Do You Ever Feel Far From God?

One of the more difficult parts of being a Christ-follower is dealing with doubt. A few weeks ago in a group I lead, we talked about doubt: what it looks like, how to deal with it, etc. One of the group members was quite surprised that I (one of his pastors) struggled with doubt. Now, if you know me, you know that doubt has been a constant struggle of mine since becoming a Christian. Doubt has been an unfortunate and dark part of my journey with Jesus. More days than not, I struggle to know that I am a part of God’s family. My fear sets in and I dwell on the possibility that I might not truly be saved. It’s scary, and not fun, but it’s real. 

Maybe you don’t struggle with doubt. Perhaps you don’t doubt God’s love for you, but you might struggle to feel the presence of God. Maybe your prayer life suffers because you don’t feel like you’re praying to anyone. You’re not alone, and there is hope.

A few weeks ago, I began an incredible journey through studying a particular doctrine that has healed a significant portion of my doubt. It has truly been a miraculous work. The doctrine I’m studying currently isn’t what’s important right now, what is important is that God is speaking to me through this study and healing my doubt, and in this intellectual engagement with God, I’ve been inspired to look more at what Jesus said was the greatest commandment. 

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

On the first read, it’s easy to think that Jesus is telling us to love God with our whole person - to essentially give all of our selves to him in our worship of him, and that’s true. This command is a command to love God holistically. But Jesus isn’t merely saying, love God with all that you are. He could have just said that if that was all he was trying to communicate. Instead, he says we ought to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength (he adds the word “mind” to the original command in Deuteronomy 6:4, but why he did is not the focus here).

What we’re going to do today is draw from the text of the Jamie-Fausset-Brown Commentary (JFB) commentary to help us understand the delineation between the four things with which we ought to love God. By looking at these elements and what each specifically means, you should be able to figure out which one needs attention in your life. 

JFB tells us that “heart” here, “mean(s) the sincerity of both the thoughts and the feelings; in other words, uprightness or true-heartedness, as opposed to a hypocritical or divided affection.”
When you sing to, think about, talk about, or pray to God, are those thoughts or words completely sincere? Do you feel as if you’re going through the motions, or saying things you don’t mean? If so, potentially, your lack of closeness to God might be due to the insincerity in which you speak about or to him. Of course, your words being insincere may not be easily recognizable, so this might take some extended reflection to notice. Are the words you use when speaking about or to God honest, or are they what you think you should say?

JFB writes, “This is designed to command our emotional nature: Thou shalt put feeling or warmth into thine affection.” Loving God with all our soul is being deeply and intimately desirous of God. Think about how the feeling you get when you first meet someone to whom you are attracted. When he or she talks to or interacts with you, you feel all sorts of feelings which, though foreign, also connect deeply with your soul and make you do many non-normal things. Have you felt this toward God? Our souls are creations of God the Father and belong to him. They desire him emotionally and desperately want to connect with him. For many, the distance they feel between themselves and God is due to a restriction on these emotions. If this is you, and you don’t feel like you emotionally connect with God, perhaps you need to set aside some time each day to try and emotionally connect with him. If music tends to elicit an emotional response, you may want to listen to music that not only spurs your emotions but spurs them unto God. Now, of course, this doesn’t have to be modern “worship” music. It could be old hymns or the works of classical composers like Bach or Beethoven. Maybe music doesn’t elicit in you an emotive response. Perhaps you need to engage in other forms of art (poetry, painting, drawing, reading, etc.) Or, maybe you need to think about what engages your emotions and how you can connect that thing with God. That is the first step in reconnecting with God emotionally. 

Now, we get to love God with all our minds. Of loving God with all your mind, JFB says this, “put intelligence into your affection. No blind devotion.” Essentially, God gave you a mind, so use it! So many Christians feel distant from God, yet don’t take time to engage him intellectually. It may be easy for some to engage him with their hearts and souls, so they don’t give the intellectual side of their faith a second thought. This is an unfortunate truth that is all too common in many Christian circles. It is no accident that God gave us his word in a book to read. He could have done it other ways, but he chose a book. God wants to engage us intellectually - it’s why he gave us a mind. So, we ought to devour his word intellectually and study it with all that we have. Any resource we have available to us - and there are myriad - we ought to use to gain understanding about his word. If you struggle to read his word, there are several steps you can take, like: find a partner, start a reading plan together, purchase a study Bible or commentary, and also read books written by men and women who have gone before you to read and understand God’s word. Either way, to neglect this command from Jesus is to leave yourself open to the many traps that our emotions love to lead us to. Not only does intellectual engagement prepare our minds with discernment, but attaches our minds to that of God’s and helps us to understand his revelation to us. 

Of our “strength,” JFB writes, “This commands our energies: Thou shalt put intensity into thine affection—‘Do it with thy might’ (Ec 9:10).” So, with a better understanding or what our heart, soul, and mind, each mean, we ought to engage God on each with all the enthusiasm we can possibly muster. Far too often, we tend to reserve time with God if we can complete the rest of our day’s tasks. This is a common reason for one’s distance from God. Furthermore, we can’t be sincere, emotional, and intelligent in our pursuit of God if we aren’t passionately and intensely pursuing him. Is your time with God (reading, prayer, fasting, serving) marked by intense energy, or does it seem more like an afterthought? Maybe it’s somewhere in between. Either way, all of us might struggle with one of these areas, and because of that, we don’t feel like we’re as close to God as we should be. 

So, this week, take some time to reflect on which area you need improvement. Then, choose how you’ll attack the lack in that area, make a plan, and execute it. Record the progress you experience in your intimacy with God in a journal of sorts.

For me, I know I tend to lack in the emotional engagement. But, as of late, it hasn’t merely been an emotional lack. It has also been a significant intellectual lack. Up until a few weeks ago, I felt a huge gap between God and I. It was uncomfortable, scary, and somewhat depressing. Through an engagement emotionally, he showed me how I needed to pursue him intellectually because I had let that part of my life wane dramatically. I strongly look forward to the progress I make in my intimacy with God. 

How about you?