solid! Because God never wavers in his promises. God is not susceptible to runaway feelings.