As a pastor, one of the things people share with me most often is that they don’t feel as close to God as they’d like to. Or, as they used to.
They ‘know’ he’s committed to them, that he loves them. But sensing that on a practical, experiential level can be pretty rare.
And to be honest with you, I feel the same way most of the time. Many of my devotional times come and go without a clear experience of God’s presence. I don’t receive a lot of clear, unmistakeable answers to prayer.
I bet you can identify.
So what – if anything – can we do when God feels distant and far away?
Small, But Real Beginnings
Truth is, that question can’t be fully answered in a blog post. And maybe even in a book.
But we can make a beginning, so let’s attempt something more modest from Psalm 6, one of David’s prayers. Scripture has a lot more to say about this question in other places, but it’s amazing how much we can learn from this short psalm.
Frustrating – Yet Encouraging – Complexity
Before we dive in, I’d like to mention that there’s no secret formula for this.
It’s much more complex than that. For one thing, God isn’t a formula or vending machine. And sometimes, we can do everything (well, most things) right and God still feels far away.
But this complexity is also encouraging. While it’s not so cause-and-effect, there are a bunch of things Scripture says that generally, if we’ll do them, should help us experience a closer relationship with the Lord. If we’ll make small, consistent efforts in their direction, over time we will experience more intimacy with God.
What We Can Do When God Feels Far Away
So, here we go. Five ways we can move toward God from Psalm 6. I’ll cover the first three today, and share the other two early next week. (#4 is my favorite, actually.)
#1 Pursue honest, humble conversation with God.
This one is so obvious we can almost miss it. Even though David’s life is a train-wreck (see verses 2-3, 6-7), he’s talking to God about it with real honesty. ‘I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping’ (verse 6).
Honestly, when things go badly for me, I tend to rehearse whatever’s wrong throughout the day. And it’s often more complaining than prayer.
David lets God know exactly how he’s feeling, but he also does it with humility, remembering that God is still the sovereign and great ‘LORD’ (used 5 times in the psalm).
#2 Confess any sin you’re aware of.
‘O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. 2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing’ (1-2). David doesn’t explicitly confess his sins here like he does in other psalms, but it’s implied as he asks God to withhold his discipline, and, give David his grace.
It’s important to say that going through hard times doesn’t – at all – mean we’ve necessarily done something wrong. But, trials could be a sign of God’s loving discipline, so it’s worth seeing if God may be leading us to repentance.
For example, over the past few months my youngest son has been waking up an hour and a half earlier than he used to. It’s been challenging because that’s the time I usually write and have my devotions.
After praying and talking to others about it, I’m pretty sure – at least in part – God is trying to show me how controlling I can be, and, that I find my identity in how much I accomplish. There are probably other reasons he’s waking up early that have nothing to do with me, but I’m trying to ask God to use this little challenge to help me grow.
#3 Ask for what you want.
David isn’t shy about what he wants: freedom from God’s angry rebuke and discipline (1), his grace (2), and deliverance from the challenging circumstances (4).
We ‘know’ that we can ask God for what we want, but sometimes we ‘do not have, because [we] do not ask’ (James 4:2). God delights to give us good things!
I realize that these are likely not new ideas for you. But so many times we don’t do the basic things that will help us when we feel far from God.
The good news is that we don’t have to (and can’t, anyway) get this exactly right. But if we’ll engage God with honesty and humility, confess sin we’re aware of, and keep asking for what we want, God is going to honor that, even if our circumstances don’t change.
Question: On a scale of 1-10, how close do you feel to God right now? Which one of the ideas above would most help you move toward him, and, when will you take it?