Do you ever experience times of feeling spiritually blank? Like no matter how many times you go to church, no matter how many songs you sing, no matter how much money you give, nothing you do is going to make you feel close to God? I go through such experiences on a frighteningly frequent basis.
What causes this sort of blank, bleak, hollow feeling? I think there are quite a few possibilities. It can be how the seasons affect our brains. I can feel blank any time of year, but I can pretty well count on hitting that point in either January or February. It can be derived from the circumstances around us leaving us overwhelmed. We just don't have the emotional energy to operate beyond survival mode. And these just begin the list, so many of which are circumstances genuinely beyond our control.
But I want to focus our attention briefly on a passage that holds the mirror up to my life. Proverbs 28:9 says,
If one turns away from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
Have you ever contemplated this before? The reason you feel blank, or spiritually just not "with it," may well be because you're refusing to obey God's revealed word in Scripture. This is not the case in every circumstance. But if you are wondering why God seems distant, it makes sense to start by looking at your own life critically. Look, and ask this question: am I walking in consistent obedience to God's revealed will? Am I obeying what he tells me to do?
When we make a practice of ignoring God's word and walking in our own way, two things simultaneously take place. The first is that our conscience is dulled to the voice of God. We become less likely to obey him if we are not exposing ourselves to his word (through reading, sitting under the preached word with the gathered congregation, etc) and obeying his word. Perhaps even more dangerous is if we are listening to the word and still not obeying. In either case, the habit of disobedience becomes a pattern of life which becomes increasingly difficult to break.
The second thing that happens, though, is most terrifying of all. That verse above tells us that is we quit listening to God, he quits listening to us. If one turns away from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. It might feel like your prayers hit the ceiling because they do hit the ceiling. If you have no interest in obeying him, why would God waste his time?
This shouldn't cause us to despair. The wrong way to read this would be to say, "every time I feel bad it's my fault." Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Many great Christians have fought what Spurgeon called "fainting fits," or times of depression. But when we do encounter those circumstances, we need more than anything else to cry out to God in prayer. And in those moments it is right to consider, is there anything hindering my relationship with him? Any unresolved conflict or disobedience to Christ that I need to repent of?
Our hope in God is dependent not upon our obedience, but Christ's. But our experience of joy in God is often connected to our obedience to him.