October 23, 2017

Help! For Help?

Editor’s note: The following comment was recently posted to an essay we ran called Those Who Dance Are Considered To Be Insane By Those Who Cannot Hear The Music. Here is what Help? wrote:

I wish I knew God like you do….Could hear His voice. I feel like an Israelite, sitting in the camp, waiting for the truly spiritual to go up the mountain, meet with God, then come back and tell me about Him.

But I want to go…I want to hear Him speak to me. And I have no idea how. I’ve tried everything I know to do – pray, beg, memorize verses, read books….But nothing seems to change. It’s been several years of trying and I’m really tired, so I’ve stopped trying. Reading the Bible is so incredibly boring to me. It just seems fake. Like I’m following the “can’t miss” diet but still gaining weight. I feel like I’m wasting my time since I wake up every morning, read my Bible, yet never seem to really feel a connection with God.

And to make matters worse, anyone I tell seems to have nothing more than a trite reply like (true example), “Have you tried listening to Christian music?”. I hear that and I’m thinking, “Man….I just poured my heart out to you. I’m dying inside, desperate to know God, longing to hear His voice and know something more than religion….and you look back and tell me the answer is to start listening to Michael W Smith???”

Being born and raised in church, I know how to play the game. Honestly, anyone can look like their spiritual life is all together if they follow 5 simple rules (based on my religious background)….

1. Don’t smoke or drink
2. Come to church and Sunday school (or small group) each week
3. Don’t watch movies that are rated ‘R’, and make sure people notice your disapproval of such “immoral” films
4. Raise your hands when you sing. If everyone is sitting, you earn extra points for standing first when the song hits an emotional high point.
5. Memorize a few key verses you can recite at the appropriate moment (John 14:6, Rom 3:23, 2 Tim 3:16, etc). For even more impact, learn a few from the more obscure OT books like Amos or Nahum.

I’m lost.


We know that Help? is not alone in feeling this way. As a matter of fact, who among us being honest cannot say we all feel this way from time to time? Lisa Dye and Jeff Dunn got together to respond to Help?

Dear Help?,

I’ve been following Christ for 35 years and during that time, I’ve wandered through spiritual deserts a number of times. At least once, I thought I wouldn’t find my way out.

For the troubled family I was reared in, churchgoing was rare. I began my relationship with Christ authentically, without any homegrown expectations and naive to church culture. Already a people pleaser, I quickly learned to jump through religious hoops. I just had to transfer old habits in a new place – the church.

A few years in, my performance fell apart and I suffered a moderate to severe depression that lasted two years. It was a time I would never want to relive. Yet, I consider it the most valuable and profitable time of my life.

First of all, I became aware of my brokenness — something I had refused to acknowledge previously. It felt awful to look inside and see the mess, but in hindsight, God was merciful to orchestrate that episode.

Following close on the heels of that revelation came complete inertness — spiritually, emotionally and physically.  I could barely function, so performing was out of the question. I could muster no energy. It was no longer Lisa + Performance + Christ (on a good day), it was Christ alone. Five hundred times a day I muttered, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Finally, I learned to lean on others for a time. Oh, that was so difficult, but I needed to do it and I found out that God would use people to minister to me. (I know that your experience in trying to do that was disappointing. I can only say, “Persevere.” I went through several duds until I found some people with Jesus in them.)

Help?, I can only speak from my own experience. Maybe none of this will resonate with you, but I would encourage you to consider seriously whether you are carrying old wounds that need healing. If you are, as I was, the frustration you are experiencing could be more emotional than spiritual. That was true for me. Until I could acknowledge what was broken emotionally and start to heal from that, every part of me suffered, including my spirit.

You also said that you know how to play the religious game and follow all the rules. Consider laying the rules aside. I’ve played that game too. To be honest, I still do at times. Old habits are not easily broken. When I do play, I feel like a hypocrite. I condemn myself and get weary of my own company. As I write, I struggle with a divided heart. That is a spiritual issue that manifests itself in incongruity in my actions.

For me, fear creates the divide. I say I love Christ with a passion, but I fear where he will lead me. Why am I so afraid? He loved me enough to die for me. He’s not asking me to follow a set of rules. He doesn’t love me for what I do. He loves that I exist to love him back and fully to enjoy him forever.

Consider talking to some other people who might be able to give you some encouragement and support. If you are shy or just plain fed up, that may be tough, but living in isolation is not good for us. As believers, we’re meant to be in community. I realize the community is so imperfect, but I urge you not to give up.

I’m currently reading Michael Spencer’s book, Mere Churchianity. He said that exercising faith feels like war. I nearly cried when I read that because that has been my experience and I thought there was something wrong with me — that I just wasn’t doing it right. What feels terrible to you might a season of healing, discovering who Christ really means you to be and being vulnerable to others. What feels like war could be the foundation for your faith to grow than you ever expected.

Something else I want to address is God’s silence. Recently, I wrote an essay on that subject because God has been silent with me for several months, going on a year. I can attest that it makes me feel desperate and miserable at times. I have no explanation for it and he’s not telling me either. God is allowed to be inscrutable, though it makes me a bit crazy.

Perhaps exhaustion or life’s dramas have taken their toll and he wants us to just sit quietly for awhile and regain some strength. Perhaps he is trusting us to not run away, but to sit attentively at his feet and wait for him. Perhaps it is his ultimate demonstration of intimacy, to hover so close yet not have to speak. In any case, his silence is not a punishment, but a mercy because he is good and he loves us.

I will be praying for you.

Lisa Dye

Dear Help?,

First of all, thank you so much for your honesty. It is a commodity that is sadly lacking in Christianity, or at least for what passes as Christianity, these days. You may not know it, but you have spoken for the majority of us who consider ourselves Christians. We are sitting outside the camp, tired of trying to find God on our own, and without hope that anyone will be coming down the mountain with fresh fire anytime soon. We, too, find the Bible to be confusing and—to use your perfect choice of words—boring.

We, too, feel lost.

We talk about knowing his voice, of being able to see where he is walking and working. If we were as honest as you, we would have to say that the best we can do is to hear him faintly and see him dimly. And we are not content with that—we want more. We always want more of God than he gives us at that moment. It seems that God intends for us to always have this holy discontent existing inside of us so that we continually hunger for more and more of him.

So while you are hurting right now, we actually are somewhat excited for you. You are hungry for God. Not the silly god presented to us in so many of our churches today. The god (notice: small “g”) who seems to be obsessed with the music you listen to, the movies you watch, the books you read, the clothes you wear. The god who takes attendance in church each week and who measures the amount of time you spend reading the Bible and praying with a stopwatch. That god has been fabricated by less-than well-meaning men and women over the years, people who want to control their god and those who claim to follow their god. Why? Because they don’t want to give up control of their lives. And if they can control their god, they can—for a short amount of time—convince themselves that they are being good in their religion. Their god is impressed by their good behavior.

This is not the God you want. The God you are hungering for gave up the bookkeeping of sins at the very beginning of time. For, you see, he is the Lamb who was slain from the beginning of the world. Your sins were paid for before you even committed them. The good news is this: You are free. Completely. God does not need your assistance now or ever. He has done it all. But this freedom scares the beans out of the religious crowd. If our behavior no longer impresses God, then what do we use to control others? How do we get the approval of others? That seems to be the whole point of all the moralizing in our churches today: to win others’ approval. Jesus had something to say about this.

