Posted in focus on faith

When you can’t find God

A pivotal moment in my wilderness experience began with a cup of tea with a friend, a stained-glass artist who wishes to remain anonymous. Little did I know that God was reeling me in.

As much as she loves her art, stained glass is not the passion of this woman’s life. Jesus is. Her primary ministry is intercessory prayer. She informed me years ago that she prayed regularly for me.

In the winter of 2000, she ushered me out of the bitter cold and into her quaint cottage. After a few steaming sips she paused, placed her hands reverently on her Bible and told me something that would eventually change the course of my life.

“I prostrated myself before the Lord this morning,” she began. This was her custom; she never entered her glass studio unless she first humbled herself before God and stayed there until He released her. “And He gave me Psalm 51,” she continued. “But He told me this scripture was not for me (pause, sip, gaze intently) but it was for you, Connie.” She watched to see if I had fully comprehended the enormity of this spiritual transaction.

I nodded and smiled, acting duly impressed even though I was skeptical that anything she had to say could impact my stone-cold heart. After all, I was a wanderer. I wasn’t so sure there was a God any more. She opened her loved-to-death Bible and began to read. She took me through all of Psalm 51, stopping here and there to exhort me with certain words or thoughts. The first passage she parked on hit me right where it hurt: Surely you desire truth in the inner parts (Psalm 51:6a). Boy did I! I hated my hypocrisy but could not seem to change.

 Create in me a pure heart (10a), was the next place that grabbed me. Oh how I longed to be pure. Everything had been so simple in my early days of faith, so black and white. But a lot of water had passed under the bridge; my heart and mind were so twisted that I despaired of ever finding peace. Then she asked me to listen carefully because what she was about to say was her message to me from God. She read: Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me (v12). “Isn’t this what you want Connie?” she asked with heartbreaking earnestness. It was exactly what I wanted but was convinced would never again be mine.

She continued: Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you (v13). She stopped, locked onto me with her steely gaze and said, “This is what you are called to do, Connie dear.” She was dead serious. If she hadn’t been I may have burst out laughing. Teach transgressors? I was a transgressor!…

I felt terribly empty and guilty and hopeless (because I had lost touch with God years ago).

After more tea and a lengthy time of prayer, I bundled up and was sent on my way with a warm hug. As I trudged homeward, a faint glimmer of hope, an ember of possibility glowed somewhere deep in my soul. Without knowing I was praying, I mouthed a prayer — it was more like a challenge — to God. “Okay God. If what she says is true and You are calling me to speak up for You, I will do it. But I won’t go looking. If someone calls and asks, then I will say yes.” Unknown to me, I had played right into the hand of a pursuing God! (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

If you have lost touch with God, like I did, would you consider praying that same prayer? Basically you are saying: I want to follow You God, but I don’t know where to find You. I give you permission to come after me.

The fact is, He is already pursuing you but you are blind to it because your spirit is closed. Once you open your heart/mind/soul to the possibility of His involvement in your life, you may actually catch a glimpse of His activity.

Posted in focus on faith

Help! I’ve lost my faith!

Let’s get something clear right now. A believer never loses his/her faith. But you can fall into a seasonfree_imprisioned of spiritual dryness so severe that your estrangement from God feels like your faith is gone.

On the other hand, there is some truth in the wilderness heart-cry: Help! I’ve lost my faith! The truth is that you have lost the faith you once had and possibly for good reason. Logically, if your faith worked well, you wouldn’t have lost it!

The journey out of wilderness (spiritual dryness) involves finding a workable faith. That’s where we are headed, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s first consider why you feel like you’ve lost your faith.

Very few believers decide to turn their back on God and walk away. Some do and it’s not hard to imagine the reasons. Most of us simply drift away.

Spiritual drift can be triggered by tragedy or it can sneak up slowly, the result of many little irritations and wounds. That’s how it was for me. Within a year of my conversion to Christianity as an 18-year-old college student, I was baptized. I threw myself into the life of the church, soaking it up like a dry sponge. Before long, I felt called to fulltime Christian ministry. The way I interpreted that call was to assume I would marry a preacher. I went looking for one.

