When I Can’t Feel God…

church-768613_1920

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.

people-2598465_1920

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.


Name

The Vine and the Branches…But No Religion

 

vine-and-branches.jpg

I had a friend ask me a question yesterday that sent me on a wild journey of thought. What I found surprised me, and I’m super excited to share it with you! Here is her question.

“How do we attach and re-attach ourselves to the Vine without it being works?”

She was referring to John 15 and the familiar passage about abiding in the Vine. Jesus is speaking.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:1-5.

I have heard this passage preached in a very works-based way. I have also heard it preached less “worksy” but with a checklist at the end…Ten Things to do to Abide in the Vine, etc. Abide isn’t a word we use anymore in everyday English. What does the word even mean, let alone an abstract concept like abiding in Christ?

As I read the passage again this morning, four little words jumped out at me. And it changed everything. 

Abide in me, and I in you” John 15:4

The grape vine grows down into the ground, sucking up water and nutrients, providing life for the branches. The branches are not doing anything. They aren’t trying desperately to hold onto the vine, trying to remain in it, trying to stay attached. They are just automatically part of it. The vine’s life and strength are in the branches. And because of that life, the branches are able to bear fruit.

We are so quick, as humans, to look for what we have to do. Religion, the business of appeasing gods, comes naturally to us. But that desire to appease is part of our old nature, not our new one. We have to remember that!

tori-1976609_1920I really believe that religion, more than anything, is the true enemy of God, especially within Christianity. It’s subtle, it distracts; it makes us believe we have effort to offer. It takes away from the beauty and wonder of the free gift. And it turns a life-giving friendship into dutiful servanthood.

Can I stretch your mind a little?

What if true Christianity isn’t about a checklist, or behaviors, or a list of rules to follow? What if it is about a restored life? What if, because we have been restored and reconnected, our lives are transformed? Not because of effort or determination or discipline, but because a new life-force flows within us? The life of the Vine.

Do you believe that? Did you feel your heart give a leap of hope? That’s the Spirit. Our life-force. 🙂

Here is the simple and beautiful gospel.

We have all been broken by sin and that sin separates us from God. Our very core has been corrupted, and the ones God created to be His friends are now His enemies. But He would not let us go…His love is far too great! So Jesus came and died, paying the price for sin once and for all. He rose again demonstrating His power over death and sin. If we will admit that we need forgiveness and trust in Jesus alone to save us, we will be restored.

It gets better! Not only has God forgiven all of our sins through the death of Jesus, He gives us His very Spirit to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit is all about restoration and transformation. If we will let Him, He will not only show us our broken places, He will empower us to heal. He will transform us into the image of God we were meant to be.

wine-2853916_1920

True abiding has nothing to do with action or works, and everything to do with resting in our position. We don’t DO anything. We accept salvation. We accept the Spirit. We accept the life, and the transformation, and the power He offers. We accept His friendship, and we live as friends. We believe the truth about God and ourselves. As we rest in the Vine and in the Power that flows through Him, we will automatically bear fruit. Because that’s what happens with healthy branches who are connected to the vine.

And where does following God in obedience fit with all of this?

“Obedience is the natural offspring of trust-motivated love. All true obedience arises out of the heart and is attended by a deep inner sense of personal delight. You could call it obedience, or you could call it friendship.” – Pastor Ty Gibson

I love that! ❤ ❤ And I would love to hear your thoughts too.

Name

The Missing Member of the Trinity

I had an epiphany a couple of weeks ago and it’s been rocking my world!

light-1208275_1920

For some reason, I do some of my best thinking while driving and showering. Does that sound familiar? My mind was ticking along something like this…

What happened to the Holy Spirit in Evangelical Christianity? He definitely gets less than His fair share of attention. Theologically, the Holy Spirit is an equal member of the Trinity, but unless you attend a Charismatic or Pentecostal church, He is pretty much ignored.

Sure, we tell people that they will receive the Holy Spirit when they trust in Jesus to be their Savior. We might mention that He is called the Comforter or Helper (John 14:15-26) or that He is the guarantee of our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). But, most of us don’t talk about Him much, and we don’t usually pray to Him. Is it because we don’t know what to do with the Holy Spirit? Maybe we’re afraid of Him or unsure about Him; so, we just ignore Him. We talk about “God” and “Jesus” and leave it at that.

