I had this email exchange a few months back with a friend in Nigeria who hit a dry patch in his journey. I’m sure he’s not alone in this struggle or his questions, so I thought I’d share that conversation here:
I’m going through a crisis in my life right now, and I would have to admit that it’s tearing me apart and turning my world upside down. I have never felt so lost.
In the past, I used to wonder why people didn’t just have a relationship with God and why they always said he wasn’t conversing with them. I would usually respond, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Just sit there and read the Bible. That’s what relationship with him is.”
Recently I started to discover that reading the Bible and spending time in God’s presence may not be what relationship with Jesus is all about. I used to feel like he doesn’t love me anymore because of my past mistakes. But recently I’m learning to trust his love for me. I’m handing my weaknesses over to him so he can help me with his strength. Thanks to your series Embracing His Glory, I’m learning to see how powerless I am towards sin and how deeply I need his hand to transform me to the person he desires.
I’m not proud of my decline in my relationship with him. In the past few weeks, my quiet time has been of less interest to me. Sometimes I get back on my feet and so enjoy it. Other times, I just fall asleep from beginning to end. I feel God’s sadness, trust me, and I’m so angry at myself for making him feel that way.
When I was 16, I would always carry my Bible and buy new notes and write down whatever God was teaching me. I always looked forward to my quiet time and would read the Bible every day. Unfortunately, my parents became so legalistic you would wonder if they were modern Pharisees. They loved God, but they feared him more. Initially I wasn’t affected by this new turn they had taken, but it later did. They brought in rules that began to kill my relationship with him. Rather than something I enjoyed, my quiet time became something I had to do to earn God’s blessings or to be safe.
That lifestyle haunts me now. So when I sit for my quiet time to read the Scriptures, it’s a rule for me, not something I love and enjoy anymore. I told God I just want him back in my life. Why do I find it difficult to enjoy my time with God? Why do I find it difficult to spend time with the Bible and just pause to listen to him at his feet?
A lot of things could contribute to this. Keep this in mind, though—God invites us to walk with him out of endearment, not obligation. It sounds like your devotional times became an obligation, and that will always kill them. God wants to walk with you through life, not become an obligation to be satisfied three times a day.
As I read this, it sounded like you ended up with a relationship with your Bible and your quiet time, and those aren’t as exciting now. Perhaps, God has let those dry up so that you could lean into a relationship with him that is close and endearing. Don’t think something is wrong because those times have grown tedious. It doesn’t mean God is boring; it just means you’ve outgrown the form you’d been using. It’s just like going to grade school. It was challenging when you were there, but you would be bored if you went back today. That doesn’t make it wrong, just that you’ve grown beyond it.
I suspect God is stirring something new in you, He’s inviting you into a different journey, and you’re still trying to resurrect the old journey, or at least feel bad that it doesn’t happen the same way. Loving God isn’t complicated. Inviting Jesus to walk with us isn’t fulfilled by doing something three times daily. The Bible is a magnificent resource for discovering who God is and how his purpose unfolds in the Creation. But Jesus left us his Spirit to guide us into all truth, not a book. I think all of this is shifting in you, which may be disorienting for a season. This could be God’s doing to set you free to enjoy him, rather than his life in you being a chore.
Relax. Enjoy what you see of him each day. Read the Scriptures as he draws you to them. Speak to him all the time about your joys, worries, concerns, and need for insight. Watch as his truth surface in you, even at times you’d least expect it.
He responded to my email a few days later:
Oh my God! This cleared the doubt I had left in my heart. Wow!
The day I sent that email to you, I spoke with a friend and she was going through the same struggle that I was. So, I shared your response with her and she felt God had just confirmed what we are learning in the last few days through your words.
It was only a few days ago that I sat to read the Bible very early in morning and I whispered these words in my heart to God: “Father, I’m tired of everything. I know the Bible so well, but I don’t know you as I desire to. I’m so far from who you are. Please help me to behold you as you really are.” As soon as I had whispered that to him, something happened. It’s as if everything in the Bible was pointing to Jesus. I sat to read John, not hoping for anything at all: I just wanted to behold Jesus, though I didn’t know how.
Honestly, I remember hearing you on your podcast correcting someone who referred to the Bible as the ‘Word of God.’ You gently told him, “Scripture holds God’s words, but only Jesus is the Word of God.” I disagreed with you. How could Scripture not be the Word of God? Now, some years later, here I am, crossing my legs with a sigh: “Wayne is correct.”
Even my walk with Jesus didn’t begin that way and yet it only took a few years before I found myself depending on the Bible for almost everything. It was my guide. If I didn’t read it for three days, I would feel so bad. I would feel that I hadn’t touched God’s word for a while. I know it’s healthy to read the Scriptures as God unveils himself, but that wasn’t the case then.
Since my friend and I are on a similar journey, this is about the two of us. She and I are starting to follow Jesus anew, this time as the Word of God, the One God is speaking to us. More important, we are so grateful to find that Father confirms the truth of himself that he is unveiling to us. We are glad to know we aren’t going crazy.
When God seems boring, I’m sure it isn’t him at all. He’s incredibly endearing, hilarious, insightful, and gracious. Every day with him is an adventure, and when he seems boring to me, it usually means I’ve lost sight of him and am just mindlessly going through the motions of superficial, religious activities. It’s one thing to read He Loves Me and be touched by it, and quite another to spend the day with Sara and me and discover who I am. God wants us to know him; the Bible is a poor substitute for that knowing.
If you, too, are hungry for him, keep looking for him. Scripture won’t be enough. Church attendance won’t be enough. Even fellowship with good friends won’t be enough. He wants you to know him, see him, and feel him surge in your heart as you negotiate your day.
As someone told me a couple of weeks ago, “It’s not your piety he loves; it’s you!”
And if you want help sorting out how the Scriptures fit more effectively into a relational journey, you can check out the free video series, The Jesus Lens.