It’s easy to praise Jesus when life is good. But how do you love God when you’re coping with cancer, grieving a death, or just not feeling His presence? And how important is it, anyway? After all, it’s not like loving God is a commandment or anything.
“This is the most important [commandment],” Jesus said in Mark 12:29-30. “Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Okay. We are commanded to love God. But it’s easy for you, Jesus! You are God’s own son; He loves everything you do! “What you say is true,” Jesus says to me. “But I didn’t always feel God’s presence…and I loved Him anyway. I died and left behind the Holy Spirit so you, too, can learn how to love God even when you don’t feel His presence. Want to start now?” Why, yes, Jesus. Yes, I do.
My tips for loving God are inspired in part by a sermon I heard at church last Sunday. I attend The Bridge church in North Vancouver, BC. Pastor Craig Thiessen preached on Mark 12:28-34 (the passage about loving God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength). Craig didn’t talk about loving God when you don’t feel His presence—or when you’re coping with cancer, grieving a loved one’s death, or struggling to find a job or buy food.
Craig did, however, point out Deuteronomy 6:5: “Listen, Israel,” said Moses to the Israelites. “The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Learning how to love God—even when you don’t feel His presence and even when He says no to the desires of your heart—is so important that it’s preached and teached repeatedly in both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament! That’s a sign we must not ignore.
3 Ways to Love God When You Don’t Feel His Presence
These tips for loving God when you’re down in the dumps are inspired by Exodus 8. I’m writing a blog post for every chapter in every book of the Bible; I thought this one would be about Moses, Aaron, Pharoah, the ten plagues God sent to Egypt, and Israelite slavery (I also thought I’d throw in a thought or two on how unfortunate it would’ve been to be an innocent Egyptian bystander at that time).
But I couldn’t get past verse 1 of Exodus 8: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh and tell him: This is what the Lord says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.’” I could write a whole book about loving God when you don’t feel His presence based on that one verse, but I’ll settle for a blog post…
1. Grab the gift of freedom!
“Let My people go, so that they may worship Me,” said the Lord God to Pharoah through Moses (who was speaking through Aaron). Why did God want His children to be free? To worship Yahweh, to praise the Lord, to glorify God, to kneel at Jesus’ feet, to cherish the Holy Spirit. Why did the Lord harden Pharoah’s heart, send the plagues, and urge Moses to keep fighting for the Hebrews’ freedom? To sing praises to the Lord God, to honor the Son of Man, to celebrate the gift of the Spirit. “Let My people go, so that they may worship Me,” is the first verse of Exodus 8…and I can’t get past it. God sent Jesus so that we may be free. To do what? “It is for freedom that Christ set us free,” says Paul in Galatians 5:1. For freedom.
What does freedom mean to you? Being spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually free is a gift from God. We have been set free from the burden of guilt, shame, sin, regret, and mistakes. We are free to forgive ourselves for not doing more, being more, accomplishing more, loving more. We are free to walk away from the dark pit of despair—from addiction, unhealthy relationships, self-hatred, the pursuit of more stuff. We are free to love God in truth, light, joy and peace. We can start loving God—even when we don’t feel His presence—by choosing to accept the gift of freedom.
2. Remember the fight you were never in
Oh, how Moses and Aaron fought for the Hebrew slaves in Exodus! Pharaoh and his magicians fought. The Egyptians suffered. The rivers, canals, ponds, frogs, gnats and cattle were devastated. Who didn’t suffer in this battle? God’s children. They were already suffering because they were slaves in Egypt, but they weren’t fighting this particular battle. This battle was the Lord’s. Maybe the Israelites petitioned God, sought His presence, asked for His power to conquer all. I don’t know if or how they prayed. I wonder if they felt God’s presence. I don’t think the Israelites were commanded to love God at this point. If they were, I doubt they knew how to love God because they didn’t feel His presence. Thankfully, we’re at a different stage today because we know Jesus.
How often do you remember the battle Jesus fought for you—and won? Jesus fought hard for your freedom…which means you don’t have to. The Holy Spirit is your advocate, your counselor and guide…which means you can rest in His strength, power, love and hope. The Father is always gazing at you with compassion, tenderness and acceptance…which means you can learn how to love God even when you don’t feel His presence. Because love is not about how you feel. It’s about what Jesus did so you could be free. The “big secret” to loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—even when you don’t feel His presence—is to re-live His death on the cross. Over and over, deeper and deeper.
3. Commit to a daily distinctive step of love
“I will make a distinction between my people and your people,” said the Lord in Exodus 8:23. The Israelites were God’s chosen people in the Bible, set apart for Him. God wanted a relationship with them from the beginning. He created Adam and Eve, invited them into His trinitarian dance of love (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and was grieved when they chose to go their own way. Ever since then, humans have struggled to love God—perhaps because we don’t feel His presence the way we think we should, the way we want to, the way others do. The Lord talked to Moses in Exodus 8. Moses felt God’s presence; God guided Moses and gave him what he needed not just to lead His children out of Egypt to the Promised Land, but to love God and dwell in His presence. Moses was chosen, and he chose to take daily, distinct steps of love (even when he was struggling to trust God!).
What will you choose to do every day that reveals your love for God—even when you don’t feel His presence? For example, I get up at four every morning, make a cup of hot strong coffee, and write to God. I love greeting the Holy Spirit before the sun rises, meeting the gaze of Jesus, and untangling whatever mess I find in my heart, mind, spirit and soul. Sometimes I ask God how His night was, other times I just madly write through my confusion or annoyance. How will you meet with God every day? You don’t have to get up at 4 a.m.—I can tell you for sure that God’s presence is never guaranteed in the predawn hours! But God’s word is always awake and alive for me no matter what time it is. Even when I don’t feel God’s presence, I still love His word. It’s a choice I make every day, my daily distinctive step of love.
Your thoughts—big and little— are welcome below. How do you feel about these three tips for loving God even when you don’t feel His presence? Do you have a daily distinctive stop of love? Remember that it can be anything: a short evening prayer or long morning walk, a lunchtime devotion or predinner swim. The key is to find what works for you, and to stick with it.
With His love,
P.S. Are you struggling to make a decision or find the right path in your life? Read an Easy Way to Stop Overthinking God’s Will for Your Life.