I’ve had several people in my church come to me recently at different times but with the same issue: “I feel like I’m just going through the motions, and when I pray or read my Bible nothing is there. I’m not sure anymore if I’m even a Christian.”
It’s those difficult moments where the God who has spoken and the God who is personal and near suddenly seems like the God who is so distant.
We’ve likely all experienced those times—those spiritual valleys where we feel as if we’re alone, and no amount of prayer seems to break the depression. So, of course, it becomes easy to question and to doubt. But it’s a time we need to be reminded of God’s great truth.
Part of our struggle comes from two simple words: “I feel.” It matters not whether you are the most passionate or stoic person around, we are all emotional beings daily influenced by the things we “feel.” And this is good. After all, we are made in the image of an emotional God, and therefore we are made to feel a variety of ways. Certainly, emotions are a part of our faith—we are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, that involves our reason, our emotions, and our actions.
But…just like everything else about us this side of eternity, our emotions are corrupted through the curse of sin. We do not always feel the way we should feel.
We do not always feel as if God is nearby.
Should this cause us to question our salvation or come to a conclusion that God is not near? By no means! Feelings are a part of our salvation, but our salvation is not based on feelings.
At the core of our salvation stands the finished work of Christ. We are saved because of what Jesus did—living a perfect life and willfully dying as a perfect sacrifice, becoming our sin and taking our place in God’s judgment. We receive such grace not by our deeds or feelings, but by faith, confessing with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believing in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.
Even when you are down, does your trust still look to Jesus?
When people come to me with this struggle, I give them the following counsel:
First, remember it is about what Jesus did. Hebrews 2, 9, and 10 are good chapters to read. God made Jesus like us to taste death for us that he might bring us to glory. He destroyed the power of death and delivered us from fear. He is the sacrifice, the mediator, and the high priest. He shed his blood to purify us that we might serve the living God. His single offering has perfected us before God, and therefore through Jesus we have confidence to enter in and draw near, to hold fast, and to encourage one another. And it is all because of Jesus.
Second, remember who you are in Christ—Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. Through faith you are no longer a child of flesh, but a child of the Spirit—a child of God. God placed his Spirit within you to cry out “Abba! Father!” and to bear witness that we are children and heirs. Though we suffer now, and cry out and groan, it is all a reminder that God is bringing us to a greater glory in Jesus. If you belong to Jesus, you are one who loves God and is loved by God, called according to his purpose. He foreknew you, predestined you to become conformed to the image of his Son, called you, justified you, and glorified you. And there is nothing that can separate us from his love: not tribulation, distress, famine, nakedness, angels, life, death, or anything in creation…including our feelings.
Finally, remember to obey is better than to sacrifice—1 Samuel 15:22. God knows our frames are but dust. He knows who we are and who he is shaping us to become. He knows there will be moments in our lives where we feel disconnected and distant. Through it all, he still calls us to obedience. People say, “I feel like I’m just going through the motions.” I say, “Good. That’s better than not obeying.” Feelings come and go. We have our dark valleys, we also have our glorious peaks and our green pastures. But through it all we are called to obey. And if we are to come out of these desert times it will not be separated from the word, prayer, and the fellowship of church.