Fortunately, a young preacher was also looking for me! Before long I married Gerry, a recent convert and already in ministry. Full of hope and promise, we began our married life in a northern village ministering to First Nations People. And everywhere I went, I talked about my transformed life through the power of a living Savior, Jesus Christ. I saw many people believe and accept Christ’s offer of grace and eternal life just like I had. This continued unabated for more than a decade. Nothing prepared me for the spiritual drift into wilderness I was headed for.

My journey into the wilderness of dry faith took many years. I’m not sure when it began. I experienced surprises, disappointments, and what I perceived as unanswered prayers that eroded my trust in the God I knew at that time. I began to doubt that He was really in charge and if He was, I wasn’t sure I still wanted to go along for the ride. I started to protect myself from Him because, frankly, He was scaring me. The more I withdrew, the further we grew apart. A pattern emerged:

  1. In the early days of faith bad habits are broken, new friends are made, prayers are answered and God seems near.
  2. Life’s natural disappointments and God’s failure to answer our prayers the way we expect catch us by surprise, wound us, and wear us down emotionally and spiritually.
  3. Our view of God changes and we begin to be afraid of Him.
  4. We try to protect ourselves from further pain by subtly reasserting control over more and more of our life.
  5. The wounded, fearful, self-protecting believer feels increasingly disconnected from God.
  6. We call out to Him in frustration but get no response. We no longer sense His presence, hear His voice, or see His activity.
  7. Losing hope and feeling forsaken, we grow cynical, put on a mask, and live the double life of a religious hypocrite imprisoned by the conspiracy of silence. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

 Simply put, life got hard, I got scared, I put up a wall to protect myself, and one day I woke up to the reality that I was imprisoned. There was a barrier between me and the warm, friendly, loving, personal God I had once known. I thought I had lost my faith.

I spent many years there. But that’s not the end of the story. If this is your story, or the story of someone you love, join the conversation.  Together we’ll make our way to a brighter future.

Posted in focus on faith

Take the Spiritual Dryness Test

How do I know if my faith has run dry? Honestly answer the questions in bold test-taking-strategieswith a YES or NO — after each question is more explanation so you know exactly what’s being asked:

  • Do you operate from a sense of duty or from a spirit of gratitude? Are you trying to live a good, moral, responsible life because you feel like you should or because you are so thankful that God profoundly changed the direction of your life at some point? Where are you Right Now?
  • Have you lost (or never found) the desire to share the gospel with unbelievers? Is the Good News still good news to you? Do you find yourself looking for ways to spread this good news to others or are you quite happy to keep it to yourself?
  • Do you have to feign enthusiasm when hearing that someone has chosen to follow Christ? How do you feel when you hear that a person you know has become a believer — does it thrill you or trouble you? If it troubles you, do you pretend to be happy since that’s the “proper” religious response?
  • Are you driven by material pursuits while paying lip service to God? Where do you find your joy and your enjoyment — in the new colours you’ve chosen for your home or wardrobe or in your personal interactions with the Lord?
  • Do you go to church to “get it over with” or to encounter God? If you could do whatever you wanted to do on Sunday morning without it affecting your family or reputation or commitments, would you go to church or is there somewhere else you’d rather be? (note: every Canadian would choose the beach in Hawaii in mid-January so think of the big picture here!) In other words, are you putting in time like punching your time card at the factory — been there, prayed that — or do you attend church with a holy expectation of hearing from the living God?
  • Are you apathetic about matters of faith and spirituality, eager to change the topic when discussion arises? What do you like to talk about with your friends? I don’t mean that you have no interest in family or food or fun but if the conversation veers into spiritual matters are you pleased and ready to engage or do you silently hope the topic will be changed soon?
  • Do you pray other than to “bless the food and the hands that made it”? Has your prayer life been reduced to public display — you only pray when others are looking?
  • Is your Bible more than a Sunday accessory? Do you pick it up during the week or is it exactly where you put it when you got home from church last week?
  • Do you ever feel like a hypocrite? Like you are leading a double life? Do you have an uneasy feeling you are pretending to be something your’e not? Are you worried that your behaviour might blow your cover and reveal the emptiness inside?

How did you do? There were nine questions, what’s your ratio of yes’s to no’s?  If your number of yeses alarmed you, you’re not alone. About 80% of believers experience spiritual dryness at some point in their journey of faith.

So what do you do if you find yourself with a little spiritual sand in your shoes? Stay tuned. The next post will give you some solid tips to get you moving “God-ward” again.