Shepherding Us in His Direction

Learning the art of fellowship with God

Mar 04, 2023

God Christianity Seasons Growth Jesus
hands holding mustard seeds

Photo by Joshua Lanzarini

Every man is as close to God as he wants to be.

~ A.W. Tozer

It’s 11:15 pm on Sunday night and I’m searching for videos related to “when God feels distant” on YouTube. I watch a few that look helpful, with titles including “Why Has God Been So Silent When I’ve Reached Out To Him?” and “How to Get Back on Track Spiritually When You Feel Far from God.” In one of the videos, I listen to a pastor who, toward the end, recommends a book he wrote titled “When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy,” and I immediately go on my Amazon app and order it. My takeaway message from all the videos I watch is one that doesn't surprise me, because there is always only one takeaway—keep seeking God.

I must admit, I hate these seasons of my Christian walk. The ones where I don’t feel Him at all, nor a desire to do anything “Christian-y.” They seem to come out of nowhere, but if I’m honest with myself, these times were inevitable given my lack of time spent in His presence or His word. Given how many distractions I have allowed to consume my attention. It baffles me that as believers we can be on fire for God one minute and feeling very distant from Him another. When I have felt closest to God, I always naively believed it would last forever, or at least much longer than it actually does. But something always seems to slowly sidetrack me, seem more appealing. Or things are cruising along just fine, and spending consistent time with God becomes less paramount because I don’t find myself in desperate need of Him. And therein lies the rub.

Our walk with God can often feel like a game of yo-yo, where we are pulled back and forth into and out of His presence.

Crying out to him in anguish one moment, resisting His gentle invitations to commune with Him the next. And to me what’s disheartening is that the degree to which we feel or don’t feel close to God is primarily up to us and how committed we are to deepening our relationship with Him. It’s up to me, and I don’t trust my fickle heart with its bottomless well of emotions or my mind with its distractions and temptations to be reliable enough for sustaining such an important relationship.

Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Therefore, it is us who change — our moods change, our mindset changes, our attitudes and beliefs change, our motivations change, and how we choose to spend our time changes. So how do we develop a solid foundation from which we can consistently show up as believers and live in communion with the only source of our joy, despite how we feel and our shifting moods? How do we learn to “seek his presence continually” (Psalm 105:4)?

It starts with remembering our why, as all genuine aspirations do.

Why are we seeking God to begin with? Why are we believers? Why are we walking this Christian path and putting our faith in what we cannot see? I imagine your answer might be similar to mine: Because life without Him is not one I can or want to sustain. Because He has shown His mercy and miraculous power in my life repeatedly. Because without my faith, the world would be a much, much more scary place to live in. Because believing in the goodness and sovereignty of God settles my anxious heart and fills my soul with “the peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:6). He is the light that dispels the darkness, and the world could always use more light.

Given all the why’s, how does our devotion to Him grow lukewarm? How does the distance creep in, widening the gap between our hearts and His? Changing life circumstances have a lot to do with it. Trauma, loss, busyness, distraction, the list is endless. And then of course the prime suspect — the thief, the enemy himself, who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10), and I would add, to distract and distance us from God. But more often than not, it’s more subtle than that it seems — the “dailyness” of life washes over us and we find ourselves with little energy left to devote to anything else. The mindless activities we engage in steal our attention and leave us drained. The monotony of daily living sucks us dry and our souls grow weary.

We unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) allow God to get lost in the superfluous details of our life.

But He always calls us back. At times, it’s a whisper, a faint nudge; at other times, an outcry from the mountaintops. No matter the distance we’ve created, the walls we’ve put up, He peeks over and asks if we want to have a cup of tea. When we have steered way off course, he might reel us back in with a jarring life event that shakes us to our core, leading us to run right back to Him. That aching we feel amidst the dailyness of our life, or in the in-between moments where silence creeps in, might be God shepherding us in His direction. Maybe God is not silent, we just forgot how to hear His voice.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8

I am learning the art of fellowship with God. As believers, we aren’t naturally gifted with this; at least I’m not. We learn it, one exchange after another, one mistake at a time, just like any other meaningful relationship. We are human before we are Christian. And what a relief that God knows this about His creation and loves us regardless. He is not asking for perfection, not even close. He simply asks for a meager attempt from our end, a mustard seed of faith. And when we can’t even muster that, He waits, patiently, until we are, once again, brought to our knees by the unwieldy weight of living and come to Him, depleted. It’s in these times when we learn, over and over, the boundless grace He offers us, and how undeserving of it we are.

Several days have gone by since I ordered the book. It now sits on my writing desk, waiting to be read. I admire the softly illustrated cover and re-read the subtitle: How to Fight for Joy. The word choice strikes me as odd at first. “Fighting” is not a verb I instinctively associate with joy. But the more I sit with that thought, the more it occurs to me that in this post–Garden of Eden world that we live in, things like joy and purpose and contentment don’t come automatically; they must be fought for with every fiber of our being. They must be guarded, preserved, fostered against the forces of evil that want to tear them away from us as soon as we have a grasp on them. If love is something we fight for, why shouldn’t joy be?

For Jesus came that we might have life abundantly, which I take to mean filled to the brim with joy, among other things. This fight for joy is synonymous with a fight for Jesus. Everything that is “of the world” is designed to distance us from Him. And so, we are left with no choice but to put on the armor of God and grapple against the forces. We must fight to honor our alone time with God. We must fight to close the distance, to resist the urge to be pulled away from Him by the allures this world offers. Sometimes the fight might be as simple as picking up our Bible or sending up a prayer. Other times it requires a stronger defense, asking us to let go of addictions and behaviors that hinder our growth as followers of Jesus.

I don’t know how long this season of distance will last. But I do know it is largely up to me. Even if I still don’t feel Him, it’s in the relentless pursuit of God that my Christian character is shaped.

We ultimately don’t seek God to get something out of it; we seek Him in order to become more like Christ.

And that has to be the absolute, the quintessential WHY in the life of a believer. We are being asked “to put off [our] old self, which belongs to [our] former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” Ephesians 4:22–24. This is not easy, but it’s worth fighting for.

Order the book, watch the videos, spend time journaling, pick up your Bible. Lay the breadcrumbs. Make an attempt to close the distance, to hear His voice. God sees and honors it all. Before you know it, spring has arrived and the mustard seeds are in full bloom.