As long as I’ve been a Christian, I’ve struggled with the feeling that I don’t love God enough. I struggle to feel that rapturous joy I see in other Christians. Even though I know that the Bible is literally the word given to us by the all-powerful God, and I know that prayer is getting to walk right up to His throne, they still often feel like a chore, something I have to make myself get around to in a day rather than the first thing I want to do. When I do sit down to read, I rarely find myself enthralled… instead, my mind wanders.
I’m writing this because I’m working out my own thoughts and study on the matter, but also because I’m guessing I’m not the only one. For others, this will be incredibly basic. But if you, too, feel like you’re coming up short in your love and passion for God, I hope this helps.
Over the years I’ve sought to find the solution to my weak affections, and I’ve even written on it here. In fact, one week apart back in 2014 I shared two articles offering two different solutions.
In the first, I advocated a “fake it till you make it” approach, essentially saying that if we go about obeying God, the feelings will eventually come (backed by a C.S. Lewis quote with a similar sentiment that I adapted to make my point).
In the second, I discussed the challenges of growing up in the church and how difficult it is for a good little churchgoing kid to ever truly feel lost. Without feeling lost, it’s hard to grasp the depth of God’s forgiveness, and “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). The answer given, then, was to focus on the ugliness of our sins and on everything God has done for us despite them, so that we would love Him out of gratitude.
While doing the right things and appreciating what God has done for us are important, there’s still a fundamental flaw in both of those articles. They are both human-centric. They’re about me, and my feelings toward God.
What’s lacking is an awe for God, the kind of awe that pursues Him just because we think He’s that great.
It’s the same principle that’s true of a marriage relationship. When one spouse is focused on all they have to do for the other, they become miserable. In the same way, when one spouse’s love for the other is based only in what she can do for him (or him for her), the stage is set for disappointment and ultimately misery. The key is for each spouse to love the other for who they are and admire them as their own person, with the attitude of, “I’d be lucky just to know this person and have them in my life, but to be married to her is more than I can ever deserve.”
That’s how it is in our relationship with God. In order to truly appreciate Him, we have to seek Him for who He is before we focus on what He does for us and what He expects from us.
But for those of us who have grown up in the church and around the Bible all our lives, that’s hard. It’s not unlike the stories you hear about children of famous athletes and movie stars. Other people might revere and idolize their parents, paying good money to watch them and cheer for them… but to the kids, they’re just boring old “Dad” or “Mom.” For much of my life, that’s not far off of how I’ve felt about God, and why I’ve struggled to feel the joy and love of knowing Him.
The key is to view God from that fan’s perspective, like the heroes you may have idolized as a kid. I ate up everything I could find about my favorite hockey players as a kid – all the facts, stats, and stories from interviews, articles, books, and anything else I could find. I had posters on my wall. I wore their numbers, used the same equipment, and tried to be just like them.
And, as a kid I always thought it would be cool to meet them, but at no point did I have the expectation that they would have a clue who I am. But could you imagine meeting your hero and finding out they know about you, and they’re interested in hanging out with you, too? That would be mind-blowing.
It’s for that very reason it’s important to start with the awe of God. Learn every fact and truth about Him. Spend time thinking of Him and all the amazing, incomprehensible things about Him. Then when we read the Scriptures about His love for us and what He does for His people, we have that mind-blowing feeling – “He knows about me??? He loves me and wants a relationship with me despite everything I’ve done? He died for me to make it possible?”
All those stories that become familiar and even boring suddenly take on new life when we start with the awe of God. Awe of Him for who He is leads to a whole new level of gratitude once we get to what He’s done for us, and it’s out of that gratitude that our obedience takes on the zeal that was previously lacking.
So, what does this look like in practical terms? We put it into practice every time we open the Bible. I don’t open the Bible and start looking for commands I’m supposed to carry out anymore. I don’t even open it and start looking to read about God’s love for me. My first question is “What does this tell me about God?” Like a kid collecting every bit of knowledge about their hero, I come to the Scriptures to see who He is.
This way, when my daily reading takes me through Psalms where David is lamenting his plight and praying for vengeance on his enemies, I no longer close my Bible with little to take away and apply to myself that day. I walk away knowing more about God’s justice, how he operates in our times of need, and His love for His people. My meditation and prayer are focused on praise and thankfulness to Him. The more that builds up, the more powerful it is when I come to Scriptures that talk about what He’s done for me, and the more motivation I have for obedience.
Like anything, this isn’t an instant solution. Study and prayer can still be a challenge, and I haven’t instantly turned into a person bubbling over with rapturous joy all the time. But I’m starting to see a difference. Beholding God in awe day after day fundamentally alters who we are.