When I Can’t Feel God…

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I listened as he shared his story with us. It was a privilege to be part of this sacred moment. God had redeemed so much in his life. His story was a beautiful example of grace and growth.

Then he stopped and looked down. “I’ve never admitted this before in a group.” Tears filled his eyes as he looked back up at us. “When people talk about feeling the love of God or experiencing His Presence, I don’t get it. I’ve never felt that.”

We leaned forward encouragingly as he finished his story. Afterwards, the group leader opened it up for questions and response. A well-meaning listener asked if he really wanted to feel God’s Presence and if he’d ever asked to feel it. They had suggestions for how to make it happen. The man was completely broken. He’d asked, prayed, and begged so many times and it had never “worked.”

A few years ago I would have been that well-meaning listener, and my answer would have been horrifyingly similar. But it’s not anymore. If you are someone who feels like they are missing God’s Presence, or if He seems distant, quiet, or nonexistent, please keep reading. I am not going to give you any Christianese answers or formulas, but I am going to remind you of some truth. 🙂

Paul prays an amazing prayer for the church in Ephesus in Ephesians chapter three.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” Ephesians 3:14-19.

I am obsessed with this prayer, absolutely in love! There is so much that could be unpacked. But I want you to look at the bold words “know” and “knowledge.” In the Greek they are forms of ginosko — an intimate, experiential knowledge. It’s more than just information we know in our head; it’s personal.

Jesus uses this same word in John 10 when He talks about knowing His sheep and His sheep knowing Him.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” John 10:14-15.

 

And He uses it again in John 17 when He tells us what eternal life actually is.

“And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” John 17:3.

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Jesus obviously thinks it’s possible for us to know Him in a personal, intimate way. But I don’t think that our understanding of that knowledge is the same as His. And that’s where we get tripped up…that’s where we end up feeling like it doesn’t work for us and that God is far away.

Maybe you have been to a service or conference where the worship was amazing and people (including yourself) were swept up in an experience. The lights were dim, the music swelled, hands were raised, and people cried. We declare that “the Spirit was moving tonight!” We ask people if they “felt God’s Presence?”

Was it really God? Or was it just our own emotion?

I want you to watch something amazing. This is Huge Jackman practicing for the Greatest Showman. They definitely have an emotional experience together and it’s quite moving! It even looks a bit like worship… But while beautiful and inspiring, it’s completely secular. It has nothing to do with God. Guys, if they can do it, so can we.

We can create emotional worship experiences with lights, music, and energy that have nothing to do with the actual God. We can feel things emotionally and physically that are amazing, and yet are not really the Spirit. Emotional experiences do not automatically equate to God’s Presence. How’s that for truth?

Those spiritual highs we get during a retreat or a worship set feel incredible, but they are hard to hold on to in real life. And it’s very possible that they have little to nothing to do with a connection to the Real Jesus. 

The Old Testament includes stories about a prophet named Elijah. He led a wild life and got to experience some amazing God moments. If you remember, Elijah was part of a crazy contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (1 Kings 18) After the prophets of Baal spend the entire day begging their god for fire, the Real God shows up, sends fire from heaven, and burns up a sacrifice completely soaked in water. It was pretty spectacular.

However, not long after Elijah is in the wilderness asking God to take his life. He’s exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and he just wants to die. God sustains Elijah and eventually sends him to a cave to wait for Him. While Elijah waits in the cave a terrific wind passes by, but God is not in the wind. Next there is an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. Then comes a fire, but God is not in the fire. Finally Elijah hears a low whisper…and immediately he knows it is God.

I think too often we look for wind, and fire, and earthquakes as an experience of God’s Presence and we forget that He is actually the quiet whisper.

Let me remind you of some truth.

  • Didn’t God say He would never leave us? (Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5-6)
  • Didn’t Jesus promise to be with us always? (Matthew  28:20)
  • Didn’t Jesus say that He would send us a Helper? (John 14:25-26; 15:26)
  • Isn’t the Holy Spirit our guarantee of salvation? (1 Corinthians 1:22)

Here is the simple truth.

