I feel so great full for all the many blessings in my life. But I can’t seem to turn that gratitude into love for God. I love the life he’s given me. I see the beauty of his creation everywhere. I gave my life to Christ and was baptized but I don’t feel like a have a personal relationship with Christ or the Father, so it leaves me feeling like I’m not really saved. Because I feel like I know so much about Jesus, and everything I read I love but when I pray it just feels really empty like no one is listening. Our family moved to Ecuador to help with the refugee crisis here because my husband felt like God was calling us here so we came. I’m just so confused, I want a relationship with God so badly yet feel like I simply don’t have one. How can I fix this? What am I doing wrong?
@Ren, thank you for sharing your personal struggle that I think all of us go through as Christians. First of all, just want to praise God for your obedience to God’s will even when you were not experiencing the feelings. Your obedience is the proof of the relationship you already have with Jesus. Jesus says in John 14:15 those who love me obey my commands.
I think we should be careful to not let our feelings and thoughts dictate the truth of our relationship with Jesus but continue to trust the truth that we know and slowly the right feelings will follow. While love is often accompanied by feelings, it is mainly a decision to do the right thing even when we dont feel like it. As per 2 Cor 10:5 , We can destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. I have found this verse extremely helpful to intentionally cast away doubts that I experienced about my love for God or God’s love for me by choosing to meditate on verses about God’s promises of love.
Prayer can feel difficult when we are questioning our relationship with God. One thing that has helped me is to pray the Psalms or the Lord’s prayer and contextualize it to my situation and paraphrase it. I try to give special attention to forgiving others as part of the Lord’s prayer. Just meditating on the promises of God as a Father, as our guide, our counselor, our comforter and other attributes has also been very refreshing. Sometimes just praising God in prayer with absolutely no requests, remembering the times I had sensed His providence and remembering the cost of the cross has also awakened me to my needless doubts and filled my heart with joy.
God is like the Father waiting to embrace us as in the story of the prodigal son. There is nothing we need to fix. Even though we may feel our prayers are monologues, I have seen in my own life how God comes to our protection through a word from a friend or the Bible when we need it the most.
Here is an article on What can I do when I dont feel any love for God?.
May you be encouraged that God is not far from you and may the desires of your heart be fulfilled.
Hey there, sister! I thank you and I hear you. Your question is timely for so many. If I could, I’d like to add this:
First, what @Lakshmismehta said was true. Feelings are decent “affirmers” but lousy truth indicators. We shouldn’t let our feelings determine what the truth is cuz our feelings can often mislead us. How many of us have “felt”…SINCERELY that he/she was the one!? Let’s not all raise our hands at once. That’s the first thing.
Second, I would ask you how would you get to know any other person who you desired a relationship with? In your profile pic, I see a picture of who’d I assume to be someone you hold dear (read: love). How did that happen? See here’s the truth: the fact that Jesus said that we could call God – the Master and Creator of everything – FATHER means that we can have relationship with Him.(Matt. 6:9) ‘Father’ connotates relationship. It assumes our son and daughtership. And as with any relationship, it’s really hard to love someone - or similarly, trust someone who you don’t know. Yes, I can choose to reflect the love God has for me toward someone and therefore communicate the love of Christ without necessarily knowing them. But God desires us to know Him. General love isn’t enough. So what do you do? As you would with any human relationship of worth, you’d spend time…quality time with them. You’d ask questions, inquiring of them. You’d listen and hear them. In the case with our Heavenly Father, we get to know His character and Person through His Word: Christ Jesus, His living embodiment of His Word. We also get know Him through Scripture, His expressed, written word. The more you get to know Him, the more (naturally) you’ll get to love Him because you’ll see Him and experience His grace, love, mercy, truth…His character, His likes, dislikes, His responses, etc to the world and more specifically, in your own life. You won’t have to try. It won’t be forced or manufactured but rather a natural outpouring and overflow; a response to His presence in your life. I hope that helps, sis. What do you think?
Thank you for sharing. You are not alone, what you said resonates with me. I am currently in a phase that feels like there is a lot of distance between God and me.
I need to add a follow up to my reply. Immediately after posting I felt closer and a sudden sense of relief. I don’t know what to take from the experience other than the experience itself.
I hope the same for you Larenn.
