As I said yesterday I am struggling with feeling close to God right now. God seems far away from me. When God seems far away, I go to the Psalms because the Psalmist struggled mightily with the same feelings. The way he handled his struggle becomes my guide to handling my own. For example read Psalm 13:5,6: “My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”
These words were penned at a time when David felt more like crying and singing. As I look at the context of these few words and meditate on them I began to “get” David. He was clinging to what he knew to be true and acting on it rather than clinging to what he felt to be true and acting on that. I have learned that this really works! I have learned that clinging to what I know to be true despite my feelings to the contrary is an incredible spiritual discipline. So when I am feeling alienated from God I remind myself of the things God has done for me, and rejoice in them rather than give in to my feelings.
I think of all the things I know to be true acts of God in my life, and offer them up to God. I pray prayers like, “Lord, You’ve made such a difference in my life. You’ve given me joy. You’ve provided for me and my family. You’ve forgiven my sins. You’ve given me eternal life. You’ve answered my prayers.” I name as many specific answers to prayer that I can think of! As I remind myself of the things Jesus has done for me, and as I offer them up to God in prayer, I find myself strengthened in Him in spite of myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I pretend to feel something that I don’t really feel. God knows how I feel; if I can’t be honest with him or He is not much of a god. What I am saying is that I search my heart for those things I know to be true acts of God in my life and, by faith, I rejoice in them. I cling to them by faith. I refuse to be ruled by these false feelings of alienation from my Father.
When I feel like God is far away I sometimes think about where my life would be if I had never become a Christian. Based on where I was before I met Jesus, what would my life have been like if it had followed its logical progression? What kind of career would I have pursued? What kind of person would I have married? What kind of father would I have become? What kind of grandfather would I be? Every time I think these things through, I am overcome with gratitude for God’s sovereign mercy in my life. Even when he seems far away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has made an incredible difference in my life, and I cling to that. And I thank him for it.
I believe that love isn’t a feeling, it’s something you do. What I sometimes forget, though, is that praise (or worship) isn’t a feeling either; it’s something you do.
Praise is often an emotional experience. Sometimes when your heart is “bubbling” you overflow with praise, and you can’t help but sing to God what you’re feeling in your heart. When that happens, it’s wonderful.
However, even during those times when our heart isn’t “bubbling,” we should continue to worship God. Even when David’s heart felt like it was breaking, he lifted up his heart to God. Even when God seemed far away, he continued to sing his praise to Him.
David begins this Psalm by admitting that God seems very far away. And he ends it by saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”
David isn’t saying this because he suddenly experienced an emotional turn-around (in the time it took him to write these six verses!) and was suddenly back on top of the mountain. He’s saying it because he understands that praise is an act of faith, not of feelings. He’s saying, “I will sing to the Lord, regardless of how I feel.”
Some people say, “Isn’t it hypocritical to sing praise when you don’t feel close to God?” I guess it is hypocritical if you believe you’re supposed to praise God only when you feel good. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. We are to praise him all during the day, regardless of how we feel. Our feelings will come and go; our praise to him should be consistent.
I’ll take it a step further. God knows how we really feel, and I think he is more pleased when we praise him during those times we don’t feel all bubbly inside.
Think of it this way. Back when my daughters were teenagers they often wanted to borrow my car(and I often said no!), so when I let them drive they were overcome with joy, and would say something along the lines of “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you, I love you, I love you!” And, no doubt, the words were sincere. But suppose right after I had made one of them mow our lawn, and in the midst of the sullen grumpiness that teenagers develop to the point of an art form, she suddenly said to me, “You know, Dad, I love you. And I want you to know that I am glad you are my dad.” Wouldn’t those words, spoken in those circumstances, carry more weight than the others?
It’s easy to praise God when we’re feeling warm and fuzzy, but if we continue to praise Him even when He seems far away, He is especially pleased. I believe we often worship our emotions more than we worship God. To worship God instead of our emotions means that our worship of God is independent of our feelings at any given moment.
Whatever we put first is what we worship. David shows us the path of true worship by writing “I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.” when he felt distant from God. If we do what our feelings tell us to do rather than what God tells us to do, which are we worshipping?
I would love to hear your comments.