If we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, then He has given us His Spirit to dwell with us forever. It doesn’t matter if we can “feel” Him or not. He is with us. He doesn’t go away. 🙂

If the Spirit dwells within us, and He is just as much God as Jesus and the Father, then we have God with us always…in all His glory and power and majesty.

I think we often look too far away, and for too much of an experience. The Real Spirit is as close as our next breath. He is here with us, quiet, gentle, whispering to our hearts, giving us strength for the day, telling us truth, and pointing us heavenward. We might not be able to feel the Spirit in the moment, but looking back we can see His shadow and we can hear His footsteps.

I’m not against experiences, they just need to go in their place. When I stop to consider Jesus, and remember the Spirit, my body often has a physical response. Tears come to my eyes, or I feel tingles. But that physical response is not the Spirit…that’s just my body responding to truth. Jesus and His Spirit is just as real and just as close even if I don’t get tears or feel tingles.

One final thought. Everyone is different. We experience human relationships differently. Why shouldn’t we also experience our relationship with God differently? It’s okay if you don’t “feel” God like some people do. You are probably experiencing Him in your own way…look for that. This is about you and the Real God. He’s pursuing you in the way He knows you will respond to best. Let go of guilt and shame. It’s not from God! Let Him be who He really is and not who we think He should be.


OUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL RESPONSES DO NOT MAKE GOD ANY MORE OR LESS REAL THAN HE ALREADY IS.


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Getting to KNOW Jesus (Pt. 2)

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(Yes, I do realize that Pt 1 and Pt 2 of this post are months apart. :-))

How does someone really get to know Jesus, experience Him as a very real Being?

There is no magic formula, no three step process. But as I said in part one of this post, God wants us to know Him. He has promised throughout the Bible that if we seek Him, we will find Him! And I can promise you both from my life and lives I have seen changed, that when you really find Him, you will never be the same!

It’s like experiencing an alternate reality, think Narnia. Suddenly all the knowledge you had in your head explodes into living color, and you get it! He changes you and you realize that you never wanted anything else.

That’s great, but how do I get there?

Here are some suggestions.

  • Become familiar with the Bible, so you know who you are looking for, so you know His character and what He sounds like, the kinds of things He says. I recommend Max Lucado’s “The Story”. It’s a fantastic overview using actual portions of the NIV and some summary in between.
  • Intentionally take quiet time away from noise and electronics. While I was in college, I used to go sit in this cemetery on a bluff, overlooking a lake. It was beautiful, and quiet, and made me think about how short life is.
  • Tell Jesus you want to know Him, and wait for Him to “show up”. This is actually the best part. Because if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then He already lives inside of you. So it’s not really Him showing up as much as it is you slowing down and becoming aware of His Presence.

What does is look like, sound like, feel like when Jesus becomes real? It’s different for everyone, but chances are you have already experienced Him and just didn’t recognize it. Sometimes it’s like this:

  • A song comes on the radio and it’s exactly what you needed to hear.
  • You are listening to a sermon and you start wondering if the person speaking is psychic or has been reading your journal.
  • As you read the Bible, a verse just jumps out at you in a way you never saw before.
  • Your friend calls/texts/messages you with a truth that you needed to hear right then.
  • Something really hard happens but you have a strange peace about it.

I really could go on and on. This is God, the Creator of the Universe, speaking to you, being intimately involved in your life. The more you become aware of God’s Presence, the more you will recognize Him.

I’m going to share what it feels like for me, but remember that each person is different and we can’t put God into just one box.

When I seek God, I start with just quiet. (Remember, this is more about us becoming aware of God and less about Him coming to us.) I quiet my heart and mind and remember who it is that I am seeking: my Creator, the Awesome All-Powerful One, my Savior, my Friend, etc. I think about His love for me. Then I just talk to Him. When I am aware of Jesus’ Presence, I usually feel peace, contentment, surrounded and almost held. I know I am loved and I am completely satisfied. Usually there are tears in my eyes…not sadness, but possibly because the emotions I feel are too big for my little human body. (They are here right now as I write this.)