“I’m not interested in crowd approval. And do you know why? Because I know you and your crowds. I know that love, especially God’s love, is not on your working agenda. I came with the authority of my Father, and you either dismiss me or avoid me. If another came, acting self-important, you would welcome him with open arms. How do you expect to get anywhere with God when you spend all your time jockeying for position with each other, ranking your rivals and ignoring God?” (John 5:41-44 The Message)

As for your finding the Bible boring, that is no sin. Why not (and are we going to catch it for this suggestion) just put it back on the shelf for now? The Bible is not God. The Bible reveals God to us, shows us his nature so we can recognize him when he moves and acts and speaks to us. But for now, set it down. Yes, we know you first commented that you want to learn to hear God. But you have memorized texts and that is not helping. Let’s start in a different place. After a while you can pick the Bible back up, but this time with a new understanding of its purpose. It is not a rule book or a list of principles to make life better. It serves one purpose, and that is to show us Jesus. We have to look at every book of the Bible with our “Jesus eyes” in order for it to make sense. Otherwise, well, “boring” is about the best word for it. But when we are looking through the filter of Jesus, it comes to life like never before. It is like one of those hidden picture puzzle books. You will begin to see Jesus everywhere, in both the Old and New Testaments. But for now, you can set it aside and not worry about it.

One more thing. Try to relax. Really–just take it easy. So often we think that we need to work up spiritual feelings, feelings of godliness, in order to please God, whereas he just wants us to enjoy him. We please God when we simply believe that what he says is true. We don’t have to understand it or try to make it all work out. We just have to have simple trust in God himself to take care of all the details. He knows your heart even better than you do. Why not take the words of Augustine (echoed by many through the years) as your motto: Love God, then do as you please.

May the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

Jeff Dunn

Comments

  1. Great words for all of us, Lisa and JeffD; makes me glad I didn’t offer anything trite or smug.

    Increasingly I’m starting to get the “relax” thing, but for some of us, this is HARD WORK 🙂

    Greg R

  2. Alix Hall says:

    Over the years of searching, I learned to “speak” Jesus Freak, Pentacostal, Baptist, Catholic, Anglican, Non-Denominational, Evangelical–you name it. I went to Bible School. I even married a minister. I wanted so much to be a part of–it seemed that those folks had what I so desperately wanted. They heard the voice of God, they KNEW JESUS, they had miracles, they had love–and I wanted it so very much.

    My path has been a long and winding one including detours “out” of active church life and into alternative places. Dark Night of the Soul, the desert places, the valley of the shadow of death–whatever name you want to call the lost and lonely places searching for God–I wandered. I tried all of the Rules you mention, dear one, and a bunch more–I followed a bunch of people who turned out to be as lost as I was–always yearning for His Voice, His Touch.

    Sometimes, it seemed that I “almost” heard his voice–“almost” had it–whatever it was–and then over a very long time something happened–it was not a great awakening–or some great spiritual revelation–It was a soft, quiet inner healing over time–a very gradual relaxing of my desperation–an awakening of the knowledge of just how much sin had enveloped me and how much grace and mercy He had shown to love me from the foundation of the world that He would love me and all humanity so much….I became grateful for His Mercy–and by His Grace I began to see the gifts He had given me over the years. The years I had read the Scriptures out of duty without understanding gave me the gift of knowledge of Him. The years of illness had given me time in silence to read and learn and grow and heal emotionally–to see myself in reality and not in denial. The years of yearning and the pain of not fitting in taught me that perhaps I needn’t fit into anything but His Love. I began to see each flower as a gift of beauty and color, each wisp of breeze as His very soft caress,each smile from a stranger as a symbol of His love. The cry of a newborn child as God’s miracle and my very existance as a gift of Grace.

    I see today that there is a reason we Orthodox sing Lord Have Mercy so frequently in the Divine Liturgy. It is because we need that gift of mercy so very much. I can look back at my wandering through the wilderness and see that He walked with me even when I did not know it. He saw my yearning heart and honored each and every misstep because I was trying to walk toward Him. I believe God honors the prayers we say in the midst of the darkness all the more because we say them without some swell of emotion or some great joy in our hearts. Those cries come from the depth of our souls and He hears them–even when those cries seem to us to bounce back from the ceiling.

    Today I have a grateful heart (and I work to maintain it–the last 5 Psalms help a lot!!). My life isn’t perfect and I have no giant miracles. My health is still marginal. I still have bills. My kids still aren’t perfect and neither is the church community I worship in. But Grace has taught me to see all the small miracles happening all around me–and sometimes when I am very quiet, I hear the still soft voice of God.

    Alix

  3. Dear Help?,

    Books are not helpful to everyone, so ignore this suggestion if you don’t think it’s what you need. But I found the book “Beginning to Pray” by Anthony Bloom to be a very gentle, practical guide to drawing nearer to God. Like Jeff, the author says that sometimes we need to just stop — stop our devotions, our Bible reading, our attempts to do things the “right” way — and learn to rest. The book is written from an Orthodox perspective but is relevant and helpful to all Christians.

    May God bless you and keep you in the palm of his hand.

    • Leslie Jebaraj says:

      Because a book was suggested to you, I thought I’d throw in another help-ful tool: THE GRACE AWAKENING by Chuck Swindoll. Please get a copy; you would not regret!

  4. Stuart B says:

    I’ll add my voice to this group as well. And here…maybe these lyrics will inspire.

    Thrice – Beggars

    All you great men of power, you who boast of your feats –
    Politicians and entrepreneurs.
    Can you safeguard your breath in the night while you sleep?
    Keep your heart beating steady and sure?
    As you lie in your bed, does the thought haunt your head
    That you’re really, rather small?
    If there’s one thing I know in this life: we are beggars all.

    All you champions of science and rulers of men,
    Can you summon the sun from its sleep?
    Does the earth seek your counsel on how fast to spin?
    Can you shut up the gates of the deep?
    Don’t you know that all things hang, as if by a string,
    O’er the darkness – poised to fall?
    If there’s one thing I know in this life: we are beggars all.

    All you big shots that swagger and stride with conceit,
    Did you devise how your frame would be formed?
    If you’d be raised in a palace, or live out in the streets,
    Did you choose the place or the hour you’d be born?
    Tell me what can you claim? Not a thing – not your name!
    Tell me if you can recall just one thing,
    That’s not a gift in this life?

    Can you hear what’s been said?
    Can you see now that everything’s grace after all?
    If there’s one thing I know in this life: we are beggars all.

  5. Great post. Most of us have a hunger for God. God made us to be like that. These times are the hardest, yet the most significant times of our lives. Because when we search, we will find. It may not be the way we expect it to be, but God is always faithful and when we search for him, we will find him.
    Jeremiah 29:13
    You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. When we sincerely seek God we WILL find him.

  6. Thank you. Help? wasn’t the only one who needed that.

  7. My deepest thanks…..truly, as honestly as I can say it – “Thank you.” I’ve spilled my story to 5 or 6 different people in church and have never received anything close to the depth of replies found here.

    I’m not exactly sure what my next step is going to be. Growing up Baptist, spiritual disciplines to me meant going to Bible drill. I’ve purchased Richard Foster’s, “Celebration of Discipline” in the hopes I can learn more about spiritual formation. Any thoughts on that?

    As for taking a break from reading the Bible, Jeff – you are a heretic 😉 Actually, I had already been thinking about that, but with a twist. My marriage is really suffering because our lack of spiritual intimacy. I know my wife resents me for not leading us spiritually, which I would love to be able to do. It’s just really hard to lead your wife when you have no idea what to do or where to lead. So, I’m thinking I should perhaps start with just reading the Bible with her.

    Thanks again for the thoughts and prayers. It’s appreciated more than you know.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Here’s a thought about reading the Bible that might help. I once approached Bible-reading with the idea that I had to read “this much” every day, and read “something new” every day. Bible-reading became a chore, not a joy. Reading the Bible that way did nothing to help me get out of my own spiritual desert (lack of connection with God and Christ); in fact, it probably made me feel further disconnected and less spiritual, not to mention that I rarely got any insight into what God/Christ were all about.

      Then something (God? Holy Spirit?) laid a different approach on my heart. I began reading the Bible in very small chunks, and reading that chunk over and over until I got something out of it or until I felt it was time to move on. I would be in that small chunk of scripture for a whole week sometimes. Gone was the “pressure” to read a chapter a day, which did nothing in terms of me “getting” what the scripture had to say.

