Years ago, I went through a period of severe depression after I started my graduate program. I was deeply lonely in a new city. God felt far away.
I sobbed at not even being able to feel God, but I reminded myself He was there and kept communing with Him with all my heart. After many months of daily seeking, I started to feel His gentle presence often.
At various times in the Christian walk, God can feel like a close friend, or like some vague figure in the distance.
Most of us will go through times at both ends of the spectrum. But especially if you’re feeling far from God, here are some strategies you can practice to help you build that sense of closeness to God:
Admit What You Think He’s Like (Deep Down)
This is a good strategy to do before any other. Look into your automatic beliefs about God, and let those come to the surface.
For example, you might have always seen God as a judge who is holding every sin against you; waiting for you to mess up. It’s important to admit what you really think about God, so that any lies don’t secretly affect your interactions with God under the surface. I encourage you to be honest about your views, as God knows them anyway, and then hold them under the light to examine if they’re true.
If you are the person in the above example, you can address those beliefs by meditating on Scripture verses about God’s grace—that He “does not treat us as our sins deserve.” Ask the Holy Spirit to help you and “lead you into (the) truth” that you need to receive.
Consider God’s Emotions Toward You
It’s difficult to feel truly close to someone who is more like an idea, an image or a “force.” In our natural life, we feel close to people we interact with—people who care for us and have emotions toward us. The Bible tells us God is our Father so we can identify with the closeness a child feels with his or her parent.
God isn’t indifferent toward us. He feels joy as He looks down on us (Zephaniah 3:17). He has compassion when He sees us struggle (Psalm 103:13). God also has tremendous understanding for our weaknesses as well as our shame. He feels righteous anger when we are hurt and treated unjustly.
God is not some statue we speak at when we pray. He is a living, breathing, feeling individual who identifies with us through the ups and downs of each day. When we consider that, He will begin to feel more like a close friend, and one we will want to share with.
Think About How Well He Knows You
Most of the time, our best friends are people who know us really well; maybe better than any other person. If we grasp and consider that God knows us that well—even better, in fact (Psalm 139)—we will naturally feel closer to Him. Nobody knows every bit of your past as God does. Nobody knows every thought in your head this week, or what’s going to happen years from now except God.
On top of that, God can see below the surface. We can walk around with a smile and even our closest friends may not know that underneath it we’re in pain. But God knows. And to make it even better, He gets it. He understands. Rather than being ready to condemn us, He’s ready to embrace us.
Review Your Past Experiences of Him
If I’m counseling a married couple, I might ask them to describe the beginning of their relationship and what it was like when they first met. These are often the good memories we so easily forget. Similarly, when God answers our prayers or shows up in unexpected ways, we may rejoice in the moment, but forget about it months or years down the road.
At times when God seems silent, we can become frustrated; forgetting that He is the same God who has acted before. The Israelites habitually recited stories of how God worked on their behalf. They passed the stories on through the generations so people wouldn’t forget about what God had done.
I like to review these experiences of God, to God. I may say, “God, do you remember when this happened? I was feeling so hopeless that day, and then I prayed to you, and a few days later, you did something amazing.” It’s not a guarantee that He will act in the same way, but, like friends reminiscing on their “inside jokes,” it will remind you of the depth of relationship you have with God.
Share Sorrows and Joys With Him First
The person we’re closest to is usually the one we run to first when something great happens or if we’re having a hard time. Likewise, the person we go to first to share anything important is someone we will end up feeling closest to. Our relationship with God is no exception. Even if you’re not feeling so close to Him, if you practice sharing with Him first, and you take out more focused time with Him, you may be surprised at how close you start to feel to Him.
Seek and You Will Find
Feeling close to God helps reassure us of the object of our faith. At the same time, we can’t always rely on our feelings. We will not always feel closeness to God even if we seek it. Sometimes, even when God feels far away, we need to rely on our knowledge that He is there.
At the same time, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with wanting to feel closer to Him. A desire to feel close to God shows He’s important to us.
If we want to feel God more, it requires our attention and effort. During my period of depression, it took months of continuing to pursue a relationship with God before I felt that He had always been with me. It’s almost like developing a sixth sense; one based in our Spirit. I felt moments of being united with Him; of being truly known and attended to by His tender heart. And when I was finally blessed with dear friends, I found myself still wanting to spend time alone with God.
When we truly seek, we will find. And any relationship we want to grow, any one we truly invest in, we can develop. Our relationship with God is certainly no exception. It is the highest, the deepest, the richest relationship we can experience on this Earth. And it’s worth the effort.