Spiritual Wilderness Survival Guide
Feeling cut off from God is sometimes nothing but a clever illusion instigated by our spiritual enemy, the diabolically cunning, supernatural Deceiver. Sometimes, however, it indicates a serious spiritual problem. Letís briefly face the worst possibility and then we can indulge ourselves in some much needed reassurance and inspiration.
Literally millions of people have gone through some sort of church act Ė perhaps going forward in a Christian meeting, or being baptized or confirmed Ė and yet have not a wisp of spiritual life. They can be convinced they are born again, look like believers, act like devout Christians, and yet have undergone no spiritual change.
We can have unforgiven sin in our lives without realizing it. (Itís worth glancing at these Scriptures). This would cut us off from the holy God (Isaiah 59:1-2; Ps 66:18; Proverbs 28:9; Hebrews 7:26). If, for example, you held a grudge against someone, that unforgiveness would hinder your own forgiveness by God. (Scriptures) So whenever God seems distant, it is wise to pray along the lines of the psalmist, ĎSearch me, O God, and know my heart . . . See if there be any offensive way in meí (Psalm 139:23-4).
There are excellent webpages to help you resolve these issues. If any of the following topics interest you, bookmark this webpage (or note its address), then consult the webpages and return here later:
A man who had never in his life seen the sea was disappointed when he finally saw it. ĎI thought it would look bigger,í he complained.
There is always more to God than we can see. Did anyone expect God to be so foolish as to burn our eyes out when he appears, burst our eardrums when he speaks, crush us to dust when he touches? Since the Almighty must restrain himself whenever he relates to us, why should anyone be shocked if he chooses to be just a little gentler than we expected?
You were literally made for God. It shouldnít have to be an alien experience Ė something to fry your brains or drain you of adrenaline Ė to relate to the God who made you. Why shouldnít prayer be as simple as breathing, as natural as a child chatting to its mother? You donít have to wait until something is spooky or spectacular before concluding that God is in it.
To the Jews, Jesus seemed too ordinary to be their Messiah. Could you be making a similar mistake in your expectations of what it would be like to have God in your life?
Feelings versus reality
An act of God might occasionally coincide with goosebumps or a warm gooey feeling, or some other emotion, but the moment we begin to expect inner feelings and spiritual reality to coincide, we are headed for disappointment.
In both natural and supernatural matters, feelings and reality only sometimes line up. For instance, if someone handed you a million dollar check, you might feel no richer. One reason for feeling nothing could be that you think the check will bounce. You could throw away a million dollars simply because you donít believe itís real.
You could also discard a unique opportunity with God just because you donít believe itís real. And that would be more tragic than tearing up a million dollars.
God wants you to make it
You are important to God. He is pleased with your search for him and with your genuine questioning. Nothing is more important than getting these matters sorted out. Focus on the fact that what God says is true. His Word guarantees that if you are willing to give up your sins and you ask forgiveness, trusting that Jesus died in your place, then Godís forgiveness is yours. And if you have forgiveness you have full access to God. What you feel is irrelevant. You might feel guilty, depressed, sick, or foolish, it makes no difference. What matters is objective fact, not feelings.
God longs to save us. It cost him enormously (the death of Jesus) to make your forgiveness possible. Heís not going to squander that sacrifice. He has taken the initiative and what he has started he will finish. He will heed only a stubborn refusal to accept his offer of forgiveness. For anyone who even half wants God, the Lord will rush to forgive, because he is neither reluctant to save, nor so weak that he needs our help. If you have asked Jesusí forgiveness, then you are forgiven, unless you are strongly aware that you are refusing to give God permission to take a particular sin from you.
If you are seeking, you will find. Thatís the divine promise. Just keep seeking. Although you might feel as if you are doing all the seeking, your hunger for God was seeded within you by God himself. Your spiritual longings are proof that God is actively working in your life (John 6:44; Philippians 2:13). On the surface, it might seem due to the influences of friends, circumstances, or whatever, but these are just means God is using.
ĎDraw near to God and he will draw near to youí promises Scripture (James 4:8). The divine commitment is not that you will feel that God is close, but that he will be close.
When you give your life to Christ, you gain the most wonderful and most powerful Friend in the entire universe. You also gain, however, a fearsome foe. Any friend of Godís is an enemy of the devil. Satan is nothing compared to God Ė not as smart, not as powerful; a total loser. He is, nevertheless, a superhumanly powerful, evil genius. With God on your side you have what it takes to defeat Satan every time, and the devil knows it. All he can do to Christians is to fool them into not using the spiritual power that Christ has given them. So he will do all he can to make you doubt Godís power and reality in your life by trying to manipulate your feelings.
In short: you have an enemy. Heís an arch Deceiver. And he loves playing with your feelings.