      Try this approach: pick 10-12 verses somewhere and plan on reading just that for a week. Ask God what He wants you to get out of those verses, and really think about what the words say. Don’t expect lightning to strike on day one, or day two, or even day three. But it is my experience that this approach relieves a lot of the anxiety associated with Bible reading, brings joy back into the reading, and allows God to give me insight I might otherwise not have gotten had I read those verses just once and moved onto something else a day later.

      (By the way, this is a great post and thread of comments!)

      • Jonathan Blake says:

        Practicing Lectio Divina or spiritual reading has been one of the best practices I’ve ever come across when reading the Bible and it goes like Rick Ro’s suggestion.

        This below isn’t too bad of a description of what it is:
        http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/Catholic/2000/08/How-To-Practice-Lectio-Divina.aspx

        Basically, one takes a passage and after taking a few moments to calm themselves and still their mind, soul, body they slowly read through the passage mulling over (chewing) each word, phrase and sentence. When you run into a passage that stands out and really challenges or speaks to you take time to meditate upon that and let the passage work its way into your heart and mind then pray about it for further understanding or thank God for revealing the mystery of that passage. Speak to Him about your questions or talk about what has been revealed. All throughout the day meditate on the passage and continue to talk to God through it or about it.

        I’m no expert on the matter but I gave it my best go. There is plenty out there to find out about Lectio Divina including but not limited to “Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading” by Eugene Peterson

        I don’t know how much all this will help but know that I am praying for you and you’ve found good company here

        Grace and Peace
        Jonathan

    • Lisa Dye says:

      There is nothing wrong with practicing the spiritual disciplines. Those are like the exercises and drills that athletes perform in preparation for the real event. I’ve practiced different ones over the years and find that it’s not the practice so much that draws me closer to God, but the assimilation that occurs in the quiet unsuspecting moments. For example, we can memorize Scripture and it is just a rote exercise, but in a still moment the Holy Spirit may bring a flash of revelation associated the verses we’ve hidden away. Sometimes in the press of a crisis, the memorized passage may jump to the forefront of our minds and provide wisdom or direction and it is like God is speaking to that specific need.

      I think the important thing is not to make the exercise an idol. I used to get very indignant if my prayer time was interrupted. Yes, we need to keep some boundaries, but we don’t get a failing grade if we don’t pray at a certain time every day or read so many chapters out of our Bible or fast on a certain day every week.

      Fellowship with God is not about checking items off our list; it’s about enjoying him. A book that illustrates this idea is The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Laurence (not sure if I spelled that correctly), a monk who worked in his monastery’s kitchen scrubbing pots and using the time to enjoy God.

      By the way, I liked your poetry so much! Dorothy Sayers discusses how art is reflective of God’s amazing creative power through his people in The Mind of the Maker. We bear his image and when we hone our artistic gifts we are glorifying him and giving him expression through us to the culture and times in which we live. Beauty has its source in God and is inherently good. We please him when we uncover and cultivate the talents with which he’s gifted us.

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      I’m not exactly sure what my next step is going to be. Growing up Baptist, spiritual disciplines to me meant going to Bible drill. I’ve purchased Richard Foster’s, “Celebration of Discipline” in the hopes I can learn more about spiritual formation. Any thoughts on that?

      Spiritual formation is an interesting concept. I’m kind of working through that right now myself. I had spent much of my college years in a pretty legalistic frame of mind. When that didn’t pan out for me I spent several years learning to let it go and relax a bit more. Ultimately that led me back to a place where I wanted the disciplines but without the legalistic mindset. I found Spirituality for Everyday Living by Fr. Brian Taylor to be a good introduction to Benedictine spirituality as it can be applied for non-monastic folk. That has led me to using the Book of Common Prayer in my devotional time (which makes sense historically; Cranmer borrowed a lot from Benedictine prayer traditions as he assembled the first BCP back in the 1500s).

      The real challenge with the disciplines is integrating them into your life gradually so that they don’t become legalism. That’s the “formation” part of spiritual formation. As an Orthodox Jew told me once about learning to live Torah, “You don’t eat the whole elephant at once.” Spiritual formation really is an ongoing process that has ebbs and flows. One week I may have no problems hitting all four daily prayer services every day. The next week it may be a struggle to even go to church for the Eucharist. It’s just part of the journey.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My deepest thanks…..truly, as honestly as I can say it – “Thank you.” I’ve spilled my story to 5 or 6 different people in church and have never received anything close to the depth of replies found here.

      That’s because we’ve been there. Chaplain Mike, Jeff Dunn, J Michael Jones/Christian Monist, this wannabe SF writer whose head’s never been wrapped all that tight — all of us Bozos on this bus, Veterans of the same Psychic Wars.

      • Leave it to you to quote Firesign Theatre…

        But Headless is right. We have been–or are still–there. We iMonks are not breathing some rarified air. I am editing an essay right now from Joe Spann that will rip your heart into pieces and hand it back to you as a jigsaw puzzle. Lisa Dye’s next Raspberry Wars will show you the kindness of God–and have you wondering why so few actually understand it. We are simply sharing where we are in this journey we are stumbling on.

        Oh, and just so everyone knows: We get as much or more from you all then you do from us. We really are all in this together.

  8. Jo Ann Peterson says:

    Thank you Lisa and Jeff and especially Help? I feel like just sobbing. (in a good way) Relief.

  9. Let me post one more thing…..Something I’d never show to anyone in person – but that’s what internet anonymity is for, right? I’m not much of a poet, but this is my attempt at writing where I’m at….

    i’ve been thinking lately
    about the pages i read and digest
    and the way reality doesn’t always
    seem to mesh with theology
    how people give trite answers
    and seem shocked when someone questions
    the answers they don’t understand

    it’s like we’ve made a banner
    of rational defense and coffee mug cliches’
    while few seem to walk in the very
    things they profess and even fewer
    realize it

    it’s frightening to think that faith
    may be nothing more than just that
    and the object of affection could
    be quite different than all the learned
    men teach

    and maybe i’ve just totally missed it
    in fact, i hope i have
    but if i’m off then let me get back on
    something that’s real and transforming,
    life changing, breath taking, awe inspiring
    let the guy on tv keep the camp t-shirt,
    fluffy songs, 3 peice suits, and

    and i don’t know what else…all the religion,
    morality police, building funds, door hangers,
    bring your neighbor days, and cute sermon titles…
    i don’t want to be ashamed of questions
    and struggles, or wanting something different
    than i had…of dreams that exist and
    people that matter and life that lives and love
    that explodes and faith that inspires me to be
    more and do more

    than write attempts at poetry without
    meter,rhyme, big words, or deep
    thoughts

    • Allyson says:

      I don’t know if it’s great poetry, but it sure resonated with me. Particularly this line:

      i’m off then let me get back on
      something that’s real and transforming,
      life changing, breath taking, awe inspiring

      I think that’s why I keep listening (see my comment below, which I posted before I read your poem.)

    • brendan says:

      Thank you Help? your essay and poetry are the essence of my heart. Sometimes I just want to scream and yell and someone slap me…in my mind anger is better than misery and yet I don’t have the energy to muster up anger.

    • I like it and I usually hate poetry that doesn’t rhyme! I do think you should share it with your wife so at least one person will have to know where you are in real life.

  10. Allyson says:

    Thanks, Jeff and Lisa, for writing this–and thanks, Help?, for your honesty. I didn’t go to church for years because the temptation to live a lie was so great, and I didn’t want to live a lie. The truth is, I struggle almost daily with unbelief. Even now, I don’t share that with the people at my church because I fear becoming a name to be checked off on a prayer list. I listen hopefully for the voice of God, and after weeks or months of not hearing it, I think, “Hm. Must not be real after all.” And then I go back to listening. It doesn’t really make sense, but there it is.

    Which is a long way of saying that, while you may be (almost) alone in your courage and honesty, you’re not alone in your experience of not hearing God’s voice, even though you strain desperately to hear it.

