when your good life still sucks

If you ever find yourself with all your physical needs being met, plentiful opportunities to better yourself and contribute to the world, many kind and generous people in your life, and the freedom to make your own choices, but at the same time with persistent feelings of loneliness and emotional, spiritual deadness–a bizarre, but strangely common experience, especially in the West–you may also discover that you are the one stealing your own joy.

Do you pray? Do you regularly pour your heart out, and “vomit your feelings,” to the air, believing (sometimes barely) that Someone is there with you, listening? The Father is the very best listener. All the irrational fears and terrifying seeds of doubt in your heart that you disguise even to your dearest friends, even to yourself, do not scare or surprise him, like they do you. He knows you are “dust” (Psalm 103:13-14), even while you expect yourself to be solid rock.

Do you even realize that you do not pray, not really? Do you find yourself able to get through your day without explicitly surrendering to God, and not even notice? Maybe that makes you feel guilty, but it ought to make you feel hungry. You are wired for intimacy with God. Through Jesus the Mediator, he is all yours. If you do not express yourself to him and voice all the vague inclinations that otherwise fester beneath your skin–confession, thanksgiving, pleading, questioning, praise, all mixed together–you are cheating yourself of what you were made for. Talk to your Father.

Do you serve? In a washing feet kind of way? Does your routine ever expose you to broken, needy people? To dirty people? Or are you surrounded by the clean and stable? Are you committed to any relationships that require you to faithfully love an unlovely person? Or do you hoard your love only for people who love you, like the pagans do?

And the acts of service that you do–do you do them where other people see and praise you for them, thus robbing yourself of the more profound reward that only comes from God (Matthew 6:1)?

The Christian has every reason in the world to sacrificially serve broken people. The command to do so was the driving thrust of Jesus’ moral teachings. Yet, often, we still don’t do it, and, again, we cheat ourselves of what God made us for, even of what God saved us for. You can stay in your clean, presentable, predictable rut, and meticulously arrange your comforts, for as long as you like. You will discover, however, that your heart is only getting duller, your spirit drier, and your life more meaningless. Eventually you will find, to your distress, that no matter how often you spoke of him or hung around his friends, you never really knew Jesus.

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'” Matthew 25:44-45 (New Living Translation)

Hug the sick and dying, listen to the unstable and homeless, earn the trust of fearful children, wash the feet of the tired and smelly. To begin, simply commit to befriend one such person. First, open up your heart to her burdens. Next, make the unlovely lovely, by loving her.

To avoid loneliness and emotional, spiritual deadness: pray and serve. It seems almost deceptively simple, especially to those of us who are fluent in the dialect of the church. What could be more basic to the Christian pattern of life?

Admittedly, “winter” seasons in the spiritual life certainly still exist, and truthfully, they often most poignantly afflict those who are closest to God. The underlying drive behind all our “good works” is not the pursuit of happiness but the pursuit of holiness, for the sake of showing love to Christ. And yet, at the end of every crappy day in my otherwise good life, I consistently realize two things: that I haven’t truly spoken with God, and I haven’t truly served anyone but myself.

We must “make more time” for these two things in our lives: so that God may show more of himself to us, and so that we may be fully human, and fully alive.

when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning

I do not know if waking up and feeling absolutely no desire to get out of bed and begin the day is a universal experience. I do know that it is a common one. If it is a feeling you are familiar with, here are some things you can do:

Receive grace. I hesitate to call this something you “do.” Receiving is inherently passive; but there is a sense in which the gift must be recognized and remembered by the receiver. Similarly, “free grace” or “the gift of grace” are redundant expressions. Grace is, by definition, free. By definition, it’s a gift. It is never something other than something you receive.

Sometimes this is what “receiving grace” looks like for me:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Jesus | My Lord and my God. My King and Master. My Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep and calls me by name. The One by whom and for whom all things were created. The One not ashamed to be called my brother.  The One to whom I am united in spirit. My Husband. My Friend.

loves | Is committed to. Is patient with. Desires the ultimate good of. Feels compassion for. Gives strength to. Withholds nothing good from. Sacrificed for (once for all).

me, | A complete screw-up whose greatest spiritual strength is begging for mercy.

this I know, | This I believe. This I have experienced. This reality I cling to, sometimes barely, but always somehow, by faith.

for the Bible tells me so. | The Bible, the majestic and sufficient Word of God, tells me of this Jesus, and of this love, from start to finish.

[Jesus said:] As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9

Pray. There are a few components of prayer which I see present in nearly all biblical prayers.

One, which is perhaps the most fundamental and essential of all, is addressing God personally. Sometimes it looks like “God of heaven, maker of all that is”; sometimes “God of Jacob, our Redeemer”; sometimes just “Father.” Honestly, at times this is as far as I can get in prayer; but then, sometimes it is all I need to say.

Another is giving thanks. Like never before, lately, I am utterly convinced of the power and importance of intentional thanksgiving. If I express only one thought to God today, if I do only one pure thing in twenty-four hours – let it be that I give thanks.

Another is confessing sin and asking for forgiveness. If thanksgiving is hard to do on feeling-less mornings, this is harder; but if there are any two things a Christian must be convinced of, it is their sin, and God’s forgiveness. To return to confession and forgiveness-claiming, over and over, is not like a dog returning to its vomit, but like a child returning to its father. Over and over.

Finally, prayer includes asking for help. Prayer comes, at the elemental level, from the profound, yet plainly demonstrable idea that we need God. Asking for help recognizes that fact in the simplest way possible. “God, help me”; “Lord, she needs you, they need you, help them”; “Father, help us.” It is childlike, and therefore sweetly appropriate.

Feed his sheep. John 21, the last chapter of John’s Gospel, is, to me, one of the most poetic and tender chapters in the New Testament. Three times, on Galilee’s beach, Jesus asks Peter, that remarkably devoted and remarkably flawed disciple of his, “Simon, do you love me?” Simon was his old name.

“Do you love me?” Jesus knows what Peter will say. He asks him the question three times, echoing Peter’s three denials of knowing Jesus just a few chapters earlier. The repetition grieves Peter, but it is not a guilt trip. It is a truly extraordinary display of forgiveness, a forgiveness so comprehensive that Jesus applies it specifically to each of Peter’s denials.

Jesus’ replies to Peter each time Peter affirms his love – “feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep” – speak of something greater than merely “apology accepted.” Jesus’ message is: “I am not only pardoning you, but I am giving you a mission. Here you are, fishing again, going back to your old life, your old name, your old self as if you are not good enough for what I have called you to. But I am not done with you yet, Peter. I promised to turn you from a fisherman to a fisher of men and I will do it, even now, just you wait. Go. Feed my sheep.”

That is how total Jesus’ forgiveness is. It gives us a purpose. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. Help his people. Feed his lambs. Tend his sheep.

Now, Christianity is not the same as cognitive therapy: change how you think in order to change how you feel/behave. That is part of it. More than that, though, Christianity is an objective statement of reality – a hope. A status – child of God in Christ. These realities have many biblical labels, but intrinsic to their definitions is that they do not change, even when we do not feel we can get out of bed in the morning. They are stable, which is another way of saying God is stable.

For that, let us praise him.

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of these things… 2 Timothy 2:11-14