On a recent vacation to Florida, I was struck by a sign posted just below the steps leading to the beach. The sign read, “What To Do When You Are Caught In A Riptide.”
And as I scanned over the sign, one word struck me: “When.” It’s almost as if the sign was saying, “Hang out in the ocean long enough and you will get caught in the current.”
As a Christian, this sign hit close to home. When it comes to the Christian life, seasons of drifting from God are inevitable. Should we drift from God? In a perfect world, no. But we don’t live in a perfect. We live in a broken one.
So, the goal is not necessarily to avoid drifting, the goal is to recognize the drift and get back to shore. In our journey with God through a broken world, we will drift. But we must recognize the drift and swim back to God.
And how do we recognize the drift? This is the million dollar question, right? Well, I don’t have a silver bullet answer, but there are some questions that might help identify and correct a drift. Call it a spiritual diagnostic check. Call it spiritual probing (that sounds painful). Call it taking a spiritual inventory.
Whatever you decide to call it, here are 9 questions to ask when God seems far away.
1.) Are there hidden sins in your life?
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them find mercy.Proverbs 28:13Don’t misunderstand me. I am not talking about sin that accompanies the reality of living in a broken world. God’s grace covers that. I am talking about hidden sins. You know, the ones no one knows about. The sins we have hidden from the world for years. God has awakened us to the reality of our sin, but we continue in it anyway.
Maybe it’s porn. Maybe it’s binge eating. Maybe it’s purposely sinking into more debt. Maybe it’s going too far with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Intentional, deliberate sin will cause separation and distance from God. Not because God is going somewhere. He never moves. But through intentional, deliberate choices to fulfill our own fleshly desires over the desires of God, we slowly pull away from God.
With all of that said, I can’t leave this point without relaying some good news. If we confess our sin and turn from it, God will forgive us. No conditions. No steps to follow. It’s gone.
2.) Are you spending quality time with God?
When I feel distant from God, this is the first place I turn to diagnose the problem. Most of us are familiar with relationships and how they work. If not, here’s rule #1 of healthy relationships: spend time together.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious. Why don’t you tell me something I don’t know?”
Maybe this point is obvious, but what is obvious isn’t always practiced. Intimacy with God doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work. It requires time and intentionality. And we get this with our earthly relationships.
But for some reason, we don’t always get this with God. We should, but we often don’t. A deep, intimate relationship with God doesn’t happen naturally. We must press into him. And in a world constantly demanding our time and attention, this is a challenging task.
Are you spending quality time with God?
3.) How much time are you spending with people who love Jesus?
Walking alone never works. As much as we want to be self-sufficient and independent, the truth is that we can’t find lasting satisfaction in ourselves.Chris HodgesIn 1 Peter 5:8, Satan is referred to as a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour. Scary. This picture is even more scary if we understand how lions hunt.
Here’s how lions do it. They target a weak animal and lure the weakling away from the group. Once the animal is isolated, the lion’s chances of securing lunch increase exponentially.
Now, drop this picture on the Christian community. See now what Satan wants to do? He knows God created us to be relational, so he tries to attack God’s design for community. When we fail to do life with other Christians, we will feel distant from God.
So, how much time are you spending with men and women who love Jesus? Are you surrounding yourself with people who share your love for God?
4.) Are you trying to earn God’s favor?
Paul says in Eph. 2:8 we are saved by grace through faith. In other words, we can’t do it. We can’t earn salvation. We can’t earn God’s favor. And, even though, many Christians know this, we often don’t live it out.
If we try to earn God’s favor or salvation, we will become exhausted and frustrated. It is impossible to draw close to God when we try to live up to his standard. It’s like chasing after the wind. We will never catch it. Please stop trying.
Rest in this truth: we work from our salvation, not for it. God loves us the same whether we tell that person in the restaurant about Jesus or not. He loves us the same whether we knock righteousness out of the park or not. God’s favor is on us. It always will be. God finds favor in us because of Jesus, not because of our works.
Are you resting in your salvation or trying to earn it?
5.) Do you have an entitlement relationship with God?
The message of Christianity is not that if we follow Christ, we will have a prosperous life, a bunch of awesome friends, or become CEO. The message of Christianity is if we follow Christ, we get God. If we follow Christ, we become children of God. Intimacy with the infinitely powerful, loving God is now ours.