    • Thanks to you (and everyone else) who has spoken up about a similar experience. Can I just say that sometimes the two words I need to hear more than anything else in the world is – “me too.”

      To the tired and downcast….me too.

      Looks like I’m not as alone as I thought.

  11. I spent years playing the church games, Help?….accountability groups to strengthen faith…only to find out in a one-on-one conversation with my best friend there that he and I were only revealing the sins we were comfortable with people knowing about…and we eventually found that was true of the whole group; Telephone chains, calling each other at 5:00AM, so we could pray for at least an hour before work…only to find out that only 3 of the 12 guys in our chain weren’t going back to bed as soon as they hung up the phone; and of course, the constant criticism of churches where people didn’t raise their hands in worship, and naturally, the heretics in our church who didn’t “actively partcipate” in worship.

    For me, breaking away from that surface spirituality involved traveling overseas, being exposed to churches with ancient traditions, and realizing that our American Christian cultural norms don’t exactly match up with most of the rest of the human race. My journey took me back to the Christian calendar, to fixed hour prayer, to the Book of Common Prayer lectionary, to worship that centered less around music and dramatic altar calls, and more on the Word and the communion table. We live in a microwave society…get fast results, rapid change, and if it doesn’t stick for the long haul, find a new microwave (AKA church program) to stick it in, hoping for different results.

    For me, my own spiritual journey has become less about the microwave, and more about the marinade…being refreshed by God through ancient practices, and allowing His Word to soak in at it’s own pace. The alternative is to be exhausted by what we perceive to be “God’s business”…not a good thing…to often, we make an idol of our own perceived spiritual depth, and that well runs dry quickly.

    Some days I don’t pray…some I don’t read the Bible…some I don’t pick up the BCP. Some days I turn off the radio, instead of feeling pressured to listen to “Christian music”, and just enjoy the ride. Some days I prefer classic 70’s rock over Michael W. Smith…actually, that’s most days…

    My own desire now is not for my life to impress God, but to live as though I am infinitely impressed with God…to make the spiritual incarnate by following God’s ebb and flow…not trying so much to swim against the tide constantly. Over the past year, I’ve begun to enjoy my Christianity more than I have in the past ten years of being a pastor.

    Thanks, Help?, for your honesty. Great read.

    • By the way, music on my playlist while I wrote and edited this post included:

      Crosby, Stills and Nash
      Gillian Welch
      Neko Case
      The Boss
      Batdorf and Rodney
      John Prine
      Leon Russell
      Over the Rhine
      Wilco
      Bob Dylan

      And others in that eclectic style. Sorry, no Michael W. Smith. Perhaps I should go back and erase my part of the essay… 🙂

      • As I turned up Emmylou Harris’ “Pancho and Lefty” this morining I thought of God’s great gift of music and musicians and JeffD’s scandalous love of the arts. Teach your children well, my friend…….

        GReg R

        • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          Ever hear that song performed by Townes Van Zandt (the guy who originally wrote it)? He’s got a 1975 double album called “Live at the Old Quarter” where they recorded a show he did at some little bar in Houston with just him and his 6-string. Talk about the soul of music.

          • JoanieD says:

            I love Townes Van Zandt music, Isaac. I also love many of the musicians on Jeff’s list.. There’s a few there that I don’t know. I never listen to “Christian” music unless you count Bruce Cockburn and it took me a while to realize that his may be considered Christian music by some folks. I do have some Gregorian chanting CDs, but don’t listen much to them either.

          • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

            Well, Joanie, the Boss has a relatively recent record of Gospel songs. I LOVE his cover of “Mary Don’t Weep”

          • I’ve been singing “Pancho needs your prayers, it’s true, but save some for JeffD too….” it just fits. After listening to Townes do this tune , I’m very thankful that

            1) he wrote it
            2)he let Emmylou do a cover…..the song is made for her

        • My children just say, “Dad, can you turn your music down, please?”

          • Isaac, I love Springsteen’s version of “Mary Don’t Weep” too. I can’t remember which album that is on, but we have it. What is the name of his recent album of Gospel songs? I know he did an album of folk songs.

          • to which JeffD says..: ” Whuhhh ???” 🙂

      • Makes me wonder what you woul’ve written if your list was played BACKWARDS 🙁

      • Yeah…I actually realized yesterday that I sang “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen all the way to work, then in the afternoon it was “Deliver Us” all the way home, sung by Derek Webb, from Andrew Peterson’s “Behold The Lamb of God”…There’s a comparative sermon in there somewhere.

        My ipod has no Michael W. Smith, either…But I do own John Fahey’s “Brand New Possibility” on vinyl…Does that count?

  12. Help?,
    Thank you for writing. I have been (and am still) in the same place you describe. You are NOT alone by any means. All I have wanted for my life is to hear God,and to KNOW what to do in any given situation. But alas, silence, with minute bouts of knowing, and a few whispers, far and few between. And the people who wanted to be Spritual Advisors/Mentors. Oh please, no more. So, I went back to the basics. I started thanking God for who I was in Christ. I am His child, seated with Him in heaven, I am forgiven, and the like. I have a list of 36 with scripture that I have gone over and over for the last little while. The other thing I have been doing is writing and reading Scriptures that speak of God’s faithfulness to complete the work He began in me. Lisa Dye’s post, Raspberry Wars, was so helpful to me also. To be reminded that God wants me healthy and whole was such an encouragement to me.

    I would like to share this Scripture with you, it helped me hang on to the tiniest thread of Hope.
    Heb 10:35-36 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
    I can’t tell you just exactly what it was about this that kept me going, but I have clung to it. I do need endurance and I don’t want to throw away all I have learned in the past about and of God.
    Hangeth thou in there, God knows where you are.

  13. An experience my six year old had last year reminded me of a very important thing to remember in our walk with Jesus.

    She was dealing with some health issues which sometimes cause behavioral issues. We had had a rough bedtime and she was in her bed crying. She prayed to Jesus to help her.

    The next day she pulled me aside and sheepishly said, “I think he spoke to me last night.”

    “Who spoke to you sweety?” I said.

    “Jesus.”

    “Really? What did he say to you?”

    Pause. “I don’t know. But I prayed to him and then I felt really funny for a long time and kind of laughed and cried at the same time and then I just felt like everything was ok.”

    WOW. So my six year old was convinced that Christ “spoke” to her but she didn’t know what he said. I am not convinced of God speaking to me unless I have it neatly written in my journal with five scriptures to back it up. Then I remembered. We are the utilitarians in this relationship. We want words from God that go together in well ordered sentences and paragraphs. He is bound by no such need. His being with us, even his speaking to us doesn’t have to end with a specific directions and instructions. Just being together is the thing. God is good. Really really good.

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      I’ve been listening to a couple of speeches/teachings NT Wright gave at some Calvinist seminary on Sacramental theology. Regarding children and the Eucharist, he was saying something about how he suspects that in their simplicity and innocence they may have a more deeper innate “understanding” of God than we do even if they don’t really technically understand him theologically.

      • I agree Isaac. I have often said that the true pinnacles of faith are where words fail anyway.

    • Wow! Thanks. I want to remember this story. God has been “telling” me that it’s okay to be his little child and that I don’t need to push and strain to grow up. Your daughter helps me to better understand what it means to be a child. I don’t have to understand God before I can experience him.

    • The other Graham says:

      That is wonderful to hear! Our 8 year old grandaughter came to my wife a few dats ago and asked, “Granna, can you teach me to pray so I can hear Jesus?”. She’s been praying since she was very small, but now she longs for prayer to be a dialog. With Granna’s help, she’s started a prayer journal. My prayer for her is that she never loses that desire and learns to listen with her heart for as long as she draws breath.

  14. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    One more thing. Try to relax. Really–just take it easy.

    Yeah, that’s huge. I think it’s really easy to fall into one of two traps: either trying way too hard or being spiritually lazy. Those of us who are inclined to try way too hard really need to just BE at times. Sometimes that can even mean taking a Sabbatical from church! But usually God doesn’t let us stay there. Eventually we need to get back into the fight. I guess the timing on those things is between a person and God.