Here are a few thoughts and resources that have been helpful for me in this regard:
- pray daily to be filled with God’s Spirit and for a sense of His love
- pray for other people around you often - I have found a greater sense of nearness and love for God when I pray for others more
- engage with God in a way that touches your heart - singing worship songs, taking a walk out in nature, painting, writing a letter to God each morning or night - whatever it is that touches your heart as an individual - give God some space in that area of your life
- when you love others - such as these refugees - pray for God’s Spirit to fill you with a supernatural love from Him for them - I have often found that God’s love fills my heart most profoundly when I am serving others
- understand your emotional history - I had a friend in seminary who was not good with emotions and always struggled to feel God’s presence - it was not because he was not saved, but because of some emotional challenges from his past and it is a lifelong process for him to work through those
May the Spirit of Christ fill you with a sense of His love and a love for Him. May He grant you wisdom to know how to engage your heart and how to invite His presence into your daily activities.
C. S. Lewis’ “Let’s Pretend” Chapter in Mere Christianity
So, one thing you may do is pick up a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and read the chapter entitled ‘Let’s Pretend’. While his focus is not on feeling a love for God, I think it is relevant. If we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives, then if we live out God’s commandments as if we love God I believe that love will develop over time. Remembering of course that love is not simply a feeling but an attitude of the heart.
“Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them grow up in earnest (p. 188).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him… There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his ‘gratitude’, you will probably be disappointed (p. 131).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
In this chapter, entitled “Let’s Pretend,” Lewis relates the first words of the Lord’s prayer to a common childhood activity in order to illustrate just what the Christian life entails. He begins, though, by referencing stories like Beauty and the Beast, where what begins as a hideous monster ends up becoming a handsome man; or a story where someone had to wear a mask that made him look nicer than he really was—but in the end, when he took off the mask, his face had grown to fit it, and he had become quite handsome. In stories like this, “What had begun as a disguise had become a reality.” That is why we like stories like these: they point to transformation—and deep down, we all yearn for transformation.
"Lewis is saying that where there is a sincere love for God, then obedience will shape our character to enjoy that obedience. The love for God in our hearts will leap towards others when we love them; taking our heart in which His love is encased with it. Where God’s love is truly present it serves as a strong magnet drawing us towards others if we will move towards them enough to feel its pull.
This is the reason for Lewis’ “exception.” It is not the action of “loving as if you loved” that produces genuine affection. It is the presence of God’s love in us and our love for God getting close enough to another person to be activated that produces change."
Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence
I found this book by brother Lawrence helpful in learning to practice God’s presence, which I think is key to engaging our heart’s with a sense of love for God. I do not think it is a magic bullet, but it had some helpful thoughts and suggestions.
Preach to Your Own Heart
If we read the Psalms, we often find that David, even though a man after God’s own heart, knew his own heart was not aligned with God’s truth, so he preached to his own heart. He reminded himself of God’s faithfulness and attributes and love. So I think we see from David’s example in the Psalms that it is normal for us humans to need to preach to our own heart.
Psalms 103:1-2 - Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits
Hi Ren, I just want to add a few thoughts on what has already been said. I’m not saying these things apply to you, please just take what you think is useful.
I don’t have that problem, but I know people who do. When I look at their lives, there is one thing I noticed. Neither of them makes space for god regularly. A relationship is formed how? By the time you spent together and by experiences you share with each other. Ask yourself how much time you spend with god and if you are open for new experiences.
For me, it’s very different. I felt god since I was a kid, although I left the right way at the age of 16, he walked with me all the time. He speaks to me and I can feel his presence, which I consider a huge blessing. This is what I do to maintain and deepen our relationship. Maybe some of it resonates with you.
I sit still for at least 15 minutes and focus on god. I start off by telling him that this time is just for him, no distraction, no serious stuff to talk about. Then I just sit in his presence and listen. Sometimes he talks to me. Sometimes not and I just enjoy his presence, which in itself is a very healing, awesome experience. The bible tells us all the time to listen to the voice of god. This nails it exactly and I consider this as important as reading his word. Sit still, direct your mind towards god and then just let it happen. And even if no big thing happens, it’s okay, because his mere presence is enough to lift you up. It’s about creating a space and let god fill it.
One day a year, I imitate a practice that Jesus, Moses and others did. I go on a mountain alone. Yeah, it’s kind of easy for me because I live close to the Alps and I love hiking. However, this is more than just a nice trip. I call it “father-son” day and I devote it to him only. It really elevated our relationship to a new level, I can’t even explain how. There is something about mountains that has a huge effect on my ability to open myself up to god. Maybe it’s because I’m far away from my home, no distractions, no problems and surrounded by pure nature.
