Growing up having attended numerous Christian conferences, retreats and the like, I’ve heard the following phrases repeatedly by many of my Christian brothers and sisters:
“I feel so close to God.”
“My relationship with God is really strong right now.”
“I can definitely feel the Holy Spirit at work in my life.”
These expressions can also commonly be heard from recent born-again Christians who are newly on fire for God or right after someone has experienced some divine encounter, such as a miraculous healing.
It’s so easy for Christians to get fired up for God when we are surrounded by other Christians or when things are going well. Emotions run high. We really feel God’s presence. However, once we leave that place and return to our regular lives filled with distractions and responsibilities or circumstances begin to take a turn for the worse, quality time with God tends to get put on the back burner.
Thus, the above expressions are often followed by one or more of the following several weeks later:
“I feel so spiritually dry right now.”
“Why can’t I hear God’s voice?”
“I’m unable to feel God’s presence in my life.”
The problem with so many Christians is that when this so-called spiritual high begins to wane, we immediately go back to doing the exact same things we did prior to that “feeling” we had. We prioritize our books over our Bible, we would rather connect to the Internet than connect to God, and we become too “lazy,” too “tired” or too “busy” that we run out of time for quiet time. As a result, that spiritual high you couldn’t stop talking about just a few weeks ago gradually starts to dissipate only to regain strength at the next retreat. This is what happens when we base our relationship with Jesus on our emotions.
Ephesians 2:8 reminds us that our salvation comes through faith, not feelings. Feelings are inconsistent. They’re unreliable. They are generated from the heart and the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). We can’t base our relationship with God on some wavering feeling or connection. God isn’t some cheap Wifi hotspot whose signal we mysteriously lose from time to time.
Instead of always waiting for that next spiritual high or mountain-top experience, maybe we ought to experience God more regularly in our everyday lives. How do we do that? Discipline. It’s no coincidence that discipline and disciple have the same root. When we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour we are to become His disciples. A disciple is a follower of Christ and to have discipline means to possess the self-control needed to obey Him. Rather than trying to keep up our spiritual high, we need to keep up with the basic fundamentals of connecting with God: reading our Bibles and praying. Both require discipline.
People who have lost vast amounts of weight will be the first to tell you the hardships of remaining disciplined. When it comes to working out, the difficult part isn’t losing weight. The real challenge is keeping that weight off. Just because you’ve achieved your desired body type doesn’t mean you can stop working out and expect your body to remain that way forever. You have to keep working just as hard to maintain it.
Sure, there will be days where we feel tired or not in tune with God. In our walk, sometimes God will be very audible. And sometimes, He might be quiet. But just because God is silent, it doesn’t mean that He isn’t present. What’s more, we need to remember that it is when we are particularly strong in our faith that Satan will attack the most. Jesus was tempted for 40 days immediately after being baptized. That’s why it’s important to stay disciplined; so that even in times of trial, we remain in Him.
Jay-Z once said the following about being successful: “You can want success all you want, but to get it, you can’t falter. You can’t slip. You can’t sleep. One eye open, for real, and forever.” In other words, we need to keep up the momentum.
For instance, say you are writing a book. Some days you might feel that the ideas just aren’t coming to you or that you need a break after weeks of writing non-stop. But taking a day off could easily lead to two days off, then a week and the next thing you know it’s been months since you’ve added anything to your story. True writers write even when they don’t feel like it. It could be as little as one additional word. The point is you are continuing to make progress. Similarly, reading the Bible—even just one verse—and praying even when we aren’t “feeling it” is imperative if we want to continue growing in our relationship with God. It’s not a way we gain God’s favor or love—we already have that through what Jesus has done for us—but it’s a way we keep a strong relationship with Him.
Prayer is to the spiritual life what breathing is to the physical life. When we pray, God’s Spirit begins to work in us. The word spirit comes from the Latin word “spiritus,” which literally means “breath.” Prayer is the breath of our spiritual life.
Likewise, reading our Bibles shouldn’t be something that we do only when we have time. It should be something we do regularly because we have to if we want to keep our spiritual life in good health. It’s not an option; it’s a necessity.
Rather than treating great spiritual encounters like a drug whose effects will wear off in time, we need to keep reminding ourselves that being a Christian isn’t always going to be easy. Following Jesus requires discipline, dedication and most of all, faith. But we can relax knowing that God doesn’t change no matter how much our feelings do.