  15. I’m sure I’ll be chastised for saying this, but I too was once in this person’s shoes. Everyone talked about how great God was and how they were experiencing him all the time, I felt jealous and hurt that I never experienced these great feelings that everyone else had. I searched for answers from friends, and I then searched for deeper answers from people who were more educated in theology.

    My friends asked me how I couldn’t feel Jesus’ presence while listening to DC Talk. My priests quoted verses saying that God just doesn’t work like that. Finally I realized I was so determined to believe what I could not find evidence for and stopped believing. Every experience that I had been longing for was just an emotional reaction to what just happens naturally in the world.

    And so Help, I ask you, what more would it take for you to not believe anymore?

    • Hey Andy….Honestly, I don’t know that I could ever “not believe”. I simply don’t have enough faith to not believe. Whether my experience plays out the way I think it should, or matches what others around me go through, it still not a matter of belief. At a very basic level, I can’t look at the intricacy of everything – nature, me, my body, etc – and believe it all happened by random chance. Some people have enough faith to believe in that, but I’m not one of them. It takes faith to believe in God, and even more not to.

      But really, my issue isn’t whether or not God exists. I’ve experienced his nearness before. I know what it is to truly love Christ with all my heart…to wake up and feel God’s presence….it’s what makes the lack of all the more painful now.

      If my dad never called again, never stopped by, never wrote me a letter….I would question a lot of things. Does he really love me? Why won’t he speak with me? Is it something I’m doing? Is there something different I should be trying? Is he as good as I thought?

      No, I would certainly not be lacking questions. But it would never be a question of whether or not he existed. That’s one question I would know for certain, because I would have had previous experiences with him that could not be diminished or forgotten – no matter how painful, and silent his current actions might be.

      • Hey man, its cool. I don’t believe everything happened by random chance either. I wish I could say how everything happened, but I don’t believe anyone has the real answer to that. That is what letting go of faith is: accepting that no one really has a good answer to that question.

        Anyways, I wish you the best.

    • Andy,

      Thanks for chiming in. You say that the experience you had been looking for was “just and emotional reaction to what happens naturally in the world.” What happens naturally in the world and the emotional reactions that follow flows from the loving heart of a God that is still haunting you. Don’t let the shallow answers of a few chase you from the Creator.

      I would contend that you are hurt or angry and that your “unbelief” is actually an attempt to get back at God or the church. I don’t think it is actual unbelief at all.

      Sometimes this “unbelief” is actually just the final honest exasperation with religion that precedes and honest friendship with God.

      Not chastising. In fact, welcoming your input. But that’s my two cents in reply. Much love and respect.

      • “What happens naturally in the world and the emotional reactions that follow flows from the loving heart of a God that is still haunting you.”

        I’m sure you honestly and truly believe this, but I can assure you that God is not “haunting” me, and the lack of evidence in your assertion is ultimately what turned me away from faith.

        I can assure you that I am not hurt or angry, that was a long time ago and I am quite content.

        My unbelief is a final exasperation with faith. We can make a great many claims as to how the world was created, or why everything is the way it is, but faith will continue to be a method of finding it without evidence.

        That is why I do not believe

        Cheers.

        • Thanks Andy. I understand your position now more. Sorry to make assumptions about your position.

          I will simply echo what Help? said in that it takes more faith to not believe in the existence of a Creator of some sort. After that the only question is what is his nature? Good, evil, indifferent?

          Anyway, I won’t try to convince you to faith because you are looking for evidence. I don’t have evidence to convince you to faith because faith is itself evidencial of things unseen. Faith never questions well founded reason but it does go places that reason cannot.

          If you ever decide again to go to those places, or if you ever need to, he will be there to start and finish the faith in you. Thanks again.

  16. Please forgive me if this runs too long. What I need to convey will only make sense if I tell the whole story.

    My journey began about four years ago when God put into that agnostic’s heart an overwhelming longing. But it all seemed ridiculous. I wasn’t capable of walking by faith. Then, as the longing increased, I turned to verses that I hadn’t read since childhood. I realized a seed of faith must be in me. Otherwise, why this need to understand?

    The seed of my conversion began to take root. I say ‘began to take root’ because I now see my walk with God as a journey. That beginning was life-altering and profound to be sure. Yet it now seems only the first hair-thin roots reaching through my being; the first leaves unfurling toward the light.

    Soon after, our family faced a challenge so horrible that I wasn’t sure we could endure. God had awoken that longing in me, precisely at that time, because I needed Him to survive what was to come.

    I joined a local church, spent a lot of time in prayer and study. Meanwhile, our family was facing this terrible crisis. Then I needed a biopsy because of a possible cancer. And there were still other things that added up to me feeling utterly overwhelmed.

    One Sunday morning I found myself at the altar rail begging God to give me more strength. I was completely used up, emotionally. As I walked back to my seat God told me clearly and firmly, “Trust, not strength.” I felt bathed in comfort and understanding. No amount of strength from me would get us through these challenges. Stop trying to move mountains by the strength of my own will. Trust Him.

    The scientist in me has tried to analyze that word from God. It wasn’t a booming voice. It wasn’t even a quiet whisper. Of all my senses ‘hearing’ does describe it best, but that doesn’t seem exactly right either. The words were unexpected, took me completely by surprise. I felt bathed in comfort and understanding. Trust Him. I was His. He was with me no matter what.

    Now as amazing as that experience, scarcely a month later I found myself literally throwing a tantrum in prayer. I said, “How am I supposed to love you when I don’t even know who you are? Who are you, anyway? How can I possibly know you? How can I love what I don’t understand?”

    How can I describe what this was like? As I said these things to God, I felt suddenly alone. It was as though God withdrew and left me utterly alone. I felt terrified and miserable and defeated. Had I angered God so much that He wanted nothing more to do with me? Had I been cast out?

    But that word “Trust” kept coming back to me. I kept praying and I kept studying even though I felt abandoned – deservedly so. During this time I read ‘My Utmost For His Highest’. This was a huge help because I began to understand that God hadn’t abandoned me. He was teaching me to walk by faith.

    I am certainly not suggesting there is one right book to read at such a time, or one right verse or one right prayer to repeat. I think the most we can do is to continue the journey in faith, with whatever bit of faith we possess. Keep praying. Keep studying. Keep sharing with others. As miserable as I was during that time, my faith was greatly strengthened. It was strengthened by following the silence, like following blindfolded while still trusting that the guide was really there.

    As horrible and as terrifying as the experience at that time, I am grateful now. From that experience I learned so much more about faith. I also learned that God is so much more than we can possible comprehend.

    Early on during my journey I had searched myself and tried to remove any anger or resentment that I found. If you had asked me during that time if any remained I would have truthfully replied, “I don’t think so.” But something did remain and it was so deep that I hadn’t even begun to acknowledge its hold on my life.

    What happened was this. Although the church I joined was very different from the one of my childhood, I began to feel irritated by, well by just about everything. This irritation grew until I couldn’t stand church. This frustration affected my prayer life.

    I left the church and it felt as though a weight was lifted. Perhaps church wasn’t for me. But in the months that followed I gradually understood that this anger was related to very old resentments from childhood church experiences.

    I wish I could say that I have worked through all that I needed to work though, but from what I have experienced these past few years I doubt it. I journey on in faith although I usually seem to be standing on plateaus. For whatever my experiences may be worth to anyone reading this, here is what I have learned.

    God’s grace truly is amazing. It is only by His grace that any of us are on this journey.

    Our circumstances and experiences are each unique. Therefore, we cannot compare one’s experiences with God with another. We can trust that He knows what each of us really need. In my garden I know that my plants each have their own needs. They need to be pruned each in their own time, watered, fertilized. We can trust that God knows what each of us really need.

    No matter what, you cannot allow church to come between your relationship with God. Step back for a time if necessary. Read iMonk’s book. Pray. Share. Study. Above all, trust Him!

