Rob here. If I was to be totally honest about my spiritual life right now, I’d say that it feels pretty flat. Scripture is good but it’s not resonating in my heart; the words aren’t leaping off the pages at me. I’m struggling to pray with purpose and conviction. I feel like I’m not seeing with “the eyes of the heart” and so life feels kind of dull, tiring and repetitive.
Once upon a time this situation would have thrown me. In fact I wouldn’t have noticed it. I would keep going and going until I crashed and burned; leading to irrational anger, withdrawal, ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ fantasies and resentment of those close to me who hadn’t made me feel better. Mature eh!
These days, after 23 years of walking with Jesus, I’ve learnt to recognise the ‘flat’ symptoms for what they are: an invitation to renew my relationship with Jesus, to surrender afresh and to rediscover what ‘life in Christ’ truly looks like. But this doesn’t involve striving to make it all better. It doesn’t involve feeling panicky or anxious. This is because my feelings aren’t telling me the whole truth. My feelings are important because they’re showing me that something is wrong that needs to be remedied, but my feelings are not telling me the truth about God’s character.
Despite my ‘flat’ feelings God remains my loving Father and I, his beloved son. Jesus remains my Lord and King and I, his intimate ally. The Holy Spirit still dwells in me and my heart remains new and good. God is still love, still goodness personified, still holy, still faithful, still victorious and still gracious beyond words. So how do I ‘guard my heart’ in this space?
First I avoid self-condemnation. I pray Romans 8:1-2 over my spirit, soul and body; my heart, mind and will; “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” The bumper sticker that says, “If you feel far from God, guess who moved” isn’t helpful. It only serves to induce guilt. More helpful to me is a picture of having walked closely with Jesus and shared adventures together, but now he’s moved on ahead to prepare a better place for me! I feel flat now because it’s been a long year and there’s still a lot to do; because I’m tired but the journey continues. But I keep going because I know there’s a better place for me up ahead that Jesus is preparing right now. That place may involve greater maturity, a deeper knowledge of God’s heart, some kind of blessing and it may all be preceded by testing times. The point is that the invitation is to keep going and not give up. There is a better place up ahead if I’m willing to keep saying yes to Jesus’ invitation to follow him.
Second, I keep choosing to worship God anyway. He is still my Lord and so I choose to bow the knee, confess praise and offer up the prayers of my heart. At some stage my feelings will catch up with what my heart knows to be true and I will truly ‘soar with wings like eagles’ when that happens. But in the meantime I choose to trust him even if I can’t sense his close, intimate love. I choose to follow him even if I can’t clearly see where he’s leading me. I choose to say yes to his invitation of life with him. As I make these choices I can’t help but notice that I’m starting to feel better already.