The Kingdom of God is backwards and inside out, so it doesn’t always make logical sense. The weak are strong, foolishness is wisdom, you get everything for nothing… It’s crazy! And the key to this secret kingdom? Faith!

Will you take a chance and step out in faith and ask Jesus to make Himself real to you? Let me know what happens!

“Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief!” – What Is Standing In the Way of Your Relationship with Jesus?

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You would think that being friends with God would be a popular message among Christians. After all, it’s kind of the point of the whole Bible, the book we claim to base our beliefs upon. Jesus himself said, “…but I have called you friends…” (John 15:15). So why aren’t more of us living like God’s friends?

Why are so many of us content to go to church on Sunday but ignore God the rest of the week? Why are so many of us obsessed with rules and formulas, attempting to impress God with our outward “goodness”? If this is how we are living, then we aren’t actually experiencing a relationship with God, THE relationship that Jesus made possible by His death on the cross!

I’ve been a part of both sides at one point or another. Why are we so quick to reject a friendship with the God of the Universe? Here is what I’ve found true of me:

  • I want to be in control. It terrifies me to let go and let God run my life. What if He screws it up?
  • Sin is fun. I don’t want God coming in and telling me to stop it.
  • Rules are easier to maintain than a relationship. They make me feel good about myself.
  • I often believe lies about God, who He is and what He wants from me.

Sure, I like Jesus as my Savior; I’m all about spending eternity in heaven. But Jesus as my friend…that’s a little uncomfortable, a little awkward. So what is really stopping me? What is stopping us? What if it’s as simple as one word?

Unbelief

My husband and I are not adrenalin junkies. In fact, if you know us, that thought probably makes you laugh. However, we took a special date last weekend to a zip-line course! There were 10 zip-lines spreading over a mile in total length. It was a blast!

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First we got harnessed up, put our helmets on, and attached carabiners with some kind of a trolley (can you tell I’m not an expert at this) to our harness. Then, our tour guides loaded us into an awesome off-road vehicle and drove us up to the top of a ski hill. We climbed a short flight of stairs and there it was, the first zip-line spanning a valley and disappearing into the trees on the other side. I’m not gonna lie, my heart missed a couple beats!

One by one I watched my fellow zippers get clipped onto the cable and soar across the valley. Then it was my turn. Our guide clipped me in, got confirmation from the other guide across the chasm, and told me I was free to fly. Ahh!

What if, in that moment, I had doubted the cable’s strength and my harness’s ability? What if I refused to believe my zipping guide? What if I insisted on clinging to my own control and instead chose to climb down the stairs and continue across the valley on foot?

Obviously, that would that have been a waste of money, 🙂 but I would also have missed out on an amazing adventure! Soaring through the trees on a zip-line is incredible! (Hanging upside down, no hands, is even better!)

I miss out on an amazing relationship with God every time I chose doubt and unbelief instead of faith in Him.

  • I doubt God’s love for me, that He really likes me and wants me.
  • I don’t believe that He knows what’s best for me.
  • I doubt my own ability to stop sinning (and forget that He has given me a Helper, the Holy Spirit).
  • I don’t believe what God says about Himself all throughout the Bible.
  • I don’t believe that Jesus can really satisfy me.
  • I doubt that I can actually have a friendship with God; so I don’t try.

Stop! I just need to stop!

There comes a moment on every station of a zip-line course where you have to make a choice to trust the equipment and step off the platform. You can’t zip if you won’t jump. And, you can’t experience a real give-and-take relationship with Jesus if you won’t believe Him.

What do we need to believe?