Reading his word. Yes, I read daily. No, not for hours. Sometimes it’s just a passage. But I want to feed my mind with his word everyday. He reveals himself to us also through his word and it’s highly important we know it.
Acting upon his word. When I became a christian, he started speaking to me in a different way. Up to that point, he comforted me most of the time because my life was…difficult
After I gave my life to him and healing took place, I asked him to tell me what I can do to get involved in building his kingdom. He told me what to do. Sometimes it sounded strange and I asked myself it what I heared was my own imagination. That is the point where you create common experiences. You have to decide to act upon it or to ignore it because his command sounds strange. Whenever I acted upon it, great stuff happened and I understood why he communicated it the way he did. My trust in god has grown immensly through some adventures we had together.
Here is a little story about that fourth point that a prophet from Germany told us. He was driving to an appointment with his car when the Lord told him to go to the next bakery and order 1000 pretzels (maybe buns, I’m not 100% sure at this point ). Of course, he first hesitated because, honestly, this is VERY strange. But the lord kept telling him to do it, so he went into the bakery and ordered “this little cake, a coffee and…1000 pretzels”. The women on the other side sure was baffled and asked him if she understood him correctly which he confirmed. Suddenly the owner of the bakery came in from a room in the back with tears in his eyes. He said: “I don’t know who you are, but I just wanted to hang myself. I prepared everything for it and told god that if he wanted me to live, someone should order 1000 pretzels right now.”
Thank you for starting this important conversation. I trust this discussion will help many others over time.
Two other thoughts I want to add:
- Sometimes we blame ourselves when we need to look at our environment. A healthy frog placed in a pot of boiling water will die. This isn’t the frog’s fault. It is a natural consequence of being in a hostile environment. Taking stock of your circumstances can help you evaluate the totality of what is going on. Perhaps Sabbath rest, a small group, different food options, exercise, a good hobby, or other environmental changes can open your emotions up to God in a new way.
- Sometimes we need the benefit of a wise counselor. In addition to the practical advice offered by others in this discussion, you may find a humble, godly, wise pastor or older saint who can come alongside you during this trying time. In addition, there is no shame and much benefit from the service of a well-trained and effective counselor. Even if there is no one locally available in Ecuador, I understand that professional counseling, either via phone or video conferencing, can still be quite effective.
Thank you for this opportunity to pray for you, to learn from you, and to attempt some words of encouragement.
This is a good answer! Thank you.
Albert, I just read your advice about getting close to and loving God. I love the list of things you do. And I absolutely LOVED the pretzel story. Thank you so much! I do love God and I spend time with him in some of the same ways. It’s important to be all alone with him with little or no distractions. And music is a big part of my worship. And add praises to God while listening , For anyone interested, try Fernando Ortega radio on Pandora. Thank you again!!
Lewis adds more in his chapter titled “Charity”. Here is a quote:
“Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love between human beings, but also God’s love for man and man’s love for God. About the second of these two, people are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’ When you have found the answer, go and do it.
On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.”
@O_wretched_man Great find! I really like Lewis’ point that while we can preach to our own hearts, we cannot manufacture feelings because feelings are transient. And that even when God feels distant, He is always near to those who call upon His name.
Good day Ren,
I read your post last night & I felt as if I just needed to respond to you.
First I want to say WELL DONE to you & your family for moving to Ecuador to assist with the refugee crisis! That’s amazing! You are making GOD so so happy!!!
So between the 14-18 of September marks my 1 year “Spiritual rebirth”. Now I say rebirth because last year during this time I went through probably my 5th miscarriage & it was our 1st heart beat! I was admitted into hospital on the 14th of Sept & sent home on the 16th. On Sun the 17th I could feel that something wasn’t right again, but the doctor said that I should come in on Monday morning the 18th.
So Sunday evening was hard on my husband & I. I was still strong but then I saw that Nabeel had passed away & I cried so much because my husband & I followed his story & prayed for him. So that evening when I read that he passed away, I almost felt as if GOD said to me that our baby wasn’t going to make it either but I still had hope. On Monday morning we went to the doctor & there was no heart beat & I was admitted once again to go into theater. So we got admitted into casualty & then the devil decided to rear his ugly head. I felt anger at GOD. But my husband instantly stopped me & said “let’s pray”. That was it! I never got angry again & I’m not angry now. I feel stronger than ever.
