I’m going to say something that may sound a bit strange/unbiblical: I don’t think God wants us to care much about feeling God’s presence.
I realize that may sound borderline heretical, but before you report me to the rogue theological police (pretty sure that exists somewhere), let me explain.
For much of my life, I’ve relied on my experience of God’s presence to determine how close I am to God. If I have an emotional experience in corporate singing, then I tend to think I’m closer to God. On the other hand, if my Bible reading feels drier than a college accounting lecture (I sat through some terrible ones), I conclude that I didn’t experience God.
If this dryness goes on for any length of time, I can begin to despair, believing that I’m in some sort of metaphorical/spiritual Valley of Dry Bones.
But I’ve come to conclude that, for the most part, this thinking is unbiblical. Here’s why.
The Bible Never Tells Us What Feeling God’s Presence Looks Like
It’s odd. As you read through Scripture, you see encounter hundreds of different characters, many of whom felt some measure of God’s presence. But the way each person experienced God varied wildly.
Joseph languished in prison for 13 years, waiting for God to rescue him. Did he feel close to God during that time? Maybe occasionally, but that probably wasn’t his daily experience. I mean, he was in prison. It’s basically like the Passion Conference, except instead of worship and teaching he ate moldy bread and prophesied that people would be beheaded. And yet God’s presence was with him.
God took Moses to the literal mountaintop (as opposed to the Youth Retreat one), which ranks pretty high up on the experiencing God’s presence chart. But leading up to that, Moses spent 80 years in the desert. In both places, Moses encountered God.
David reveled in the joy of being in the temple of God…and wept over what felt like the desertion of God. In both cases, God was present with him.
Paul was taken to the third heaven and also experienced persecution to the point of despairing of life itself. Paul was experiencing God equally in both states.
So How Do We Experience God?
The Bible always assumes that we’re experiencing God, whether we feel God’s presence or not. That experience simply looks different in every situation.
When life stinks and the future looks darker than a Quentin Tarantino movie, God is working all things for good. Just because I don’t have the God feels doesn’t mean he’s not actively at work in my life.
When my devotions are drier than my mouth while trying to do the Saltine challenge (look it up), God hasn’t left me. Rather, he’s teaching me to walk by faith and not by sight. I’m not walking away from my daily Bible reading with thrills and chills, but I’m still experiencing God.
This morning, my middle daughter screamed for an hour straight before school because her hair wasn’t “comfortable”. I was not feeling warm God fuzzies during that hour. I felt like I wanted to live a solitary life in the mountains of Alaska. Yet, I was still experiencing God’s presence as I asked him to help me be patient and not rip my shirt off in frustration.
The Bible usually doesn’t talk about encountering God’s presence in terms of a joyful emotional experience (although that’s certainly included). Rather, it talks about identifying how God is at work in any particular situation and then joining him in that work (I think I first heard that from Henry Blackaby).
That means fleeing from temptation, embracing God’s promises by faith when they feel a million miles away, rejoicing when God rescues a wandering sinner, and repenting when we’re convicted of sin.
In every situation, the main question we should be asking is not, “Am I feeling God?” but, “What is God doing right now and what am I called to do in response?”
Mountain Tops and the Valley of Death
Life is full of highs and lows (that sounds like a country song). Sometimes we do have a legitimate sense of God’s presence, but most of the time life is somewhat mundane and normal. We have rare mountaintop experiences with God and occasional dips into the dark valleys.
God is always present, always working, always on the move.
Don’t freak out if you’re not feeling God’s presence.
You’re still experiencing him.