There are reasons besides lack of faith why a person with a million dollar check could feel no different. He could be so stunned that his emotions have not yet caught up. Another reason is similar: nothing has happened yet. On paper he might be a millionaire, but he has not yet had a chance to spend a cent. So soon after the event there has been no change to his circumstances. Spiritually, too, unless you have been on the way for quite a while, you havenít had a chance to start Ďcashingí your new spiritual riches through prayer, experience and so on. It will take time for the results to become obvious.
So it is perfectly normal for a new Christian to feel nothing at first. After a while you will receive more and more evidence that you really are in contact with Almighty God, but such awareness takes time. Like the growth of a tree, much of Godís work is not immediately obvious. It takes time to realize what has happened. Nevertheless, by faith you can know the miracle has commenced without having to wait until you can see it with your eyes.
Regardless of how long we have been a Christian, if we spend just twenty minutes a day (less than one fiftieth of our waking hours) praying and thinking about the Lord, should we be surprised if the physical world seems fifty times more real to us than the spiritual realm?
Moreover, all mature Christians have times when they feel nothing, because God wants us to learn to trust him, rather than trusting our emotions. He wants us to learn that the weather changes, people change, our feelings change, but he remains rock solid, totally true and dependable forever.
God has promised to love you, be with you, forgive you, hear your prayers. On and on the promises go, but not once has he promised you will Ďfeelí anything. So place your faith in what God has promised (spelt out in black and white) not what he has not promised (elusive feelings).
You may feel very different when you go from a valley to a mountaintop experience, but little or nothing in you has actually changed. All that happens on a peak is that you can see further with your own eyes. You are temporarily less dependent upon a map or on what others tell you. (Even then, an accurate map or experienced advice is more reliable.) When you are highly conscious of Godís love for you, or you feel his presence, itís not that God has suddenly become more loving (you canít increase infinite love) nor that youíve become more lovable, itís just that from a spiritual mountaintop you see everyday reality more clearly. From a peak you can look back and see to your great surprise the wonderful progress you have made. You can see how when it seemed your Guide (the Holy Spirit) was taking you in circles you were actually skirting a dangerous area. Suddenly you see the wisdom in what had seemed aimless wanderings and useless diversions. You see how when it seemed your Guide had deserted you he must have somehow still been directing you because you took exactly the right route. You can look forward and see the exciting things you are headed for. Life seems far more exhilarating and makes so much more sense.
You feel so different when you can see further. Itís like night compared to day. But when itís dark nothing has actually changed, itís just that you canít see that nothing has changed! So it is when you move from times when you can see Godís love and goodness and closeness, to times when you canít see them.
Believing the unseeable and unfeelable
Can you believe in something you cannot see or touch? Of course, you can! You do it all the time. You believe Abraham Lincoln existed. You have never seen or touched him. You simply believe in the integrity of those who claim to have researched the evidence that he existed. You believe such things, even though, unlike Jesus, these researchers donít claim to be sinless. We know they are quite capable of lying and they have never confirmed anything by performing miracles, much less rising from the dead, yet we still donít think of doubting countless thousands of historical events such as Lincolnís assassination. You probably havenít even met current heads of state. You merely believe those who claim they know their names and who claim that certain newspaper and television pictures are those of political leaders.
We could say the same about scientific discoveries. Scientists do not squander their lives trying to replicate everyone elseís experiments. It would take them thousands of lifetimes to personally confirm every scientific fact they believe to be true. They simply trust the integrity of their fellow, fallible scientists and build on that foundation to make new discoveries.
Someone wrote to me complaining that he could not be expected to believe the eyewitness reports in the gospels that Jesus conquered death. To have to rely on other peopleís testimonies rather than on what his own eyes see is too much to ask, he claimed. And yet, like us, this man lives in a society in which it is impossible to function without trusting human testimony. You canít even use a phone book without reliance upon the writings of fallible, less-than-saintly humans. And if the man on the other end of the phone line claims to be the person you want to speak to, how do you know he isnít lying? You put your faith in human testimony hundreds of times each day. All of civilization hinges on it.
The entire universe teeters on the dependability of God. Every time you do anything, you are unconsciously trusting the integrity of God. When you sit on a chair, for instance, you are trusting that God wonít suddenly change the laws of physics and let you crash to the floor. Christian faith is taking the faith we all have in the Creatorís dependability and simply extending that faith to include what he has put in black and white. Bible faith is just taking God at his word. It is choosing to believe that Jesus was not a quack Ė that he really was from God and that what he said is therefore trustworthy. And since, Jesus taught the reliability of Scripture and that God would reveal further truth to the disciples (who wrote the New Testament), trusting Jesus leads to trusting the entire Bible.
If you have difficulty believing in Jesus, or the reliability of the Gospel accounts about him, there are many books that should set your mind at rest. I recommend Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Vol I by Josh McDowell. The critical point, however, is that Jesus and his word must be the foundation of your search for a relationship with God, not vague experiences.
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