We may not have our own baby but we have nieces & nephews who simply love us & we love them. I also read Naomi Zacharias book, The Scent of Water. This book is just WOW for women, it is just wow.
So now when I feel down I speak to people around me who are hurting & I try to encourage them using GOD’s word. When we try to help others in need we grow in the LORD. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love other people. Ren, you may feel distant from GOD, but please push on. I just finished reading about Joseph & I felt as though GOD is saying to us that no matter what situation we are placed in, HE is with us!
God will never ever leave his children, he is listening to you. Satan’s army wants to try & manipulate you. Get rid of the “ANTS” any negative thoughts! When negative thoughts come, pause & declare GOD’s promises over your life, your situation. Today’s Bible verse is epic! “He giveth power to the faint;and to them that have no might he increaseth strength” Isaiah 40:29. You have power, you have strength!!! GOD says so!
Sometimes we read the Bible as though its just a story or fiction because the written accounts took place so many years ago, but read the Bible like it happening NOW! As Bianca Olthoff puts it, read it like a novella!
Remember in GOD’s presence: Fear has no choice but to bow, Chains have no choice but to break & Shame has no choice but to leave! Put your hand out to GOD & he will stretch & pull you in because GOD seeks us! Have a cup of tea with GOD, trust me it’s AWESOME!
Also remember that we have JESUS our big brother as our advocate!!! Angels roar when we pray & worship! I imagine the devil or his soldiers as a deflating balloon, when we pray all the air gets sucked out of them! GOD’s grace is new everyday! I will be praying for you. Be blessed.
Thank you so much for your honesty. I wonder when you were baptized - how old were you and what experience in your life brought you to the point of baptism? Are you happy to be in Ecuador or are you following the passions of your husband?
I have certainly had periods in my life where I have felt like God was sitting on my shoulder speaking into my ear (my mountain top experiences, the first one occurring right after I came to know Christ) and other periods where I felt like he was no where to be found (my valley experiences, and I have to say that some of them were likely drawn out by my unrepentant sin ).
I empathize with you questioning your salvation. Trust that God keeps his promises:
Rev 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Romans 10:9-11 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
This brings me to issues of the “heart.” John Piper describes that sometimes it takes the “fruit of affliction” to drive “holy passion” (see article below). It’s not a pleasant thought, but it does address head knowledge and heart knowledge and struck me in particular because you mention how blessed your life is. I pray that your holy passion comes from following the wonderful advice that your Christian community has provided in love in response to your post, and that God’s rich blessings continue on you and your beautiful family.
I’ve been looking for you everywhere I’ve searched the heavens looking up in the air I’ve stood on mountaintops and studied the sky I never dreamed that you’d be walking right by my side
Everything is a choice - Trusting God and Loving Him.
The feelings will come as you walk with Him. “In the day you seek me with your whole heart you will find me.” We get to know someone by spending time with that individual. He is right there waiting. Read his word and talk to Him. Be still. He is right there. Just press in. He inhabits His praise. Sing His praise and dance if you can - we were created to worship Him. He is worthy!
Praise God! He is patient & he seeks us
Hey everyone, I can’t say enough how thankful I feel from reading all your loving words. To answer a few questions that were asked of me: I’m soon to be 28 on Saturday. I grew up in the church but couldn’t reconcile what I was being taught with what I saw in my own house so I went off to college and left the faith. I struggled a lot after in the army and after I our kids were born with deep feeling of inaduacy . And so i became an alcoholic. After about two years of trying desperately to quit drinking to no avail I sat in my car defeated and just said out loud to myself “I can’t stop”. At that moment I felt a huge pressure and presence, I covered my head bc I was afraid and then it felt like someone whispered to me “exactly”. It was terrifying, but all of a sudden I just started confessing my sins until there were no more left that I could even think of. I couldn’t even tell my husband about it until a few days later. After I told him I felt overwhelmed that after all that God would still have me and asked if he would baptize me. After being baptized was the last time I really felt Gods presence. I can see how Hes making a way for us to accomplish helpful things here in Ecuador. But it’s so hard for an overly practical thinker like me to have no actual sense of direction. The poverty and situation here are pretty dire for the refugees . I just wish I could hear a word from God to have peace and know that we’re doing the right thing. Our whole family was against our move 100% but my husband says he’s 100% sure we should be here. I’m on board and I love the work we’re accomplishing here. Something still just seems really wrong. I read my Bible everyday, I pray, we pray as a family. But it feels empty still somehow. I know that Gods will for me is to be joyful always and thankful. And I am so thankful. But I really still struggle with joy always. Maybe expecting something obvious or that I would know for sure was God is an unrealistic expectation?
