I hear a lot of people talk about feeling spiritually dry and distant from God. We do a lot of Christian-y things but they don’t necessarily produce a fruitful relationship with our Creator.
We know we “should” feel close to Him. We know in Him there is love, peace, joy and goodness, but get frustrated on how to actually experience that on a regular basis.
We know we need to abide in God (as John 15 says), because without Him we can do nothing and we can’t bear fruit.
But how do we do that? How do we abide in Him?
First, you should know that you are not the only believer that has felt this kind of distance and spiritual dryness.
St. John of the Cross called this the “dark night of the soul”. Even Jesus felt forsaken by God on the cross. If they can feel an intense distance from God, so can we.
I’ve been there (and still am there sometimes). But through trial and error, and some study, I feel I can share a few insights that might help you reignite your relationship with God.
How to pray
If you’re anything like me, you feel like you don’t have enough training, so to speak, on how to pray. We think it has to look a certain way or have a particular method.
For sure, there are many methods of prayer – the prayer of examen, mindfulness, contemplative/centering prayer, prayer of the heart, and many more I probably don’t know about.
The core method of Christian spirituality is contemplative prayer. But don’t worry, the method of contemplative prayer is incredibly simple. You probably have already done it before.
St. Theresa of Avila explained it best:
“Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. Contemplative prayer seeks him ‘whom my soul loves’. It is Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him. Our attention is fixed on the Lord himself.”
Put more simply, to know God we must seek God above all else.
At first glance (at least this is what I thought), this seems too simplistic. To know and have a relationship with God, we must simply seek Him. Mind blown! 😑
But the simplicity of prayer is confirmed by scripture:
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.—Jeremiah 29:13
So if having a relationship with God is so simple, why is it still so hard for us sometimes?
There are a few ingredients we usually miss. I believe they are:
Silence and solitude
If we must simply seek God in order to know God, we can’t seek Him as effectively when seeking busyness instead.
According to Pete Scazzero, “Silence is the practice of quieting every inner and outer voice to attend to God.”
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”—Psalm 37:7
And how often in scripture do we find Jesus going away to a mountain to pray for large chunks of time?
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.—Luke 6:12
How often do we do this? I wager for most of us—not very.
But it’s ok, it happens! Especially in the world we live in, it’s so easy to just be busy and not actually take a break to properly seek God.
So now that we know the problem, how do we solve the problem?
Build solitude into your daily or weekly routine. All this takes is sitting down for a bit, and giving some conscious thought to your schedule.
What do your days and weeks usually look like? Where is some time you can schedule into your routine for spending time with God – mornings, evenings, lunch hours, weekends?
For many of us, Sundays are great days for a sabbath. Why not actually stick to a sabbath and spend time with God on Sundays? Yes, you will have to say “no” to other things, but isn’t that worth it?
I’m currently writing this on a Saturday. I love Saturdays for spending time with God. It just works for me.
But I did have to tell my wife that I need to spend a couple hours on Saturdays with God – praying, writing and studying. You might have to tell your friends and family that you can’t spend time with them for a specific time every week. Just make sure you carve out quality time for them, too. Or spend time with God together.
Besides scheduling time into your routine to seek God, you can take an even smaller step: spend time with God throughout the day.
When you’re working, seek Him.
When you’re eating, seek Him.
When you’re driving, listen to worship music and seek Him.
We need Him constantly, so why not seek Him constantly?
Having high thoughts of God
“Living becomes an awesome business when you realize that you spend every moment of your life in the sight and company of an omniscient, omnipresent Creator.”—J.I. Packer
And again, Packer:
“Not till we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty, acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours.”
If we don’t believe that God is infinitely holy, powerful, loving, good, full of peace, faithful and omnipresent, we are going to have a harder time trusting Him more than our worries and sin.
When we know He is full of infinite love, joy and peace, it is much easier to want to seek Him more than anything else.
Humility towards God
Connected to having high thoughts of God, is having humble thoughts of ourselves toward God. Both ingredients are critical.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”—James 4:10
“Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all.”― Andrew Murray
“The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us.”—A.W. Tozer
Pride prevents us from fully surrendering to Him. We think if we let go of our worries, anxieties and preoccupations that we will lose control over them, that they won’t be properly dealt with.
But in so doing, we assume that we are more powerful than Him.
I daresay that most of the time, we will not have a profound experience with God in one sitting after being distant from Him. It takes time, patience and repetition. It might take a few hours. It might take days or weeks.
But I promise, God will show up if we continue to seek Him.
The Result: Enjoying God
“For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him.”—Colossians 2:9-10
When we have surrendered everything and seek Him instead, the fruits of that relationship become…sublime.
I’ll let a few wise seekers describe it:
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”—Brother Lawrence
“Now that I no longer desire all, I have it all without desire.”―St. John of the Cross
“The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One.”—A.W. Tozer
Love is All You Need
In researching this essay, I came across an interesting pattern among Christian thinkers: The concept of prayer being a simple relationship between lovers.
“True, whole prayer is nothing but love.”—St. Augustine
“Real prayer comes not from gritting our teeth but from falling in love.”—Richard Foster
“A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.”—Thomas a Kempis
At first, this seemed a little weird to me. I don’t want to consider God and me being lovers.
But truly, the more we experience God, the more we absolutely and utterly fall head-over-heels in love with the giver of all good things.
The cool part of this is—it gets easier over time. When you’re distant and anxious and in sin, it’s harder for us to transcend all of that and choose God instead.
But when you make a regular habit of loving and receiving love from Love Itself, it becomes almost effortless.
In closing, here’s some good probing question to ask yourself about your relationship with God:
- Do you feel like you know God or just know things about Him?
- Do you depend on Him to do life, or yourself?
- Do you realize your inadequacy without Him?
- What can God break off in you?
- How can you pursue God in the quiet without distraction?
- What distractions, worries, anxieties, and fears do you need to transcend, and latch onto God instead?
Such questions will help you shed anything that might be holding you back, and be filled by the “fullness of God’s nature” instead.
Thoughts? How have you struggled in your relationship with God, or how have you gained victory in this area?