    • OK, Sarah’s comments stay as-is. The rest of you, tighten up the reins a bit, ok?

      And the word Sarah heard in her spirit–“Trust, not strength”–is key to it all. We are called to trust, not do. Trust, not understand. Trust, not explain. And for me, that is harder than anything.

  17. Thank you Help? for your honesty, and Lisa and Jeff for your responses, and all the comments too. I have been there often, Help? In fact, I think I always lived with a desire to draw nearer to God and to hear him. The bible was always a bore to me. I couldn’t admit it, but it was. I’ve by no means “arrived” but a deep brokenness at the hands of a personal trial has given me a glimpse of the very loving and real God I have always longed for. I’d love to not have to remember my suffering nor that I’m suffering still and may always suffer because of my lot, but yet I’d also not want to go back to who I was before it struck.

    I don’t know if that’s encouragment at all. I mostly just want to encourage you that you are not alone. Finally, Michael Spencer’s book has helped me to break through some of the churchianity that was clouding my vision of the real Jesus of the Bible and not my own making. I believe, as such, he has mentored me to draw close to a real and living God through Jesus my Lord. And I didn’t know who he was or about this site until he had already passed on to glory.

  18. Dana Ames says:

    Help?
    I think most of the people who read iMonk have been where you are, and not a few may still be there.

    My favorite blogger once wrote something like, “Life just needs to be lived. God is where you are right now, in the ordinary…” So God is with you even, especially, in the midst of your honest heart-cry.

    I also think the only way anyone “leads spiritually” is through honesty and humility in whatever one is doing. (I have other opinions about this, but I won’t burden you with them.)

    When I was trying to be faithful while waiting for nine years for I-knew-not what-would-be-next, the Northumbria Community daily prayer kept me grounded and helped me trust, and pray honestly even when I thought I didn’t want to pray. I recommend it without reservation: http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/pray-the-daily-office.

    The triune God is good and merciful and has saved us. May you find joy and gratitude even in the midst of the questions and sorrow and unsettledness, as you continue to seek the “one thing needful”.

    Dana

  19. Don C.. says:

    Help?,

    Been there, still doing that. There are more of us than you know on the same kind of journey. Thanks for sharing yours with us.

  20. Denise Spencer says:

    Forgive me if I repeat what someone else has said.

    As for hearing God speak, I believe the vast majority of what God wants us to know is already right in front of us — in His word. I rely on the Bible way, way more than on hearing anything directly from the Spirit. Those times are rare.

    I’m not advocating setting the Bible aside as Jeff said, but it may be good for a while. I don’t know. I do know that when you pick it up again I’d recommend reading the gospels. As Jeff said, it’s all about Jesus. And He has already done everything needful for our salvation. Read of His birth, His life, His death and resurrection. And thank God.

    Feelings don’t mean much. Feelings can be fickle. They can be heavily influenced by our overall physical/mental/emotional state, and generally are. I’m sure you know that Mother Teresa didn’t feel God for years and years and years, yet she continued serving Him anyway.

    I’d recommend a book: “Spiritual Depression” by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones — http://www.christianbook.com/spiritual-depression-d-lloyd-jones/9780802813879/pd/1387

    I wish you the best.

    • Reading the gospels is probably that much more important for theological types that are looking to solve theological problems, and hammer out the details. It’s good to be reminded that we are called to a Person, not just a doctrinal position. Helpful words , Denise.

      Greg R

  21. Dear Help?,

    After reading all of the responses, especially yours, I have changed what I was going to say.

    Since you have been close to God, and now feel far away, you might want to look into “Dark Night of the Soul.” It is real, but many branches of Christianity, don’t recognize it. (Except as failure on your part)

    Enjoy physical things, beauty, etc. The smell of a good meal, the soft touch of a favorite pet’s fur, the well tended garden, etc.

    Perhaps listen to the Scriptures. Laurence Olivier has read some of the Psalms.

    Listen to music of another faith tradition, like chant or Missa Luba.

    One of my favorite choir anthems goes like this.

    “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.”
    “I believe in love, even when not feeling it.”
    “I believe in God, even when He is silent.”

    The chorus is, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

    You are not alone, I’ve been there, done that. More that I would like to admit.

    • Enjoy physical things, beauty, etc. The smell of a good meal, the soft touch of a favorite pet’s fur, the well tended garden, etc

      @Anna: Excellent and often overlooked counsel. Our GOD is a GOD of the beautiful, and HIS wonderful world is speaking to us always. What a great idea to slow down and look closely at something that we will never be able to duplicate in several millenia, no matter how hard we try. An added plus: our focus on our garden takes our focus (at least temporarily) off of US. That is a great help, usually.

      Nice post.

  22. Brother Bartimaeus says:

    Help?,
     
    I assure you that God is not ignoring you, and I have a feeling you are hearing him loud and clear.  God has given you a wonderful gift, as he is trying to break you out of the lame “Churchianity” you have found yourself in.  Embrace that gift and do not fear it, for God is with you.
     
    I have two challenges for you.  First, read something outside your comfort zone that will give you another perspective on God.  When I read Rudolph Bultmann’s Jesus Christ and Mythology (in my church’s theology reading group), it awoken in me that there is a whole other world of Christian thought out there; one that is based on using our God given intelligence.  While I wouldn’t wish Bultmann on anyone else, it was the jump-start that I needed for a renewed faith.  For something more mild, I’d suggest trying Marcus Borg’s Heart of Christianity, Michael Spenser’s Mere Churchianity or maybe check out the catalog for Westminster John Knox to find something that appeals to your personal intellect.  Try something from a writer in a different denomination or faith tradition, and not from some cookie-cutter Christian bookstore.  Get a different perspective and wrestle and argue with it; just get out of your current mold.
     
    Next, I would challenge you to get back to basics: love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbour as yourself.  That’s it.  Drop all the other pretenses that we heap upon Christianity.  Who’s saved when and why, who’s doomed to Hell, and all the other legalisms we’ve developed to further the culture war.  Invest all the time you’d spend doing all that other stuff (or not doing it) in just loving and abiding.  Love your family, help the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the poor.

    Don’tjust listen for God, experience Him.
     
    Peace

    • Brother Bartimaeus says:

      Be the butterfly God wants you to be, instead of the caterpillar in a cocoon.

  23. Jake R. says:

    This whole discussion assumes that it is normal for God to talk to us, when in fact this is kind of unusual (some would say inherently delusional). I realize that there is an important cultural component, in that some societies and religious denominations accept or promote this possibility more than others, and thus what is considered “normal” varies a lot depending on context. (Incidentally, it is worth considering which cultures and values this website embodies.)

    Most religions want their followers to think something is wrong with them. That way we won’t blame the religion when we feel unhappy–we’ll blame ourselves. This may be convenient for the religion, but I think it is inadvisable for people, who have to come to terms with cold, secular reality without projecting counter-productive fantasies onto it.

    Whatever you are searching for, may I suggest that you are more likely to find it among your fellow human beings than in spiritual abstractions (whether they ultimately exist or not).

  24. I too am in a period where God is not speaking to me as I would like Him to. As I have heard Him in the past, etc. I too have been bothered by reading the Bible. I know each story inside and out, so I cannot read it with fresh eyes at this point.

    So I have been reading some Frederick Buechner. His “Secrets in the Dark” and “Listening to your life” really minister to me in rough times. Buechner is all about the idea that God is a mystery, and we cannot put Him into a box that we can get our minds around, and if we open our eyes and look around, we will see Him everywhere, even if He doesn’t speak to us the way we’d like him to.

    I have no answers for you Help?, just empathy from someone who can relate in part.

    May you rest in the sure knowledge of our savior’s love for us.

  25. Scott M says:

    Good posting.
    I’ve been a Christian for many years.
    I live In Kansas and everyone I know that believes has great experiences.
    I do not. Like Help, I do not like reading the Bible. I do not hear from God like my friends do.

