This morning, after dropping off my kids at school, I tried to pray. It should have been easy, since I was alone in the car. But I just couldn’t summon the focus or desire. My soul felt distracted, lethargic, listless.
Thankfully, the clouds soon parted. God be praised, they always do. Before I knew it, I was cruising down the road, communing with my King, enjoying his palpable presence. Do you ever feel, like I did this morning, distant from God? If so, here’s the secret to a swift turnaround.
That’s the second paragraph I’d prefer to write. Perhaps it’s the one you’d prefer to read. But it’s not accurate. The truth is more complicated, more like . . .
Nothing magically changed on the road. I’ve since made my way to a coffee shop, where I now sit, still stuck in a spiritual daze. God seems far away today; I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not like yesterday was bad. My wife and I didn’t fight this morning. I’m not facing a massive hardship at home or deadline at work or conflict at church. I wish, then, I could say that today feels shocking in its strangeness. What it feels like, though, is a semi-normal Tuesday.
What should we do on days—or even months or years—when the Lord seems distant? No, there isn’t a magic-bullet formula. But when God feels more like a concept than a reality, there are at least three ways to cultivate a sense of his nearness.
When my feeble effort to pray fell flat, what should I have done? I should have kept at it. Usually the moments we don’t feel like praying, after all, are the moments we most need to.
Now, this summons to keep at it would be disheartening, not to mention fruitless, if we served a hard-to-get God. But we don’t. Listen to the promise of Lamentations 3:31–33:
For no one is cast off
by the LORD forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
“Willingly” is a beautiful word. It doesn’t mean God isn’t sovereign—that would be terrifying. Other translations render it like this:
- “He does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of man.” (ESV)
- “He does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind.” (CSB)
Here’s the point: if you’re going through a rough time, the God of heaven is not messing with you. He’s not playing some cruel cosmic game. He finds no joy—none—in watching you suffer.
If you’re going through a rough time, the God of heaven isn’t messing with you. He’s not playing some cruel cosmic game. He finds no joy—none—in watching you suffer.
So keep crying out to him, even when it seems your words are bouncing off the ceiling. He’s listening, and he loves you.
Unconfessed sin, the Bible repeatedly warns, impedes intimacy with God. If you’re feeling far from him, seize the opportunity to take stock. Is there an area of life in which you’re openly rebelling against his Word? Are you excusing, or at least coddling, any secret sins?
Sins are not mere heavenly parking tickets; they’re personal assaults against a holy God. Disobedience, therefore, always leads to distance. And yet, the pages of Scripture ring with good news: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
This Lord of holiness is, astonishingly, also the Lord of mercy. He delights to forgive, and embrace, rebels who humble themselves in repentance. When was the last time you pondered the words of 1 John 1:5–10? Read the passage slowly, prayerfully, reflectively. Are you hiding something in the dark that needs to come into the light? Such a question may seem frightening—but it’s actually freeing. The darkness, after all, is where sin grows and believers shrivel; the light is where sin shrivels and believers grow.
The darkness is where sin grows and believers shrivel; the light is where sin shrivels and believers grow.
Don’t do this self-examination alone, though. Step out of the shadows into the light of biblical community. Those who have begun to follow the light of the world are no longer fit for the darkness of isolation (John 8:12). So get to know other children of light, and let them get to know you (John 12:36; Eph. 5:8; Phil. 2:15). Fold yourself into a healthy church, submitting your life to the oversight of its pastors and to the care and accountability of its members.
Do you wish to feel near to God? Draw near to his people.
Perhaps the best way to draw near to God is to reflect on what he has already done to draw near to you.
To what lengths will God go in order to bring unworthy people near? Two millennia ago, culminating on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, he gave his answer. Hanging on a Roman cross, the eternal Son of God bridged the infinite gap.
So when Satan tempts you to despair, to fear that God has forgotten or forsaken you, ponder anew the eternal chasm that Calvary closed. “You who once were far away,” the apostle Paul declares, “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). Farness from God doesn’t define you, believer. Nearness does.
Yes, you will feel distant from him at times, but how you feel does not always indicate what is true. Stare often at that spot where God’s resolve to bring you close reached its bloody climax.
I began with a rather embarrassing, if not uncommon, admission about my morning. Feeling far from God is, for many of us, a painfully regular experience in this broken world. Of course, many Christians feel distant from him for sadder reasons: a wave of suffering has crashed into their life, wreaking havoc and leaving in its wake unwelcome questions and untold pain.
When Satan tempts you to despair, to fear that God has forgotten or forsaken you, ponder anew the eternal chasm that Calvary closed.
I’m reminded of Joni Eareckson Tada; it’s now been more than 50 years since a diving accident left her paralyzed from the neck down. Here’s how she testifies, from the platform of a wheelchair, to God’s faithful character: “He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer his embrace.”
Whether your circumstances feel common or crushing, there is a Father who wants you to know the closeness of his embrace. He is good. He is mighty. He is near. And believer, because these things are true, you are never forgotten and never forsaken.
The Gospel Coalition