I’m going to be honest. Sometimes I don’t feel like praying, reading my Bible or going to church to be around other Christians. I’ll be even more honest and say this: sometimes when I’ve felt like that I’ve just not bothered.
I don’t think this is just me – I imagine it’s a fairly universal Christian experience. Often we don’t feel God’s presence, and we don’t have much motivation to actively pursue our faith, even if we’ve known the power of those things before. We stop pursuing God, and we continue to feel far from Him. We feel ourselves in a rut. What to do when we’re not sure if we can be bothered?
It was the guest post on my blog a few days ago that has got me thinking about these things. I found my friend James’s words very powerful, so if you haven’t read it check it out before I carry on.
My advice: do it anyway
What to do, then? There are of course times when we feel totally on fire, captivated by God, inspired by who He is. There are times when we do not just know He is present because we are told He is in Scripture but because we can feel His presence palpably. He is in the atmosphere, in our coming and going, our every breath, every moment, every thought.
But there are also times when it’s not like that. We feel nothing. It seems irrelevant. In those times, what to do?
My advice is simple, but not easy. This advice is as much for me as it is for anyone else. This is it:
Do it anyway.
What’s ‘it’? ‘It’ is any of the countless ways God has given us to seek Him. Opening up His word where He reveals Himself even if the words seem lifeless. Sitting before Him in prayer even if it feels like we’re all alone talking to a brick wall. Being part of a community of Christians, gathering together in His name even if it feels like a formality. Singing to Him in worship even if the lyrics seem trite and the tune leaves us cold. This is just the tip of the ice berg. There are all sorts of acts of devotion and worship He has given us: fasting, giving, silence, pilgrimage – the list goes on.
Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?
I said it isn’t easy, and for me this can be the biggest internal barrier: it feels like hypocrisy. God seems pretty clear that while He likes our acts of worship He isn’t interested in them so much as He is interested in our hearts (e.g. Psalm 51:16-17). Surely to just ‘go through the motions’ is the height of hypocrisy.
I don’t think it is.
Collectively, all these activities we’re talking about are called ‘spiritual disciplines’. Discipline isn’t about our feelings, whether we’re really into something in that moment or not. We do them because we do them, but because we do them there can be great benefit.
If I cannot in all honesty marshall my emotions to give God joyful praise, I am still able as an act of will to give myself to Him, to place myself before Him. I should not be driven by what I feel. Devotion, worship, faith – these are things of our will before they are things we feel. It’s not hypocrisy to honestly give God our wills. It would be to pretend we feel something we don’t.
The truth is we don’t want to remain distant and detached in our faith. The very fact that in those times of feeling disconnected it feels bad shows a desire for close relationship with God. Part of the reason for these disciplines is just that.
Richard Foster, who wrote a fantastic book on spiritual disciplines (The Celebration of Discipline), puts it like this:
God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.
A relationship with God – like any other – requires attention. When human relationships become distant or difficult, there are two choices. Feel hopeless and let it become more distant, or work at it and build back the intimacy we want.
These holy habits are gifts given to us so that we can present ourselves before God exactly as we are, putting ourselves in a place where He might work in us, change us, speak to us. He won’t force that on us anymore than we can force ourselves to feel anything.
But we can steadily, daily place ourselves at His feet and simply say ‘I’m here’. Once we open the door, and keep it open, things can change.