When you can’t feel God

Detecting God’s presence

When trying to measure time or weight or temperature or speed or any of a hundred other things, we make a huge leap forward whenever we stop trusting our feelings or intuition and start relying on instrumentation. For instance, trying to tell the time by using our feelings, such as how hungry or tired we feel, and our senses, such as how light it seems, is crudely inaccurate compared to using an objective measure of a clock. Likewise, guessing from circumstances or whether we feel guilty or happy or peaceful or excited or lucky, is a most unreliable way of gauging spiritual reality.

The more important a matter is, the more critical it is that we stop trusting our feelings or senses and start relying on an objective measure. What if an airline pilot ignored the plane’s instrumentation and decided to fly by his gut feeling? Spiritual matters are literally more important than life and death. All of eternity hinges on them. The stakes are far too high to dare rely on your feelings or circumstances to guess spiritual reality.

Sensations like ‘feeling’ the presence of God are so vague as to be virtually useless as a spiritual gauge. I don’t know if I’ve ever ‘felt’ God. And whether or not I have is of little consequence. To base one’s faith on such feelings would be a disaster for anyone. One’s faith must be in the integrity of God.

Do not rely on your own understanding, warns Scripture (Proverbs 3:5). There is a way that seems right but it leads to death, screams another verse (Proverbs 14:12). You need the precision of God’s Word. Each revelation of Scripture is like a dial in a pilot’s cockpit. Give more credence to your gut feeling than to one of them, and your spiritual life is on the line.

The Bible affirms that a prophet can speak in the name of God and his prophecies be supernaturally accurate and yet if his message does not align with Scripture, it is merely a test that must be utterly rejected (Deuteronomy 13:1-4). If the great apostle Paul, who worked miracles in name of Christ, proclaimed a gospel different to that recorded in Scripture, his words must be rejected. The same, he insisted, applied to a message from an angel (Galatians 1:8). Even the most anti-God force in all creation can appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

The Deceiver could possibly give you a false spiritual experience, but he cannot change the Bible. ‘Heaven and earth will pass away,’ said Jesus, ‘but my word will never pass away’ (Matthew 24:35).

God can give you feelings
God could instantly give you feelings but in the long run it wouldn’t help. Your faith must be in the bedrock of the Word of God, not the shifting sands of feelings. Emotions fluctuate wildly. God’s word is solid. And the only way anyone can be a solid Christian is to ignore feelings and hold on to that word.

It’s no use thinking, If God gave me some sort of sign or feeling it would strengthen my faith. You would be hoping to put your faith in the memory of the sign or feeling, rather than in the integrity of God. You are indicating that you regard what you see and feel are more dependable than Almighty God.

Handling doubt
It’s been rightly said, ‘Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.’

Rather than become over-worried about your doubts, look to what you do believe, and draw strength from God. You will make it, not because of anything within you, but because God is powerful. Forget any deficiency you sense within you, and remember instead the sufficiency of Christ.

When the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, he replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed . . .’ The implication is that what we need is not so much great faith, as a great God – and you’ve got One! Often our problem is that we wrongly think our faith to be so insignificant that we don’t bother using it. To achieve great things in God, simply use the faith you already have. Take your eyes off the supposed inadequacy in your faith, and fix them on the adequacy of your God. He is all you need.

When handed a million dollar check you can have many doubts and still end up rich. It doesn’t matter how much you suspect the check might bounce. It’s only if you doubt so much that you refuse to try to cash it that you could miss out.

A man came to Jesus saying, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.’ He got his miracle!

We cannot muster faith by ourselves. Jesus said even about himself, ‘I can of myself do nothing.’ How much more must that be true of us! So continually look to God to strengthen your faith.

That won’t stop the Evil One putting doubts into your mind. He’s been using that ploy ever since Adam and Eve, when he insinuated that God did not have their best interest at heart and that the True God was lying when he warned that eating the forbidden fruit would harm them. The Deceiver even tried putting doubts in Jesus’ mind. God had audibly said, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ Then along came Satan. ‘If you are the Son of God . . .’ he began two of his temptations. We must not let such accusations against God wander unchallenged through our minds. Reject the thoughts. Push the slimy intruders out of your mind. Displace them with the truths of God’s word. Hold out against the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). Entertain that old snake’s thoughts no more than you would let a viper repeatedly bite you.

No one has perfect faith. The Bible shows even the greatest people of faith wavering in their faith. You have faith – maybe not as strong as you would like, but you have it. And Jesus taught that as you use what you have, God will give you more. (Luke 16:10; Matthew 25:21)

If we had to become perfect (whether you define that as having absolute faith, giving up every sin, being absolutely sincere, or whatever) no one could ever be saved. If it were necessary for us to get our act perfectly together in order for us to be saved, it would mean God is so pathetic that he needs our help to save ourselves.

You are not asked to believe you are good or lovable or dependable. You just have to believe that God is good and lovable and dependable. Faith sufficient to receive God’s blessings is fully within your grasp.

So we come back to our million dollars example. All that the Deceiver can do is try convincing you that you are just as spiritually poor as you were before you asked forgiveness through Jesus. He’ll try putting thoughts and doubts into your mind to get you to throw away as worthless, God’s ‘million dollar check.’ He’ll try to say that God is not true to his word – that although the unchanging Lord promised spiritual riches to all who come to him through the sacrificial death of Jesus, it’s a lie. The Evil One might be more subtle and try to persuade you that you are not calling God a liar, you simply think you are not good enough. But this is just his trickery because God guarantees that whoever (no exceptions) asks forgiveness through Jesus will be forgiven and inherit all of God’s riches. (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:15-16; Romans 5:10; 8:32; 1 John 4:10 etc) Either that includes you, or God is a liar.

