Being a Christian isn’t always the easiest thing in the world, even here in the West, where we face nothing like the trials our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are facing. It’s not just about feeling like a Christian, whatever that means, it’s fundamentally about being given a new status as an heir of God himself, with all the lifestyle changes that that brings (imagine finding out that you’re actually heir to the throne of England – it’s unlikely that your life will stay the same!). However, one of the verses in the Bible that tells us that, as Christians, we’re co-heirs with Christ, Romans 8:17, is also one of the verses that tells us that things won’t be easy:
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
There’s a lot that I could talk about from that verse, but what I want to say today is to do with this feeling like a Christian. Even though, as I’ve said, how we feel doesn’t determine whether we’re Christian or not, it’s part of every Christian’s daily experience, and the fact is that sometimes, following God doesn’t feel great, and sometimes it feels like we’re not even following God at all. He seems distant and we feel aimless. If you read the Bible, I think you’ll find that this isn’t surprising. Verses like that one in Romans make it clear that following God is not always easy, and the Psalms are full of poems and songs about the speaker’s struggles in following God, but the consistent promise of the Bible is that it’s worth it.
THE HIGH POINT
For most (if not all) Christians there are high points. For those being saved for the first time, that’s a big high if nothing else! It’s a point where you’re more sure of God and where you stand with him than you’ve ever been before, it’s a point where you’re sure of his presence, and you can see him everywhere around you. This looks different for different people depending on how God relates to them (I firmly believe that everyone’s relationship with God is unique as he created us unique), but the Bible promises that we will experience the joy of the Lord, and there are loads of examples of that joy being poured for in love, songs and encouragement (again, see the Psalms for an easy example). For me, as, I think, for a lot of people with similar church experiences, these points often come at things like conferences, where loads of people are together, there’s a lot of energy in the room, and it’s very easy to have faith that God will do dramatic things as you’re seeing them happen every day (healing is an example of this – not mental faith healing, but actual healing, like I remember a guy broke his leg at the conference and it was healed in a couple of days to the point where he was able to walk on stage with his cast off)!
THE COME DOWN
These kinds of spiritual highs that I’ve spoken about rarely last. This is different to the joy of God, as I think that’s a permanent state referring to our security and peace in him, and here I’m talking about emotions and feeling pumped up and close to God. For me, coming back from conferences, the come down was always gradual. I’d always go to a summer conference, and then feel all of the energy drain away back at school. Why? Well for starters, emotions aren’t permanent and we shouldn’t expect them to be. I think I big thing with this is distraction, and this is something I’ve been experiencing at uni this year as well. When you’re with a load of other Christians at church or a conference or wherever, it’s easy to focus on God because everyone is encouraging you to and doing it themselves. But at school, in class, in normal life, you’re much more on your own. I’m grateful for some fantastic Christian friends and awesome churches both at home and uni, but even they can’t stop me being distracted by normal life, with God just not featuring as much as I’d like him to. And I’d guess I’m not alone in this.
The other thing to mention is that specific things can happen that pull us down a lot quicker. Something can go wrong – we suffer – bad emotions replace the good and then the spiritual high is lost. I’m humbled to have known and seen Christians go through these tough times and come through them by the grace of God. This is why I know that joy is permanent even as emotions are temporary, because through awful suffering, people can hang on to God even if they don’t feel him there because they know that he has already done everything they need, which leads me to my final section…
I believe that Jesus – and by extension, God – is the best person to model my life on. One of the most incredible things about Jesus’ personality is his faithfulness. In fact, the faithfulness of God is everywhere in the Bible, from his refusal to turn away from Israel, despite their constant failings, in the Old Testament, to the ultimate gesture of faithfulness to the human race in the New Testament – dying so that we can have another chance with him. As a Christian, the very least I can do is try and love God by showing him some of that faithfulness that he’s shown me. I’m not perfect and I don’t always succeed, but one thing I know that I can do is keep persevering and holding on to him when he seems far away. When things aren’t going great, when I know I’m getting distracted, when I know I’ve screwed up, or even when I’m angry at God for something, I know that I need to keep coming back to him. To keep trusting him. To know that he hasn’t abandoned me and that he is near even if I don’t feel it – that’s the amazing promise of Jesus and the Holy Spirit: God is with us.
I want to say a whole lot more on this, but I’ve already broken 1000 words and you all have days to be getting on with! I want to leave you with this thought: that although our spiritual highs are as temporary and changeable as our emotions, God doesn’t ever turn his back on us. So when I’m not feeling great and it feels like God’s not there, that he doesn’t care, the least that I can do is keep trusting, and not turn my back on him.