I don’t feel close to God, so I must not be.
That we don’t feel close to God is one of the nagging difficulties of our spiritual journeys. I may begin the day by turning my thoughts heavenward, or I may be struck by a spiritual thought during the day, only to quickly sense that I don’t feel spiritual, or that I don’t feel close to God. For some reason I am reminded of my unworthiness (How could I ever deserve to feel close to God?) and the moment passes. Probably like many, I return to what I perceive is my spiritual reality.
It is interesting how closely we monitor our feelings, and how much credence we give to them. Even as we recognize their fleeting nature, we accord them a level of importance far beyond what they deserve. If we don’t feel something, then it must not be. If we don’t feel like exercising, for instance, then we must not want to exercise. If we don’t feel like our significant other loves us, then they don’t love us.
Way too often we let our feelings mess with who we want to be. We actually do want to exercise; we promised the day before that we would get out and exercise, yet when the moment comes and a breeze of doubt or discomfort blows across our bow, we embrace the doubt. As important as exercise plans and marriage relationships and all the other areas in our life are, they pale in importance compared to the picture we have of our relationship with God. Feelings are fickle things. Do I want to base the status of my spiritual journey on fickle feelings?
The concept of total behavior can help here. Total behavior says that every behavior is made up of four parts – thinking, acting, feeling, and physiology. Two of the parts – thinking and acting – are under our direct control, while the other two – feeling and physiology – we only indirectly control. What I choose to think and do will affect how I feel and how my body behaves. If I choose to go on a strenuous bike ride, my heart and lungs will come into alignment with that action. My feelings will change, too, as I experience the exhilaration of going downhill or the challenge of pedaling uphill. Our feelings are an important part of our total behavior, but they are just one part and we can’t directly control them.
When it comes to our relationship with God, there are so many texts that assure us of His affection, and that place our status with Him on the parts of our behavior we can directly control, not on the parts we can’t control.
When it comes to God’s love and regard for us –
Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. Jeremiah 31:3
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38, 39
I have come to see the act of believing, in total behavior terms, as a front tire behavior. Our choice to believe is not based on feelings, but rather on trust and even faith. (For me, belief, faith, and trust are almost synonymous.) And this is where the power and consistency in our spiritual journey comes from – our choice to believe. There are so many texts and stories that confirm this. Texts like –
For this how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16, 17
Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour. Matthew 8:13
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. Mark 11:22-24
A man brought his son to Jesus to be healed and pleaded –
“Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” Mark 9:21-23
When the crowd called out to Jesus –
“We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”
Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.” John 6:28, 29
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8, 9
These are just a few of the passages that remind us of the power in believing. Belief starts with our thinking and involves our actions. My belief isn’t based on feelings. Ultimately, just as my feelings are changed when I go on a long bike ride, so they change when I make a choice to believe in God’s love and regard for me.
A passage from Steps to Christ, a little book I like a lot (and packed with choice theory) summarizes today’s post really well.
From the simple Bible account of how Jesus healed the sick, we may learn something about how to believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins. Let us turn to the story of the paralytic at Bethesda. The poor sufferer was helpless; he had not used his limbs for 38 years. Yet Jesus bade him, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.” The sick man might have said, “Lord, if you will make me whole, I will obey your word.” But no, he believed Christ’s word, believed that he was made whole, and he made an effort at once; he willed to walk, and he did walk. He acted on the word of Christ, and God gave the power. He was made whole.
In like manner you are a sinner. You cannot atone for your past sins; you cannot change your heart and make yourself holy. But God promises to do all this for you through Christ. You BELIEVE that promise. You confess your sins and give yourself to God. You WILL to serve Him. Just as surely as you do this, God will fulfill His word to you. If you believe the promise – believe that you are forgiven and cleansed – God supplies the fact; you are made whole, just as Christ gave the paralytic power to walk when the man believed that he was healed. It IS so if you believe it.
Do not wait to FEEL that you are made whole, but say, “I believe it; it IS so, not because I feel it, but because God has promised.”
Feelings can enhance our spiritual journey, but (using the car analogy) they shouldn’t come any where near the steering wheel. They give us clues as to how we judge a situation or how we respond to a person or circumstance close to us, but they aren’t meant to be the captain of our ship. The next time you doubt your spiritual journey or feel that your walk with God is broken, remember to get back on the front tires and think, “I believe my friendship with God is solid, not because I feel it, but because He has promised.”
For a signed copy of Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators, contact Jim Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.