I sat there thinking, wishing I knew more about the Holy Spirit, feeling like I was missing something, when it hit me. According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit is the One I know the best!

What? And that’s when my mind started getting blown! I love it when God does this!

The Bible tells us that God the Father is in Heaven; Jesus is in Heaven sitting at God’s right hand; but the Holy Spirit… The Holy Spirit is the One here with me!!

It’s hard to explain the emotion that exploded in my heart. It was as if I’d grown up knowing I had a missing sibling and then suddenly found out that they had been my best friend for the past ten years. If that makes any sense…

It was an “Oh, it’s You!!!” moment.

I called Him “Jesus”, but it was actually the Holy Spirit who became real to me when I was 15 years old, helped me to see the lies in Bill Gothard’s teachings, and started my questioning and rebelling against the cultic teachings of my church. The Holy Spirit is the one who brought me to Pine Ridge Bible Camp and showed me grace, freedom, and love. I’ve gotten to know Him over the years, felt His Presence over and over, talked with Him, and laughed with Him. He explains the Bible to me, and reminds me of verses I need to hear. He is the one who gives me the strength that I pray for, He gave me peace through my miscarriages, and helped me to trust when I didn’t think I could. He gives me the ability to forgive my husband and have patience with my children. I call Him “Jesus” but He is really the missing member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit! And just writing those words makes me smile. 🙂

You might be thinking that it doesn’t matter who we pray to or who we call God because they are all the same. Two weeks ago I might have agreed with you.

I don’t think it matters to God, but it matters to us. My life has been rocked by realizing that the Holy Spirit is with me. Praying to Him seemed almost “wrong” at first (which is silly because I say that I believe He is God, just like the Father and Jesus) but now I love it! It makes the literal part of my brain connect somehow with the spiritual part. Maybe it’s because I know that God and Jesus aren’t actually with me, even though I believe they can hear me…But the Holy Spirit, He is literally right here, actually with me, and when I recognize that and talk to Him…it just does something to my heart and my faith!

All of this brings up a question: Why ignore the Holy Spirit?

Why do so many Evangelical churches, especially the conservative ones, ignore this amazing member of the Trinity? Is it because the Spirit isn’t easily understandable? Explainable? Boxable? We can put God in a box, Jesus goes in a box, but how in the world do you box the Spirit? 

Bill Gothard, briefly mentioned the Holy Spirit in his teachings as the One who convicts us of sin; he then focused on God and Jesus as the giver of steps, laws, and blessings (if you followed all the rules). Completely screwing up the image of the Father and the Son, he largely ignored the Spirit. Why? Maybe because some of the Spirit’s jobs are to give us wisdom, discernment, and help, and Gothard was afraid of the Spirit exposing him for the fraud he was. Maybe because he didn’t understand (or want to understand) the Spirit. Is this the same reason so many super fundamental churches ignore the Spirit? They are afraid of Him… They don’t want Him exposing their lies…

Who is benefiting from our ignorance? Not us!! You know what? This whole thing smells like a giant, sneaky lie from the Enemy!

sport-1260817_1920

Too many Christians are fixated on “improving themselves”, following lists of standards and rules, making sure that they are “fully surrendered”, attempting to make Jesus the “Lord of their life”, and zealously trying to be a disciple. All the while, they are completely ignoring the fact that the very God of the Universe in all of His power and ability is living with and in them. They are trying to accomplish God-sized feats with mere human strength. What would happen if we actually believed in the Holy Spirit, that He is God, that He is always with us, and that one of  His jobs is to be our Helper as we live our life on earth? What if we are missing something amazing?

I think  there is more to this than we realize…and I am going to keep thinking, pondering, and believing! I want everything that being a child of God gives me. I want to find out what it means to have the Holy Spirit in all of His power and fullness!

autumn-1072827_1920

How about you? What do you think of the Spirit? Do you think of Him? What does the Holy Spirit mean to you? What could He mean? I’d love to hear your thoughts!