Sometimes things in life can happen that cause us to wander from our relationship with the Lord. These things can be either subtle or abrupt, they may come from failed expectations, sinful desires that lure us away or from just being too busy or distracted or some combination of these things. The resulting effect is that we lose that close fellowship with the Lord we once enjoyed. We can go through the motions of going to church, reading the bible, praying or serving or doing ministry but if we are honest with ourselves it all seems hollow and our sense of emptiness will eventually begin to gnaw at us.
What we do when we realize that things in our spiritual life isn’t what it should be and will determine how long we spend drifting. If we take action right away within short order we will be back in fellowship with the Lord and he fills our empty, gnawing hearts, but if we delay, ignore, resist or allow guilty feelings to keep us from the light then our drifting will continue.
Drifting for the Christian is not a good place to be in for a variety of reasons. First our fulfillment is to be found in the Lord and anything less will not do. Second by drifting we make ourselves a target for the devil, our flesh and the influence of the world. If we end up in the clutches of these things returning can be done but it will be harder. There is also a more serious danger and that is we can drift so far for so long and continue to resist the Lord’s calling to return we can eventually reach a place of no return. I do not believe in “easy believism” or “once saved always saved”. Although falling away into apostasy takes a lot of doing, it can be done. The bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the fear of losing our salvation should motivate us to return to the Lord.
For those that may believe in once saved always saved let me ask you if in your other relationships you have, can you just do whatever you want? Can you just continually ignore your spouse, despite their pleading and best efforts to get you back without any consequence to you? Of course not! If that is the case with human relationships how can we say it is any different with the Lord?
On the other hand the Lord does not wish to lose any that are his. Of course no one can take us out of his hand but we can choose to leave his hand. The bible in many places compares people to sheep. One of the characteristics of sheep is that they can wander at times from both the shepherd and the flock and this always puts them in danger from predators, injury and lack of proper food, water and shelter. And we like sheep can and do stray. But our shepherd is the Good Shepherd, and he has a variety of methods to bring us back.
The first way the Lord works to bring his wandering sheep home is what I first mentioned, a growing sense of emptiness. When this is not enough, he will begin to tug at our hearts in a variety of ways, through sermons, other believers, the Word (if we are even reading it) and through various circumstances. The Lord will also begin to convict us. If we become willfully disobedient and resist his call, then he may bring out the switch. This involves painful circumstances. The Lord never disciplines his true children out of malice but out of true love and concern because he knows the only truly safe place they have is with him and he doesn’t want them exposed and vulnerable to the real dangers they face in their current state.
I have found four primary things that, when we try to respond and return to the Lord, can hold us back. The first has to do with guilt. When we begin to clearly see the things that have caused us to drift, especially if we have given in to the desires of the flesh and have been sinning, the weight of that realization can seem too heavy to bear and keeping our distance feels like a punishment we deserve. And we do deserve it. In fact we deserve so much worse punishment that if we experienced it would truly be unbearable – it would be hell, literally, because that is what our sin deserves.
We may even feel the desire to punish ourselves or be punished because we deserve it and in an odd way we think by being punished we will feel better. This is hogwash! No amount of self imposed punishment or punishment imposed by others, no matter how severe or how much we may feel we deserve it, will ever have the power to atone for our sins. Only the precious shed blood of Jesus can ever atone for our sin! I know there are many religious orders that lead people to think if they crawl on broken glass, beat themselves with whips or even have themselves crucified that this will atone for their sins – and that is nothing more than a damnable lie from the devil!
What we need to do is come into the light as He is in the light. This comes through confession to the Lord. There is no vagary, omission or him-hawing around when it comes to real confession. Real confession is blunt, bold and painfully honest with both ourselves and the Lord. There is no hiding. There is no justifying, excusing or blaming. There is no minimizing or downplaying. In confession our attitude has to be like the old Led Zeppelin song that says, “It’s nobody’s fault but mine” and we take full responsibility for our actions. Once we’ve confessed then we fall on our knees and plead for his mercy, forgiveness and grace – and when we truly confess we truly receive these things from the Lord. The Bible in 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The result of coming clean with the Lord is we are cleansed by him.
The next thing that can cause us to shrink back from returning to the Lord is condemnation. We can condemn ourselves as well as others but most especially the devil loves to condemn us and he’s a skilled expert at it. This is where standing on the word of God and good counsel from other Christians can help. There are many scriptures that can assure us when we feel condemned and other Christians can assure us as well. It’s important to remember that the goal of condemnation is to keep us from the Lord, it therefore is an attack and we must actively resist it using both scripture and prayer.
The third thing that can cause us to stay away from the Lord is the fleshly sinful desires we may have engaged in while drifting. We may have renounced them. We may have repented of them. We may avoid specific activities, locations, substances or people that lure us into sin. The problem is that the desire to do the things we shouldn’t do still remains in us. Unfortunately our struggle with sin and temptation is a lifelong one but if we try to handle it on our own we are just asking for trouble. Sooner or later we will give in because human willpower is not enough on its own to resist the power of sin’s sway. We need the Lord’s help if we ever hope to get victory over the sins that entangle us. Running or staying away from him because we struggle or have fallen into the snare of sin is the wrong approach. Seeking his help and strength is where we get the help we need.
The fourth thing that can keep us from returning to the Lord has to do with hurts as they relate to our expectations. For example if you have faced a tragic loss or setback like the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of your job, health issues or anything that can devastate us in life, its quite easy to blame and be angry with God for allowing us to experience such tragedies. The reason we can feel this way has to do with God’s omnipotence. We know that He is all powerful and can do anything so why, we reason, did he allow this horrible thing to happen to us? It can undermine our trust in him, as well as make us furiously angry at Him leading to us avoiding him at all costs. Yes God is omnipotent. Yes he could stop tragedies and setbacks from entering our lives. And yes sometimes he purposefully allows them, but it’s not because he is cruel to his children. The reality is that he could allow any and every tragedy possible to come into our lives on a daily basis, but he doesn’t because he truly is merciful. But when we are hurting, this fact can escape our notice because we are so focused on our loss and pain.
Keeping from him when we are devastated, hurt, grieved, confused and furious is the worst thing we can do to ourselves because it keeps us from the comfort and help only God can give us. The book of psalms is full of passages where David and other writers pour their hurt, confusion, frustration, grief anxiety and anger out to the Lord, but more than that these writers did receive help from the Lord and they recorded that for us as well. The best thing you can do for yourself when facing a devastating letdown or even tragedy is to pour your heart out to the Lord as often as you need to until healing, help and answers come – and they will come. We may never fully understand why the Lord allowed a particular tragedy into our lives this side of heaven but we can and will eventually come out on the other side of it in a better state than when we went into it. Our character, our faith our intimacy with the lord and so many other aspects of our lives will see vast improvement if we allow him to help us rather than keeping away from him.
No matter what is causing you to drift or is keeping you from returning to the Lord, the best thing you can do for yourself is to decide to return. Like the prodigal son you will find the Lord’s arms open to you, his embrace warm, comforting and joyous. Walking in close, intimate fellowship is where we are safest and most fulfilled. Take the time to pray right now and don’t let fear, guilt, condemnation or pain keep you from the lover of your soul. He dearly loves you!
Elder of Spiritual Life
Sebring Friends Church