“When was the last time we looked around us and said, “Oh how I wish I had the sweet communion that my friend seems to have with God?” When was the last time we looked within and said, “Oh, I am so cold, crusty, stale, stagnant, dry and lifeless?” When was the last time you looked up and said, “What’s wrong? Where are you? Why am I not sensing your presence in worship, in the sermon, in my personal Bible reading, and in prayer?”
Marital vibrancy, communion, vitality, nearness, freshness, intimacy and communion are something for which we long. No one goes into marriage saying, “I’ll do my chores; my spouse will do theirs; we will make money, dinner, and babies, and that is sufficient.” No, on the day when rings are exchanged, we have big relational hopes that we will remain best friends and grow even closer as the years pass. And perchance, we might even end up holding hands, in the those bathtubs, in the open air, on the hill, looking over the horizon as seen in the Viagra commercials.
The same is true of our experiential relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Getting out of hell is not sufficient for the true believer. Positional justification is great, but it is not all we hope for or expect. It is simply not good enough for us to be positionally saved but experientially distant.
However, when was the last time we looked back and said, “Oh, how I wish I had the intimacy and tenderness I once had when I first came to Christ?” When was the last time we looked around us and said, “Oh how I wish I had the sweet communion that my friend seems to have with God?” When was the last time we looked within and said, “Oh, I am so cold, crusty, stale, stagnant, dry and lifeless?” When was the last time you looked up and said, “What’s wrong? Where are you? Why am I not sensing your presence in worship, in the sermon, in my personal Bible reading, and in prayer?”
Friends, I think we regularly find ourselves in such a condition, and I think we are in good company. King David, the man after God’s own heart, often sensed a similar unacceptable coldness or spiritual dissonance. In this church, we often sing his words which were penned following his transgression with Bathsheba, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence O Lord, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free sprit.” And the same spiritual static was experienced by Jesus when the sin of his children was placed upon his shoulders by the Father. At that point he bellowed aloud, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And if you talk with ministers, you will find spiritual depression plagues us all, regardless of the outward show we present.
So what are we to do when we find ourselves experientially challenged? What are we to do when it seems “we have lost that lovin’ feeling?” There are several “tricks” we can try.
Some, in seeking to combat their spiritual apathy, turn to monastic practices. They hope to find Christ in isolation, in community, in silence, in simplicity, in minimalism, in fasting, in poverty, in pain, or in celibacy. However, if they would just read the writings of Luther and Augustine they would find out ahead of time that their souls will continue to struggle with spiritual dryness regardless of what they forfeit.
Some, in seeking to combat their lack of spiritual tightness with God, turn to eastern meditative practices. Perhaps if they change their surroundings, become one with nature, zone out, feel the chi, and free their minds, then the rest will follow. Perhaps then they can experience that oneness with God for which all men long. However, these occultist practices may be preferable to the American materialism and hedonism that wears one out, and these practices may bring you in touch with a spirit, but it will certainly not be the Holy Spirit to whom one is introduced. Eastern mysticism is not the ticket to communion with God.
Many more of our neighbors seek to cure what ails them through Charismatic worship events and experiences. Quite often these friends remember some sweet time of communion they had in a worship service. In addition, many are taught by their ministers that nearness to Christ is proven by unbridled singing, clapping, dancing, whirling, laughing, babbling, speaking in tongues, and being slain in the Spirit. Therefore, out of obedience and with great expectation, they find the place where they can gather with likeminded friends and “whoop it up.” However, these Christian friends often confuse an “emotional high” with “spiritual intimacy.” They fail to recognize that the same sense of emotional exhilaration can be found at the World Cup when one’s team scores a goal, or at a baseball stadium on July 4th when the National Anthem is being sung and jets are flying overhead, or at America’s Got Talent when a introverted loner pulls out an opera-like performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings”, or at the concert when the instruments drop out, a single drum beat is dominant, and 50,000 rockers are singing in unison. All this is fun and exciting. It is surely not boring and mundane, and it seems to work for a while. But such a worship experience it is like Chinese food; it fits the bill for a time but leaves one hungry after a few hours. It seems to work as long as the whirling dervish lasts, but by the time you arrive at your desk on Monday morning, one finds himself faced again with an experiential deficit and in need of a new spiritual high.
So, what are we to do when we are positionally secure but relationally struggling? Here is the big idea from Jeremiah 2: The cure for the relationally challenged Christian is to divorce the idols that dissatisfy us and grieve the Holy Spirit, and diligently date the Lover of our souls.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.