We believe that Jesus paid for our sins by His death on the cross. (Romans 6:23) We believe that He rose again conquering sin and death once and for all! (1 Corinthians 15:20-26) We believe that Jesus is who He says He is: the bread of life (John 6:35), the living water (John 4:10-14), the way, truth and life (John 14:6). We believe that He will satisfy us, give us good direction and abundant life. We believe that Jesus wants to be friends with us. (John 15:12-17) We believe in His promises that if we seek Him, then we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:11-13; Acts 17:27; Matthew 7:7)

Nothing is better than a real relationship with Jesus! One where I talk with Him and He talks with me! I know this because I’ve experienced it, so why don’t I pursue Him more? Nothing can separate me from the love of God, except for my own choice to doubt, my own unbelief. Is it really that simple?

  • “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Jesus does not change. But our faith, our belief (or lack of it) determines what we experience of Him. He is not pushy. He will not force Himself on us. But, He is there to be found if we will seek and believe.

This should be the most amazing message, the most incredible part of being a Christian! Don’t let your unbelief stop you from experiencing everything you have and are in Christ.

What were my favorite zip-lines from last weekend? The ones where I ran screaming off the platform against all common sense, and the ones where I trusted my equipment and soared through the trees upside down.

“Jesus said to him, ‘All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately (he) cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” Mark 9:23-24

Is this your prayer today?

“Help us to believe You, Jesus! And as we seek You, and find You, and fall in love with You, overwhelm us with Yourself, until all we want is You.”

Getting to KNOW Jesus (Pt 1)

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There is a huge difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them.

Celebrities are people we know a lot about, but very few of us actually know any of them personally. Sometimes God feels like a celebrity to us. We know (or think we know) a lot about Him. We read articles, blog posts, and books about Him. We listen to sermons, podcasts, and songs about Him. We hear lots of people’s opinions of Him, both positive and negative.

But do we actually KNOW Him personally?

How do you get to really know someone like God?

I write and talk a lot about legalism and religious Christianity vs a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Often people ask me a similar question.

“That’s great and all, and I want more than just a religion, but I don’t know how to have a relationship. Can you show me how to know Jesus?”

If we were sitting together over a cup of coffee or on a bench down by the lake, this is what I would tell you:

Everything God wants to tell us about Himself is found in the Bible, His letter to us. Here are some of my favorite verses that tell us how He wants to know us.

Jeremiah 29:11-14. Verse 11 is super familiar, but I want you to look specifically at verses 12-14. Here it is: “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD…”

Then read Acts 17:26-27. This is Paul speaking to the people of Athens who were very religious, but didn’t know the true God. “And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”

God promises that if we look for Him, we will find Him. He says that even if we have our eyes closed and are bumping around in the dark looking for Him, we will find Him because He is close by. God wants a relationship with us! He wants us to KNOW Him, not just facts about Him.

There is only one way to God, through His Son, Jesus Christ. I wrote a post last year about how Jesus was missing from the “Christianity” I was exposed to growing up. You can find it here. Someone Was Missing

We can’t get to God by doing good things, following all the rules, praying a prayer, raising our hands, or going forward in church. We can only get to God by trusting that Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins.

John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

What is the Son’s name? Jesus, which means Savior. Do you believe that Jesus is your Savior? If you do, then because of Him, you can have a relationship with God.

“Great!” you say, “But, how do I actually have a relationship?”

When you get to know someone like the God of the Universe, you have to think outside of the box. You have to be willing to let your mind get blown. You have to be okay with not understanding everything or being able to explain things. He often seems kind of crazy, and He doesn’t usually make sense. He makes you cry, a lot, even when you’re not sad, because the emotions you feel are too big for your tiny body. But He also makes you laugh. His love is ridiculous, and overwhelming, and amazing. When you meet Him, really meet Him, you will know that you are home and that this is where you belong. He is where you belong.

Next time I’ll share some ideas of how to seek God and find Him. I hope this post has made you hungry for more.

If Jesus has become real to you, I’d love to hear some of your stories!