This year will mark 40 years since I was ordained into the ministry. If I were to calculate how many times I’ve had doubts about my faith over the years, I’d guess the grand total would be about three years. That might not seem like a long time, but that’s more than 1000 days and many thousand portions of days. If I were to estimate how many years I could say I’ve felt God’s presence in a very intimate way, I’d guess it would be about half the time, maybe a little more or less. Some might find that shocking, coming from a Pastor, but I share that for two reasons: 1) It’s true. 2) Maybe it’ll encourage others who don’t feel like the “super” Christians they see on T.V., or meet in church, or read about in books and blogs. I’m not ashamed to admit these things. I’m well aware that God loves me unconditionally, and I’m well aware that my eternal destiny is secure, but it’s just reality that I still have doubts and I don’t always feel His presence. I should clarify that the past ten years have been the best years of my journey with God. They’ve also been the most painful. Irony of ironies.
So what’s all that mean? We’ll, for people who have trouble experiencing God, it might mean you weren’t nurtured by key people in your life, thus you had no way to measure how it would feel to be nurtured by God. It might also mean that you’re intellectually honest, and you don’t buy into every Christian explanation of the universe, the sovereignty of God, the problem of pain and suffering, or various other Christian teachings. I consider myself a fairly conservative Christ-follower, but I don’t like “Christianese” language, “name it and claim it” theology, or shallow, singsongy explanations about most anything.
I suppose I’m just writing this blog to empathize with those who don’t feel God like they think they could or should. Hey, me too. I’ve also discovered along the way that there are some things have helped me experience Him more. For what it’s worth, here’s a list.
1) I’m quick to forgive. It hasn’t always been that way, to be sure, but I’ve discovered that when I don’t harbor grudges, I don’t feel angry, and when I’m not angry, I feel closer to God. You can draw your own conclusions.
2) I confess my sins. It’s not even popular these days to talk about sin, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists in everyone everywhere. There’s a moral oughtness in every culture on the planet--an innate sense of right and wrong. I think it’s one of many “evidences” for God. Rather than deny it, we should embrace it. Admit our sins, ask for and receive His forgiveness, and move on. When I do that, I feel His presence. No always, but most of the time.
3) I believe what the Bible says about Him, which is this: He loves me, whether I feel like it or not. Not only that, His love is scandalous and unrelenting, and totally unconditional. I don’t try to merit it; I accept it. I wasn’t taught about a God of grace growing up. It took me many years to actually find Him and take His hand. These days, our walks together are quite peaceful.
4) I talk to Him. Some people call it prayer. I just call it acknowledging His presence throughout the day and telling Him what’s on my mind. I call it asking for wisdom and guidance. I call it unloading my doubts and fears, even my anger on occasion. I call it authenticity. You know what? I’ve discovered He likes authenticity...vulnerability too. I spent years not being vulnerable with God. I was taught that some things just shouldn’t be “talked about.” I believed that lie in my relationship with Him too.
5) Finally, I regularly read the scriptures about God that are crystal clear, and don’t spend much time thinking about the weird stuff that’s hard to explain. I read passages like Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal Son, which is really the story of the loving Father who never gave up on His boy, and not once stopped loving him. I read the 23rd Psalm....about my Shepherd, the one who meets my needs, who’s gentle; the one who helps me find rest and peace, and is able to get me Home. I read John 10. About the God who looks for me when I stray, who teaches me to follow, who even sacrifices Himself, through Jesus, to show me the depth of His love. He’s not a “religious” God; He’s a loving Shepherd who communicates with all His sheep, even unruly ones, and stubborn ones like me.
Do you have trouble feeling close to God? Give these things some thought. Stop trying harder; just believe what’s true. Write me if you’d like to talk more. At a minimum, share your struggles so I can pray for you. I enjoying talking to my Father about you. And I enjoy telling people about His wonderful, forgiving, grace-filled, merciful, tender heart. Stay on the path, my friend. It’ll make a lot more sense as you get further down the road. I promise.