    But that is OK. One of the things that helped me was when I heard Rod Rosenbladt say that “the Gospel is not about you!” It is about Jesus.
    And the Bible is not a roadmap to get miracles. I am convinced that miracles are uncommon. Otherwise they would be trivial.

  26. For those tired of reading the same Bible verses, there was a book reviewed here a while back that I would like to recommend.

    The Complete Psalms
    The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation
    By Pamela Greenberg

    This translation brings the Psalms alive in a fresh and meaningful way. It’s like reading them for the first time. Reading her translation of Psalm 104 was breathtaking.

  27. Thank you all for the sharing you each have done. Most of all, thanks to Help? And thanks also to Jeff and Lisa for recognizing Help?’s relevance.

    Not everyone has been where Help? is, because not everyone cares about his relationship with God the way Help? and most other posters here care. The dissonance is painful, and it should also be recognized as a indication of perseverance.

    A few years ago a pastor at a conference said he was himself the worst sinner he knew. The host suggested he really couldn’t mean that. The pastor insisted he did, as he knew his heart and its expression in his behavior far better than he knew anyone else’s.

    As Paul reported being told by God, His grace is sufficient.

    Both the pastor’s observation and Paul’s citation have been helpful to me recently. The bible said repeating one’s sin is like a dog returning to its vomit. I eat so much vomit. Yet God’s grace is sufficient.

    As was observed by one poster, we who follow Christ are commanded to love God and love neighbors, not to focus on doing nothing defined as wrong. According to what I read (and sometimes hear) we are to *trust* what He commands so much that we *do* what He commands.

    Above someone wrote that Spencer wrote exercising faith is like war. I’ve been in war, and it does. I am asked — ordered — to do things I am afraid to do. I am expected to have the trust, and the loyalty, and just enough courage to expose myself enough to take the next step.

    Help?, Mother Teresa left behind letters in which she said she could not hear God. I bet she does, and you will, hear God.

  28. “We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace…Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’ ”
    – Paul Tillich, from “The Shaking of the Foundations”.

  29. Several folks have already mentioned that it may be unusual for God to speak to us personally, and that is the conclusion I have come to, as well.

    Why is it that in the older traditions of Christianity (i.e. Catholic, Orthodox) the mystic, i.e. the person who hears God speak in some more immediate way, is considered a special, holy person? Why, because the ordinary believer in the pew relies on Scripture and the Liturgy rather than on direct speaking.

    I have two observations:

    1. My tradition, non-charismatic evangelical, does not believe that the sign gifts (visions, prophecy, tongues) are for today, and that they ceased, in effect, because the canon of Scripture is complete, thus we have in the Bible all that God wants to say to us. Yet they continue to say things like, “God told me …”, “God spoke to me in my quiet time …”, etc. I believe that for some of them this may well be true; for many of us it is a way of speaking we use because others use it and we don’t want to be left out of the exclusive group of those to who God speaks. But for some of us we cannot keep this up for long without realizing that it is bogus, and then we feel the way Help? and others have described.

    2. The pentecostal/charismatic tradition of evangelicalism does believe the sign gifts are still available and active in the church, but I don’t believe that God speaks to them directly any more than to the non-charismatic folks. However, because of the belief in these things, the pressure to use this language is even greater than in the non-charismatic camp, and the inhibition to label any sort of impression we have as God speaking is much lower, with the result of all the weirdness we see in Toronto, Lakeland FL, and similar phenomena.

    Maybe we all need to get back to seeing Scripture as the primary way of God speaking to us, and to the fact that we are called to walk by FAITH not by sight — and I submit that “hearing” here would be equivalent to “seeing” — we are not often granted it, and are called to have faith nevertheless.

    And if we go back to Scripture, there is not an awful lot in there about FEELING close to God, FEELING His presence, and all these other cozy expressions — which is why so much of contemporary worship music is problematic, with lyrics describing a love affair with God.

    I have an ongoing debate with those who consider the term “religion” negative and inappropriate when applied to our faith and walk with Christ, and who insist on calling it a “relationship.”

    For many of us this poses a problem, because when we think of relationship, we think of our wife, our friends, our siblings — people we can see, can touch, can talk to and they invariably talk back, we never have any doubt about their presence or what they look like or sound like.

    God isn’t like that; Jesus isn’t like that. We cannot see him, touch him, hear him; we may not doubt that he exists but we sure wonder whether he hears us; we may not doubt what he has done for us on the cross, but we aren’t sure what he is doing for us now; all we can do is faithfully obey the commandments he has left us in Scripture, and continue to struggle to trust that it’s all true.

    When we do we get occasional glimpses, but woe to us if we begin to rely on these glimpses to motivate and feed us.

    Anyway, that’s my take on this. I came to the realization that cozy feelings of closeness are not the essence of the Christian life, and life suddenly became much more bearable.

    • Wolf Paul has been, is, and will continue to be one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking of our readers and commenters. I am always challenged by his response. Yet in this case I have to disagree with him.

      I fully believe God desires a relationship with each of his children that exceeds that of any earthly relationship we might have. I cannot explain the how or why of it, which—for me—makes it all the more certain that it is God.

      Thanks, Brother Wolf, for your insights. I look forward to when we, too, can have a face-to-face friendship. (Preferably in Austria, not Oklahoma…!)

      • all we can do is faithfully obey the commandments he has left us in Scripture, and continue to struggle to trust that it’s all true.

        Whether you accept Wolf’s take on feelings and emotion, or JeffD’s, I think you both agree on this point, which is my big take away. Thanks, Wolf P.

        Greg R

      • I appreciate the fact that both Jeff and Wolf P are able to articulate their opinions in a way that is respectful of each other and with the end goal of helping Help? in an obvious time of distress and need. This is the iMonk community at its best.

    • A helpful acronym is R-E-S-T.
      Reason. Experience. Scripture. Tradition.

      We should always ask ourselves: “Does this experience agree with scripture?

      To dismiss experiences outright or to say God wouldn’t do that, is problematic for me. If I were to dismiss experiences, why bother with the rest? To say God wouldn’t do that is to suggest that our little fallible brains comprehend all that is God – there is no mystery.

      Experience tells me that’s just not true. Scripture tells me the same. So does tradition.

    • WP, consider this, please: If we agree that we are to walk by faith rather than by sight, how would one put his primary reliance upon what he reads, which is typically by sight?

      As Jeff wrote: “The Bible is not God. The Bible reveals God to us, shows us his nature so we can recognize him when he moves and acts and speaks to us.” I believe that states the situation ver well.

      My bible study mirrors that of several posters here, in that I read multiple translations, do my own paraphrase and summaries, and take a week or more per chapter because of re-reading to give time to absorb. Then I re-read the book I have just finished. I’ve been in Luke for well over a year. I mention this because I would not suggest that bible reading is not extremely supportive of my relationship with God.

      But as Jeff says, the bible is not God. (And no, WP, you have not said that it is.) If we are to “get back to” anything, perhaps it would be to get back to how the early church — prior to 312 — related to and experienced God.

      • My bible study mirrors that of several posters here, in that I read multiple translations, do my own paraphrase and summaries, and take a week or more per chapter because of re-reading to give time to absorb. Then I re-read the book I have just finished. I’ve been in Luke for well over a year. I mention this because I would not suggest that bible reading is not extremely supportive of my relationship with God.

        @help? if you are still out there; you asked about spiritual disciplines, had you considered the kind of approach George (above) has taken reg. scripture study ?? Maybe you already have. Note the lack of hurry and “wretched urgency” that attaches itself to much the ev. carnival. Slow. Thoughtful. Worshipful. No hoops, haste, or hoopla.

        Just wonderin’
        Have a blessed dog day of summer. (PS: I’m hoping you have a dog, if not, maybe adoption??)

        Greg R

  30. i would just like to add thanks for the posts . i am at the same point as help? as well.

  31. Margret says:

    Greetings, Internet Monk Community!