Easier for some?
Some people have a bigger struggle in receiving assurance of God’s favor upon them and yet these are the very people who usually end up receiving a bigger than normal blessing. I guess you have heard of John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most published books of all time. John Bunyan’s spiritual torment was horrific. For years this poor man lived in inconsolable agony, convinced he was going to hell and he could find no way out of his spiritual dilemma. With a severity that few of us could even conceive, year after year he was repeatedly overwhelmed by sin, hopelessness and the seemingly certain prospect of an eternity in Hell. Not only did he finally get all he had been yearning for, it was largely this experience that formed the book that has touched and brought spiritual help to multiplied millions. No wonder Pilgrim’s Progress is such an outstandingly powerful book, impacting people over the centuries and around the world in a phenomenal way. Much of it was virtually autobiographical.

Great men like George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley also suffered enormously in their struggle to find salvation. Whitefield’s spiritual need was so all-consuming that his fastings almost killed him. John and Charles were inconsolable until at long last they found salvation. Spurgeon suffered so greatly in his quest for salvation that he wrote, ‘I had rather pass through seven years of the most languishing sickness, than I would ever again pass the terrible discovery of the evil of sin.’ Not surprisingly, their subsequent ministries eclipsed that of almost all Christians who have been spared such anguish of soul.

So I believe the greater your present struggle, the more likely it is that you are headed for an exceptional spiritual adventure.

Should you believe your senses?

# A scientist says earth hurls through space at great speed; to you it seems motionless.

# A doctor says a mark on your body is cancer; to you it feels harmless.

# An electrician says a wire is dangerously live; to you it looks dead.

# A mechanic says your car needs oil immediately; you don’t think it’s necessary.

# A soldier says an area is sown with land-mines; you can’t see any.

Who should you believe: your senses, or the expert?

# Jesus says ‘if anyone loves me . . . my Father will love him and we will make our home with him’ (John 14:23); you feel empty.

# God says how often I would have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37); you feel God is unfeeling.

# God says nothing can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39); you feel something going wrong proves God no longer loves you.

# God says rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4); you feel there’s nothing to rejoice in.

# God says be not surprised at the painful trial you are suffering (1 Peter 4:12), we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22); you feel surprised.

# God says, he was bruised and wounded for you (Isaiah 53:5); you wonder if he loves you.

# God says your sins will be wiped out (Acts 3:9) and he will remember them no more (Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12); you feel he is holding the past against you. (More such statements)

Who do you believe: your senses, or the Expert?

If your spiritual enemy knows you will be thrown by what happens to you, he can twist you around his little finger just by giving you a hard time. You are inviting him to attack because he knows it will keep you from trusting the Lord, who alone can defeat Satan.

For as long as you look to feelings and circumstances to verify spiritual truth, you will be a weak Christian. But you can be a powerful spiritual conqueror by stubbornly clinging to the fact that the God who cannot lie is steadfastly devoted to you. Refuse to entertain any other thought. By having that resolve you have defeated the devil. He knows it doesn’t matter what he hits you with, you will cling to God, your strength, so he has less incentive to bother.

Faith – believing in the integrity of God despite what things seem – is the basis of the entire Christian life.

Some people’s ‘greater’ faith might only be an illusion produced by them having had an easier life than mine. Nevertheless, I am sick of being immobilized by excuses. I don’t care how impossible things look, how many failures I have experienced, how spiritually dead I feel, how much the Lord appears to overlook me: God is still the God of the Bible. His Word affirms he is my God and he loves me, regardless of how abandoned, unloved and insignificant my wild imagination paints me as being. That makes spiritual success inevitable. All I need do is stop wallowing in doubt long enough to receive my rightful inheritance.

So often God seems to deliberately overlook me. So often the Bible seems as dry as dust. So often I feel as if I have nothing to live for. My emotional pain seems endless. God constantly seems to favor others over me. But nothing – nothing – can change the constancy of the incomprehensible enormity of God’s love. Nothing can made God break his word.

Suppose it were rumored that your marriage partner is being unfaithful. There are three things you need to know for peace of mind. Does your partner insist he or she loves you faithfully? Is your partner honest? Does he or she know what genuine love is? Once you are certain of these three things, you can dismiss all evidence to the contrary and believe in your partner’s love. God in his Word has declared his undying love for you. He’s put it in black and white for the whole world to see. Is God honest? Does he know what real love is? Then you can put aside any suggestions to the contrary and rest in his love.

If salvation were by works we might have to hobble 100 miles on our knees, or some such thing, as certain misguided Indians do. To go even one mile on our knees, we would have to resist the pain and slog on with sheer determination, step after step after excruciating step. But since salvation is by faith, we should prayerfully look to Jesus and pour that degree of grit into ignoring agonizing doubts and press on relentlessly, month after month, year after year in sheer faith that God keeps his word. We long for some sort of sign or confirmation that God keeps his word. In his grace the Lord might one day give us confirmation in addition to his promise, but to refuse to believe without it is the height of impertinence because it means we think God could lie. Anyone with such a low view of God has no right to expect anything from God.

We march forward not by signs or warm fuzzies but by faith; stubbornly holding on to scriptural truth even when everything within us screams against it. That’s the path to spiritual honor. 

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