She’s in tears. “I just want to feel close to God.”

When God Feels Distant

What do you do when your desire to experience God is met by silence?

My friend approaches me after church. In the last year, she’s made incredible strides in her spiritual life. Coming from a broken family, my friend discovered a relationship with Jesus, and she was in the process of being healed and restored.

And then she asks, “What do I do when I desperately need God but can’t feel Him?” This is a girl who has tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). She knows the sweet, comforting embrace of His presence.

But not now. Now the heavens are made of iron, and her prayers float up with no chance of reaching God.

I listen. We talk. We pray. Out of our conversation comes three truths to give her peace when God feels distant.

“What do I do when I desperately need God but can’t feel Him?”

1. You’re not alone in your struggle.

Read the book of Psalms, and you’ll find many people who felt far from God (6:2-3; 13:1-2; 90:13-14). They didn’t hide their emotions; they freely expressed them.

When we feel God is far away, we’re in good company. Even Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” The Son of God knows what it’s like to feel distant from God.

2. The recognition of distance is a gift.

The world is filled with people who are far from God and have no desire for Him. Out of this comes a simple truth: God’s mercy is seen in our longing for Him.

For my friend to express her sadness was beautiful because she said, in essence, “I know how good it is to be loved by God, and I’m not willing to let go.”

3. Trust promises, not perceptions.

The world tells us to trust our heart, but the Bible tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?

Our hearts reflect our feelings, but our feelings don’t always reflect reality.

The Bible always reflects reality. Therefore, we need to understand what it says and trust it to guide us. I’ll write more on this next week, but I found this list of promises about God’s nearness helpful.

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

A Strange Kind of Evangelism

When my friend looked at me with tears in her eyes, she said, “I just want my life to shine for Jesus. I want others to see Him in me.”

I’m thankful for Desiring God for pointing out this entire story arc in Psalm 40. This whole post can be summarized in the first three verses of Psalm 40.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

Breaking this down:

  • “I waited patiently for the Lord.” We don’t know how long, but David committed to the waiting.
  • “He drew me… out of the miry bog.” To be drawn out of a miry bog, you have to be in it. David was facing some incredible suffering, yet he waited until God rescued him.
  • “He put a new song in my mouth.” David could praise God in a new way because he had personally experienced God’s saving power.
  • “Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Suffering is a strange kind of evangelism. As a result of David’s suffering, people saw God’s work in his life. It’s wrong for us to think God can only work through our lives when things are going well. Often God speaks loudest to ourselves and others in our pain.

When God feels distant, we need to know we’re not alone, thank God for the desire we feel for Him, and press on to believe His promises rather than our perceptions. When we hold on, God will deliver us.

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