    Before I touch on just a couple of things from Help?’s heart-felt query, please accept a mighty “Thank you!” to all the precious people who are willing to bare their hearts and souls, as well as those who reach out, encourage, and strengthen. You remain a blessing!

    So, Help?, regarding hearing the voice of God: in 21 years with the Lord, I’ve come to realize that His relationship with each of His children is distinct and individual. Some have ongoing conversations with Him; some only hear Him through Scripture; some experience His input by nudgings to do “this” or “that”; some (like me) sometimes hear Him clearly and distinctly, and other times experience silence. When it seems He’s been silent too long, I remember what a Bible teacher whom I deeply respect once said, “Just keep doing what He told you to do the last time He talked to you. When He wants you to do something different, believe me, you’ll know.”

    As to your statement that you find Bible reading a bit boring, I distinctly recall feeling that about a decade ago. Then I had an idea: Since I love words so much (yes, the Word too, even when it’s boring), why not try to read one with different phrasing? That should enliven my daily readings! Such has been my practice ever since. I read at least one chapter per day, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 and, when finished, pick another version and begin anew. Among the Bibles on my bookshelf, my current favorites are: Amplified, New King James, King James, King James 1611 Edition (written in Middle English), New International, New Living Translation, The Message, and Reese’s Chronological Bible (presented in the order the passages were written). I even count among my daily readings Walt Wangerin’s The Book of God, believing that anyone who truly reverences God and still wants to write His story in their own words might help me see things in a different light.

    I guess, if you could boil my comments down to their base ingredients, you’d hear me say that God has individual relationships with His children, and that there’s nothing wrong with adding variety to the mix when pursuing said relationship.

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours,
    Margret

  32. Like many of us, I too am waiting to “hear a word from the Lord” right now. It’s difficult and frustrating and discouraging, among other things.

    Something that changed things for me, a little, was that verb “hear”. I’m reading scripture *out loud* to myself. Sometimes it is just a whisper, under my breath. Other times, projecting as if to a room full of people. Somehow, it is changing what I hear. Reading aloud forces me to slow down, to consider phrasing – and it changes meaning.

    Which may not be what you need, right now. But maybe it will help someone.

    Alison

  33. When a parent bird pushes a fledgling out of the nest, we don’t conclude that the bird wants the little one to fall and break its neck. The parent is teaching the young to fly.

    I think the silence of God is much the same. It is to teach us how to more confidently walk in faith.

  34. @Lisa and JeffD ….having reread this post, I’m very certain that help? has unintentionally hit a very big nerve and this post includes the raw material for many future posts. Good work and I look forward to more stuff on this topic soon.

    Greg R

    • Does that mean I should set aside my epic essay on Faith and Big Ten Football I’ve been working on???

      • LOL…..no, but beware that “over-realized eschatology” thing….. unless this is REALLY the year that we see the last days ushered in with crimson and grey……..

  35. @ Help? ….if you are still reading this thread; you might be blessed by the web site of Dave Tomlinson and the discription of his spiritual journey and the writing of his book “The Post Evangelical”. It’s a short read, look for the “colourful” letter from the university professor (it reminded me of you 🙂 )

    thought I’d pass this along, and thanks for the IMonk neighbor (can’t remember who) that referenced this writer and book on another thread.

    Greg R

  36. Matthew says:

    “I wish I knew God like you do….Could hear His voice. I feel like an Israelite, sitting in the camp, waiting for the truly spiritual to go up the mountain, meet with God, then come back and tell me about Him.”

    I’ve had this thought quite a bit myself, and I think I had some insight into what seemed like, at the time, God’s reluctance to fulfill this, my request. I was going through a period of intense internal turmoil in my life, at the end of which I realized God had weeded out some very sinful attitudes in my life. I believe now that in that time, it would have been less merciful for Him to commune with me as He had in the past because these sin issues were available to be “plucked up” because the circumstances of my life finally allowed them to be taken.

    To relate to what you said, I guess I feel that God had previously overlooked those sins because they weren’t able to be dealt with for whatever reason, but I reached a point where they could and He allowed them to distance me from Him. Then He dealt with them.

    Anyway, just a humble interpretation of my life’s events…not saying it applies to your current situation, but maybe you find some encouragement in hearing my story.

    Bottom line, though: God is at work in you as much as anyone else, whether it’s perceived or not. Keep pushing on, brother.

  37. Thank you.

  38. Thanks for your honesty, Help?. As someone deep in his own wilderness experience, I really do understand how you feel. Some days the only thing that keeps me going is the stubborn belief that God really does love me. And I believe He is passionately pursuing me — though sometimes there seems to be little or no evidence of that. Maybe sometimes what we percieve as chasing after God is really running after a vision of God that we desperately want to be true. And maybe sometimes we have to wear ourselves out chasing after our own visions of God before the true “I Am” can come and reveal Himself to us in the extremes of exhaustion and frustration. At least, I think this has been true in my own life. And I suspect that it was my own pursuit of a false (or, at least, partially false) god that landed me here in this spirtual desert. It isn’t because God is punishing me or because He has stopped caring about me. I’m in this wasteland because I walked here on my own two feet. But, still, as unpleasant as this experience is, I suspect He is using it for my ultimate good. Think about it — what better place is there to learn true hunger and true thirst than smack dabb in the middle of a desert. What better place to die so that He can raise us up as a new creation.

  39. You’re not unique. After Mother Teresa died and her writings were published (against her wishes – thankfully), she said much the same thing, how she felt isolated and unable to hear God.

  40. Charley says:

    I think I understand where you are coming from Help?, and I don’t have the answer.

    We know Jesus through faith, but what does that actually mean? Faith can be reasonable, but it’s supposed to be something more than an exercise of pure reason. Is faith a feeling, some gift from God that enables the believer to feel something that tells him Jesus is the real deal? If faith is a feeling of truth, then what about the multitude of others since the dawn of mankind who have felt deep in their soul that a completely different religion was true? Is a Christian who has faith experiencing faith in a different way than a Muslim who has faith? If so, how does the Christian know the difference?

    I don’t want to be a doubting Thomas. I understand faith is necessary. But a confirmation that my faith in Christ true (i.e. not just the same thing experienced by believers of other religions) would bring me great peace. Of course, if faith was confirmed in such a way, would it still be faith?

  41. What a timely post. Help….I feel your pain, and I am in the same state as you – the dark night of the soul. The battle with doubt often seems to difficult to bear, and I consider giving up daily. My children are the ones that keep me going, as I relate in my blog. Strive on. There is some good advice on this board. Check out some similar discussions on the Jesus Creed board (Houston, I have a problem series). You are not alone – press on, and thank you for your honesty. (Although isn’t it a bit discouraging that people like us have to resort to the internet to find a community to stand beside us, when it should be the role of the physical church?)

  42. ps. The other thought that keeps me going is that all this suffering has a purpose. It is those moments of weakness that define who you are and what you are passionate about. In being at the point of despair, I have become much more vocal and honest about my doubts. My husband, who does not doubt but has witnessed firsthand my suffering, is trying to set up something to help people like me and foster more discussion about issues in faith, science and doubt (we are at a university town). Although in the midst of deep doubt, I am wholeheartedly passionate that the church needs to regain the ability to minister to people like us. Christianity is not about living in an idealistic bubble.

    My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor 12:9

  43. Wow! What a great thread. After reading these posts & comments, my emotions are a bit raw & my thoughts are scurrying so much that I may not be able to articulate any of them. Like so many others, I guess I first want to thank help? for the great question & Lisa & Jeff for the replies. My first internal response was the admission of the same longing. However, I also have to admit that I’ve been in the position of the “spiritual helpers” who have all the answers – pat answers, practical ones, &/or cliches. I no longer have very many answers – & I’m beginning to realize that not only is that okay, but it might be a very good thing. What a load of crap some of us are sorting through (churchianity) – trying to find the great pearl. Thanks to all of you for your honesty & humility.