My relationship with God has been sinking for a while now. Nothing dramatic – just more of my usual dread of prayer, and more of a dead feeling when I do try to pray, and less relief of the feeling that there is nothing there.
I’ve been somewhat at a loss as to what to do about it. I’ve tried regular, disciplined prayer for a few weeks at a time, but in terms of my feelings* I haven’t seen anything change.
Our church group decided that we wanted to spend some time trying to work out what our “calling”s were, or at least what God wanted us to do at the moment, and this fitted quite nicely into the fact that I/we are thinking about our future: my job, where we live etc. We assigned each other a couple of names each to pray for, and one of the friends who was praying for me felt that God was telling her to read the book of Joshua in the Bible, and asked me to read it too in case something came out of it for me.
Of course, nothing came out of it for me.
Last night we had our meeting and she told me that the part of Joshua* that struck her as being about me was the part in Joshua 7 where a guy called Achan steals some of the plunder from destroying Jerico, instead of handing it over to be given to God. This was extremely brave of her since she must have been terrified that she’d be confronting some terrible (probably sexual) sin in my life and didn’t know how I would react.
I didn’t suddenly break down and confess to a propensity to place gerbils in any orifices. In fact, I didn’t know how to take it on board at all. I couldn’t see what the terrible sin in my life was: I knew there are pretty crippling sins of pride and greed going on, but not some nice specific thing I can stop doing.
A couple of weeks ago, I felt a little comforted by the idea that maybe what God wanted of me was just to try and follow his “ways” i.e. live our life as a family in a generous and kind way, and be gentle and attentive to my colleagues at work. I felt that I was doing that: on the big decisions we were trying to consult God (with little appearance of answers from him) and trying to do the right thing for our kids and for other people.
As we prayed last night, and prayed and talked and thought today, I have begun to think that what God is trying to say to me is that I am holding back something that belongs to God, like Achan (who, incidentally, was stoned to death along with his wife and daughters). What I am holding back is power over my life.
I think I sort-of knew this already, but I hadn’t considered it to be such a bad thing – one of the mini-sins that we all have a bit of and can’t do much about. The comparison with Achan is shocking, not just because of what happened to him, but mainly because what he did was seen as so wrong – disobeying a specific and direct order. But what am I doing when I hold back power over my life from God? I am making worthless the key thing that being a Christian is: you turn from your sin, and you “follow” God – you submit to God, you “accept” him as your master. So suddenly the idea that this is some grievous sin makes more sense.
What I am left with, then is what to do about this? It is difficult to make a plan of action about something as woolly as giving power back to God. This evening we were praying about our future and I was saying all I’ve written above, and I felt a sense of release. I’ve been extremely tense (my sleep has been utterly shot) as we have been thinking about the future, and some of that tension seemed to be released. Not all of it, by the way, or I would be asleep now instead of writing this.
I realised we have been trying to force it: to bend life to the way we want it to be. When I became a Christian* I turned to God, submitted to him: promised to follow him. How do I do that? I don’t really know, but I think I need to stop having areas that are reserved for me – that may be influenced by him, but it’s my final call.
Having the final call is too stressful anyway. I sort of long for relief.
Powerful stuff. Thank you for your boldness in sharing such personal information.
This is clearly an area where Christianity becomes personal. Do we crumple, give up, fade out or do we stand up again and get ready for the next blow!
For me I have no way of denying God because He has been too real to me in so many ways. I am only left with the stand up option. However, I find the blows have got much harder in some ways and softer in others as my relationship with God moves on (forward I hope).
Really good article – thanks
What I struggle with, in the idea of giving power over my life back to God, is knowing whether I am following God’s will or my own. I certainly don’t want to reserve parts of my life for myself, but it can be a struggle to discern what is and what isn’t obedience to God, for someone like me who doesn’t have strong intuitions of “God’s guidance” and “calling”.
For example, if some people say you would be most useful for the kingdom if you worked overseas in a gospel-centred job, is it wrong to decide you’d rather settle down and start a family here? What do we make of the verses about investing our talents (which in the parable didn’t mean what we call talents today, but as an amount of money, represented stewardship over something), and “from those to whom much is given, much will be demanded”? Does that mean most of us are falling ridiculously short in our commitment to the gospel?
Do we always have to choose the most difficult thing, or the thing we don’t like? If not, how can we ever be sure we’re not just persuading ourselves that what we prefer is really want God wants?
As Wave says on a later article, “love God and do as you will”. And I suppose there’s the verse “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Romans 14:4), i.e. it’s between you and God. And we need to be aware of our own tendencies – some people tend to be too harsh on themselves, and others don’t challenge themselves enough. It’s all part of learning to know God better.
I totally agree about not knowing what God wants. In this context I was preventing even the possibility of following him by my general attitude of taking the power over my life for myself. Once I give up the power to him I then have the problem of what he actually wants. To some extent if we intend to do what he wants but make a mistake I think we can trust he will turn us around?
How are things since you wrote this article? Any different?
I think maybe they are. I’ve been going through an experience in which I felt had to give up control to God, and I think I have done that a fair bit. Meanwhile I’ve been using a bible study booklet and reading the bible every morning, which has made me feel a little “closer” to God, even though I don’t feel I’ve had much experience of him, or gained any significant insights from it.
How about you?
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