My heart goes out for you. You are not alone.
May I ask, do you go to a church in Ecuador? A community of believers that support each other is a huge blessing, especially in times of need.
@Ren Thank you for sharing more of your story. First, I would like to sympathize with your feeling of confusion - I experience it often. So many times I wish I could just have a trusted counselor - like a prophet - who could give me wisdom for my specific situation so I knew I was going down the right path. Or that God would directly tell me which decision to make because decisions have such huge consequences later in life. Life often feels unguided and uncertain. Even today I can say that I still desire that type of direct counsel very deeply and often have to lean into Christ through worship and prayer and the Word to find His peace that passes understanding.
I actually went through a period of extreme doubt regarding even the possibility of receiving guidance from God in college - it was not an easy time. The following 2 books really helped me because they made some very simple points that I needed to hear:
- it is not normative to hear from God directly which decision to make, but we still pray that God would open / shut the right doors
- the best way to make a decision is to understand yourself, examine your situation and get wise advice from people you trust and who are experienced in the type of decision you are making
- God will be with us through whatever comes our way
- learning to make wise decisions is a process - the book of Proverbs says to ‘seek wisdom’ and ‘get understanding’ for a reason - it is normal to make mistakes and then learn as we grow. That is just the way God designed it (perhaps to keep us humble and foster community).
My advice in your situation would be to find some wise counselors - that is not necessarily family, but others who are further along the missions journey - maybe even some families who decided the mission field was not for them. Ask them lots of questions and prayerfully consider their answers. Of course, you and your husband would need to go through this process together and I recognize there can be additional frustration when one person is very certain and the other is not. Most missions agencies do not allow couples to go into the field if both are not all in.
Proverbs 15:22 - Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
I think the more optimistic way of summarizing the things I’ve learned is - Make the wisest decision you are able in a given situation and then enjoy the journey! God’s got you! May Jesus give you peace and wisdom as you navigate your situation.
Hi Ren, I think what you’re going through is a very real and even painful experience for any of us to go through as Christians. And you’re not alone, we all struggle with always being joyful in God. Our still-present sin nature is inclined to seek joy in everything but God. It’s an ongoing fight for the Christian to be more satisfied in God than in our spouse, or child, or appearance, or money, or human praise, or whatever. But thank God we have his Spirit to help us in this fight for joy in him.
I agree with you that it is God’s will for us to be always joyful in him, and I think you’re right to not be satisfied with only doing right things, but to long for the sweetness of joy in God. He wants that for you and it’s clear you want that too.
Psalm 63:1 says,
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
What I think can be discouraging and even frustrating is that we can’t just will joy. As you’re well aware, it’s not something we can just decide to be. I can’t simply say to myself, “Be happy in God” and it happen. Even still, as you said, God wills it and our hearts long for it, so then the question becomes your question: How do I get it?
John Piper wrote a book titled When I Don’t Desire God to respond to this question. About his book, Piper says,
I long to be of help to believers who are seeing some of the radical heart-changes demanded by the Bible – especially that we must desire God more than anything. … I would like to help those who are beginning to see that salvation is the awakening of a new taste for God, or it is nothing. … I want to help those who are finding that their desires, not just their decisions, really matter … and the many who, with tears, want to know: What do I do when I don’t desire God? God willing, I would like to help.
As you know, joy is a fruit of the Spirit. And I find it particularly helpful to keep in mind that all of the fruits of the Spirit ultimately come from the Spirit, not from me. And I find this particularly helpful to keep in mind because it pushes me to rely on God for those fruit and not myself. And so, after the prayer and Bible reading and pondering of the things of God and other things you mentioned that are God-ordained means through which God works, when the joy comes, God gets the glory, not us.
God wants to be your God. Just three nights ago, I read the following in Exodus 6 and was struck by how sweet, and stunning, these words are.
I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
In a sense, God is saying the same thing to his people today with regard to the burdens of sin. To think that the Lord God omnipotent who reigns says this about his people! So, I encourage you to be reminded that God wants to redeem you from the burden of affectionless trust in God. God is for you and he wants you to have soul-satisfying joy in him and he has given you his Spirit, in part, to manifest this in your life.
My prayer for you is Psalm 43:4.
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.