Have you ever had the experience of going through a very difficult time in your life and after struggling through that period you began to wonder whether God was really there at all? Maybe you may have had very few doubts about your faith before this time of uncertainty. Although your relationship to God has been secure in your mind for years, during this trial, you have begun to wonder, “Is God really there? Am I still OK with Him? Have I somehow gotten off-track in my Christian life?” If that is or recently has been your experience, then you can take some comfort in the fact that you are in good company. Practically every Christian goes through something of this kind at one time or another. But how should you deal with these feelings? Allow me suggest a couple of possibilities:
First, this may be a good opportunity to do some serious spiritual self-evaluation. It is possible that there really may be something amiss in your faith. For example, sin which has not been repented of always blocks fellowship with God, and should be taken care of immediately. Prayerful examination of your life in light of scripture will reveal whether this is the case.
It could also be that the problem is more far-reaching. Perhaps you have never really turned from a self-oriented life and trusted completely in Jesus Christ. In that case, in order to be right with God there must first be that basic step of faith in Christ. This is neither as mysterious nor as complicated as you might think. All God is asking is that you admit your need for him (“Lord, I am a sinner who has lost my way.”) and put your fundamental trust in him to save you from yourself and the judgment for your wrongdoings. Then you make up your mind to allow him to teach you through the Bible how to live for him in this new life you have chosen.
Another possibility is that you may not be out of fellowship with God at all. You may be quite sure of your faith in Christ and there may be no known sin to turn away from. What then? The problem most likely is in your feelings. Feelings sometimes are not related to reality. For example, in a marriage affectionate feelings may come and go with surprising regularity. However, this usually has little to do with the actual love given by both partners, based on their commitment to one another. As in a marriage, a relationship with God is based on a commitment, rather than on feelings which can change due to temporary circumstances.
The fact is that dark times of doubt and despair may come upon us for a variety of reasons, some of which may be beyond our control. They can be an annoyance or even a trial in the lives of very strong believers. When these periods occur, we need to remember the words of David in Psalm 23 when he says, “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because you are with me…”. No matter what you may be facing or how you are feeling at the moment, you can trust that God is actually walking with you through these things. So, don’t rely on your feelings for your sense of what is real or true. Instead, trust the Lord and his sure promises to those who through belong to him through faith.
I once saw a bumper sticker which said, “Life is hard; then you die.” When I read those words, they rang so true with my experience at the time that I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. At one time or another nearly everyone experiences the frustration of feeling that life is a huge hassle with little hope for improvement. Some people feel this way a lot and experience depression. A few take it seriously enough to attempt to end their lives, which seem so difficult.
In the early years of my Christian experience, I somehow got the impression that a decisive commitment to Jesus Christ would change all this. I fell into the type of thinking that if I followed Christ closely, problems would resolve themselves, life would be happy and everything would be positive. While it is true that believers experience a new quality of life, it is not true that the problems and hardships of everyday living automatically go away.
Christ’s followers get sick, have differences with people and suffer like anyone else. The difference is not in the circumstances of life, but in life’s source and direction. The person uncommitted to Christ has few effective resources and little hope of rising above the frustration above what they can muster within themselves and their personal network; followers of Jesus have available the power of the living God to cope with life, and the reassurance of eternal life as well.
The New Testament book of Acts, chapter 14, verse 22 states that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Suffering is an essential part of our redemption—not because suffering itself gives eternal life—that only comes by faith in Christ. But the growing experience between conversion to Christ and the completeness we will know in eternity, cannot have its effect without the benefit of hardship. In other words, hardships are the schooling of Christian maturity.
So, frustrations, problems, hardships are not roadblocks to spirituality, but are in fact absolutely essential to it. According to Hebrews 2:10, Jesus himself was perfected in his humanity through suffering. If the Son of God had to submit to the school of suffering, can that training be anything less than essential for the rest of us?
The words to the old favorite hymn “Be Still, My Soul” were written by Katharina von Schlegel. The first verse goes like this: “Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side; — Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to they God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain. Be still my soul; Thy best, thy heavenly friend, through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
Relax and enjoy the journey. Entrust yourself to the wise and loving hand of God. Even suffering can work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).