I wrote this article for our church newsletter, but I thought it would be a valuable thought for you as well. May it be of help and encouragement to you.
“I really felt close to God at the winter retreat,” he said. “But now I’m struggling,” he continued, “because I don’t feel Him anymore. I’m trying, but it’s just so different. Why can’t I feel God like I used to?”
These were the words that a young man spoke to me as we were sitting in my favorite pizzeria enjoying our slices. His words were not unfamiliar to me. I hear them from students on a regular basis. I hear them from adults during altar ministry on Sunday mornings. There is something inside of us that longs to feel God.
As I write this it is Monday morning. Like most of you, Monday mornings are not my favorite time of the week. When the alarm goes off I instantly go for the Snooze button. That’s why I set my alarm two hours before I really need to be up. I do this so I can snooze away and trick myself into believing that I got some extra sleep. Some days I feel like getting up and going to work; some days I don’t. But I get up and go to work.
I have an amazing wife. We have been married for twelve years, and we have a wonderful relationship. Most days we make each other laugh and enjoy one another’s company. However, at the risk of shocking some of you and shattering your stereotype of a pastor, I’ll be real and say … Sometimes I feel like being married; sometimes I don’t. But I stay married.
I have a relationship with Jesus. Part of any significant relationship is spending time together. That’s why a regular, personal time with the Lord is important. I’ll confess that sometimes I feel like I get something out of my quiet time; sometimes I don’t. Also, as I am sure you can identify, in the business of life there are plenty of other things fighting for my time. Some days I feel like having a quiet time with the Lord; some days I don’t. But I have a regular quiet time with the Lord anyways.
Here’s the point: If I lived my life based on my feelings, I would live on an emotional roller coaster. I would probably be unemployed, divorced, and living distant from God. However, I go to work every day, I stay faithfully committed to my wife, and I continue to spend time with God, not because I always feel like it, but because of a greater purpose.
The truth is that many of us treat Jesus like a drug. We get our Jesus-fix by attending weekly services, going on retreats, participating in church events, possibly going on missions trips, etc. and we are filled with great feelings when we do these things. But after a while the feelings wear off, and we live depressed, disillusioned lives. So what’s our solution? We go looking for another fix, of course. Our entire spiritual life is up and down, on and off. There is no consistency, and we often grow frustrated, and sometimes people just simply quit. Why is this? I believe it’s because the life Jesus invites us to includes our feelings, but is not to be based on our feelings.
Feelings are not inherently wrong. In fact, they’re quite good. God created us in His image. He feels, and He made us with the ability to feel. I enjoy the feelings I get when I am on a missions trip serving Jesus. I enjoy the feelings I get when I am singing and dancing before my God. Like you, I long for that sense of closeness. However, I have learned that I cannot measure closeness by my feelings alone, because my feelings are terribly inconsistent – they come and go, and they change based on circumstance. Yet God is consistent – He does not change, and He is always present. So what we are actually referring to when we speak of “feeling” God is our ability to perceive His presence. Understanding the place of feelings in our spiritual lives is very important. We need to acknowledge our feelings, but our feelings cannot rule our lives. Feelings are a part of us, but they cannot be the foundation upon which we build our lives.
When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane He said to His disciples, “My soul is sorrowful” (Mark 14:34). He then prayed, “Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Here we see Jesus, the Son of God, authentically acknowledging his feelings. He doesn’t feel like doing what His Father is asking Him to do. He doesn’t feel drinking the cup of death. He doesn’t feel like going to the cross and dying. Yet He moves forward anyway. What caused Him to keep moving obediently toward death? It was not His feelings! It was His faith in the Father, and His commitment to the purpose of God.
Jesus invites us to follow Him down this path. He says, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses His life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). The cross is not something very attractive to our feelings. It is contrary to everything we want to do. The cross means death. It means dying – surrendering our dreams, desires, and plans. I don’t feel like dying. But Jesus invites me, and He invites you, to come and die that we might discover true and everlasting life. The thing that enables us to respond to the invitation of Christ is not our feelings; it is our conviction and commitment to the purposes of God. We are called to be followers of Jesus. Sometimes we will want to follow Him, sometimes we won’t. But we must keep following.
I constantly challenge our students, and today I challenge you, to live your life for a greater purpose than feelings. If you have built your relationship with the Lord on feelings, you have built your spiritual home on shifting sands. Feelings come and go, but faith must remain consistent. My grandfather used to tell me that it’s not how high you jump; it’s how straight you walk when you land. He wasn’t negating the jumping. Rather, he was emphasizing the more important thing – the walking. The steps we take when we don’t feel God are the true test of the moments when we do feel Him.
Faith says: When I don’t see God, I will keep walking. When I don’t hear God, I will hold fast. When I don’t feel God, I will continue to live for Him.
Sometimes you will feel God, sometimes you will not. But like David you must say, “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). Choose to live for Jesus because of conviction not because of circumstances – by faith, not by feelings.
Received this today. Thought it was quite funny. My wife laughed hysterically.
Men Are Just Happier People– What do you expect from such simple creatures? Your last name stays put. The garage is all yours. Wedding plans take care of themselves. Chocolate is just another snack. You can be President. You can never be pregnant. You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park. You can wear NO shirt to a water park. Car mechanics tell you the truth. The world is your urinal. You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky. You don’t have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt. Same work, more pay. Wrinkles add character. Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental $100. People never stare at your chest when you’re talking to them. New shoes don’t cut, blister, or mangle your feet. One mood all the time.Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat. You know stuff about tanks. A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. You can open all your own jars. You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness. If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack. Three pairs of shoes are more than enough. You almost never have strap problems in public. You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes. Everything on your face stays its original color. The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.You only have to shave your face and neck. You can play with toys all your life. One wallet and one pair of shoes– one color for all seasons. You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look. You can “do” your nails with a pocket knife. You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache.You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25minutes.No wonder men are happier.
Just finished watching the movie Bella starring Eduardo Verastegui. It’s a tremendous drama that addresses issues such as true love, kindness, the importance of family, the value of life, abortion, and adoption. Eduardo Verastegui is a great actor from Mexico and a devoted Christ-follower. We had the privilege of hearing his testimony and his vision to produce movies that help to transform culture at Battle Cry in Virginia in 2007. Wonderful movie with many great clips that could be used in messages. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements. Highly recommended!