And most Christians don’t make a decision to follow Christ thinking, “I hope God gives me a bunch of money and some cool friends.” But time changes things. If we aren’t intentional, our motivation for obedience will transition from intimacy with God to expecting earthly rewards God never promised us.
So, we need to ask some questions and truly wrestle with them. Do we resent God or other people because they have something we don’t? Do we believe our righteous behavior means God owes us something? Is deeper intimacy our motivation for obedience to God?
We are an entitled people. But once we strip away the American layer to Christianity, the only thing we are truly entitled to is death. Everything else is a gift from God. When God owes us because we are righteous, we will always feel distant from him. We have turned God from the Creator of the universe to our personal genie in a bottle.
6.) Are you sharing Jesus with those around you?
I am old enough to remember Mike Tyson’s glory years. That dude was sick. When you watched Mike Tyson, you didn’t bet on whether he would win or lose. You bet on how long it would take him to knock out his opponent. When dudes stepped into the ring with Tyson, they were overcome with fear. Like the same fear you had as a child when you knew dad was going to spank you for popping your sister in the head.
And too often Christians and the men Tyson met in the ring have the same posture. We make a decision to follow Christ, then we live every day in fear hoping our actions don’t force God to TKO us into hell.
But this is not God’s plan. Following Jesus isn’t about escaping hell, it is about surrendering our lives to him because wants to take us on an adventure. An adventure larger than ourselves. An adventure that is mysterious and risky.
What is this adventure? To tell the world about the hope and joy we have in Christ. But it’s hard to tell others about Christ when we are overcome with fear.
When we live to escape hell, we miss the daily invitation from God to play a role in the eternal plan of redemption. And consequently, we miss out on joy and intimacy with God.
When was the last time you shared Jesus with another person?
7.) Is anything happening in your life right now that can only be explained by God?
As humans, we should strive for self-awareness. But even the most self-aware people have blind spots. I was reminded of this recently when someone asked the question above at a conference. It reminded me that it is very possible to think I am walking with God when I am actually walking with myself and asking God to tag along if he chooses.
If there is not an area of life where we can look and say, “That is totally God working,” it could be an indication that our faith is actually not in God, but in ourselves. Faith in God begins at the end of faith in self.
If we are not actively seeking God and stepping outside of our comfort zone, we will feel distant from God. Mostly because when faith is in self, God must conform to our plans. God must do things and see life our way. God must tag along for our journey. And God doesn’t do tag alongs. He loves us too much to agree to let us take the wheel.
When was the last time you made a decision that required God showing up or you will fail?
8.) Are the people who know you the least affecting you the most?
As a blogger and pastor, I receive my fair share of criticism. And if I can be honest, those who know nothing about my life, my intentions, or my heart often impact my life more than those who know everything about me. And when those who know us the least affect me the most, we can be sure Satan is up to his tricks.
When we listen to the people who don’t know us, we will drift away from God. These voices are exhausting. They cloud God’s purpose. God created us to listen to his voice.
And here is what God wants us to know: We are loved. We are affirmed. He is for us. The people who love us the most will echo something similar. And there will be a time when we need to be corrected and rebuked. But the voices closest to us will let us know. Don’t listen to a voice that isn’t from God. We can’t allow someone who doesn’t know our heart to impact our heart.
9.) Are you turning to something other than God to fill you?
Is God the most important part of your life? “Of course, Frank. Nothing is more important to me than God.”
Most of us would respond this way, right? But let’s dig deeper. When we have a difficult week, where do we turn? When school has been stressful, what recharges our battery?
Maybe it’s just a night out with your friends. Maybe it’s just a couple of hours at the mall. Maybe it’s just a pill to relieve stress. None of these things is inherently wrong (assuming you have a presciption for the pills). But are we relying on these things to fill us instead of God? If so, we are relying on an empty well to give us living water.
Often when we feel distant from God it is because we are relying on things other than God to give us the things only God can provide.
If you are in a season where God seems far away, don’t lose heart. Do not give up. Ask the hard questions. And even when you feel his absence, trust his presence. He is never far from any of us (Acts 17:27).
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!