Why is it that the closer I get to God, the farther away He feels?
Ask any saint in the history of Christianity and they’ll tell you: God sometimes seems distant. A season of plenty is followed by a season of spiritual drought. We wonder what we’re doing wrong. Sometimes God is distant. Before we get into why that might be, it’s important to make sure some of the basics practices are in place. These are the questions I ask myself when I’m sensing some distance:
Am I forcing daily sacred space into my routine?
Time for prayer and bible intake does have to be forced into our daily schedules. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, sometime during lunch, or at the end of the day, it needs to be made official on our schedules. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve stumbled across extra time in the day and thought “well, I think I’ll spend the next prayerful hour studying Lamentations” (and I’m a pastor.) God speaks through His Word and prayer.
Am I on this journey alone?
While I need daily private time where it’s just me and the Lord, I also need to be encouraged and prodded along by others who are trying to draw closer, too. Private devotion without communal fellowship is incomplete, like only reading every other word in a novel. God speaks through others.
Am I keeping sin in my heart?
I’m naturally good at sinning, which means I’m also good at sin management. But God, who is supernatural, calls me to be holy. As you can guess, this means I need to be honest with Him and confess every sin so that there’s no separation. Besides… He already knows about it.
If you can answer a hearty “All Good!” to the above and it still feels like something is missing, read on. Let’s ask some deeper questions:
Am I holding a hoop for God to jump through?
Who’s calling the shots, anyway? While God is gracious to us and patient with us (especially me), He’s still God and we’re not. When we ask Him to do something, we may get a yes, a maybe, or a no dice. The risk of discipleship is letting the Lord have full control. Not easy. Still, we ask God for the desires of our hearts, followed by the declaration of Jesus before His crucifixion: not my will but yours be done.
Have I settled?
We can grow so accustomed to a routine that we mentally check out. I do this while I exercise and have caught myself doing the same in prayer. It’s one thing to run on a treadmill while thinking about, say, graph paper… but a whole different story if we’re going through the motions of being in God’s presence without being fully engaged with Him in that moment.
Am I asking for all of God in exchange for most of me?
Pastor and author Bill Hybels writes Ninety-five percent commitment to Christ is five percent short. So true. Instead of pushing God through my day, I need to have Him pull me through it. Instead of asking for help in a few areas, I need to seek His help in being attuned to His will. For me, this is the hardest part of following Jesus.
Abraham Kuyper wrote To be “near” is to be so close to God that your eye sees, your heart is aware of, and your ear hears him, and every curse of separation has been removed…
Could it be that His distance from us is actually a gift that prompts us to go deeper? Peter felt distant from Jesus until he got out of the boat and walked on water. I get busy looking for God’s presence and forget that He’s often calling me to His presence, which is out there… deeper… farther… and much, much better.
Whether we have a tangible spiritual experience or not, the important thing is to keep at it. God works in ways that are beyond our comprehension and sensibilities. To trust, to obey, to, as Brother Lawrence wrote, practice the presence of God. He’s there, speaking in the silence. But it’s not an empty silence… it’s a holy silence.
Press on in the holy silence and be more like Jesus on the other side.